Seanad debates

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

2:30 pm

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent) | Oireachtas source

On a serious note, I noted in today's edition of The Irish Timesa namesake of mine, Bishop John McDowell of Clogher, a Church of Ireland bishop in Northern Ireland whose diocese straddles the Border, emphasising the importance of civility. It seems to me that apart from simple friendship, of which there is an abundance in this House, there has always been civility. Recently when some people were urging me to go somewhere else with what remains of my political career, it did occur to me, and in fairness to Deputies, this should be said, that they are at war nearly every day. Nearly every day, they wake up and wonder whether FOI will hit them below the waterline, what competitors will say about them and the like. It is a truth that political discourse in this democracy has been under stress recently and there has been a willingness to impugn the integrity and motivation of others but this has never been the case in this House. No matter what persuasion Members of this House have on any ideological or party basis, I think we are all friends here and have never had sharp words. I have never seen really sharp words in this House or any ongoing disputes or feuds that go through that door to any other place. I thank the Members of this House for their friendship and kindness. I was thinking about what the difference was between here and Dáil Éireann and I think it is that civility and friendship exist here. What Bishop McDowell was saying is very true and there is no reason we should lose sight of that.

Senator Marshall invited a group of us to visit Stormont, which was an empty building in which the Speaker sat alone in an office. In the course of a tour, we were given a briefing on the political situation in Northern Ireland in an empty senate chamber in Northern Ireland. I understand what has been said here today, particularly by Sinn Féin contributors, about the Northern dimension but one thing that should be said is that if there is to be unity on this island, it is quite probable that there will be two separate political parts of a united Ireland. In preparation for that, it would be a wonderful thing if Northern Ireland reinstated some kind of chamber where people were not elected simply on the basis of their position on the constitutional question but where groups were represented in civil society in Northern Ireland in the legislative process along the lines of what the people in 1937 had in mind when they established this vocational Chamber. Members have mentioned the question of the reform of this Chamber. I have never been naive on this subject. When dealing with a Chamber that has run for 50 years on one basis, it is difficult to persuade people to change it. Nonetheless, however that process is brought forward now, I strongly believe in it as much as I did when Feargal Quinn asked me to stand in his place for the NUI to progress the matter. Members have mentioned the Seanad Reform Implementation Group report. Amid all of the persons mentioned for gratitude, I want to single out again Síle de Búrca, Amanda Reilly and Brian Hunt, who hugely assisted in the preparation of that report. I am confident it will be the locus and focus of a movement for reform in the future.

We have had four years, more or less, in this House, and some people have been more pessimistic than others about its longevity. I met Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell the other day and she reminded me that I owed her a bet, given she had said it would last until after Christmas. I have brought along my money to pay the debt. She is a very inventive and resourceful woman because my clear recollection is that I laid the huge sum of €100 with her on this subject, but she is now demanding €500. That is not the kind of loyalty that Enda Kenny would have got.

Whatever may be the case, I will finish on this note. This House is a wonderful part of our constitutional architecture but it was nearly abolished. We have made the journey to the National Museum and back in the past four years. None of us should cease to be ambitious for this House. All of us should be very grateful for the support we get from the staff of Leinster House in every shape and form. Our democracy depends on them and it depends on this House continuing in existence. This House will only continue in its existence if its Members are ambitious for it. I believe that, in future years, this House will live up to those ambitions and that the people of Ireland will be glad they maintained their confidence in Seanad Éireann.


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