Thursday, 12 September 2002
Election of Cathaoirleach.
Clerk of the Seanad:
The next business is the election of the Cathaoirleach. Under Standing Order 2, the Chair will be taken by Senator Shane Ross who is the Senator with the longest continuous period of service in the House. I call on Senator Ross to take the Chair.
Clerk of the Seanad:
Senator Ross took the Chair.
It is a great privilege to be given the honour of chairing this first meeting of Seanad Éireann. I congratulate all Members on their election to the Seanad. It is a hard road to get here and a great achievement to do so. It was 21 years ago that I celebrated as many Members celebrate today what is a matter of congratulation and triumph. Well done everybody. I am aware that some Members do not wish to be here as long as me but to be somewhere else.
I will set a precedent in this ceremony by stating that I think the Seanad has been subject to stringent criticism, particularly during the recent election. One of the reasons is that many of those who wish to be in the Seanad regard it as their second choice. There will be demands from all sides during the next few years for reform of this House. My plea to the Leader of the House and the next Cathaoirleach is that we do not follow that reform reluctantly but that we lead it.
There are real problems associated with this House which have to do with all Members. We should tackle them as a united body. They are difficult problems to resolve because they involve self-criticism and self-sacrifice. The main criticisms are that this House is an outlet for party political patronage and that it is divided mostly between the larger parties with no voice for minorities. Indicative of this is the fact that two of the most significant parties elected in the recent Dáil election were not elected to this House – the Progressive Democrats and the Green Party. That tells us something about this House. The uncomfortable truth is that we are a self-perpetuating body which is elected by politicians for politicians and for no other reason. We should address this issue and face it squarely over the next three or four years.
The vocational element conceived by Éamon de Valera is gone from this House. It is a highly political body and likely to be even more so in the coming five years. Is that what we want? Do we want the Seanad to be like that, or do we want it to be a body which gives a voice to the vocational bodies it was conceived to represent? Is that just fantasy or was it just camouflage put up to disguise the fact that this is a political body? We only have to look at what is happening outside this House to see how those vocational interests have been usurped or stolen by others. I point particularly at the social partners because we have an Industrial and Commercial Panel represented at the social partnership talks by business and a labour panel represented by the trade unions. We have an Agricultural Panel and whereas we should be providing that platform and voice, we are not doing so. Others have taken that role upon themselves and have made us a totally political body which does not represent those interests. That is something we should tackle in the next five years.
I suggest that the House examine three specific proposals. I propose that the elections for Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann be held on the same day. I am not suggesting that members of political parties be debarred but rather that candidates would be forced to make a decision to be committed Members of one or the other House. In such a scenario, membership of this House would not be a person's second choice.
I advocate a widening of the franchise and the removal of the political votes from the Dáil, Seanad and local authorities. A wider franchise would ensure that those elected would represent the interests they purport to represent, rather than political interests. I suggest the abolition of the custom of Taoiseach's nominees to this House.
Precisely. The widening of the franchise should undoubtedly include a change to the composition and the election of the university seats. I am looking for a commitment to this House from those seeking membership and I ask that they do not regard it as a second best. I appeal to the Leader of the House and to the incoming Cathaoirleach to consider this initiative and so avoid it being taken for us by someone else.
I will now accept a proposer and seconder for any motion regarding the election of the Cathaoirleach.
I thank you, Acting Chairman, for your inspiring address. Obviously I do not agree with the sentiments expressed in your last sentence because I would be forced to leave the House this instant. My colleagues and I have been honoured by the Taoiseach. I agree that this House should lead in the reform. We can leave out the sub-titles for the moment.
I am pleased to propose Senator Kiely as Cathaoirleach. He has been an elected Senator since 1977 except for one short period of six months. There is not a parish or a county in the country that is not acquainted with Senator Kiely. He has contributed greatly over the years to this House. He is well known in sporting and social circles. He has presided as Acting Chairman in this House on many occasions and often took the Chair when I was present in my capacity as Minister. The House will decide who is to be Cathaoirleach but I am pleased to propose Senator Kiely on behalf of my party.
I will resist the temptation to enter into debate with the Acting Chairman. It will be interesting to see how Standing Orders accommodated that problem. I wonder how one of such tender years can be the father of the House. On behalf of the Progressive Democrats, I second the nomination of Senator Kiely. He has always been a good Acting Chairman. He will fulfil the obligations of Cathaoirleach well and will have the interests of all Members at heart. As a member of the Agricultural Panel he has never failed to attend a debate on agriculture in this House. He has demonstrated his commitment to the House and has the necessary experience to be the Cathaoirleach. I have great pleasure in seconding his nomination.
On behalf of the Labour Members it gives me pleasure to propose my fellow Corkonian, Senator Ryan. Senator Ryan has a long and distinguished career in the House and I have faith in his ability. By his knowledge of Standing Orders and his contributions in the House he has shown that his presence in the Chair would greatly assist the proceedings of the Seanad.
We have listened attentively to what you said but we will go out and do something else entirely. However, I thank you. The Fine Gael group does not oppose the nomination of Senator Kiely. He is an experienced Senator, a person of the utmost integrity and a fair man. He is the person we need in the Chair of the new Seanad. His fairness, impartiality and understanding of the dignity of this House will hold him in good stead.
Much as I would like to return to Senator Ryan the support he has given Fine Gael over the years, on this occasion we do not oppose Senator Kiely's nomination as Cathaoirleach.
The Independent Members have considered at length whether or not to propose a Member as Cathaoirleach on this occasion. We are delighted that you, Acting Chairman, have achieved your seniority at last and it gives us great pleasure to see you as the central authority figure speaking praesedere and ex cathedra and assuming the mantle of authority with aplomb. You appear to have settled into the position. I admire you for expressing your views. I am sure the press will not have the slightest interest in them.
The Independent Senators offer congratulations to all Members who have been elected to the Seanad. While I differ from you, Sir, in some of your views I agree that there should be reform. We must recognise that Members are, in the words of the song, "here because they're here". They have been elected constitutionally and whether membership of this House is our first or second choice I ask only that Members give a commitment to the House, offer their views and help to make the Seanad work.
I remind newly elected Senators that their constituency is the country and not a specific geographic area. This House will be great if Members think nationally rather than locally. However, we are not completely out of touch and I accept that Members may act locally after hours.
This can be a great Seanad although it needs to be reformed. County councillors should not be deprived of their votes because this distillation of democracy can help, but they should not elect 43 Senators. The issues of extending the university votes to all third level graduates and of bringing its vocational nature back to the Seanad are important. I do not agree that the practice of the Taoiseach nominating Senators should be abolished. The Taoiseach's nominees are an important part of the nature of the House.
Significant reforms need to be addressed and I appeal to the new Cathaoirleach and the Leader of the House to put pressure on the Government to support the views of the House on this matter. I congratulate you, Acting Chairman, on what I consider to be an extraordinary achievement of 21 years service in this House, which is recognised today by all your colleagues. Whatever differences we have at various stages, in this House or elsewhere, it would be niggardly of us not to recognise it as such. Well done and long may you continue in the Chair if somebody decides to propose you.
As there is more than one proposal, they will be dealt with in the order in which they were moved.
Cuireadh an cheist: "Go dtoghfar an Seanadóir Rory Kiely agus go rachaidh sé i gceannais an tSeanaid anois mar Chathaoirleach."
Question put: "That Senator Rory Kiely be elected and do now take the Chair of Seanad Éireann."
Is mór an onóir dom gur toghadh mé inniu mar Chathaoirleach ar Sheanad Éireann agus tá mé fiorbhuíoch díbh uilig. It is a great honour and privilege to have been elected as Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. Elections are a healthy sign of democracy. There are many factors which have culminated in my election today and many to whom I owe my gratitude. I wish to thank the Munster Agricultural Society Company Limited for its loyalty in nominating me as its candidate on the Agricultural Panel in each election since 1977; the electorate who returned me to the Seanad on eight occasions – unfortunately, there was a slight mishap in April 1982; the Fianna Fáil group of Senators for nominating me as their candidate for the office of Cathaoirleach and, finally, the Members of the House for electing me. I also thank my proposer, the Leader of the House, Senator O'Rourke, and seconder, the Deputy Leader of the House, Senator Dardis, for their kind remarks.
On a more personal note, each of my fellow politicians is aware of the huge burden placed on the home and family life when one is involved in politics. I have spent many years in politics and the honour bestowed on me today could not have come without the continued and unselfish support and encouragement of my wife, Eileen, and our family. To each of them I say, "Thank you". I am delighted that they sit in the Visitors Gallery today to be part of this wonderful occasion.
Since my election in 1977 I have served under nine Cathaoirligh. Each incumbent had his or her particular style. However, there is a tradition in the Seanad of co-operation rather than confrontation which has served the Seanad well. I intend to continue that tradition.
There are those on whom the mantle of power rests lightly and my predecessor, Brian Mullooly, is such a person. Much has been said in recognition of Brian's unique character and his adherence to the highest standards of justice and impartiality. I also acknowledge the dignity and respect brought to the House in his years as a Senator, Government Whip, Leas-Chathaoirleach and, in particular, his five years as Cathaoirleach. It is my fervent ambition to maintain the high standards of cothrom na féinne and humour that have been the hallmark of recent years.
In my time in Seanad Éireann I have made many friends. It is somewhat nostalgic to notice the absence of the many familiar faces with whom I had the honour to serve since 1977, but these are times of change in the political world and, as each dawn brings a new day, so too this Seanad brings new faces and opportunities. It is my wish that together we, the Members of the 22nd Seanad, will operate in unison to maintain the status of the House and fulfil its constitutional role as part of the Oireachtas.
There has been much discussion, including today, about the expansion of the role of the Seanad and the adoption of new procedures that would enable the House to focus on other matters in addition to the legislative programme. As Cathaoirleach, I will gladly subscribe to any change that would enhance the status of Seanad Éireann and allow all Members to make meaningful contributions to the democratic life of the State. Ó mo chroí amach, go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.
On behalf of my colleagues, I congratulate Senator Rory Kiely on his appointment as Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. I wish him many fruitful years ahead and know that he will lead us with great dignity, impartiality and justice – the qualities of which he spoke so glowingly in his predecessor. Senator Kiely has all of those qualities in abundance and I look forward to working with him.
On behalf of the Fine Gael group, I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his election and pay tribute to him in his capacity as Senator over the past 25 years or so. He follows in a long line of distinguished Cathaoirligh of the Seanad such as Senator Brian Mullooly, Senator Liam Cosgrave and the late Senator Liam Naughten. In his capacity as Cathaoirleach, Senator Kiely will bring the dignity and respect to the House that it deserves. The Seanad plays a central role in our Constitution. All 60 Members have a function with respect to legislation and the Constitution. We will perform that function as best we can while the Cathaoirleach, as the new Speaker of the House, will bring the dignity and respect to the House that it rightly deserves.
On behalf of the Independent Senators, I offer my congratulations to the Cathaoirleach on his election and wish him well in his high office and heavy responsibility. I congratulate him on reaching this pinnacle in his career as a Senator and one who has shown commitment to this House during the years. The Independent Senators will offer him on a daily basis full co-operation and full challenge in equal measure. However, he can always be assured that the dignity of his office will be respected here. My fellow Independent Senators and I look forward to working with Senator Kiely during his period as Cathaoirleach. It is my fervent wish – I know that I represent the views of every Member, though some might say otherwise – that the Cathaoirleach has a period in office as long as his predecessor.
Tréaslaím leat, a Chathaoirligh, as an árd-oifig i gcóras an Stáit atá á líonadh agat anois. Is ionann toghchán agus daonlathas agus ní raibh aon rud diúltach sa rud a dheineamar-na sa Lucht Oibre nuair a cuireadh m'ainm ós comhair an tSeanaid. Ní rabhamar a caitheamh anuas ort féin, a mhalairt ar fad.
We on the Labour benches congratulate you, a Chathaoirligh, without reservation and have every confidence in your ability to fulfil your role with dignity. You and I have shared many a late train from Dublin to Limerick Junction so we know each other well and I have nothing but the highest regard for you. You are aware of the extraordinarily high standards that have been set by your predecessors. As someone who has been a Member of the House for almost as long as you, but not quite, I am well aware of the quality of those who have previously occupied the position of Cathaoirleach. They have done so with considerable dignity and fairness, as you will also. It is in recognition of your long years of service and commitment to the House that your colleagues in Fianna Fáil selected you for the position of Cathaoirleach and the House has concurred with them. On behalf of the Labour Party, I congratulate you.
On behalf of the Progressive Democrats, I join in the heartfelt congratulations to you, a Chathaoirligh. Your election represents a continuity of excellence and I know you will maintain the excellent tradition established by your predecessors. We had come to regard the position of Cathaoirleach as being solely in the purview of those from Westmeath and Roscommon but it has now moved to a different part of the country, which is to be welcomed. This is a great day for you, a Chathaoirligh, your family and your native county. We wish you well and you will have our support in future.
I congratulate you, a Chathaoirligh, as a fellow west Limerick man and I wish you well in your new position. You have been a Member of the House since 1977 and have been involved in politics for over 25 years. Having laboured for so long in the vineyards, today represents the pinnacle of achievement which you deserve and I am pleased for you. This is a special occasion for your wife, Eileen, and your family, who will treasure this moment for a long time. You have worked very hard to achieve this success. I know you worked hard during the election campaign and, on a personal basis, I wish you had not worked so hard. Be that as it may, we have always been good friends and we live close to each other geographically. I join with the other speakers in wishing you success in your new position. I trust this will be a constructive Seanad as well as a lively one.
As a fellow west Limerick man and a friend and neighbour of yours, a Chathaoirligh, it is an honour for me to be here on this historic occasion. I congratulate you on your achievement. It is a great honour for you, your wife, Eileen, and your family. We in west Limerick are proud of your record as a public representative over the past 25 years. We thank you sincerely for that representation as well as your involvement in the Gaelic Athletic Association and the farming community. I have no doubt that you will be an excellent Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann and I wish you every success over the next five years.