Thursday, 11 July 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I first met Noel Whelan in 2013 when I was invited to work with his Democracy Matters campaign to save the Seanad in order to reform it. In 2015, I asked him to assist the Disability Federation of Ireland to make sense of the wider political and civil landscape so we could be more potent in our work. In a 15 minute conversation in the company of my management team, he put me through my paces with a small number of searching questions. He then asked me to tell him of two or three things that define the lives of people with disabilities. He said he liked doing things in threes. The answers given were clearly not precise or accurate enough and Noel's response was that I was talking about poverty, exclusion and loss of hope. He had nailed it as quickly as that. Members have heard me cite that phrase numerous times in this House and I have Noel Whelan to thank for that. I last met him on 27 February, when he agreed to be my guest speaker here in Leinster House where he addressed disability organisations on the relevance of the Seanad to their public benefit work. He was engaging as always and he summed up his presentation with the observation that the Presidency had been reformed over the past 30 years, not through changing the Constitution, but rather through changed perspective and the behaviour of the incumbents, in other words, the two Marys and Michael D. Higgins.
There has been repeated reference this morning, and rightly so, to Noel Whelan's leadership role in both the campaign for marriage equality and to repeal the eighth amendment. However, I have not heard any commentary about his inspiring leadership of the Democracy Matters campaign to save the Seanad. Noel's words on that, which I have repeated, relate to personal and collective behaviour on the parts of Members of the Seanad. They are an invitation to all in this House to re-evaluate our personal behaviour and perspective on our membership. Perhaps the absence of public comment on Seanad reform this morning is due to the perception that there have not been enough changes. The 60 Members of the Seanad are makers or breakers of those changes. Noel Whelan gave leadership and hope to Seanad reform and he has left that unfulfilled hope, in part, with us.To know the public person is also to know the holder of personal relationships. What I have said is no comfort in the epicentre of the grief and loss of those whom he loved and those who loved him - his wife, his family and his close friends - and we remember that he comes from a large Wexford family, and the love his mother and father gave. His dad was also a long-time member of the county council. May he rest in peace.