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The references to sustainability & environment in the Bill are woefully outdated & inadequate, coming from a 1987 pre-Rio definition of “environmental development”.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!


‘Quality in Public Procurement’ Bill passes Committee Stage in the Seanad

Yesterday, Senator Higgins’ ‘Quality in Public Procurement’ Bill passed Committee Stage in the Seanad. The Bill places quality at the heart of the public procurement process and moves public procurement on from the current approach of automatically awarding contracts on the basis of lowest price. The Bill will make price-quality ratio the default approach for awarding public contracts, either on its own or combined with life-cycle costing.

Newsletter January 2022

Dear Friends,

The last eighteen months have been very difficult for many. Yet even as we continue to navigate the daily challenges presented by Covid 19, another important conversation is also happening. A conversation about what kind of future we want to build together in our communities and on our planet. 

It is important that we learn from recent experience and do not slide back to an unsustainable and unequal business as usual. This is a chance to do things differently and better. 
Read more...

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins speaking at the conclusion of the Climate Bill Debate

As the stark facts of the IPCC report are underscored by fires and floods across the world. I’m sharing my thoughts on the Climate Bill and how Ireland must and can do better on Climate Action. Immediate actions should include a moratorium on data centres, exit from Energy Charter Treaty, a ban on LNG terminals and leadership re global ban on fracking and #2050istoolate.

Ireland is starting late on climate action and it should be starting stronger. Here are some important challenges, gaps and concerns which will need further attention and action in the months ahead.

Limitation of liability: This problematic clause limits compensation for citizens hurt by climate inaction at the same time as the Government want to introduce new liabilities/compensation for corporations under the Investor Court System/CETA with chill effect. It's more important than ever to stop the ratification of CETA.

Climate Justice: I am glad that the Government removed a weak and damaging definition of climate justice but am disappointed they did not replace it with the strong one as proposed by NGOs and Senators. Government must now prove sincerity on this through concrete global solidarity action for example at COP26 and through funding.

Just Transition: "There are also people involved in just transition who have been ahead of us." A strong Just Transition definition is not included in the legislation. The Government will need to place communities, trade unions and others at centre of Just Transition for a ground up approach to climate action.

SDGs: Ireland played key role in negotiating the UN Sustainable Development Goals yet the Government rejected any amendments to include them in Climate Bill. The SDGs are not aspirational or optional they must be recognised as crucial blueprint for how we survive together on this fragile planet. 

Market forces: "If we try to fit climate action into stock market model, we will fail and the world will burn". The Minister's economic framing doesn’t recognise that, as with housing, speculation is a problem not a solution and we can’t afford that. 

2030 Target:”51% should be the floor not the ceiling”. Unfortunately the Government rejected my amendment to insert ‘at least’ before ‘51%’ which would have given the Climate Change Advisory Council flexibility to propose more ambitious budgets. Many scientists also have concerns regarding how the 51% target may be calculated.

Oil and Gas: The Climate Bill still allows the Minister to grant NEW licenses and leases for fossil fuel extraction, for example where there has been previous exploration licence. This actively undermines the aim of Bill and may be motivated by fear of litigation through the Energy Charter Treaty. Ireland needs to stop digging!

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins welcomes “important shift in policy and approach” as Minister O’Gorman publishes legislation to give adopted people access to birth certs and early life information

Senator Higgins has welcomed new draft legislation published by Minister O’Gorman yesterday “as an important shift in policy and approach which could finally give adopted people proper access their birth certificates, and birth and early life information.”

Speaking today Senator Higgins said “This proposed legislation seems to offer long-overdue recognition and support for the rights of adopted people to access their birth certificates, and birth and early life information.”