Tuesday, 21 January 2020
Business of Seanad: Motion
Fellow Senators, it is 21 months since my election to this Twenty-fifth Seanad. It was an election where it was only possible for me to get elected through cross-party support. Whether that support came from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, Independents or even the Greens, it was a huge challenge for them to place their support in a complete unknown who is a former dairy farmer from Northern Ireland. Nonetheless, they gave me that support. I express my sincere gratitude to my fellow Senators for their welcome and support over that period. I also thank my fellow Independent group members, who have been a fantastic group of Senators with whom to work.
I will refer briefly to Senator Conway-Walsh's comments about Senator Ó Donnghaile. He came here much earlier than I did and was effectively a bit of a trailblazer. It is fair to say we both know we probably blaze slightly different trails. Nonetheless, we can agree on the vast majority of things, and that has been important. I thank all the Seanad staff, the administrative staff, the ushers and, perhaps especially, the catering staff. As this House knows, an army marches on its stomach and that sustenance over many long days and nights kept us going.
In this particularly challenging time, with an election unfolding in front of us and the visceral vitriolic business that is politics around elections, one thing I have noted in these Houses is the collegiate spirit that exists. That exists from the administrative staff, the ushers and the catering staff right up to the Department of the Taoiseach, all the Ministers and the Cabinet. When a crisis happens, the green shirt goes on and Team Ireland comes into play. Everybody needs to be commended on that.
The past 20 months have demonstrated the value of this House and it is something - I am sure Senator Ó Donnghaile will agree with this point - that is glaringly absent in Northern Ireland at the moment. I refer to this House's ability to scrutinise, interrogate, amend and challenge legislation. Interestingly, in the past 12 months I have learned the true meaning of the verb "to filibuster". I have also learned that if one is of sound mind and intelligence and has a good command of the English language, it is possible to speak on one word for one hour and 20 minutes without repetition. That must be commended. The interesting thing is that can be done the next day and the next day without repetition. That is something I have learned from my colleagues. This House provides an invaluable service and I think it is sometimes misunderstood. We need to recognise that it is often not until after something has been lost that there is a realisation of what we had.
This has been a journey for me and it has been about building bridges and learning and understanding ourselves and others. It has been about recognising that we actually have more that unites us than divides us. In closing, it is interesting to note that I was in a meeting recently in Northern Ireland. It was a formal meeting, and when I turned to address the chairman, I addressed him as "cathaoirleach". We do, therefore, absorb things from the environment around us in which we live and work. For that reason, we as Senators all need to send out positive messages.