Tuesday, 1 May 2007
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Protection of Employment (Exceptional Collective Redundancies and Related Matters) Bill 2007 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude no later than 4 p.m.; No. 2, Water Services Bill 2003 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 4 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5 p.m.; No. 3, Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2006 — Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 5 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5.45 p.m.; No. 4, the Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007 — all Stages to be taken at 6.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 7.15 p.m, with each group having six minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than ten minutes before the conclusion of Second Stage and Committee and Remaining Stages will be taken immediately on conclusion of Second Stage and conclude at 7.15 p.m.; No. 5, the Statute Law Revision Bill 2007 — Report and Final Stages to be taken at 5.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6.15 p.m.; and No. 5a, motion on the establishment of a petitions committee to allow individual community groups and organisations to petition the Seanad and to make a request to the Seanad to take a view or initiative or to amend legislation on matters of public interest or concern, will be taken without debate.
That the general election will be held on 24 May is welcome on all sides of the House. Whether the people choose in their wisdom to vote for change or for the status quo, those of us involved in politics have a responsibility to encourage them to vote and to participate in the campaign, respecting the fact that Irish citizens, both party members and independent candidates, are putting their names before the people. We wish all of them every success and hope that we have a campaign worthy of our democracy. We are the fourth oldest parliamentary democracy in Europe. We are a young country but our democracy has flourished since independence and we are responsible for that legacy so we must ensure the people get the campaign they deserve.
Members on all sides will contest the general election to the Dáil and the election to the Seanad. There was a suggestion that some Members were disappointed on being elected to the Seanad on the last occasion. From my perspective, that was not the case. It is a privilege to serve in this House and to be part of democratic life here. I want to ensure that the campaign and the candidates before the Irish people over the course of the next three and half weeks will be respected by all sides and all shades of opinion. I wish everyone every success.
I wish to echo much of what Senator Brian Hayes has said. I wish all colleagues standing for election in either the Seanad or the Dáil the best of luck. I do not subscribe to the view that if somebody fails to be elected to one House and stands for another, this in some way diminishes the House. The Seanad has been extraordinarily enriched by the contributions of people who were defeated in standing for election to the other House. All I ask is that Members coming into the Seanad make the contribution they can make.
In the case of this particular Seanad, my greatest regret is that once again we have failed to achieve reform of the House as we set out to do. I am potentially one of the greatest losers, since no primary teachers who graduated since 1995 can vote for me. This is a matter of great personal interest, I can assure the House.
I notice it. Even if I were never to profit from reform of the House, it is something of a failure that we have not managed to do it. I know the Leader set out to do it, as did the leader of Fine Gael, Senator Brian Hayes, the leader of the Labour Party, Senator Ryan and Senator Dardis, leader of the Progressive Democrats. We all set out to get this done and it did not happen. However, now is not the time for recriminations.
Looking back on this Seanad, it will be seen to have been an influential period and a Seanad that has been increasingly relevant, with more legislation initiated perhaps than in any of its predecessors since the foundation of the State. It is worth noting that particular Ministers have chosen to initiate legislation in this House. The contributions by spokespersons on all sides have been very important and I want to recognise that.
In terms of the relevance of the House, from the perspective outside Leinster House, this has been strengthened. I concur with Senator Brian Hayes to the effect that the contribution of the Seanad is important. I hope the five of us, who are putting our names forward again for the university benches will be back in the House to contribute further. I wish colleagues on all sides who are going forward for re-election, the best of luck. I particularly want to extend thanks to certain people. I do not believe Senator Dardis is going forward again, although perhaps he is. He has made an extraordinary contribution to the House——
——during his period in the Seanad and I am pleased to recognise that. While it is important for us, as Independents, to assert our independence, that does not mean we are in opposition. We vote on merit as we think right as issues are raised, and will continue to do so.
It is a pity we did not get around to discussing the ethics Bill, as it would have been a very appropriate debate this week. However, the world has moved on.
I have a technical question. When the Leader read the Order of Business she said that all Stages of No. 4 were to be taken. Then she said that the Minister was to be called ten minutes before the end of Second Stage. However, if there is no time limit for Second Stage we cannot know when the Minister is due to be called.
One enjoys it but also one realises that one can have an influence on events. It is only those who ignore this House who do not notice the degree to which legislation changes. They do not recognise the degree to which sensible Ministers of all parties — no party has a monopoly in this regard — are prepared to listen to an argument, change their minds and have their thinking influenced. Ministers get a tougher time in Seanad Éireann than any journalist could ever give them. A journalist's interview will last ten minutes and a Minister will survive it easily. If an issue arises in this Chamber, the Minister must sit here as long as Members wish, particularly on Committee Stage.
I compliment the Leader and, if I may say without her jumping at me, her predecessor for the——
Indeed they are. The Twenty-First and Twenty-Second Seanad have seen the Government introduce more legislation through them than before, for which the Government deserves to be complimented. The Seanad responded to that and showed its capacity and efficiency in dealing with legislation, despite the very rare occasions on which we had a few rows on debates being curtailed.
I wish all my colleagues well. In spite of 30 years of experience, I hope to be returned to the Seanad but it is in the hands of the electorate of the National University of Ireland. I hope if I do return, for the first time in 30 years I will be sitting on the other side of the House.
I thank Senator O'Toole for his very kind remarks. I want to pick up on Senator Brian Hayes's comments on the importance and value of our democracy. The recent supplement on the Houses in The Irish Times was very useful. I compliment those associated with its production. It articulated well the important work done in both Houses, which is often taken for granted. There is much cynicism about our work, some of which is understandable, and poking fun, which is acceptable.
There is an important duty on all Members to emphasise that democracy is a very fragile plant. While we take it for granted, it requires work and constant vigilance. The old phrase," All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing" springs to mind.
I join in paying thanks to the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the staff of the Houses, the Clerk's office and the press, particularly Jimmy Walsh. I acknowledge the work done by the Leader in improving the House's image and ensuring it has worked efficiently. In that context, I must link this with Eamonn McCormack, a real rock in this regard.
I also thank the Whips on both sides for the work they have done.
The reform issue, as raised by Senator O'Toole, is an important one. The report some of us produced should not just be left aside, as it is critically important. While it might not all be acted upon, much of it should be. Staying in aspic, in perpetuity, is a danger to democracy. We must re-invent it as we go along. I compliment the Leader on the motion concerning petitions, an important step.
All that is left for me to say, is Ave, Salve, Vale, the title of George Moore's book — Hail and Farewell.
One issue I have raised consistently on the Order of Business is pensions. I regret the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, has not published the Green Paper on pensions which was to be published around the middle of April. It is a shame that at the end of our term we have not had the opportunity to debate it. It will probably not be published before the general election, which is a pity. I wonder why the Green Paper was not published when we were promised it by the middle of April.
Perhaps when the Leader replies she will be able to tell me if the Minister will publish the Green Paper on pensions before the general election.
I wish everybody standing for election to the Dáil or the Seanad well. I also wish those who are not contesting the elections well, including Senators Dardis and Bohan and perhaps one or two others who are retiring. On my behalf and that of my group, I thank the members of staff, including the Clerk, the Clerk Assistant, Eamonn McCormack and everybody who has been so helpful to us during the past five years.
I add my voice to the remarks of Senators Brian Hayes and O'Toole. It is very important that people go out to vote. Too many people died to get us the vote for it to be cast aside lightly. I hope we can approach something like the 80% turnout in France. I spent most of my working life as a civil servant and over that time I have had great regard for politicians from all parties with whom I worked and all those who follow the honourable avocation of politics. It is too easy to be cynical, as so many people are, about what they do but I have the utmost respect and regard for those who offer themselves to the public for election or non-election as the case may be.
In my case I have had the great honour and privilege of serving in this House at the invitation and nomination of the Taoiseach. I regard it as a great privilege to be allowed to serve in this way. The Taoiseach actually went further in that he allowed me to be independent. When he invited me to accept the nomination a second time I pointed out that I wanted to be independent and he said that he wanted an independent voice. In a sense, that is the measure of the man and I wish to put on record my deep appreciation of that.
I, too, wish my colleagues well. I have enjoyed the collegiality and friendship of the Seanad. Everybody has been very kind to me. I thank the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the staff of the Seanad and of Leinster House. I wish all those going forward for election well.
I join my colleagues in offering my thanks and praise to the officers and staff of the House and the good words said about those retiring by various colleagues. I wish to mention my colleague on these benches, Senator Henry, with whom I have not always agreed. We have had our ups and downs but she added something special with her particular tone of voice, the reasonable way in which she made her case, the dogged way in which she brought reports on mental health and such issues to the fore and her special medical expertise. I believe she will be replaced by another remarkable woman whose name I will not put on the record in case I am accused of prejudicing the electorate. I hope to be re-elected and look forward to working with my colleagues if I am lucky enough to get back.
It will be an interesting election. The Taoiseach has already shown his mettle. I will not use the three words Mr. Haughey used about him but I was struck by the couple of strokes which have emerged so far. There has been an effective gagging of the Mahon tribunal which has been nicely corked up now. I congratulate him on his forthcoming speech to the Parliament in the next island; that was a nice little electoral dig-out by Mr. Blair. However, serious matters remain and I hope these will be addressed by the House in the next session.
On 6 March 2007 and not for the first time, I referred to the troubled matter of abortion and I read a letter into the record of the House because it was the fifth anniversary of a letter written by a wonderful and dignified young woman whose pregnancy involved a foetus with severe chromosomal abnormalities incompatible with life. She stated in her letter that she did not advocate social abortion and she was not a campaigner on this issue. Her letter states:
I am angry that men I do not know and who do not know me ... have decided that my body is their demesne; that they will have the right to decide how my family will cope with this very real tragedy; that, regardless of the emotional and physical distress for us, I must do what they want; that their bigoted will rules my body.
We should have listened to that voice five years ago. We have been reprimanded also by the Judiciary for not having the courage to act legislatively in this very difficult matter.
I wish to raise another matter because I have been contacted by somebody who raised it before. I refer to the question of sudden cardiac death in young adults. This is a great tragedy and it is estimated that 100 people under 35 years of age die every year in Ireland. Action has been taken to address this condition and a screening centre is located in the Mater Hospital. This is a genetic condition and the families of victims need to be screened in order to anticipate a possible difficulty. This centre is entirely supported by voluntary contributions. We should be pressing to have such centres established throughout the country to help prevent this tragedy of young death. It is very often the case that young athletes are victims. In the dying day of this Oireachtas I ask that the incoming Government will immediately remove the 21% VAT on defibrillators. These should be available much more widely. If they are funded by voluntary contributions it is obscene to levy tax on them.
I welcome the introduction of this petitions committee and I commend the Members of this House and the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission for its proposal and also the Leader of the House for putting it on the Order Paper. It will make this House more democratically relevant. I was a little concerned that perhaps it would clog up the business of the House but I have consulted with the primus inter pares of our group — the first among equals, not the leader — I remind Senator O'Toole he is not getting away with that even on this last day. He assures me that this will be an extended function of the Seanad and will take place outside. Such committees exist in the European Parliament and in the Scottish Parliament. It is a good idea which I would welcome.
From this side of the House I wish to thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the unfailing courtesy, latitude and on occasion, necessary firmness he has shown to all Members of this House. It is strange feeling to have a one-Chamber Oireachtas although this is very temporarily the case.
I wish to endorse fully all the sentiments expressed by Senator Brian Hayes about the importance of exercising one's democratic rights. He made the valid point that we are a young democracy. In that context I wish to recite a couple of lines from Charles Kickham:
The nations have fallen, but thou still art young.
Thy sun is but rising, while others have set,
And — tho' slavery's cloud o'er the morning hath hung,
The full noon of freedom will beam round thee yet.
Whatever Government is elected by the will of the people to run the affairs of the nation over the next five years will inherit an economy in rude good health.
Debate will now take place on the hustings and not in this House. Statistics show a GNP growth of 7.4% in 2006. That is the highest it has been since the peak of the Celtic tiger years in 2000. Industrial employment is up 2,800. Unemployment stands at 4.2%. Industrial earnings are up 5.3%.
——which is a ten-year social partnership agreement.
I again echo Senator Brian Hayes's remarks when I say what a privilege it has been to have served as a Member of this House and to have contributed to so many excellent debates. I thank the Leader, the Clerk, the Clerk Assistant, all the support staff of the House and Mr. Eamonn McCormack.
I wish to be associated with the complimentary and well deserved remarks offered by previous speakers and also with the useful comments made by Senator Brian Hayes and others regarding the forthcoming election and the duty of all citizens. We have all enjoyed serving as Members of what has been an extremely useful Seanad. I hope those of us who are fortunate later in the year will enjoy being Members of the next Seanad. I wish everyone in the House who is contesting either election well.
In respect of the legislation passed recently regarding the appointment of additional judges to the High Court, the Circuit Court and the District Court — about which there has been a great deal of speculation outside the House, particularly in another part of this city — will the Leader indicate what appointments, if any, have been made? If such appointments have not yet been made, how imminent are they?
Before it is too late, I wish to ask the Leader about another matter. Killarney House is falling into a frightful state of disrepair.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, made a commitment in regard to Killarney House. Sadly, the cost relating to repairing it is rising each day. A report outlining the decay, rising damp, etc., by which the house is affected is in the public domain. We have waited far too long for a decision in respect of this matter. The sooner repairs are carried out, the less they will cost. I ask the Leader, in the dying days of this Administration, to use her good offices to have the long-standing commitment relating to this matter fulfilled. Useful and beneficial action could be taken, perhaps under a public private partnership involving the two local authorities, the trustees at Muckross House and the Department in respect of a worthwhile cultural tourism project
Cultural tourism is increasing at a rate that is three times faster than ordinary tourism. Something worthwhile, beneficial and useful could be done in respect of Killarney House. For example, an audio-visual installation relating to the park could be put in place along with a civic and large-scale reception area and a theatre for the performing arts. I urge the Leader to ensure, in so far as is possible, that the commitment given in respect of Killarney House will be fulfilled.
As Government Whip, I wish to thank a number of people. I thank the Leader for the way she has conducted business and replied to the many difficult questions that were put to her. The House enjoyed a very high standing during her term of office. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his work here. I thank the Cathaoirleach, Senator Rory Kiely, who is not here today. I thank Deirdre, Jody and the rest of the Seanad staff for their help and co-operation. I thank Eamonn McCormack from the Leader's office and my own secretary, Sarah Kelly. I have dealt with a number of Senators but I thank Senator Cummins, in particular, for his co-operation. I welcome the assistance the Senator and the Fine Gael leader in this House, Senator Brian Hayes, have given the Government side of the House. They helped me out in many ways when I was finding it difficult to get people to come to the House. I wish well the Deputy Leader of the House, Senator Dardis, whom I have known for many years. I was surprised to hear he is not standing again. Perhaps he will change his mind in that regard.
I thank the Deputy Whip on this side of the House, Senator Glynn, sincerely.
It is interesting to consider how the seats in the Seanad will be filled when we are back here again. We do not know who will be returned to comprise the next Seanad. I was thinking this morning about road safety and the dangers on the road. It is quite possible that by the time the Seanad sits again, the number of people who will have been killed on the roads will be more than enough to fill every seat in this Chamber. That is a sad reflection on what is happening on the roads at present.
As I was travelling to the House this morning, I noticed that election posters have been erected at a number of junctions. It seems that candidates from all parties and none have chosen to advertise themselves in dangerous locations. I hope the people in question will take on board my suggestion that they should remove from junctions posters which impede the vision of those who try to drive through such areas. There is no need to put posters in those locations. It is sad that people are creating accident black spots by behaving in such a manner.
I hope I have not omitted to mention anyone who helped me or co-operated with me over the past five years. I thank all such people sincerely. I hope those who seek re-election to the Dáil and the Seanad are successful over the next few months.
While elections are essential if democracy is to flourish, they can endanger the health of the economy. I remind the electorate to judge carefully those politicians who act in a reckless manner at election time. Senator Brian Hayes correctly stated earlier that our democracy has flourished for 80 years. Our economy has not flourished for 80 years, however. It has been seriously impaired at certain times. Such problems have sometimes developed following election campaigns during which reckless promises were made. The way of life we had before those elections was damaged because politicians promised things we could not afford or because they settled for less than we deserved. I urge the electorate to be careful when voting. People should take into account this country's economic success over the past 20 years. They should ensure it is not damaged.
Some Senators have spoken today as if this will be the last meeting of the current Seanad. I do not believe that is the case. The House will meet again in the event of any of the Taoiseach's nominees being elected to the Dáil, as I understand it, because new Senators will be appointed in such circumstances.
I will wait until that date to thank those who have helped me over the past five years. I bid farewell to those who may be in the House for their last time, as they are about to be elected to the other House. Those who do not intend to contest the Seanad election will probably be present in the Chamber the next time the House meets. The work of this House has benefitted from the input that has been made by its Members. I wish those contesting the forthcoming election well.
I would like to express my appreciation for the decision to take No. 5a today. Senator Dardis mentioned that our democracy is evolving, as is the way we run the business of this House. Such evolution has taken place, and this House is not the same place established in 1937. It is subject to change, and we can guide that. Senator O'Toole has referred to promises and efforts made by various Members to reform the Seanad. I believe that it will happen in the near future, and I look forward to seeing a very healthy Seanad flourish over the coming years.
I echo Senator Quinn's sentiments in his message to the electorate, which he put better than I could. He is a man of great business acumen, and if his call is heeded, we will ensure that this economy's success continues for many decades.
I will also refer to Senator Norris's remarks that in some way the Taoiseach's address to the joint sitting of the House of Commons and the House of Lords might bring some political advantage at home. I very much doubt that, since so many domestic issues will arise in the course of the campaign that they will provide the primary focus for the electorate. However, if the Senator is right and there is an electoral gain, no one deserves that more than the Taoiseach. During my ten years in these Houses, like many other Members, I have been very impressed by his absolute commitment to engaging with all sides in Northern Ireland to safeguard the peace process and ensure that the rapprochement between the two parts of the island was put on a firm footing. In the lead-up to the Good Friday Agreement, a time of personal difficulty, he regarded those objectives so highly that he placed their attainment above the trauma of the death of his mother.
All sides of the House, and everyone of goodwill, will applaud the British Prime Minister's recognition of that. The good relations that now exist between the two islands are very much vested in the personalities of Deputy Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair. If I have a regret, it is that the Oireachtas has not acted on recommendations contained in reports of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights regarding certain atrocities, particularly those involving collusion on the part of the British security forces. I hope that when the incoming Dáil and Seanad are in place, those recommendations will be acted on and pursued. We owe that to the victims but also to ourselves and to our country's sovereignty.
I concur with Members' comments thanking the Cathaoirleach, his predecessor, the Leader, the Deputy Leader, the Whip and Deputy Whip, the Clerk of the Seanad and all their staff for the tremendous contribution that they have made to the success of this outgoing Seanad. I wish all my colleagues a safe and successful election campaign.
It was very disturbing to learn today that several gardaí have been subject to Internet death threats from some of the many gangland figures currently active. The security of those men and women should be of paramount importance to us, and the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, must ensure that they who have rendered such service to the State and its institutions be accorded every necessary protection.
I join my colleagues in wishing the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach well. They have carried out their duties in an exemplary manner. I would also like to thank the Leader, her staff, the officials, Deirdre Lane and Jody Blake, and their staff, for their co-operation over the last five years. I thank Senator Moylan, the Government Whip, and his secretary. It was always a pleasure doing business with them, and we were pleased to assist in any way possible. I wish all those leaving us a happy retirement and those seeking election every success.
Is mian liom aontú leis na cainteoirí eile agus a rá gur onóir iontach é a bheith páirteach sa Seanad. Ba phribhléid é freisin a bheith ag obair as lámh a chéile le comhghleacaithe ar an dá thaobh den Teach, daoine a raibh taithí, tuiscint agus fís don todhchaí acu. Táimid go léir faoi chomaoin ag na daoine a ghlac páirt in an-chuid de na rudaí móra a tharla sa tír seo, agus na rudaí idirnáisiúnta freisin.
Gabhaim buíochas ó chroí le gach uile dhuine, toisc go raibh an taithí phearsanta sin agam. Gabhaim buíochas freisin leis an gCathaoirleach agus an Leas-Chathaoirleach, an Ceannaire, na cléirigh, an fhoireann, agus gach éinne eile a chabhraigh linn anseo. Go minic, bhíodar sa chúlra, ach ag an am gcéanna, thugadar an-tacaíocht dúinn.
I wish to paraphrase that great dictum of Charles J. Kickham that it was an honour to serve, not just for the honour of the little village, as he would have put it, but also for the honour of a great nation. I think we all felt that in this House, that we were participating in a most auspicious way in momentous events.
I felt a great surge of pride in the House when I realised what great tolerance and patience existed among my colleagues when I expressed views they did not hold. I felt quite comfortable in doing that. I felt I was participating in an exercise in democracy and that in some ways we were a legislative watershed where one could express one's views. I do not just mean between the political parties but within our own parties as well. At times I said things that were somewhat off the mainstream view but I always felt it was important to speak because, ultimately, it is the only way for democratic focus to work.
There must be a great sense of pride that we saw so many momentous events taking place while we were in this House. In our own way we were participating proactively in those developments as well. We will have time for greater reflection later to see how we availed of the opportunities which came when those momentous events were being discussed. Perhaps one of the prevailing memories for me of this session of the Seanad was that we saw a new order come into existence in Northern Ireland. I know each Member will recall the number of starts and difficulties we had.
We have had many opportunities for praising the people who participated in that regard. The Taoiseach has already been mentioned. We should remember everybody who played a role. We should acknowledge within our own ranks Senators Mansergh and Maurice Hayes for their contributions. Had I had a wish list for when we came to the conclusion of the Seanad, it would have been to have had what we now have. I recall that when Dr. Paisley was successful in becoming the leader of the majority Unionist party in Northern Ireland, I expressed satisfaction that he did that as a democrat and that his leadership was the result of a democratic process. That is the way we must approach it.
I know how proud the nation will be — I do not just mean the nation on the territory of Ireland, but the Irish diaspora and all friends of Ireland — when a number of events take place, the 8 May perhaps being the most important one of all. We have had an opportunity to express our views on that so often. The fact the Taoiseach will meet Dr. Paisley on the Battle of the Boyne site is unique, but nothing is more historic than the fact the Taoiseach has been invited to address both Houses of Parliament in Britain. This is so historic that not even the greatest optimist would have considered it possible a few years ago. These are some of the memories I will bring with me from the Seanad.
I was always pleased that even though we were successful as a nation, we never forgot other countries that were experiencing difficulty. We always wanted to be part of the resolution they were seeking. I remain hopeful that a resolution will be found to what happened in Iraq and to what is happening in the Middle East and other similar regions. We are a global village and if we do not find a resolution to these difficulties, we too will suffer.
Arís go raibh míle maith agat, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. Guím rath Dé ar gach éinne a bheidh ag dul sa toghchán agus tá súil agam go n-éireoidh go geal leo uilig.
When I offered to speak, I thought this was the last day on which the Seanad would meet. As somebody in transition, it is appropriate that I inform the House I will not be seeking re-election to the Seanad. I thank the Leader, Acting Leader, Chief Whip and Assistant Whip, the Leader of the Opposition and leaders of the other parties for a most interesting, stimulating and effective exchange of views during the past ten years. I also thank the Clerk to the Seanad and her staff for the courtesy afforded to me and my colleagues at all times.
I have found the past ten years a most enjoyable and, on occasion, challenging experience. I served as spokesperson to the current Leader of the House when she was Minister for Public Enterprise and other portfolios, and I served under successive Ministers with responsibility for education. Prior to my election to the Dáil in 1981, I was a teacher. I believe current debates on education are equally as challenging as when I served as deputy spokesperson on education during the 1980s. Time evolves, complexities emerge and nothing is ever simple.
My journey is an unknown one; it is transitionary. I wish those Senators not seeking re-election to the Seanad every success in the challenges they have set forth for themselves. I wish those who, like me, do not know where they are going, every success. I wish all Members seeking re-election a safe journey. That is most important. I also wish them every success and look forward to having an opportunity to vote for them in the forthcoming Seanad election.
I do not know whether I am on the right or wrong side of the House. When a person is in transition, an odd mistake is usually overlooked.
I will be brief. I wish to add my voice to those who spoke before me in thanking the Leas-Chathaoirleach, whom I have known for many years, the Cathaoirleach and all those Senators who are retiring, including Senator Dardis. I wish Senator Dardis, who is a great friend, the very best. He has been an accomplished Deputy Leader of the Seanad. I thank the Leader of the House, Senator O'Rourke, who has done an excellent job along with my colleague in the Whips' office, Senator Moylan.
I wish my colleagues on the other side of the House every success. I wish Senator Henry, with whom I have had many conversations as Government spokesperson on health and children, the very best. Given my background and Senator Henry's interest in the area of health, it is axiomatic that we would have regular contact in that regard. I also wish the very best to Senator Bohan who is retiring having played a pivotal role in this House for 20 years. I regret Senator Fitzgerald, a friend and colleague, will not seek re-election to the Seanad.
I wish the very best to those seeking election to the Upper or Lower House. One of the highlights of my membership of this House has been during recent years in terms of the peace process. It would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to all the parties represented in this House in regard to the manner in which the national question was dealt with. Members of the Opposition did not seek to make political gain out of their position as members of the Opposition. The common denominator of getting it right in terms of getting peace in Northern Ireland was to the forefront at all times. I agree with Senator Jim Walsh in regard to the Taoiseach addressing the Houses of Parliament on the other side of the water. It reflects a true recognition of the statesmanship of the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern.
In regard to the reform of the Seanad, I suppose I am a little old-fashioned in certain respects. As somebody who was elected by elected members of county and city councils, I believe their role in electing 43 Members to this House should continue. I am aware there is not unanimity on this in the House. The role played by local authority members is often understated. I compliment a number of Members of this House who decried the adverse remarks made in at least one national newspaper about the role of councillors. They do not get half the recognition they deserve.
I wish everybody the best. I agree with Senator Maurice Cummins in regard to the plans of certain very unsavoury elements in society who are targeting members of the Garda Síochána. It is a very worrying development and must be dealt with by an dorn iarainn, the iron fist. I wish everybody well and thank the Cathaoirleach for his courtesy to me as a Member of this House.
Everybody seems to think this is the last day on which the Seanad will meet. I believe we will be back for at least one day after the Dáil general election and before the Seanad general election. Lest we are not, I want to place on the record my belief that serving in this House is one of the greatest honours that can be bestowed on any Irish person. To have served here for 20 years is a very great privilege. I served with some amazing people. I cannot remember them all but there were former Senators Mick Lanigan, Willie Ryan, Paddy McGowan, Charlie McDonald, Michael Howard, Jackie Daly, John Magner, Gordon Wilson, John Robb, Tras Honan, Brian Friel, Sean Fallon, Seán Doherty and Des Hanafin. They were an amazing bunch of people, if one looks at their contributions over the years. Some of the current Senators, such as Senators Feargal Quinn and Shane Ross, are also amazing people. It is a great privilege to be here. We do not always agree, but there is not the same rancour there is in the Lower House. We respect the opinions of others even though they may differ from our own.
The next Seanad will be different in one respect in particular. We will see for the first time at least three Sinn Féin Senators. I hope they will be welcomed as they walk the path of democracy rather than adopting other means as in the past. They should be welcomed in the same way as we expect them to be welcomed to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
During the 20 years I have been here I have experienced nothing but courtesy, kindness and co-operation from all of the staff. From the various Leaders and Whips of my party and the other party in Government I have also experienced nothing other than courtesy. I reiterate that the greatest honour that can be bestowed on any person is to serve as a Member of the Upper House, Seanad Éireann.
I had not intended to speak as I hoped to take the opportunity to do so when the Seanad meets again. In case we are not back together as a group, however, I take this opportunity to thank everyone for their co-operation with me as a Senator. I love being a Senator and reflecting the views of the people in a democracy and of the councillors who put me here. I am pleased to have helped in any way I could in the Seanad and if I clashed with anyone, it was only in the moment. When the clash was over, we were back to being great friends again. That is what I love about our Parliament. There is no animosity or continuity of ill feeling, which is very important to me as an elected representative and a parliamentary colleague. I have always behaved as a colleague.
I take the opportunity to thank the Leader and her deputy, Senator Dardis, for his co-operation on the many occasions on which I had to work with him, especially at the Joint Committee on European Affairs. It was a pleasure to work closely with the Senator when issues arose. I thank Senator Brian Hayes who I knew in another chamber and wish him well in his endeavours.
I wish everybody well in their endeavours to be re-elected. All of us want to come back because we love what we do. We would not be here unless we loved it. We are natural politicians. I wish the public at large would respect us for the work we do and the time we put into it. Such respect is not reflected by the media which should praise us for the work we do rather than to adopt the current sinister approach to the portrayal of our lives. All of us do a very good job as politicians which I wish to see continued in the next Seanad.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Ms Deirdre Lane and Ms Jody Blake for their co-operation over the years. I hope I am back to work with them in the next Seanad. Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.
I compliment those Senators who are going for election and will hopefully be returned to the Dáil. Having served in the Dáil and several Departments, I have come to the Oireachtas in many shades but found it a wonderful experience to be in the Seanad for the past five years. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Leader, Senator O'Rourke, who set a trend and placed a stamp of authority on the House from the day she came in. Her vast knowledge of politics over many years added a great deal to the work of the Chamber. I had the good fortune to bring a Private Members' Bill — the Registration of Wills Bill 2005 — through the House which would not have been brought forward were it not for the support and encouragement of the Leader. It is difficult on this side of the House to have a Private Members' Bill passed on Government time, but that is what I achieved.
I am confident that the House will sit after 14 June as a stamp duty Bill is likely to be brought before the House, presumably under a Fianna Fáil-led Administration. Hopefully we will be with the Progressive Democrats again as they have been very good partners with us over the last ten years. Senator Dardis has been a very effective deputy leader of the House. The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Brian Hayes, has been exemplary and I am delighted he was named Senator of the year, which he deserved. It takes a great deal of effort and work to attend at every sitting and have an issue to raise. I acknowledge also the contributions of the leaders of the Labour and Independent groups who will be back here after the June election, joined by the Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach.
The Chamber has received increased recognition through the work of all its Members over the last five years. However, we have one tragic regret which is that Senator Kate Walsh has left us. Her seat will never be filled again. I did not get a chance to pay tribute to her when sympathies were expressed formally, but I note now that I never came across such a lady in politics. She was a most wonderful person and contributed a great deal from her humanity to the House. The Progressive Democrats were most fortunate that she became a member of their party.
I wish all Members, whether seeking re-election or not, the very best. I will not go through the list of those seeking re-election because it may change. Members who do not intend to seek re-election may change their minds after the general election.
This has been my first term as a Member of the Seanad. To be elected to either House of the Oireachtas and to work for one's country is a tremendous honour.
I thank Mr. Eamonn McCormack, Ms Deirdre Lane and Ms Jody Blake. I also thank Captain Flaherty and his staff who give Members world class back-up, and the recording staff, who come into the Chamber discreetly and put our words, which are sometimes profound and sometimes more simple, into history. I thank everyone who contributed to the work of the Seanad.
We saw recently how French people living abroad may vote either by appointing a proxy or at French consulates throughout the world. Hundreds of thousands of people born in Ireland were forced to leave home to seek employment. I ask that they be allowed to vote in future elections. France has a population of more than 60 million and ours is just over 4 million. It must be possible for us to follow the exemplary example of France and organise a similar system of voting.
I shall not list every Member who spoke because a common theme ran through all contributions. All contributors remarked that the House has worked hard, and I thank those who expressed good wishes.
Senator Ryan was, as he usually is, correct to point out my omission. Second Stage of No. 4 will conclude at 7 p.m. Senator Terry inquired about the Green Paper on pensions. It has been completed and is under consideration by the Cabinet. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, in a reply to a parliamentary question last week, said he expected that the Green Paper which will address the issues raised, will be finalised by the end of April and published thereafter. I acknowledge Senator Terry's consistent interest in this matter.
Senator Coghlan asked what judicial appointments, if any, have been made. Legislation allowing for the appointment of additional judges was passed recently but it takes some time to process judicial appointments. I note Senator Coghlan's interest in all matters legal.
We have had a very interesting Order of Business and a broad range of contributions. I will not refer to individual contributions but I thank everyone. I came into the Seanad a bruised spirit and I leave it full of ebullience. Nevertheless, I hope I shall not be back.