Seanad debates

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

2:30 pm

Photo of Joan FreemanJoan Freeman (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I echo what all the previous speakers said. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his dignified wisdom. This was my first time working in a situation like this and I was most impressed. I also thank Senator Paul Coghlan in his role as the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I pay special tribute to Martin Groves and Bridget Doody. They know that I would not be here today without them. I would have been totally lost. I have worn a path to their office.

As Senator Bacik said, today is an historic day - certainly for me - as it is the last day the Seanad will sit. On the way here, I thought about the hundreds of desperate families who have reached out to me during this time seeking support and advice or just that I lend them an ear and listen to their problems about accessing mental health services, especially for children. These families are the reason I started Pieta House and entered political life.

I would not be here today were it not for Deputy Micheál Martin who nominated me. I sincerely thank him. It has been a great honour and privilege to work in the Seanad for my country and with the Government. While I am thanking people, I also thank my colleagues in the Seanad, especially my fellow Independent Senators who have been led very well by Senator Victor Boyhan. They have shown me incredible kindness and, in particular, patience because I have asked them the most ridiculous things at times when I did not know what I was talking about. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has been a staunch support to me over the years.

It is hard to believe that we have been here for years. It seems only months that we have been here. I thank all of my colleagues. I have been struck by their hard work and dedication. I have seen a side of politicians that I had not seen before, simply by being here among them.I never thought I would be a politician and I am sure many people would say I am still not a politician but I want to briefly acknowledge what being on the other side has done for me during the last three and a half years. I have always been fighting the Government and giving out about the HSE and politicians. When I came over to the other side, I saw the hard work and dedication these men and women have put in for their country.

I am proud of what I have achieved in the last three and a half years. I introduced the Children's Digital Protection Bill 2018 to safeguard vulnerable children, and I hope to God it will be carried through in the Dáil. Before that, I introduced the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2016, which aimed to protect those most at risk, namely, the children of our nation. I am proud both of these Bills passed through the Seanad and I trust and hope the Government will recognise their importance and continue to push these issues. I initiated the first public consultation day on mental health in the Oireachtas in the history of the State and I am grateful to the experts who came in that day and to the parents who were petrified to come in here and talk in public. I chaired the first Oireachtas Committee on Future of Mental Health Care and I thank my colleagues on that committee and the incredible staff who assisted us. I can only trust that the next Government will implement the carefully thought through recommendations of our final report. I acknowledge my assistant, Claire Chambers, who held my hand every day I was here, Samantha Long and Anita Finucane. If I had three hands, they held those three hands.

I have been fighting for mental health support in this country for most of my adult life and I am not finished yet. The honour of serving in the Seanad has only strengthened my resolve and clarified to me the need to keep on fighting. I am fighting for the desperate and broken families that reach out for help, especially those that suffer in silence. I want to ask all Members, whatever position they find themselves at the commencement of the next Seanad, to join me in this fight.


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