Senator Alice-Mary Higgins welcomes “powerful and positive” US decision to support a TRIPS waiver on Covid 19 vaccines at WTO negotiations.

Alice Mary Higgins Newsletter 2020
Alice Mary Higgins Newsletter 2020

“EU Commission will have no excuse and no cover if they continue to block urgent global scale-up in vaccine production”

A temporary suspension of Intellectual property rights to allow increased global production of vaccines has been proposed by over 60 countries at the WTO but had until now been blocked by a small group of wealthier countries including the US and EU.

Tonight the U.S Trade Representative Katherine Tai acknowledged that “the extraordinary of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures” and confirmed the United States would be supporting a TRIPS waiver.

Senator Higgins, who has been a passionate advocate for the TRIPS waiver over recent months has said that “Europe must now drop it’s opposition to the waiver.

“The European Commission will have no excuse and no cover if they continue to block the urgent global scale up in vaccine manufacture and access. For Europe sustain opposition to a TRIPS waiver in the face of a mounting global death toll and the wave if new variants would be morally unconscionable and incredibly foolish – the only way to truly tackle this global pandemic is through collective action. When a huge portion of the world’s population remain vulnerable to COVID-19, those are ideal grounds for the virus to develop new variants and it is a matter of time before those variants become vaccine resistant,”

“This is an issue of justice and of safety. The European Commission must show that they are serious about ending this pandemic and protecting global public health by supporting the TRIPS waiver.”

Yesterday, Senator Higgins participated in a high-level dialogue between parliamentarians from across the world, including the United States and EU, South Africa and India who are working together to support a TRIPS waiver.

Senator Higgins was also one of 400 European parliamentarians to sign an open letter urging governments to support a TRIPS waiver,

“When I raised this issue in the Seanad with Minister of State for Trade Promotion Robert Troy, I emphasised the massive public investment which had supported vaccine development, those vaccines must be treated as a public good”

Concluding Senator Higgins noted “This is a defining moral and political moment,  The Irish Government need to stop wavering on this and prove that we value global public health ahead of profit by clearly and publicly calling on the EU Commission to do the right thing and support a TRIPS waiver.”

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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!