Seanad debates

Friday, 4 July 2003

An Cathaoirleach: I have received notice from Senator Tuffy that, on the motion for the Adjournment of the House today, she proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Education and Science to give an update on the urgent need for funding to carry out repairs to Scoil Áine national school in Clondalkin to ensure the school can comply with the requirements of the Health and Safety Authority.

I have also received notice from Senator John Paul Phelan of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Education and Science to outline the current status of the application for a new school building for Wardesford Church of Ireland national school, Castlecomer, County Kilkenny.

I regard the matters raised by the Senators as suitable for discussion on the Adjournment and they will be taken at the conclusion of business.

As this is the last sitting day before the summer recess, I thank all Senators for their courtesy and co-operation in the past year. For the 24 new Senators in this 22nd Seanad – the largest percentage of new Senators in any Seanad – it was a huge learning curve to familiarise themselves with the restrictions and requirements of the Standing Orders and rulings of the Chair. Some appear to have learned very quickly, but all are learning.

I thank the Leader, Deputy Leader, leaders and Whips of the various groups for their hard work. On behalf of Members, I thank the Clerk, Clerk Assistant and their staff for their guidance and wonderful assistance. I also thank the Superintendent, the Captain of the Guard and their staff, the broadcasting staff and reporting staff. On a personal basis, I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Acting Chairmen for the many hours they spent in the Chair. I also thank members of the press for their attendance and coverage. I wish Members of the House and staff an enjoyable break.

One member of staff who gave many years service to Leinster House retired this week as Editor of Debates. I call the Leader of the House to formally propose a tribute to Liam Fitzgibbon.

Ms O'Rourke: Before I do so, I echo what the Cathaoirleach said in his tributes to all the Senators under his wise guidance. It is not only the new Senators who had to learn their way. Many of us of much older years had to learn our way as well. It is a pity we cannot bottle the conviviality and distribute it during the year when things get a bit rougher. However, it was a very interesting year.

I want to pay tribute to you, a Chathaoirligh, the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the people who stood in for both of you over the three seasons since we started our business here. I pay tribute to the Clerk, the Assistant Clerk and all the staff in their office, which is a nice place to visit. Despite all the work they do, they make everybody welcome and try to help. That is very important. I pay tribute to the press and all the staff of the House who are so friendly, helpful and courteous.

In particular I thank the Senators, from all parties and from none. We have been very co-operative with one another. We have had our moments, if I can call them that, but that is only proper in a political Chamber. We have done a great deal of good work, however, and during the summer when we consider how we can manage better the affairs of the House from the point of view of work, I hope we will be able to make changes which will benefit proper legislative debate.

I am particularly mindful of the fact that when difficult or challenging Bills come into this House, having been changed radically in the other House, there is not the time to debate those changes here. We discussed that matter in the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and I am sure we will be able to work out how we will deal with it.

Personally, I want to thank the small number of staff in my own office and the staff in each Senator's office. When we call them to try to make arrangements, everybody is most helpful. This is a lively Chamber and it will get even better.

I echo what the Cathaoirleach said about the Editor of Debates, Liam Fitzgibbon, who has retired. Mr. Fitzgibbon laboured in these Houses for more than 30 years. Since 1996, he has been in charge of the Debates Office. I understand people go to editors and endeavour to get the Official Report changed from time to time. It never struck me to do that. If I say something, that is the end of it. We cannot take away from or add to it. I never trod into those rooms to ask if something could be changed. I was often sorry I said something but I would leave it on the record because it was said in a public Chamber. Liam Fitzgibbon is well known and highly respected by all Members and staff, and he has that excellent record of service behind him.

Talking about censoring, there is only one occasion on which this House has censored itself and that was in 1942. At that time we had "Sirs" in this House. A Senator, Sir John Keane, quoted from the book, The Tailor and Ansty, which was forbidden to be read. The then Editor of Debates did not include the quotation from The Tailor and Ansty, written by Eric Cross, a man from Newry, in the Official Report. The entry states: "The Senator quoted from the book". It does not even refer to the title, The Tailor and Ansty. That was in 1942. We no longer have "Sirs" in this House, thankfully, although I am sure they gave good service in their day.

I believe the then Editor of Debates, who was interested in sailing, was also the press censor and if there were casualties in war, he referred to them as boating accidents. That was a nice way of getting out of it.

Liam Fitzgibbon gave great service to two local newspapers, The Anglo-Celt and the Leitrim Observer. He has been meticulous in his work here and he was always so polite and courteous. I wish him well in his retirement, which I am sure he will enjoy. I hope he will not burden himself by trying to look at or read what has been going on here. We have cause to remember Liam because he has been a faithful recorder in these Houses. That is something of which he can be duly proud.

10:30 am

Photo of Brian HayesBrian Hayes (Fine Gael)
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I support the Leader's tributes to Liam Fitzgibbon, who has retired as Editor of Debates in these Houses. The hardest job of anyone in these Houses is to make sense of the ramblings of those of us in both Houses. Mr. Fitzgibbon and his staff have done the State some service in that regard. A serious issue arises, however, about the Editor of Debates and the transcripts that are produced. There is a constitutional requirement that the business of both Houses of the Oireachtas is conducted in public and that the public have a right to know what is said in debates within a very short timeframe by way of the written word. The transcripts that are provided are excellent and it is a great tribute to the staff under Mr. Fitzgibbon and the leadership he has given as Editor of Debates over his time in these Houses that they are so well regarded.

I want to pay my own tribute to Mr. Fitzgibbon, whom I have known for the past eight years. I can inform the Leader that he intends to remain active outside the Houses. He is an avid squash player and a great swimmer and I know he will get great entertainment from his grandchildren in particular in his retirement.

A very nice event took place yesterday in which the Editor of Debates, the Ceann Comhairle and the Cathaoirleach were involved. It was the launch of a new DVD containing all the debates from 1919 to 2002. Technologically, we have made great advances in that the public can now have the written word from both Houses of the Oireachtas and the committees available in a very short timeframe. Mr. Fitzgibbon should take pride in his work, and particularly the publication of this new DVD. For his time in these Houses, his courtesy and the help he provided to us all, I wish him very well in his retirement.

Mary Henry (Independent)
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I, too, want to pay tribute to Mr. Fitzgibbon who has been such a help to me since I came into this House. I agree with Senator Brian Hayes and the Leader. I do not know how the reporters and the editors manage to make sense of what we say here. What is even worse is when they ring up to inquire about the proper spelling of a particular word, and we are not sure ourselves. Like the Leader, I have never sought to make a change to any of my contributions and it would be a great pity if that were to happen.

Reading the old Seanad debates one can see that Members were much more fiery then than we are now. I would not like to think that we had toned down our contributions in any way or made libellous statements about anyone. We know that all is well when such an important record as the Official Report of the Seanad is in the hands of people like Mr. Fitzgibbon.

The Leader thanked all of us for being so co-operative but it would be difficult not to be co-operative with her because she has put a great deal of work into the running of the House over the past year, on which I congratulate her. I thank all the staff for their help. I am sure when the Clerk and the Assistant Clerk see me coming into their office with a sheaf of amendments they think that by now I should be able to write them correctly. Sadly, that is not always the case. I thank the Captain of the Guard and the ushers also for all their help during the year.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Labour)
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I want to join in the tributes to Liam Fitzgibbon who has retired as Editor of Debates. As a new Senator, I was not very articulate; many might say I am still not very articulate. I have often hassled the Debates Office staff by asking them to correct the record by including what I meant to say as opposed to what I said.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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It is out now.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Labour)
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I have always found Mr. Fitzgibbon and his staff very patient and helpful. I was looking at a debate recently from the 1960s about Seanad reform. It is an important historical record which makes us conscious that we should ensure we are thoughtful about what we say. I wish him well in his retirement.

I would also like to thank the Leader of the House, the Opposition leader and the other Senators for their work over the year and also the Clerk of the Seanad and all the staff here, as well as the ushers and the Captain. As a new Senator I have been finding my feet and I have had a great year. It has been worthwhile and I have enjoyed it. Everybody has been very helpful and supportive.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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I join the other Senators in paying tribute to Liam Fitzgibbon, the Editor of Debates, and thank him for the enormous amount of work he has done for the Houses over 30 years. It is not readily appreciated how onerous a task it is for the editor and his staff to make sense of what we say. The point has been made about corrections to the record. Sometimes what we have to say is almost impenetrable. It is not surprising that the record may sometimes need some amendment. We have had an example, just recently, as to whether a word should be 'censored' or 'censured'.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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Yes, but the way we pronounce words can cause difficulty.

The editor and his staff must also be commended on the speed with which the debates now emerge. The length of time it took for debates to appear was a constant source of irritation and complaint some years ago. It is obviously important that they appear quickly. The editor has additional responsibilities now, with the Internet. It is good to see the debates on DVD, but traditionalists such as myself still like to ensure that the books are maintained and that we have the physical record of debates in the Library. I wish Mr. Fitzgibbon all the best in his retirement. I must thank him, in particular, for making the debates more readable than they were, perhaps, in the past.

I thank the Cathaoirleach also for the way he has conducted proceedings in an impartial manner and with humour. He has always been able to rein in the excesses, when required, of some of the Senators. It was evident on a number of occasions that his experience as a county board member in a well-known hurling and football county came to his assistance. Some of the rough and tumble there might have been even more excessive than here.

I also join my fellow Senators in thanking the Clerk, the Assistant Clerk and everyone in the Cathaoirleach's office for the extraordinary amount of work they do during the parliamentary year. I thank too the staff of the Houses and the debates staff, as well as the press and in particular Jimmy Walsh of The Irish Times, for their reporting of the proceedings of the House during the year.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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I would like to be associated with the tributes to Liam Fitzgibbon, who has retired as Editor of Debates in the Houses of the Oireachtas. He has done a very good job. His excellence was recognised further afield too, because he edited debates in the Council of Europe. Senator Daly and I, when we were both on the Council of Europe, accompanied him. His excellent work was recognised there, which is a tribute to him and to the Houses of the Oireachtas. I wish him enjoyment of his retirement. I know he is a very active man and likes to keep fit. I wish him every success.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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Before the Order of Business, just one further tribute needs to be made – to Senator Maurice Hayes. He was awarded another honorary degree yesterday, the very prestigious degree of Doctor of Letters, from the University of Ulster. We are all very pleased.