The majority of the amendments in this grouping relate to the functions of an t-údarás, the next section of the Bill which flows after the section concerning the objects of an t-údarás.
In respect of the really important section concerning the objects of an t-údarás, the body which will oversee higher education across this State, I put forward 14 amendments and would have been entitled, if I so wished, to call vótáil on all of them. It would not be appropriate for any Member of the House to question my rights to do so. The amendments were put in with due process, thought and work. I commend my staff on the work they put in to legislation and the fact they take it extremely seriously.
I called for vótáil on two of the amendments on fundamentally important core principles, relevant not just to this Bill and to Ireland but to the world. They are the difference between a 1980s version of environmental development and the sustainable development which is defined widely, including in legislation from this House, in relation to the sustainable development goals and the global perspective. It is a substantial question as to which approach to environmental sustainability we take.
The other was on the fundamental issue of whether equality is wider, as the Minister acknowledged, than just equality of opportunity. The objects, which is the top line of this Bill, is where further discussion of equality flows from. It is important to get it right. I do not need to justify putting forward any amendment and pressing a vote on it but I want to signal, lest the record wrongly show, that these are really important issues.
Amendment No. 28 concerns the question of "value for money" relating to the functions of an t-údarás. I have highlighted that the framing of "value for money" is somewhat narrow and out of touch with the understanding we have now of things like most economically advantageous.
I commend the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Catherine Martin, for accepting the points that I made about value for money when we debated the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill. Today, we are not just talking about value for money in a narrow sense such as efficiencies or an economic amount but seek to learn what is effective. It was in that regard that I proposed the deletion of section 9(1)(c) which states: "secure and evidence value for money in the expenditure by an t-údarás of moneys provided to it under section 19" and substitute “ensure financial transparency in designated higher education institutions and effective expenditure of an t-údarás of public monies provided to it”. For me, out of the three standards that are set by the Comptroller and Auditor General, effectiveness is one of the most important because we want to know that the money we spend has a good effect.
Amendments Nos. 28 to 30, inclusive, and 32 seek to ensure that without prejudice to the ability of an t-údarás to plan for higher education, under sections 9(1)(d) and (e), that it would also respond to the recommendations made by individual institutions. We tabled this amendment because it is important that recommendations are factored into how an t-údarás plans for the sector as a whole, which goes back to the core issue of recognising that institutions have distinct missions, characters, wisdom and knowledge. To preserve university autonomy, we must ensure that the relationship, especially concerning this crucial area of advising on policy, is not solely hierarchical and is a collaborative relationship.
These amendments seek to address lines 23 to 24 so that an t-údarás plans for higher education provision and makes recommendations to the Minister, and that an t-údarás would plan for research in the higher education system and make recommendations. Perhaps the Minister of State, in his reply, will make it clear that it would not be the case that institutions are required, through an t-údarás, to make recommendations concerning research given that they have specialist knowledge and understanding in those areas yet would still be empowered to make direct recommendations to Ministers in that regard.
Amendment No. 31 highlights the importance of climate change, and particularly now given the critical need for Ireland to accelerate actions to deliver on its 51% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target by 2030 and vastly improve our track record for protecting the environment. I have often said that climate change is a crucial area because I think about this issue all of the time, particularly as the last ten years of the last 100,000 years have been the hottest to date.
As I said previously about research, Ireland's higher education system has a crucial role to play in discovering, developing and implementing solutions that will help us to achieve our climate, environmental and sustainable targets leading up to 2030 and beyond. That is why sustainable development is crucial. Ireland negotiated the UN sustainable development goals and persuaded the rest of the world to sign up to them just a few years ago. The goals should be our guide and we have only eight to achieve them.
In seeking to imbed sustainable development stronger into the Bill I acknowledge that many individual higher education institutions have done extremely good work in respect of the sustainable development goals. I have launched projects in NUI Galway on same. UCC has won awards for its co-operation and partnership around the goals. Finally, I commend the Irish Research Council on providing important research grants concerning the sustainable goals. All of that work shows that sustainable development is a core issue. In fact, one of the reasons that it is a core issue for many universities is because it is a key factor in securing Horizon 2020 funding and EU funding. However, more needs to be done to imbed sustainable development in the functions of an t-údarás in a way that matches what is being done by institutions. I wish to note that I have tabled an amendment on sustainable development that concerns green public procurement.
Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 have been tabled because my colleagues and I believe that the current wording of section 9(1)(f) is unsatisfactory as it overly focuses on the needs of business and the professions, not on the broader needs of society. Section 9 refers to the functions of an t-údarás and 9(1)(f) states: "meeting the educational and skills needs of individuals, business, enterprise, the professions, the community, local interests and other stakeholders". Clearly, business, enterprise and the professions are named individually when, certainly for business and enterprise, one word might have been enough. I note that the arts, culture and the environment have not been listed among the educational and skills needs. I think that they should be so the amendment seeks to insert the words "society, the environment, the arts" among the measures already mentioned.
Amendment No. 35 concerns the global dimension of the higher education system. The amendment specifies that as a function of an t-údarás there is a need to, "promote co-operation between higher education institutions in the European Union and internationally for the purposes of advancing public research and development which seeks to address social and economic inequalities and environmental challenges and climate change". Global co-operation is needed to tackle these challenges and I urge the Minister of State to consider this amendment. We have raised these issues in areas of work because we have only a narrow window of time in which to act globally to avert a layering of catastrophes. I am someone who is passionate about higher education and I am very passionate about the role that it can play in this regard. That is why we need to imbed this aspect at the core of higher education. Again, those who are lucky enough to have the opportunity to access higher education and these institutions have a role to play in tackling social challenges.
Amendment No. 36 concerns the specified functions of an t-údarás. As this is Traveller Pride Week, we have an opportunity to accept this amendment as it would imbed this matter. If the Minister of State cannot accept the amendment then perhaps he might look at other ways in which to bring this matter forward.
Earlier today, I had the honour of presenting an award to members of the Mincéirs Whiden Society, NUIG. As the Minister of State will be aware, the Civil Engagement Group has previously brought forward legislation in respect of Traveller culture and history in terms of education in the primary and secondary education systems. I seek to mirror those provisions and ask that we consider research into Traveller culture and history, and recognise that there is a major gap in the system. I note that there is an opportunity here and commend the institutions that have already started this process. One of the projects that universities need to commence in the next period is research on decolonisation, including the decolonisation of the curriculum. I hope that an t-údarás will support and give guidance to institutions in that process.
Amendment No. 37 seeks to insert the following: "(n) promote, support and respect academic freedom for staff and students,". We have already discussed the fact that students make an important academic contribution and, therefore, their academic freedom should be protected.
On amendment No. 38, in 2015 Ireland, along with 182 UN member states, signed up to the delivery of the 17 UN sustainable development goals, which are a blueprint for a better and more sustainable future for us all. The goals are not an aspirational and nice add-on. They are game-changing and a different way of doing things, which gives us, as a planet, society and humanity, a far better chance of sustainability and survival. As fewer then eight years remain in which to deliver on the goals, Ireland must start accelerating action to deliver on them. I believe that it is appropriate for universities to lead in this respect, especially given that the goals will be and are core for higher education institutions when accessing EU and international funding, and developing, which is as important as funding, partnerships with institutions of higher education across the world that are working to solve these joint problems and develop collective solutions.
Amendment No. 39 seeks to ensure that equity would be inserted as something which an t-údarás would be tasked with promoting and as part of its functions. I will not go over these points again but it was previously acknowledged by the Minister that equality and equity were not quite the same thing. Equity should be named as part of the functions of an t-údarás.
Amendment No. 40 seeks to insert the provision of monitoring and assisting the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD, and specifically Article 24, which falls very much within the remit of higher education institutions. That is an internationally binding treaty which Ireland has ratified and Article 24.5 specifies that: “States Parties [should] ensure that persons with disabilities are able to access general tertiary education,”. The work of an t-údarás would be very much in line with the fulfilment of that article. Article 24.5 continues: "To this end, States Parties shall ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to persons with disabilities". I understand that there may be scope within the equality statement to address this issue but I want to name it as a very specific responsibility and article within the UN in the CRPD where higher education will have to take the lead.
Amendment No. 42 refers to the fact that section 9(2) of the Bill currently provides that: "An tÚdarás shall have all such powers as are necessary or expedient for the performance by it of its functions". This is quite a great deal of power to give to a public body and is not caveated with the provision that such functions must be related to this piece of legislation. The word "expedient" is perhaps inappropriate here, and again should be either deleted or deleted and replaced with the word "proportionate", as suggested by me. That is important because the idea of "expedient" means quickly and doing it as fast as possible. In an area such as this, and with the exercise of the very considerable powers that are being given to an t-údarás, ensuring that they are exercised in a way that is proportionate is certainly as important if not more important than ensuring that they are done quickly. We note that sometimes if there is a requirement for doing things in the quickest way possible, mistakes may be made.
Can I just check that amendment No. 42 is the end of that grouping, please?