Public Consultation on the General Scheme for the Seanad Electoral (University Members) (Amendment) Bill 2024

The Seanad Franchise:

The question of the implementation of the seventh amendment of the Constitution cannot sit in isolation from the wider question of Seanad reform. The Supreme Court ruling confirms that action must be taken. However, a minimalist approach to legislating on this issue would not be true to the spirit of either the 1979 or 2013 referenda – in which the public clearly called for reform.

The public voted in the 2013 referendum for a reformed Seanad and the 2015 Report of the Working Group on Seanad Reform (the Manning Report) clearly recommended that “a majority of the Panel seats be elected by popular vote on the principle of one person one vote.”

Arms Embargo Bill to restrict transfer of munitions of war, weapons and dangerous dual-use goods to Israel

In light of Ireland’s recent recognition of the State of Palestine, the Seanad Civil Engagement group is calling for tangible actions to curb the flow of arms being used in the relentless assault against the people of Gaza. On Wednesday 29 May, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins, Lynn Ruane, Frances Black and Eileen Flynn will be bringing a Bill to the Seanad that seeks to ensure that munitions of war, weapons and dangerous goods are not being transferred to Israel through Ireland, either directly or indirectly.

Bill from Senator Alice-Mary Higgins would give Coillte and Bord na Móna a “Mandate for Nature”

The Bill from Independent Senator Alice-Mary Higgins and her colleagues in the Seanad Civil Engagement Group would amend the Turf Development Act 1946 and the Forestry Act 1988 to change the outdated mandates of Bord na Móna and Coillte and insert new language on climate action and biodiversity.

In the case of Bord na Móna, this would strengthen the protection and restoration of bogs and in the case of Coillte the development and protection of native woodlands.

‘Quality in Public Procurement' Bill passes final stage in the Seanad

Bill aims to deliver better results from the almost €20 billion Ireland spends each year on public procurement by placing quality at the heart of the process.

 Speaking after last night's Seanad debate Senator Higgins said:

 “In 2021 the Irish State spent almost €20 billion on public procurement. This Bill is about spending better. We need to know that the public money we are spending is giving us the best possible results in terms of sustainability, the environment, employment, social impact, quality and delivery. My Bill would require public bodies to consider both quality and price when spending public money or to provide an explanation as to why not. In other words, think about quality or explain why you’re not thinking about quality.”

Winter Newsletter December 2022

Dear Friends,

This newsletter comes at a time when people in Ireland and across the world are navigating many interconnected challenges.In Ireland, the increases in cost of living have deepened existing inequalities in our society and highlighted underinvestment in public housing and public services.

Globally, conflict has layered further difficulties on top of an accelerating climate crisis. Following four years of drought, the Horn of Africa is facing a devastating famine. This is not just a tragedy, it is an injustice. Africa as a continent produces less than 4% of global carbon emissions, yet billions there are now at risk from the rise in global temperatures.

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!