Seanad debates

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

2:30 pm

Photo of Colette KelleherColette Kelleher (Independent) | Oireachtas source

It is hard not to be moved as I listen to all the speeches. I never expected to be here. One day in May 2016, I got an unexpected phone call from Deputy Micheál Martin. I was expecting it to be about issues with a day service in Cork or something like that. He asked me whether I was willing to allow my name to be put forward to the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, for nomination to the Seanad. He told me that I had an hour to decide and that I should not tell anyone, but I told my husband before responding by accepting this incredible gift. I am grateful that I did. My name was announced as a Taoiseach's nominee the following day. When members of my family heard about it on a bus as they made their way to a Bruce Springsteen concert, they could not believe their ears. My phone began to ring and people started to ask me what I intended to do as a Senator. As I had neither sought nor expected the honour of being nominated to the Seanad, I had no manifesto and no plans. I was not prepared at all. I entered the Seanad with my life experience and my values to guide me. I recall meeting Senator Diarmuid Wilson; the Cathaoirleach, Senator Denis O'Donovan; Senator Ned O'Sullivan and a few others. Noel Murphy was appointed to mind me. With that good start, I tried my best to make the most of the incredible opportunity that had been given to me.

I would like to thank many people. I thank the Captain of the Guard and the ushers for their great kindness and their immense patience with me. I always seemed to be breaking rules that I did not know existed until I came across them. They were very good to me throughout. I thank all the cheery catering staff, including Margaret in the coffee dock. I thank the early morning cleaners who tried to tidy my messy office. I thank the staff of the Oireachtas, including Anita in the Joint Committee on Public Petitions and Aileen in the Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community. I thank the staff of the one stop shop, Library and Research Service and Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisers. I thank the Ceann Comhairle and his staff. I thank the Leader and the staff of the Seanad Office, including Martin, Bridget and all the others. I thank the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach and my fellow Seanadóirí, including the members of the wonderful Civil Engagement group. I thank all of the staff, including Aengus, Seb, Aisling, Conor, Emma, Doreen, Oisín, Janet, Ciara, Nem, Sinéad and Ed, who is now in Brussels with Grace O'Sullivan MEP. I thank my own little team, including Hannah Twomey and her predecessors, Ben Meany, Oein De Bhairdúin and Pádraig Rice. I thank Jennifer, Sarah and Fiadha, who helped with projects. I thank Ministers, civil servants, political parties, staff and advisers.

I would like to thank the many civil society organisations I have worked with and through, including AsIAm, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, the Irish Dementia Working Group, the Abortion Rights Campaign, the Adoption Rights Alliance, the Cork Simon Community, the Cork Traveller Visibility Group, Safeguarding Ireland, Sage Advocacy, Safe Ireland, the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, Together for Yes, Women's Health in Ireland, the National Women's Council of Ireland, the Irish Traveller Movement and all the Traveller NGOs, the Irish Refugee Council, the Irish Family Planning Association, Independent Living Movement Ireland, Nasc, Oxfam Ireland and the Public Interest Law Alliance. I know I have forgotten some of the organisations in question. I have been helped along the way by many academics and practitioners, including Dr. Cathy Burke and Dr. Mary Favier, and by inspirational activists such as Graham Manning and the teachers and pupils of Largy College in Monaghan.

I thank my family and friends for their moral support. It strikes me as I reflect on the past four years that we always worked together to do some good. Senator Conway-Walsh spoke about the work we did in the area of domestic violence. The passing of the Domestic Violence Act 2018 was an amazing moment. It is an example of the lasting change of which we can all be proud. Last Saturday, I went to see a film called "A Hidden Life". If there has been a thread running through what I have been doing in this Chamber, it has been a recognition that hidden lives and the private troubles that go with them are public issues. I owe that insight to C. Wright Mills. I have worked with many others to shine some light on the hidden lives of people who experience adult abuse and the private troubles of children and young people who encounter difficulties because they are gay.We have made some progress in the public sphere on issues like dementia, home care, disability, the difficulties faced by children with autism, children living in homelessness, drug reform which was spearheaded by Senator Ruane, matters relating to refugees and the difficulties faced by some reuniting with families, Travellers' rights, and women's health, including abortion care, contraceptive care, and dealing with gynaecology waiting lists at a local level. I will be relying on all Members to carry on the work because I am not standing. The family reunification Bill is in the Dáil and I hope it see its way all the way through. It is nearly there. The work has been done, so I ask Members to please take it up.

The Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018 passed all Stages here. The former Minister made promises. Members should make sure that the incoming Minister is reminded of those promises and that this important Bill is passed. Adult safeguarding is in the safe hands of Ms Justice Mary Laffoy. It could not be in safer hands, but it will need advocates and champions to make sure that it does not slide down the agenda.

There are Oireachtas groups that I want people to champion. These include the all-party group on dementia where Deputy Butler, Senators Devine and Humphreys and I worked so hard together. I mention also the women's caucus group, the Oireachtas Traveller group, the Oireachtas disability group which I suggested to Senator Dolan and which I left to him, the group on drugs policy, and the sexual reproductive rights group. I wish those standing luck in the gruelling days ahead as they stand before the electorate for this House and the other House. If like me people are not standing, I wish them good wishes in wherever else they find themselves next. I know the friendships made will endure and that our paths will cross again.

I have been very bad at the auld Irish here, but this is my chance. Moll an obair atá déanta agus an obair atá le déanamh. Go n-eirí an bóthar leis na Seanadóirí uilig.


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