Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins has tonight been appointed as a minister of state in the newly created Department of Higher Education.
In a tweet tonight, Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris welcomed Collins, saying that he was “looking forward to working with the new Minister of State as we create our new Department”.
Collins has held several senior positions in Fianna Fáil, serving as opposition spokesperson for justice and equality and spokesperson for jobs, enterprise and innovation.
Collins lost his portfolio last year, however, after the Irish Independent revealed that he had voted for fellow party member Timmy Dooley on six occasions when Dooley was not present in the chamber.
Both members were sacked from the front bench by Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Collins claimed that he thought Dooley was in the chamber at the time.
According to the Limerick Leader, Collins had been in the running to become government chief whip, but the role was instead given to Fianna Fail’s deputy leader Dara Calleary.
Third-level stakeholders will welcome a move to set up a specific department for higher education. Many, including Provost Patrick Prendergast, have called in recent times for the establishment of one, after higher education got a partial ministry in 2017 as part of the Department of Education.
University heads have become more full-throated in recent times in their criticisms of the government when it comes to funding for third-level. Last month, Prendergast told Pat Kenny in a Newstalk interview that it’s “not good enough” that education has been deprioritised when it comes to state funding decisions.
The idea of a new Department of Higher Education has been mooted in the past, with Fianna Fáil promising it for the first time last summer and committing to establishing it before February’s general election.
Speaking at the Institute of International and European Affairs in February, Taoiseach Micheál Martin echoed a manifesto commitment to the creation of a new department with responsibility for higher education.
Martin said: “We have to immediately address a funding crisis which threatens quality in our higher education system, to invest more in helping disadvantaged communities.”