Seanad debates

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

2:30 pm

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent) | Oireachtas source

The first person I would like to thank this afternoon is Deputy Enda Kenny. The reason is that he appointed me to the Seanad in 2011 and then reappointed me in 2016. That is possibly the greatest affirmation one could ever have. Most of us need affirmation in our lives. Sometimes one gets it in the strangest places. “Behaviour that’s admired is the path to power”. So says Seamus Heaney in Beowulf. I always felt very privileged with that appointment. I had been hacking away in education, lecturing for years, working very hard in one of the finest and the most urbane, steely and newest universities in the country, DCU. With many staff, we built it from the ground up. We were kind of ignored out in the northside of the city until I got that phone call. I was absolutely delighted to bring all those years of experience, language, orality, romance and whatever into the Seanad. That is the first person I would like to thank.

I would also like to thank all my colleagues here. The Seanad is the House of orality, reflection, thought, discussion and debate. I have learned so much from the listening aspect. Colleagues come from a thousand different backgrounds and have so much to bring. I have changed my mind in here which for an old dog for a hard road is a difficult thing for me, especially being from north Mayo. I have changed my mind in here for the better. I thank everybody.

I do not dislike anybody in here. I might not particularly like their policies or their politics. Some may be a bit territorial when we start talking about bridges and lakes. Generally speaking, everybody was in here for a good reason, namely, the common good. They came with a tremendous sense of the positive and for a better Ireland. I thank all my colleagues for the learning experience, as well as the Civil Service, the ushers, the staff and the secretariat.What experience those people have. Somebody mentioned earlier that our Civil Service is the best in Europe. The civil servants are absolutely outstanding and they are so emotionally contained that one never really knows what they are thinking. They give good advice and were the greatest mentors and teachers in the silent way in which they sat and taught me.

I thank Ms Bronagh Curran, an extraordinary person who came from the Irish Hospice Foundation to work for me and who is sitting in my office. I also thank Ms Nora Doheny and Ms Jane Lehane, but I particularly thank Ms Curran.

I learned most in my time here as a member of various committees. It was at committee meetings that the real training happened because we had the privilege of sitting there as non-governmental organisations, NGOs, those involved with projects, organisations and people came from all over Ireland and all walks of life to teach us the way the world is, to find a route for us and to articulate how we could help them. The people who came before the committees were my greatest teachers. There is expertise and brilliance out there and not necessarily in people with famous names, degrees and big titles; it often comes from people who work on the ground. Senator Ruane remarked on that in another way. Those people brought field work and knowledge into committee meetings and I found my articulation from them.

A Carmelite nun told me that it is only in the service of others that one finds the best in oneself. She was right. I do not like looking in a mirror because I do not like what I see a lot of the time - physically, but also mentally and emotionally. When I am doing something for other people is when I get the best from myself. I wrote a report, Finite Lives - Dying, Death and Bereavement: An Examination of State Services in Ireland, which relates to the majority of Departments because of the way people are treated when they are facing their own mortality. I am most proud of the privilege to have had around me the people who helped me to do that. The report was recently taken up by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty. Leaving this planet relates not only to health but to everything, including community, life, education, arts, travel, transport, food, heat and light. We have a very narrow view of what happens to people when they are facing the ends of their lives. As stated, the report relates to all Departments except the Department of Health. The latter has its own manifesto. I am proud of the report but I am most proud of the Irish Hospice Foundation and the people who worked with me on it.

There must be reform of the Seanad. I do not believe in all of the aspects of reform but the great university I mentioned at the outset and in which I taught for 25 years has no vote in Seanad elections. Those in the regional technical colleges and the education and training boards have no vote. Many people in third level education do not have a vote. That is completely wrong. This aspect of reform - if that is the way we want to go - could be progressed overnight. I believe in reform. That particular reform must be pushed through in the lifetime of the next Seanad.

My heart was, I hope, in the right place when I came in here and is still in the right place insofar as I am still standing here. Whether I will be standing here again in the future is for another day. I leave here with friendships, with a sense that I have been on a learning curve and with a feeling of privilege that the Seanad contained me and gave me a platform. I appreciate everybody who gave me an opportunity during my time here but, most particularly, Deputy Enda Kenny. Loyalty is the most important thing in political life and I hope I afforded loyalty back to him to parallel the affirmation he gave me.


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