Friday, 18 December 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I will speak on the few specific issues which were raised. In response to Senator Ruane, Senator Higgins contacted me over the weekend with regard to the gentleman about whom Senator Ruane spoke. I did not contact the Minister for Justice, but the Taoiseach. They are well aware of the circumstances. We are all well aware of the commitments made by the Minister of Justice in this House and by the Taoiseach last week. I will send that message again today.
Senator Boylan mentioned the commitment we made earlier this year in passing a motion in this House. It is momentous. It probably does not affect everybody, but the fact that schools in Northern Ireland yesterday received supplies of period products is a real step forward and a real sign of leadership. I am aware that there is legislation in preparation. Senator Seery Kearney is drafting legislation at the moment to ensure this matter is put on a legislative footing this year.
Would it not be wonderful if this House could show leadership in that regard? This brings me to the point Senator Gavan made. We are the Houses of the Oireachtas and we have control over the leadership we give not only through legislation, but through our actions. Would it not be wonderful if this House could provide period products as a sign of leadership which might instruct all of our Departments to do the same thing for all of their staff? I was going to say my next point was more important but perhaps it is just on a different level. It would be an absolutely wonderful sign of leadership to be able to declare this site a living-wage site. This is something the Senator should definitely pursue. I will support him in the new year in that regard.
This has been a hell of a year. Life is not meant to be easy; it is meant to be lived. There are happy times and rough times. We all know them. With every up and down, we learn something. We learn lessons which, I hope, make us stronger. We have certainly learned an awful lot this year, if not about ourselves, certainly about one another and about all that is good in this country. That stems from our people. This year, leadership has been shown from the ground up by our volunteers, organisations such as sporting groups, industry and every other section of society. Indeed, all of our politicians have shown leadership this year. It was certainly a time for Government to be generous and to support people through an unprecedented time. I know we use the word "unprecedented" too often but I certainly hope it is a word we will have to use less when we see the light at the end of the tunnel next year.
I did not see the programme the Cathaoirleach mentioned last night but Senator Boylan brought it to my attention. I have, however, witnessed over recent months some of the most thoughtful contributions ever made here being made by our new Senator, Eileen Flynn. She is a wonderful example of the ordinary people in this country who can do extraordinary things. I wish her every success in the future. She perfectly proves the point that one cannot be what one cannot see. This can only happen with our co-operation because she comes from a minority section of our society that does not have the votes on the panels that would allow her, and others like her, to be successfully elected. We all need to be aware that sections of our society do not have the same voice as some other sections. She is a wonderful advocate for that community. One can be sure that, having seen her, people will want to be like her in the future.
She is not unique. We have a lady mayor from a minority community and the President of the European Commission is a lady. Very shortly, we will have the first lady Vice President of the US. The gentlemen present are on notice; we are here and we are here to stay. I only hope we can continue to receive their support to ensure equality of opportunity for every woman, regardless of her background, ethnicity or love life. It does not matter; we just want equality of opportunity. I know that they will know, because we know, that society will be better and that decisions will be better made if we have that equality of opportunity.
Politics is always about the personal and there was nothing more personal than the contributions made by Senators Casey and Crowe and others in support of the hospitality industry. It has gone through the absolute mire. I know everybody else has as well and that we can all advocate for particular industries, for sport or for dancing. We do that. That is our job and we do it with passion. The passion Senator Casey has shown not only this morning, but over recent weeks, in speaking on the impact and effects of the decisions being made - although they are being made for the right reasons - are having on his family and countless other families in the hospitality industry cannot be understated. I will absolutely will send the clear message back today that hanging around and waiting until next week is not acceptable. This delay might be to allow more informed decisions to be made but there was a gentleman on the radio this morning who said that he had a six-figure sum worth of stock coming in. Another gentleman said he had €30,000 worth of food coming in this weekend. The absolute least that can be done is to give certainty as to what is going to happen for the next week or two. I assure the Senator that I will send that message to the Taoiseach's office as soon as I am finished here today.
By the same token, we have all worked incredibly hard this year. The Cathaoirleach himself has touched on the more than 3,000 families that will have somebody missing from their lives and from their Christmas tables. We will be able to sit around our Christmas tables with our families and, it is to be hoped, enjoy ourselves, although it will be in different circumstances. Every decision being made, however, is being made in the best interests of our people. These decisions are not perfect because we are not perfect. They are being made by human beings and we hope they will give us a better chance at a good outcome. We can sometimes be a little bit severe in our criticisms of the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, so I would like to thank its members sincerely, I hope on behalf of us all, for the endless hours of work they have put in since the beginning of this year.That is well deserved. Dr. Holohan was announced as man of the year yesterday. He has certainly given far more than is expected of a public servant. Many of our other public servants have done the same behind the scenes. I will write to NPHET today on all of our behalf to thank its members for their public service over the last ten or 12 months. They really have been exemplary. That brings me to the public servants in this House - Martin, Bridget, their staff and all our staff, including Orla and Grace, and all the staff in the wider House. I have had the privilege of working in Leinster House for a number of years. I used to think when I was first elected to the Oireachtas that our ushers were hand picked because they were so special, kind, caring and generous. It was not just one or two of them but all of them, which is why I used to think there must be a special recruitment process for ushers in the Houses because they do an incredible job with such good spirit and such warmth towards us. I can attest to that. I thank them so much for everything they do and for all the care they give us.
Equally, I thank all the catering staff. I think we probably know more about the lives of the people who work in the bars, canteens and the coffee dock, and they about ours, than we do of those of our friends. They are wonderful people. The high spirits they have been during an incredibly difficult year have put a smile on my face on many a day, so I thank them and wish them well. Our cleaners, too, are some of the happiest people. As was noted, in most cases they are probably members of our new Irish community. They come to the House and they are quiet and unassuming. Sometimes when I say hello to them, I almost think they are surprised that someone is talking to them. Every one of us should talk to them, know their names and make a point of thanking them for what they do, which is keep us safe in an unassuming and understated way. All the officials and public servants in the House do an incredible job of making us look good when we are doing our jobs and I pay tribute to them all.
I started this year in one role and am so privileged, lucky and blessed to be in the role I am in today. This House is full of thoughtful, co-operative and collegiate people. Unfortunately, that probably could not be said about the other House, which is far much more adversarial. We have an opportunity, because of a regard for one another and mostly because of the issues we bring to the House, to make a real and substantial difference. I thank Senators for giving me the honour of being in this role and for the co-operation and good wishes I have received over recent months. We had a few niggles at the beginning of my tenure because I did not really know what I was doing, so I apologise for that, but I thank them for their co-operation. It is the honour of my political career to date to be here and I will continue to serve the House next year, please God.
I wish all Senators a happy and safe Christmas. As Senator Hoey noted yesterday, and I could not have put it better myself, we need to keep Christmas small and safe because we need to get through this. We need to ensure that there are as few possible fatalities between now and that wonderful light at the end of the tunnel that will, hopefully, come on 27 December. With that light, however, comes the responsibility of our actions, which lies on all our shoulders.
I issued a press release at the beginning of the week because I was astounded at the level of ignorance of some public representatives in refusing to take the vaccine and at their explanations and reasons for that stance. I fully understand fear, and many people in Ireland will be nervous and anxious, but it is our job to ensure we allay those fears, not feed into them or into the propaganda that has resulted in measles being a problem in this country again when we had all but eradicated it because we gave our children measles vaccines over the years.
It is outrageous that leaders in this country would feed into conspiracy theorists and give rise to allowing those people to have those fears and concerns and to think their fears and concerns are warranted. They are not warranted and every one of us has a job and responsibility to ensure that we act responsibly. I fully commit to getting the vaccine whenever I am in the queue. It is important that each of us says that to our constituents, voters, friends, neighbours and anybody who will listen. It is probably the most important message we can put across in the coming months.
There will be hiccups and arguments that the conspiracy theorists will be able to hang their hat on. We need to stand steadfast, however, and ensure that we are strong and that we know what we want, which is to get through this pandemic and to get people vaccinated in order that we can get back to talking about health, housing, the living wage, unemployment and all the matters we so passionately care about fixing in this country.
I cannot speak Irish. It is one of my major failings, although perhaps I will get around to it when I retire, when it will be too late. Nevertheless, I wish Senators and their families and friends a safe and very happy Christmas.