Wednesday, 14 September 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I know he was in the RDS earlier at the Worldskills event for apprenticeships, an area in which he is doing considerable work. I thank him for taking the time to take this Commencement matter.
I also acknowledge his interest and determination to ensure that Waterford and the south east achieved their long-held ambition to have a university in the region that could act as a catalyst for growth. However, I am sure he will also agree that while that milestone on 1 May was important, the real work only starts now to ensure that Ireland's newest university realises its vision of becoming an educational and research institution of international standing. That requires additional facilities and resources, the adjacent space to expand and a leadership team to achieve this vision.
With that latter point in mind, I compliment the Minister of State on his appointments thus far: Professor Veronica Campbell, as the new president; former Provost of Trinity College Dublin, Dr. Patrick Prendergast, as chairman; and Ms Jim Bergin of Glanbia and Ms Ruth Beadle of Sanofi, as board members. Nobody can question their suitability, expertise and determination to ensure that South East Technological University, SETU, becomes the driver that it needs to be for the south-east region.
As the Minister will be aware, I have engaged with both him, the Tánaiste and their respective teams, on the topic of the acquisition of the former Waterford Crystal site on numerous occasions over the past 12 months.While the Minister and Tánaiste have both been categoric in their utterances on the Government's commitment to expanding the footprint of the SETU campus in Waterford city, unfortunately there are still some who wish to deny that progress is being made on the issue and who say that ring-fenced funding essentially equates to nothing and that if the Government wanted to, it could click its fingers and make it happen overnight. Any objective analyst will say that while the process is exceptionally frustrating, including for me as a politician and, I am sure, Deputy Harris as Minister, failure to follow the various steps could put the entire project in jeopardy, which would be in nobody's interest. It would, therefore, be helpful if the Minister could outline the process that has been undertaken to date and explain the process that is to take place and the attached timelines to secure this site, which will future-proof our new university and its growth in Waterford city.
I acknowledge the letter the Minister sent me last week that confirmed the Higher Education Authority, HEA, sent him a report on 1 September regarding the site. I know he has acted swiftly to seek the approval of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to enable SETU to commence formal negotiations with the owner of the site. It is urgent to give SETU the mandate to ensure it can conclude negotiations with the vendor. I understand there was a great deal of work and engagement at the front end of the process on the part of the then Waterford Institute of Technology. I am sure that banked work will come to fruition at the back end of the process, but of course it needs to be given the green light as soon as possible. I hope the Minister can give assurances in that regard.
I cannot overstate the importance of this site both from both practical and symbolic points of view. Not only will it future-proof the growth of the new university in Waterford, as I have said, but it will also give an enormous lift to the people of Waterford to know that a site that once employed thousands will be repurposed to educate and accommodate the next generation of young workers.