Friday, 16 October 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Denis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
------my medical people said not that I was a high-risk person but that I was an at-risk person. The last time I was able to come into this Chamber was when I served in Dáil Éireann. It is nice to be back here again. It brings back fond memories. I am probably one of the longest here. I was here in 1989. I am not sure how many Members other than Senator Norris have a longer record of penance and public service. I am not sure how well it was received or how well I did, but sin scéal eile.
I rise today primarily to express my extraordinary concern over the need for the likes of the Cathaoirleach, Ceann Comhairle and President of the High Court to issue instructions and a mandate to people in these surroundings, namely, the lawmakers, not necessarily in this Chamber but in the Oireachtas as a whole, and those who serve in our courts, the barristers and solicitors. I am technically still a solicitor but have not been practising for a while. I am concerned that a caution or warning had to be issued to barristers and solicitors in courts and Senators and Deputies on the basis that they are not fully complying with the instructions on social distancing and the regulations we are supposed to implement.We are the legislators and the people working in the courts implement the laws. It is hard for people, whether they are on peninsulas such as Sheep's Head, Beara, Mizen, where I live, Inishowen, Dingle, in the Cathaoirleach's county, or in Connemara hearing that they cannot see their children or grandchildren. It is a hard pill to swallow. Yet, we in this Chamber and the Lower House and in the courts refuse with disdain to accept the regulations imposed on us. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Due to circumstances, this Chamber has sometimes sat on Monday and, because of the Dáil, we sometimes sit almost a five-day week. We are giving two fingers to the hewers of wood and the drawers of water. I do not say that in a derogatory or disparaging way but the ordinary working-class people are told they must do this and the pillars of society - that may be too strong a term because sometimes I do not think we are pillars - can do what we want. That is a bad message. If we want the ordinary working-class people of this country to come on board, by God, we are making a hash of it.
I will raise one other issue. I often wonder, putting on my legal hat, if much of the work in the Seanad and the Dáil could be done in another way. My esteemed colleague, Senator McDowell, who has experience in the courts, in both Chambers and as a Minister, asked if this Seanad could have sat with the 49 elected Members without the 11 nominated Members. That is an important point to reflect on. Can this Chamber and the other House do much of its work at a distance? We have Zoom. When I came in here in 1989, there was no Zoom, Twitter, Facebook or anything like that. We were lucky to have a paper and a pen and we have moved on a long way since. Should we look at that and, if necessary, put a test case, by way of State cases, to the High Court and the Supreme Court to see if we can operate in some way under the extraordinary circumstances we are in? This pandemic is going nowhere and will probably be here next year, and lives are at risk. Can we look at the possibility of sitting fewer days and of committee work being done at arm's length? I am sure the Supreme Court or the High Court would interpret the regulations as set out broadly and in a different way because of the circumstances we are in. That might be something the Chamber could reflect on.