Seanad debates

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

2:30 pm

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I also thank our Clerk, Mr. Martin Groves, and Ms Bridget Doody, who are, as we would say in rowing parlance, the stroke oar. They decide how the race is run. I thank Ms Popa and Ms Judge in the office and Ms Hart, who is my personal secretary and who has been extremely patient with and understanding of me. Over the past four years I think she has got to know certain aspects of me that I hope she will not reveal to anyone. In his absence, I pay compliment to Senator Buttimer, the Leader of the House. He has been a great Leader. He is out canvassing in Cork for re-election. As someone mentioned, in this Seanad the Government did not have absolute control. It was a very diverse Seanad. I wish Senator Buttimer well in his campaign. I also thank my secretary on another level, Ms Sheena Bourke. I should like to compliment the National Museum on allowing us into its facilities and letting us use its graceful room over a period of almost two years. That should be acknowledged. We are grateful for it, and I am sure the National Museum is grateful we returned to our natural home.

I thank the Captain and all the staff here: the ushers, the stenographers and the press and media who cover our proceedings. I have been here a good few years and I think the Houses are like a second home to the staff.We are always made welcome here, whether it is in the restaurant or the bar or when meeting a member of staff and by the security people at the gate. There is always great camaraderie and great respect shown to Members and I want to acknowledge this.

In one sense, as someone said to me, this is like the last supper, but there is no breaking of bread and, thankfully, there is no wine here. It is an occasion at which we can get nostalgic. This has been an extraordinarily diverse Seanad and there are a number of reasons for this. I was a Member of the Seanad from 1989 to 1992 or 1993. It was a short enough term. Then we had Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Now there are various groupings, and it enriches the Seanad, whether they are from universities, appointees, representing the Irish language, the North or the diaspora. The selection of Senator Lawless to represent the diaspora was made not before time. I am the youngest of 11, of whom seven emigrated. I lived in London where my daughter was born. I have five sisters who are US citizens, one of whom is now deceased. Senator Lawless's appointment reaches out to the people who left our land, whether in the 1940s, 1950s or, more recently, in the 1990s. When we go to Boston, London, Chicago or Melbourne, we have the feeling there are Irish everywhere.

The Seanad is diverse in other ways and we have had some amazing debates. At all other times the Government Whip could whip everybody into line to win a vote and perhaps it was a good thing that on certain days there was uncertainty and there were probably some votes lost. This adds to the intrigue and the diverse type of Seanad we should have.

I am a small bit nostalgic because not quite three months ago, when I was looking up at a white ceiling in St. James's Hospital, my consultant was saying, "You must remember, Mr. O'Donovan, [I do not think the lady knew I was a Senator and it did not matter to me because I was alive] that you have come through a near-death experience and it will take some time before you get back on your feet." I am grateful to be here. I have a little story to tell from that episode. The incident happened on a Friday at approximately 12 o'clock in Rathfarnham and within half an hour I was in St. James's Hospital with a few sore ribs after being resuscitated. It was a bank holiday weekend and the following Tuesday morning was the first time my phone was brought back to me. I had been told I was not getting the phone. Eileen brought in the phone to me and there must have been 1,000 messages and calls. I wondered how in the name of God people knew about what had happened because it was a private event. She told me I did not want to know. I told her I did. I was on all sorts of tubes and I was really sore around the rib cage because the fireman who brought me back to life nearly broke my ribs. They say in that parlance it is better to break a rib and get you going again then to let you go. After about a half an hour pleading, my good wife said she would show me. She gave me a cutting from the back of the Irish Examiner. Obviously, there are leaks in all sorts of lives and somebody leaked that I was very ill and at death's door. The journalist, whom I shall not name now, said I was seriously ill, on life support and that I had suffered a heart attack. I cannot remember the exact wording. Despite the soreness of my ribs I laughed uncontrollably for 15 minutes and it was hard to laugh because it hurt. Eileen kept asking me what I was laughing at because she said there was nothing to laugh about. She was really angry about it because she said it should not have gone out, that we needed privacy, that we had to have a life and that we had a family. She asked me what the hell I was laughing at. Eventually, I calmed down and said the only thing he did not print was the time of the removal. I thought it was a good end.

We are all back here and I thank everyone sincerely. From all diverse aspects of life Senators have been very kind to me and understanding. I have tried in the best way I can, as a cábóg from the Sheepshead Peninsula in west Cork now living in Schull, to be fair to everyone, and I hope I have been reasonably fair, without any agenda only to try to get the work of the House done.I wish those who are running for election, particularly Seanadóirí, well. I was in that situation many times. Politics is a tough game. People talk about winning and losing All-Irelands and playing matches of rugby, hurling or football, but in politics, one must be made of tougher steel than what it takes to watch a rival walk up the Hogan Stand to get the Sam Maguire Cup or Liam MacCarthy Cup. Politics is a tough game and I have been at it for 35 years. I wish everyone luck. I never had an enemy in politics. I always got on with people from whatever side they came. There might be rivalries during a campaign, but when the campaign is over, one puts that rivalry behind and moves on.


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