Senator Alice Mary Higgins launches programme to commemorate 100 years of women's suffrage

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins with Senator Ivana Bacik and suffragettes at the launch of Votail 100
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins with Senator Ivana Bacik and suffragettes at the launch of Votail 100

Today, Senator Alice Mary Higgins joined Senator Ivana Bacik and Ceann Comhairle, Seán O’Fearghail TD to formally launch the Houses of the Oireachtas’ programme to mark the centenary of Irish women being granted the right to vote and run in parliamentary elections. 

Speaking today, Senator Alice Mary Higgins, said “our Vótáil100 programme will celebrate the lives of the women most closely involved in the campaign leading up to legislative reform and who courageously fought for women’s emancipation. We will celebrate Countess Markievicz, the first woman elected to the British Parliament at Westminster, but who never took her seat. She was also the first female TD and cabinet minister to serve in the Dáil.” 

“Women have played a vital role in the formation of the Irish State yet their contribution has often been overshadowed by those of their male counterparts. In 2018 we will shine a spotlight on these courageous women and hopefully encourage and inspire more women to become politically involved.” 
“Although we have recently achieved a significant increase in women’s representation following the introduction of gender quotas for the 2016 general election, women remain greatly under-represented in the Oireachtas. Today, there are only 35 women out of 158 TDs in the Dáil (22%) and only 19 women out of a total of 60 Senators (32%). Clearly, much more needs to be done to bring women forward in politics. I hope the commemorations taking place this year will encourage women across Ireland to enter political life and also remind us all of the importance of the right to vote.” 

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Government needs to act on concerns on Higher Education Authority Bill

The Higher Education Authority Bill will have a major impact on staff, students & society. I proposed over 100 amendments. Following strong criticism of use of guillotine at Committee stage, Report stage has been adjourned, meaning there is still chance to improve crucial aspects of Bill.

One of the key issues I raised was the importance of trade union representation from both professional & academic staff on governance boards as well as proper national strategies to challenge the serious problem of precarious low paid work within academia.

The proposed definition of student union in the Bill is not fit for purpose & based around recognition from Minister or governing authority rather then electoral mandate from students. Students union representatives from right across country have made it clear this needs to be fixed!

The Bill will give huge amount of power & discretion to Minister, including requirement for higher education institutions to comply with future policy docs of Government. Bill must be amended to ensure appropriate independence, transparency & autonomy for both HEA & individual institutions.

Another core aspect we sought to address was embedding equality, equity, access and participation into the legislation and creating legal requirements that both HEA & individual institutions policies are furthering & empowering access to & equity in our higher education system.

The Bill continues the practice of focusing entirely on private research & not looking to public/blue skies research or public-public partnerships for research. To address issues like climate, inequality and sustainable development we need a robust public research system

The references to sustainability & environment in the Bill are woefully outdated & inadequate, coming from a 1987 pre-Rio definition of “environmental development”. I sought to include the definition based on the SDGs with acknowledgement of historical responsibility & climate justice.

Following pressure from Senators, the debate has adjourned till September & there is time for Minister Harris to work constructively with us as legislators & with stakeholders to address these & other issues. The HEA Bill will underpin higher education for years to come, we need to get it right!