Wednesday, 4 July 2007
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No.1, Ministers and Secretaries (Ministers of State) Bill 2007 — all Stages to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and to conclude by 1 p.m., with contributions of each Senator on Second Stage not to exceed eight minutes; No. 2, a motion regarding the proposed approval by Seanad Éireann of the agreement between the European Union and the United States of America on the processing and transfer of passenger name record data by air carriers to the United States Department of Homeland Security, to be taken at 1 p.m. and to conclude at 2 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 3, Ethics in Public Office (Amendment) Bill 2007 — Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude at 4.30 p.m., if not previously concluded.
Yesterday I acknowledged the contribution of the Cathaoirleach to the Seanad. On this final day of the Seanad before the summer recess I acknowledge the contribution of the Leas-Chathaoirleach over the past five years. I also acknowledge the dedication and commitment of the staff to the people in this House who are delaying their summer holidays until after 22 July. I wish them well in the Seanad campaign, especially Members on my side of the House. In regard to those colleagues of ours in this House who, like myself, have decided to opt out of the Seanad, I wish each of them well in whatever decisions they make. I find it amusing when people wish us good look in our retirement because I am sure most of us will be active in other areas. I wish people who have decided not to contest the Seanad elections the best of luck. I will end on a constructive note by not being in any way critical of the Government.
I wish to be associated with the sentiments expressed by Senator Finucane regarding the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I appreciate the way he brought his Mayo sense of calm to the workings of this House over the past five years, and I wish him well in the election.
I neglected to welcome our new Leader back yesterday. He has not taken umbrage in regard to that, but I wish to put my welcome on the record now.
There are many people whose last day in the Seanad this is. However, on behalf of the Independent Members I would like to say a special thanks to our colleague, Senator Mary Henry, who has been a Trojan worker in all aspects of her work while she has been here, and to wish her well in the next portion of her active political life.
On today's business, a variety of issues in terms of the direction in which Ireland is moving need to be discussed. One such issue that I have raised many times on the Order of Business concerns cúrsaí mhuintir na Gaeltachta sa tír seo. Bhíos ag éisteacht ar maidin leis an Aire, an Teachta Ó Cuív, ag caint mar gheall ar an chaighdeán Gaoluinne i measc Ghaeltachtaí na tíre, agus chuaigh sé timpeall ar na naíonraí sna Gaeltachtaí, agus cé chomh tábhachtach agus a bhí siad. Bhí an ceart aige. Níl dabht ar domhan ach go bhfuil an-dul chun cinn déanta ag na réamhscoileanna Gaoluinne — those pre-schools — atá ann chun tosnú a thabhairt na teanga do leanaí óga a thosóidís sna gnáthbhunscoileanna murach iad. It drives me to distraction that the Minister with responsibility in this area has this morning washed his hands in regard the issue of Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis. He has told us that it not his business, that it is being dealt with by Deputy Jackie Healy-Rae, the Taoiseach and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. After creating the chaos and the mess, he walked away from it, but it is better late than never.
I have gone to every Gaeltacht school over the past 15 years. In every single one of them there are children with Spanish names, children whose families have returned from England, or whose families are strainséirí in the area, who are completely committed to the Irish language and want to learn it but do not have it in the house. The reason I mention that is that in those areas which are ceartlár na nGaeltachtaí, foinse na Gaeilge, the well of the Irish language, there is not the same level of support as there is for Gaelscoileanna in the Galltacht. Every time I make this point I get a sheaf of letters asking why I am opposed to Gaelscoileanna. I am not. However, it seems daft that in the Gaeltacht they require more students in order to appoint a teacher than in the Gaelscoileanna. It never made sense, but in the context of what the Minister with responsibility for Gaeltacht affairs has told us this morning, that there is a huge proportion of leanaí sna scoileanna Gaeltachta who do not have Irish coming into the school, if we are to restore the Irish language, let us be practical about it. I hope to be back here to have a long-term discussion leis an Aire faoi pholasaí sna Gaeltachtaí chun dul chun cinn, infheistiú agus infrastructúr a chur ar bun and much more in terms of involving ourselves in developing the Gaeltacht where people can live their lives through Irish and in Irish.
A Leas-Chathaoirligh, all of the plaudits you have been offered are well earned. The Leas-Chathaoirleach has had a calming effect on us, including on me with my somewhat short fuse. He has served the Seanad well. I thank him and the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas for their support. Like Senator O'Toole, I hope to be re-elected to the Seanad but I know to my cost that one should never assume anything. I wish the Leas-Chathaoirleach well.
I was remiss yesterday in not welcoming the new Leader and recent appointees to the Seanad. I do not believe in making silly political speeches. I welcome the new appointees who come with distinguished records in different areas of life. I hope they enjoy their brief stay in Seanad Éireann. If running in an election, given they are Government candidates, I hope their stay will be brief. However, that is politics.
I want to say farewell to my colleague Senator O'Meara who is not contesting this Seanad election. She has been a wonderful ally, supporter and friend as Whip of the Labour group. Many people will have noticed the Labour Party is a somewhat difficult group to whip into any place at one time though Senator O'Meara did so with considerable skill. I also want to say farewell to Senator Henry who, as most members will be aware, is a member of the Labour Party.
This is a further indication of her good judgment. Nevertheless, she has been a major contributor on a whole range of issues in this House. She will be genuinely missed by all of us.
It would be remiss of me not to put on the record my welcome, and that of the House, on the release of Alan Johnston.
It should be pointed out that his release was secured through the good offices of an organisation that has been traduced across the world, an organisation that has brought security, stability and some semblance of law and order to a part of the world where the previous and current Government of Palestine singularly failed. That Government was in cahoots with some of the most corrupt elements in the Gaza Strip. Hamas has begun to deal with those corrupt elements. It is time the world faced up to the fact that the people of Palestine voted for Hamas——
——not because of its ideology but because it was honest and it provided them with some service. It is a disgrace that the entire world is now intent on subverting democracy in Palestine. I stand over that statement. I repeat that the release of Alan Johnston is an indicator of the fact that there is a willingness to deal with the difficult issues.
Mar fhocal scoir don Seanad seo — ní fheadar go dtí cathain — is féidir liom a rá go bhfuilim ar aon aigne leis an Seanadóir Ó Tuathail faoi 90% dá ndúirt sé. Tá a fhios ag an saol cad faoi nach bhfuilimid ar aon aigne.
It is a great pity that Údarás na Gaeltachta will be required to record on its literature the address of its headquarters in Daingean Uí Chúis in English. It is not something I would welcome. I do not believe it is a particularly good idea. However, I would like to put on the record a little story a chuala mé ar Raidió na Gaeltachta inné. Chuaigh duine ó Cheann Trá isteach go dtí stáisiún na nGardaí i Daingean agus d'iarr a chuid gnó a dhéanamh trí Ghaoluinn. I will continue in English because I want everyone to hear it. He wanted to do his business through Irish in the biggest Gaeltacht town in west Kerry and the member of the Garda Síochána told him, "I am sorry, I have no Irish." The man then said, "Nach bhfuil sé de chead agam ... Do I not have the right to do my business through Irish?" The reply was, "No, you don't and you never had." I heard this on Raidió na Gaeltachta. This has nothing to do with the issue raised earlier. West of Dingle is a fíor-Ghaeltacht. Anybody who visits the area outside of the tourist season when it is saturated will know this. It is a disgrace that a citizen cannot carry out his or her ordinary business as Gaelige with a major organ of the State. It reflects the peculiar ambiguity, about which Senator O'Toole is talking, of people being paid a Gaeltacht allowance to go to Dingle——
——but saying to somebody who wants to do business through Irish, "I am sorry, I do not have any Irish." We are entitled to expect more from all organs of the State. Má táimse thar n-ais, maraon leis an tSeanadóir Ó Tuathail, ní fheadar conas a réiteofar ceist an Daingin——-
A ministerial order which is in contradiction of the law of the land will be thrown out by the High Court. Ní fiú an cheist a phlé inniu. Réiteofar í ar shlí éigin eile. Caithfear ceist na Gaoluinne, agus cé chomh dáiríre is atá muintir na tíre agus an Rialtas faoi thodhchaí na teanga, a phlé. Níl mé ag gearáin faoin Rialtas seo ach faoi gach Rialtas. Is í an teanga an chuid dár ndúchas is mó is fiú agus is mó atá i mbaol faoi láthair. Ba chóir duinn pé rud is féidir a dhéanamh. Má táimid go léir thar n-ais annso tar éis an toghcháin, tá súil agam go mbeimid ábalta an cheist seo a phlé i ndáiríre agus gan mórán easaontas eadrainn.
I join with others in thanking you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, for the way you filled in for the Cathaoirleach when he was not in the Chamber, for the even-handed manner in which you have conducted the proceedings and for the way you have looked after the Members of the House. I also join you in thanking the staff for the way they have always looked after Members. The duties imposed on the staff are becoming increasingly onerous. They are expected to deal with the Standards in Public Office Commission and other matters. The resources for the Seanad Office need to be looked at. An unfair burden is being placed on a small number of people who work very hard on our behalf.
I also thank Mr. Jimmy Walsh for his coverage of the proceedings. This brings to mind the work of journalists. We welcome the release of Mr. Alan Johnston in the Gaza strip. Senator Ryan made a point about Hamas dealing with corruption. It is good to deal with corruption but not in the ways used by Hamas. The kidnapping should not have happened in the first place. I do not take from the argument regarding democracy. There is a view, perhaps in the United States, that democracy is the supreme way of government, but only when the result suits the United States.
Hamas does not represent a democratic way. It got the votes but it is not democratic in its systems and operation.
I wish well everyone who is contesting the elections. I hope as many as possible will return and I wish all those who are not returning a happy and good retirement. I echo the points made about people such as Senators Henry and Finucane. Senator Finucane might empathise with the casualty rate among those who served on the Judge Curtin sub-committee. There may be a lesson here regarding the people who do work within the Parliament and the success they experience when they go before the electorate. While there are frequent calls in the press for us to fulfil our legislative and parliamentary obligations, those who do that to best effect, and I can think of a few glaring examples, seem to be the greatest casualties when they go before the electorate. It is hard to take some of the lectures we get from the national newspapers about our responsibilities. One can do nothing here unless one is elected to the Houses.
I too would like to be associated with the well deserved tributes to yourself, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, and to thank you for your courtesy and patience and for the latitude you showed all Members at different times. I would also like to be associated with the remarks regarding the distinguished Senators who are not seeking re-election and who, no doubt, will take up other positions in illustrious careers outside the Oireachtas. I wish Senators Finucane, Dardis, Brennan, Minihan, O'Meara, Henry and Daly well. I hope I have not left out anyone. I wish all of them well.
Like many others, I will give it my best shot whatever happens.
I note the serious comments of Senator O'Toole mar gheall ar Aire na Gaeltachta. I was not aware he had opted out but I certainly am aware of the intentions of the Taoiseach and Deputy Healy-Rae. Whether it is a joint announcement or otherwise, I sincerely look forward to it. This has gone on for too long. It needs to be resolved satisfactorily and put behind us. I wish those gentlemen well in that regard and look forward to the announcement.
I support Senator Ryan's remarks about the release of Alan Johnston. It is a great landmark and a sign of hope that humanity triumphs every now and again. In regard to Hamas, I do not believe one can ask people to adopt electoral and democratic policies and then tell them one does not like the result. One must deal with that. A lesson one should draw from Northern Ireland is that it is necessary to draw people into the democratic process. It might not be perfect at the start. One might get them into the remedial stream but, ultimately, with a bit of luck, one gets them into mainstream politics. That should be the lesson for us all.
I, too, would like to be associated with the tributes to the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Seanad staff and all the Members with whom I have had the great pleasure and privilege of serving. The Taoiseach has done me a great honour and being allowed to serve in this way is a privilege I do not take lightly. Not only has it been a privilege, it has been a pleasure and I thank Members on all sides for the general courtesy and welcome that has been extended to me during my time here.
I also pay tribute to the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the civilised and courteous way in which he has dealt with matters while occupying the Chair. I have already paid fulsome tribute to my other colleagues, including Senator Henry, and I do not propose to continue on that line because people might think I was fishing in her newly released shoal of votes. It is something I would never dream of accusing any of my colleagues of doing even though I noticed a very fetching photograph of Senator Henry in the election material of one of my Trinity colleagues.
The one person about whom I have not said very much is Senator John Dardis, the Deputy Leader of the House. Although I did not always agree with him, he behaved with great dignity, courtesy and efficiency. He did his party and this House proud and certainly in a less raucous way than my performances. Again this morning I noticed how judicious he was in his comments on the Middle East. He mentioned that many governments have been elected throughout the world but that they do not seem to fit in with the American notion of democracy because they do not produce the right result. That is true and we could spend the morning listing these people.
As Senator Maurice Hayes has done, I welcome the release of Alan Johnston, which has been universally welcomed. Some weeks ago I attended a press conference organised by the NUJ which was co-chaired by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, and the Muslim Imam from the mosque in Clonskeagh. I very much take on board what Senator Dardis said about things in the Middle East. It is a terrible situation. Hamas, this despised organisation which legitimately won an election, managed to secure the release of Alan Johnston while, simultaneously, President Bush, who stole two elections, released a known liar and subverter of the American Constitution, Mr. Scooter Libby. We must look at these things honestly because people will want to ask why seven doctors were involved in the attacks in the UK. It is not enough to condemn them and to quote the hippocratic oath. Why would so many lawyers and professional people who have taken an oath to respect life be involved in this? I sat next to a wealthy and sophisticated American woman, from New York, who spoke about her outrage at the events of 11 September 2001 and how she changed to support Bush. On the television she had seen an office in which some of her friends worked being blown to pieces. However, what about the incalculable effect on the people of Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul and Falluja, where what was happening was so disgraceful the international press was excluded? What else can happen other than the radicalisation of these unfortunate people given that the West, with all its values, has treated the Palestinian and Iraqi people with discrimination, contempt, brutality, terrorism and lies? Unless we face up to this and treat these people decently as equal human beings, this mess will continue.
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business. No. 25, the Civil Partnership Bill 2004, has been on the Order Paper for the past three years. Nobody in this House has spoken against the Bill and every commission or think tank into which the prevaricating and procrastinating Taoiseach has endeavoured to kick it into touch has reported that the Bill should be dealt with. The Labour Party put a narrower Bill before the other House and every Member, with some good speeches made by Fianna Fáil backbenchers, was in favour of it.
Only five minutes are required to deal with this Bill. Let us have a look at it and see if we are prepared, as an independent House of the Oireachtas and a reviewing Chamber which is entitled to introduce legislation, to advance this Bill to a further Stage. In the space of five minutes we could do the business to which the Government, the Taoiseach, previous justice Ministers and Members of both Houses who have spoken on the matter have committed themselves. Every commission to which this matter has been referred has said: "Go ahead and do it; for God's sake, stop dillydallying." We have the opportunity to advance this legislation in just five minutes. The Bill will not be passed but will be moved to a further Stage. I move that the Seanad resume Second Stage of the Civil Partnership Bill 2004. I am supported in this proposal by my colleague, Senator Henry. It can easily be done in five minutes.
I share Members' delight at the release of Alan Johnston, the BBC correspondent in the Gaza Strip, after being held for four months in solitary confinement. He is an extraordinarily brave man. I watched the report on him this morning on Sky News. Obviously, Hamas is playing an important role in Gaza. It has taken control of the region and will prove a success there. It is the legitimate government of the West Bank, Gaza and Palestine, and should be recognised as such by the Government and the European Union. Hamas was elected to that position. It tried to share power but that was unsuccessful. Now, there is a re-organised constitution to deprive it of legitimate power.
As the outgoing convenor of the Friends of Palestine in the Oireachtas, I hope Members of the incoming Seanad and the new Dáil will establish a similar organisation. It was started by the former Senator, Michael Lanigan, and was the largest representative group in the House supporting another country. I hope the new Members will organise the group again. If I am re-elected, I will play a role in that regard. This is a golden opportunity for Tony Blair, the new peace ambassador. He is most influential.
Our Taoiseach, given his relationship with Tony Blair and as the longest serving Head of State in the European Union, could play a pivotal role in this regard, particularly given the outstanding record of both men in Northern Ireland. They have great ability and I urge the Taoiseach, although urging him is unnecessary, to play that role.
I wish to put on record my thanks to the Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach for chairing the Seanad over the past five years. I have experience as a Dáil Deputy and have come to the Seanad as a Minister of State, but in the past five years we have had a spectacular Seanad. The outgoing Leader of the House, Deputy O'Rourke, played a pivotal role in the work of this House. She and her deputy, Senator Dardis, assisted by Eamonn McCormack, were a good team. This House sat for long periods of three days per week and even four days per week when necessary. We were told at the start that with the golden Opposition at the time it would sit only one day per week. The former Leader proved that wrong.
The way the Leader summarised the work or contributions of Senators was also worthwhile. We are well served by the Clerk and Clerk Assistant of the Seanad. They are experienced and powerful women who guide the Seanad. The stenographers and technical back-up to the House are second to none. The reports published of the contributions made in the House are exemplary. I do not know how they figure out the names of various locations.
I wish the Acting Leader of the House well. It is like becoming a Cabinet Minister on one's first day back in the House. A great honour has been bestowed on him. To Seán Dorgan, who played a pivotal role in the election of Fianna Fáil, Peter Sands who has a tremendous record of service to the country and Chris Wall——
Colm O'Gorman was appointed in place of a great friend of this House, Kate Walsh. She was an extraordinary woman and we all owe her a debt of gratitude. We do not have many opportunities such as this and it is great to have it. It is our last day of service here. I wish every success to voluntary and involuntary retirees.
As a voluntary retiree although not entirely wishing to be, I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Cathaoirleach, Members and staff of the House for an enjoyable ten years and say a fond farewell to everyone. As others stated, it has been a privilege and a pleasure to serve. Not many people can state they had the opportunity to do so. I wish everybody standing for election and re-election all the best. They should not worry as I will not forget them. As I have a vote on more than one panel I will not forget the others either.
I hope the Members of the future Seanad will take on board the need to consider a number of issues which I will raise in the debate on the Ministers and Secretaries (Ministers of State) Bill. These issues are with regard to children and are once again in the news today. I heard the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, speak about naíonraí and pre-school education for children as Gaeilge.
The issue of pre-school education for all children is important as is the issue of child care, which does not go away. It has been my great privilege to have raised and spoken on this issue at considerable length. I hope we advanced it. The other issue is that of children in care and children at risk. The incoming Government has a great deal to do on this matter. I hope it takes it on and I will urge the new Ministers of State to do so when we discuss the Ministers and Secretaries (Ministers of State) Bill.
As a member of the NUJ, I was very pleased, as were others, to hear of the release of Alan Johnston overnight. It was wonderful to hear the interview with him on radio this morning, which was extraordinary considering the trauma he has been through. I hope the experience he had is not one to be repeated by others, journalists or not, and one must be delighted and relieved his trauma has come to an end. One hopes to see political progress and advancement in the region and see an end to the terrible suffering of the people there.
I wish all my colleagues the best of luck. Rather than name everybody individually I wish them, as Senator Liam Fitzgerald said, joy and pleasure and good luck on their odyssey going forward.
I wish to draw attention to a significant event which took place on 8 July 1927, the day Senator Maurice Hayes was born. He will be 80 years of age next Sunday. As I have been the proponent and the visionary on a new approach to ageing and ageism I wish him a happy birthday. He is an icon North and South.
The number one killer of young people in Ireland is not cancer or road traffic deaths, it is suicide. There is a need for an all-Ireland approach to this issue. Recently there have been calls for the establishment of a dedicated suicide research centre on an all-Ireland basis. The Northern Ireland Minister for Health, Mr. McGimpsey, is open to this idea. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Health and Children to play an active role in progressing it as a matter of urgency. The figures for 2004 show that 457 people died by suicide.
As Government Whip I welcome our new Members and the new Leader and wish them well. It may be short-term but with the help of God some of them will be back. I express my thanks to the deputy Whip, Senator Glynn, and to Senator Cummins, Whip on the main Opposition side, for their help and co-operation during the past five years and also to our former Leader, Deputy O'Rourke, who has been elected to the Dáil. I wish her well in the future. I thank also Eamonn McCormack from her office and Sarah Kelly from my own office for their help and co-operation.
As I did not realise Senator Finucane was not standing again I wish him well in his retirement. He has made a major contribution in the Seanad. I thank also the Deputy Leader, Senator Dardis, and his fellow Progressive Democrats Senators for their help and co-operation during the term. I thank the Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach for their outstanding contributions to the House during the past five years. It is disappointing that long-serving Senators, such as Senators Henry, Bohan and Daly are not standing. Senator Daly has been a member of this or the other House since 1973 and has given a lifetime of public service to the people in his constituency and the people of this country. I thank also Senator Hayes who has been very helpful to me. I wish them all well. I thank particularly the staff, Deirdre Lane and Jody Blake, for their help and co-operation. I wish all Members who are seeking re-election to this House in the forthcoming election well. I thank everyone for their help and co-operation.
Some years ago after President Clinton had visited this country and had done a huge amount of work for Northern Ireland I proposed in the House that we should consider calling the main road in the Phoenix Park after him. The proposal did not get any approval. When people retire from office they often leave behind them a chequered history in which they have made mistakes and done well. I am thinking of the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. He has certainly made mistakes. However, I would like to draw attention to the huge debt of gratitude the people of Ireland owe him. We should recognise in some way the contribution he made and the role he played in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. Although we have heard and will continue to hear criticisms of what he has done during his term, that one event should stand out ahead of other things he has done. This nation should consider recognising that in some way. Perhaps we could name a road after him or something like that.
Yes, we have done that. We should also ensure we recognise it because sometimes we only hear the criticisms.
Today is a little bit like the last day of term at school. More than that, it is like the end of sixth year when people say goodbye to a number of those they know they will not work with again in school having spent a number of years there. In looking forward to reunions in the future we wish well to those who are leaving and have decided to leave of their own will. We look forward to seeing what they achieve in their future careers. It is clear that most of them have strong ambitions to achieve even more in their lives than they have achieved up to now. We look forward to reunions where we get a chance to wish them well.
I wish to mention two people. Senator Henry has been here with me since I became a Member 14 and a half years ago. She has been very helpful to those of us on the Independent benches. As Senator O'Toole has already done, I wish to express my thanks and I say that on behalf of many others also. I pass birthday wishes to Senator Maurice Hayes who has added to the stature of this House. Outside this House, particularly in his work in chairing the National Forum on Europe, he has managed to fit in unbelievable work in the past five years or so. I must now recognise that what I used to think was an old age, which he will attain next week, is no longer old. That man seems to have so much energy, enthusiasm and commitment that I believe he will succeed in the future.
In wishing well those seeking re-election and who will hopefully return here, it is like schooldays and we hope to go on to new things. We wish success to those standing for election again and we know that the strong will that has been shown in the past 14 years that I have been here will continue in the non-confrontational manner in which this House has worked. It will continue with the constructive debate. The willingness of Ministers to listen to debates and to accept amendments has improved our legislation. I congratulate you, a Leas Chathaoirligh, and all the others who played that role.
I also thank you, a Leas Chathaoirligh, and the Cathaoirleach, for your courtesy, patience and generosity of time to every Member in the Chamber in the past five years. I wish the best of luck to those seeking re-election. To the Members who are retiring I convey every good wish.
I wish to raise a matter that has become an old chestnut with me. In saying this I look across at Senators O'Meara and Henry, who have also raised the issue on many occasions. It is very apt as it has been in the news in recent days. I refer to anorexia nervosa, especially in children and young teenagers. While I did not hear the Gerry Ryan show yesterday, I believe the most harrowing story was told by the mother of a nine-year-old boy. It is an illness we normally associate with girls and young women. However, this boy is suicidal and the only bed he can get is in Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. The two paediatric beds in Crumlin are occupied by a boy and a girl, both under ten. There is nowhere in Ireland for this young boy to go. Before we broke for the general election I sought a debate on the matter. I may not be fortunate enough to return to the House but I hope this issue will be put on the agenda for the new term and debated at length. While more ring-fenced beds are needed, the debate needs to be widened in order that young people are educated. Children in fourth and fifth classes need to know that thin is not beautiful. An article in The Irish Times yesterday, entitled "Trapped by the Cult of Thin", referred to a survey which highlighted that the obsession with image of teenage girls is at crisis level. They are all being brainwashed to believe that thinner is more beautiful. Sadly, we as adults know that is not true but try getting that through the mind of a young girl. We regularly debate the education of young people about drugs and alcohol but this issue will become an even greater menace. Hopefully, if I am re-elected, I can look forward to participating in that debate.
I second Senator Norris's amendment. I thank all my colleagues, particularly those on the university panel, for their kind comments. Senator Norris is correct that it was very kind of Senator Ross to put such a flattering description of me on his election literature, not to mind the very nice photograph. I am pleased about that because it demonstrates a great sincerity.
I congratulate the Leas-Chathaoirleach on the way in which he presided over the House when the Cathaoirleach was absent. I did not realise so many of us would be attending the former Members' parties, to which I look forward very much. I wish all those seeking re-election the very best. As Senator O'Meara said, I will be thinking of them.
It has been a great privilege to serve in the House and it has been very interesting and entertaining. However, Senator Feeney also raised an issue, which reminds me of how depressing it can be at times. I have taken an interest in mental illness and the position regarding facilities for children and adolescents with mental illness is as bad as when I first entered the House, which is depressing. Another issue I raised when I was first elected was the lack of folic acid in flour and, 15 years later, nothing has been done. How many children with spina bifida have been born in the meantime?
I would like to thank, in particular, the Clerk and Clerk Assistant of the Seanad for the great kindness and courtesy they showed me over the years and for their helpfulness regarding amendments and Adjournment debates which, as I explained to them, were designed to promote democracy and not to irritate them. I hope my successor will give them just as good a time with amendments and Adjournment debates in the future.
I would like to be associated with the fine tributes that have been paid to many Members who have inspired and motivated us to greater effort. I was pleased Senator Quinn picked out the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton. It would be ungrateful of us during the final sitting of this Seanad to fail to acknowledge the major contribution they have made in bringing us to where we are today through the peace process. We would not have celebrated, perhaps, one of the greatest achievements in the lifetime of the Seanad but for them and others who played a role in the process.
The role and effectiveness of the House have, rightly, been debated many times. Such debates give us an opportunity to reflect on whether we are happy with the work of the House. This Seanad has done particularly well. Members played a leading role on a number of major issues that were debated by questioning the wisdom, legality and morality, for example, of the invasion of Iraq and the terrible spiral of violence that was unleashed on the world. Is it not interesting that today fewer than 30% of American people believe the invasion of Iraq was correct? When we raised it in this Chamber, it did not seem politically correct but we did this House proud in that we led rather than followed on the issue and put our heads above the parapet when it was necessary.
We did likewise when it came to the plight of the Palestinian people. It is absolutely and utterly obscene to use the Palestinian people as a pawn in world politics.
I stated in the very early stages of the debate that Hamas was democratically elected to the Palestinian Government, and if the rest of the world had come in behind it at that time, recognising the democratic result, we would not have the crisis and mess we have at the moment. We must now reflect and consider whether we should break loose from this political correctness in international politics and be independent in expressing our views. We can draw on our own history.
We can draw on the many causes we have promoted down through the decades. In doing so, perhaps we can give guidance. We should be to the fore rather than acting when it is too late.
I asked a representative of the coalition Palestinian Government why Hamas was never mentioned in the meeting. Why was the democratically elected party and government not being recognised, even by its ambassadorial people abroad? We must break free from the strait jacket if the Seanad is to continue to play a meaningful role and if Ireland is, above all else, to continue to be an honest broker in international politics, which it is and has been respected as a result.
This strait jacket has been created by world powers to bring in all the smaller democracies. In fairness, Ireland has on many occasions stepped outside that strait jacket. If I had any wish for the future of this House, it would be that it would continue to be courageous in the manner in which it does so. It should also be central to all debates in the future, be ahead of the crowd and lead as we have done in the past.
As with other tributes from Members, I have always found the Leas-Chathaoirleach to be excellent in his role. He has always been tolerant, even on this occasion, allowing me to express myself on the Order of Business. I wish him and all my other colleagues the very best leading into the next election.
I extend my thanks to the Leas-Chathaoirleach and my appreciation to the Cathaoirleach, who is retiring, and the staff of the House for the co-operation and guidance I have received over the past five years. I also express thanks to the people of Clare who elected me as their representative in 1973 and supported me in successive elections. I also express gratitude to the electorate for the Seanad who gave me the opportunity to represent them in this forum, which I deeply appreciate.
As an innocent bystander I convey my good wishes to all Members going forward in the election. It will be a very difficult election and there may be many casualties and successes. I wish candidates from all sides of the House success and I look forward to watching the performances of the next Seanad on television.
There have been opportunities in this House to express the necessity for Seanad reform. I support that fully and it is necessary to have major reform in the Seanad. Within the confines of legislation regarding the House as it is established, there is ample opportunity to bring forward innovative and constructive proposals, legislative and otherwise. Even within those confines, the Seanad is in a position to make a major contribution to the advancement of political life in Ireland.
I welcome the opportunity to thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the staff of the House and all those who made life very good for me for the past 34 years or so.
Like previous speakers, I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the even-handed manner in which he has conducted meetings of the House. I also extend my sincere thanks to the Cathaoirleach — who, regrettably, is not present today — to the Senators who are retiring and to Jody Blake, Deirdre Lane and their staff. I will be contesting the Seanad election and I wish those colleagues who are doing likewise the very best.
It would be remiss of me not to mention a number of Members, particularly those who are retiring. Top of the list is the man who has just spoken, namely, Senator Daly, who has been a fountain of knowledge and a rock of common sense. The Senator has served at all levels of public life and his long career is a testament to the esteem in which he is held in his native Clare.
Senator Maurice Hayes, with whom I share a secretary, is also retiring. The Senator has been of tremendous help to me. He is an ardent conversationalist, possesses a wealth of knowledge and regardless of the topic, he is on top of it.
Senators Bohan, Dardis and Henry are also retiring. Senator Henry and I always found a common denominator on health issues and I thank her for the great support she gave me, not least in respect of diabetes, the silent epidemic, about which I am particularly concerned. It took a long time for a debate to take place on that matter in the House. The late, great Senator Kate Walsh was always ardent in her support in respect of this matter, as was Senator Callanan, both of whom contracted that cursed disease. If I am returned to the Seanad, I give notice now that I will pursue this matter strongly because diabetes has horrendous implications for all aspects of the health service.
Another matter to which I wish to refer is suicide. I commend a former Member of the House, Deputy Neville, who is in the Gallery and who has made a crusade out of this issue. It is a matter of particular concern that young males in a certain age group are seven times more likely to commit suicide than their female counterparts.
Men's health is also a matter of concern. When they buy cars, men regularly take them to be serviced. However, they never seem to look after their own health. If they do look after it, they usually do so following prompting from their wives, partners, sisters or friends. We are not the best people in the world for looking after our health.
I thank Senators Bohan, O'Meara, Finucane, Fitzgerald, Cox and others who have decided to call it a day for their contributions to the House. We are all sent here by those who elect us. While people might criticise the system by which we are elected, it is certainly one way to see Ireland. However, there are less taxing and expensive ways of doing so.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his great co-operation and forbearance. I hope we will both be returned to the Seanad.
I welcome the opportunity to say thanks to a couple of people. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the staff of the Seanad and all those in the Seanad Office who have been so wonderfully kind to me on many occasions.
I have been a Member of the House for ten years, during which time I gave birth to three children. I spent a great deal of time in the Seanad and I have many memories to take with me. The Seanad is a great place and I thank all of the colleagues with whom I worked during my time here. I wish everyone going forward for re-election the best of luck. In particular, I wish those who are retiring and who have shared these ten years with me the very best of luck in whatever they decide to do because it is a big thing to say goodbye and to move on, but move on we do. I will certainly move on with wonderful memories of my time here and the people who work here, including the ushers, the people in the canteen and those who report the speeches who I am sure sit there every day and think, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, this is so boring, can we not go home?" However, there are also good days. At times, this Chamber has made a huge difference to legislation. It depends on the goodness and, I presume, the confidence of the Minister who sits there to listen to the contributions Members make. The Ministers who have sat there and listened and changed legislation because of the contributions of Members here are better Ministers. That is the purpose of this House and I ask those who return to the House to retain that tradition and continue that very worthwhile reason for being here. That is what it is all about.
Sadly, at least three women, Senators O'Meara and Henry and myself, will not be back. I hope those women running for re-election are returned and that other women are successful because it will be a sad day if the number of women involved in politics continues to decrease. The challenge for the body politic and institutions is to get more women involved. We must change the way we do business. It does not work for young women or men with families. If Seanad reform happens in the next Seanad, I hope this is on the agenda.
I extend my final thanks to my former Fianna Fáil colleagues who are still my friends. I thank them for all their kindness. I know Senator Norris is dying for me to go over there.
I pay tribute to the Cathaoirleach and to the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the great work they have done in the past five years and for the courteous way they have behaved. I also pay particular tribute to the Clerk of the Seanad and all her staff for the courteous, effective and efficient way they do their work. They are always available, polite, kind and helpful.
I pay tribute to and congratulate the four new Members nominated by the Taoiseach. This may be the last day any of us sit here, although I hope it is not. To have been here once is an honour, while to have been here a few times is a singular honour. It is a great House whose work is not always recognised in public. Many of the great debates that took place in the past, including those concerning German reunification, East Timor, the death penalty and the peace process, in no small measure contributed to the betterment of the people of Ireland and elsewhere. Some of the speeches were relayed to other countries and, therefore, the House does have an effect.
To be a Member of this House is a great honour and I am very thankful to those who elected me. I hope all my colleagues get re-elected if they so wish. I value their friendship and companionship. It has been a unique experience to have served here with so many unique individuals like Paddy McGowan, Gordon Wilson, John Robb and Mick Lanigan. I could not name all the wonderful people who have gone before. I wish everyone the very best of luck in the election. I hope they are all re-elected and I hope to get there myself.
Before I call on the Leader of the House, I wish everybody standing for election the very best of luck. I wish to pay a compliment to the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad who did a marvellous job in the past five years. I thank Ms Deirdre Lane and Ms Jody Blake and the staff of the Seanad for the tremendous job they have done in the past five years. I wish to pay a special compliment to the Deputy Leader of the House, Senator Dardis, the deputy leader of the Opposition, Senator Finucane and Senators Henry and O'Meara, who have been the Acting Chairmen for the past five years. They did their duty when called upon. I thank them and wish them the very best of luck in their retirement.
There is a tinge of sadness about today. There are not many sad days in the House but today is one. I wish all those Members retiring the best of luck. It is not easy to call it a day. Most politicians are either beaten in an election or die in office. It requires a strong will to retire and call it a day. I wish those Members retiring the best of luck in their subsequent chosen careers.
I join with other speakers in congratulating the Leas-Chathaoirleach on a job well done in the past ten years. I commend him on his kindness, help, his easy approach and lovely style of conducting business. On this sensitive day, he allowed Members to express their wishes without observing time. It is a sign of his understanding of the occasion.
I want to be associated with the remarks on the legendary Cathaoirleach, Senator Rory Kiely, who has been a friend to most of us for the past 30 years. I wish him well in his retirement. The clerks, Ms Deirdre Lane and Ms Jody Blake, are a safe pair of hands who run this House. Ms Lane, in particular, has been very kind and courteous to us all during the years. I thank the Seanad staff and the parliamentary reporters. I also thank Mr. Jimmy Walsh, who reports on our activities in the press, and "Oireachtas Report" which relays to the homes of Ireland the great work that takes place in the Seanad. Were it not for "Oireachtas Report" people would be at a disadvantage in understanding the great work and business done in the House.
For those Members who have the courage to retire, I wish them well. There are some young Members who will be retiring but I do not rule out the possibility that in the future they will return to assist us in the Oireachtas. I have had a wonderful working relationship with Senators Finucane and O'Meara and wish them well. I wish Senator Henry, an eminent Member, luck and happiness in her retirement. I wish Senator Brennan well. He is a great colleague whose home I visited the evening before last.
I have had a good working relationship with Senator Cox and wish her well. I wish Senator Fitzgerald well. He has been a Member of both Houses. Senator Bohan, the man from Drumlish, has been in the House for 20 years. He is a great friend to us all and has helped out many Members by giving them solid advice. He has been a great family friend as well as an Oireachtas colleague. The most experienced Member of the House, Senator Daly, has been a Member of the Lower House and a Minister. A close personal friend, I did my utmost to convince him to stand again for the Seanad. However, he wants to move on to greener pastures.
I believe the two of us could have made it on that panel. I wish Senator Daly well in his new career and I hope he will give the country the benefit of his expertise and experience. I look forward to him serving the nation in another forum in the not-too-distant future.
I thank our colleagues in the Progressive Democrats for their kindness and working relationship in the past ten years, particularly Senator Dardis, the Deputy Leader of the Seanad. Senator Dardis has been Deputy Leader of the House for ten years and has been exemplary in the manner in which he has carried out his duties. He has been a wonderful friend, a safe pair of hands and I hope that the wisdom of the Progressive Democrats will serve to return him here, if the opportunity arises, at a future date. I certainly mean that because he is a man who has the respect of all Members of this House and is someone who could contribute enormously in this forum in future.
Many issues were raised. As someone said, being heavily involved in committee work does not get one re-elected to the Dáil. The late great Deputy Jim Mitchell presided over a committee that really delivered. Former Deputy Denis O'Donovan presided over a committee and I worked especially hard on the insurance issue. I realise this was mentioned earlier but I believe it is something the House should bear in mind.
I wish all aspirants for the Seanad in the forthcoming election well, new as well as outgoing candidates. I hope they will all be successful, particularly those colleagues with whom we have worked long and hard in this House over the years. Senator Leyden has mentioned all the new Members, Senators Colm O'Gorman, Seán Dorgan, Peter Sands and Chris Wall. I know it was a total oversight that I was left out and naturally I cannot give him my No. 1 on that particular panel, but I wish the Senator well for his re-election. He has been an outstanding Member of the House and I realise Members will bear that in mind when they are voting.
Senator O'Toole expressed his views on the challenges facing the Seanad in the years ahead, as did Senator Ryan on matters which those two Senators in particular outlined to the House on the promotion of the Gaeltacht areas. We can certainly allow time to debate this at some length if we are all elected. If I am re-elected, my priority will be to deal with the question of energy costs.
When we were elected in 2002, the challenge then was the high cost of insurance for small and family-run businesses, private and commercial motorists etc., but now it has moved to energy costs. Whether it is gas, electricity or whatever, this is now an enormous challenge, especially for small and family businesses. I certainly will take an active role on this if re-elected.
Senators Ryan, Dardis, Coghlan, Hayes, Norris, Leyden and O'Meara all expressed delight at the release of Alan Johnston. I join with that because it was wonderful to wake up and hear the lead story of the day as a good news item. How many times do we wake up and hear nothing but bad news? This morning, however, all Members of the House join in welcoming the release of this man who has suffered immensely. We wish Mr. Johnston and his family all the joy in the world. We hope he can get his life back, which I would say will take considerable time.
Senator Norris, as usual, is proposing an amendment in respect of No. 24 on the Order of Business, the Civil Partnership Bill 2004. As the Senator knows, the Order of Business for the day was agreed earlier with the group leaders——
I did not indicate a speaking time for No. 2, and I suggest five minutes per Senator if that is agreeable to the House. Senator O'Meara, in her contribution, asked the Seanad to continue to include in its deliberations issues affecting children. I am sure we can all agree with that. Senators White and Quinn highlighted the fact of 8 July being a seminal date. It is the very famous date on which my wife and I got married 39 years ago and it is Senator Maurice Hayes's 80th birthday. We all wish him well.
I hope I will be canvassing in Donegal on that day.
Senators Hayes, Cummins and Glynn drew attention to the terrible problem of suicide in this country and referred to the 450 people who die in this way every year. Senator Cummins told me before the Order of Business that he would bring this to the attention of the House this morning. I thank Senators Cummins and Glynn for calling on the Minister for Health and Children to deal with the problem in a very meaningful way. I will pass on their proposal for a research centre to the Minister after the Order of Business.
Senators Quinn and Ó Murchú had strong views on the lifelong contribution of Tony Blair to politics and asked that he and former President of the United States Bill Clinton be honoured in some way by the Houses of the Oireachtas or the people of Ireland. Reference was made to the close working relationship that the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, has had with these two figures. It has been significant over recent years. I will pass on the views of the Senators after the Order of Business.
Senators Feeney and Henry expressed strong views on anorexia and the lack of treatment for this problem. They stated there is particular need for educating young people in this regard. It is a serious challenge and I am sure the next Seanad will allow sufficient time to discuss it with the Minister.
Senator Ó Murchú made a very fine contribution on matters raised in the Seanad and on the guidance offered therein. The Chamber has been a very honest broker in very difficult times and has allowed Members to address in a truthful way issues that may not have been popular at the time they were raised. It has since been proven that their views were correct.
Senator Daly thanked the people of his native Clare for supporting him and sending him here to be their representative. I thank the Senators for all they have done for the Seanad during the years for which they have been Members. As Senator Lydon said, very many of us may have made our last speech, but I hope the wisdom of the electorate will be such that we will be returned to the House. If so, we will look forward to serving the nation with great pride and honour, and we will be privileged to do so. In the meantime, the decision rests with the electorate. I wish colleagues well and look forward to upholding the high regard in which this Chamber has been held. The high standard of debate that has taken place in the House is a credit to all the Members who have served here over the years.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 9 (Paul Bradford, Maurice Cummins, Michael Finucane, Mary White, Mary Henry, David Norris, Kathleen O'Meara, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan)
Against the motion: 24 (Peter Callanan, Donie Cassidy, Margaret Cox, Brendan Daly, Seán Dorgan, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Tony Kett, Terry Leyden, Don Lydon, Marc MacSharry, John Minihan, Paschal Mooney, Pat Moylan, Francis O'Brien, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Chris Wall, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Henry and Norris; Níl, Senators Minihan and Moylan.
Amendment declared lost.