Thursday, 13 September 2007
Election of Cathaoirleach
I do not wish to sound presumptuous but I want to say to everybody that they are very welcome. It has been a long and difficult road for all of us to get here, whether one was nominated, elected or brought in by any means. It is a great honour for me to be here as the longest serving Member and it is a greathonour for everybody to be elected to Seanad Éireann. I hope we have a particularly constructive session over the next four or five years, although that is not a political prediction of any sort. I thank the Leader of the House for keeping with the long tradition of allowing the Member with the longest continuous service to take this item on the agenda. There is a shorter tradition, which I intend to continue, that the Member addresses the House briefly before doing so. The definition of "brevity" is up to the Chairman.
Looking at the composition of this House today I am intrigued by the extraordinary amount of talent which has emerged for Seanad Éireann. I suspect it has the potential to be the liveliest Seanad in which I have ever served. I do not see any signs of shrinking violets around the House. Indeed, I feel some sympathy for whoever is elected Cathaoirleach in the next few minutes for the disparate views with which he or she will have to cope. It has tremendous potential and this will be a fantastic Seanad if that particular potential is realised. We will have difficulties but we must mobilise that potential and seize that chance to make this particular Seanad a parliamentary dynamo of great life.
I do not believe the Seanad should be or has ever been in competition with the Dáil. If we are honest, it has often been held to be a poor reflection of the Dáil. While that may or may not be the case, over the period of this Seanad we should consider that which has been considered many times before, namely, that this House would adopt and seize a new role in the parliamentary process.
That presents us with particular difficulties because Seanad Éireann has been basically unchanged since 1937. The reasons for this are fairly obvious, although I do not want to go into that issue. However, as a result, the Seanad is deeply embedded in the political process. That is not necessarily a bad thing given that the political process has fantastically positive elements, but it also has negative elements. If we are serious about examining ourselves, we must try to discard the negative elements and continue with the positive ones.
The positive elements are self-evident. We have had phenomenal debates in the House over the years. Undoubtedly, in the case of certain inspired Taoiseach's nominees from Northern Ireland, we have contributed to the peace that is settling on this island. Undoubtedly, many people have led public opinion from this House, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s. This has been done with enormous vigour and has been a great credit to the House, a point that applies to all political parties and all shades of opinion. We should be proud of that. However, it will be difficult for us to maintain or adopt a new, exciting and vigorous role unless we reform the Seanad.
This is the problem the Seanad must confront. We are too often seen, rightly so, as the product of the spoils of political war or as the product of patronage or elitist elections — I refer to all elements of the Seanad in this respect. We are seen as self-perpetuating political insiders of the worst sort. It is no secret that the Seanad is elected by outgoing Senators, county councils and the outgoing Dáil. This in itself opens us to criticism and difficulties that mean we look too much like political insiders, which we are. We are often rightly seen as being the beneficiaries of outrageous political patronage. This is an issue we should tackle if we are serious about Seanad reform.
I will make one suggestion before I conclude. When the long-standing debate on Seanad reform takes place there has often been a suggestion that we, in order to fulfil a particularly different role, should be capable and should welcome the opportunity of scrutinising public appointments obviously made for political reasons — I refer to all parties in this regard. We should be capable of calling people who are politically appointed to the House for a hearing and of making them accountable to the public, to ourselves and to those who appointed them.
Patronage is the curse of Irish political life. It permeates the appointment of judges, the Ombudsman and members of semi-State bodies. It is an area where political parties have tended to run riot because there is no check on such appointments. I hope we might be able to play a role in this area but we cannot play a role in criticising, scrutinising or recommending political appointments if we do it from the basis of being quintessential political appointees and beneficiaries of political patronage ourselves. It is very difficult for all of us to agree to yield power and political clout but if we are serious about the role of this House, we should do so. Let me give an example. One of the most outrageous customs in this House is the long-standing practice by which the Taoiseach of the day makes interim political appointments to this House of people who have no interest in serving in it other than from sitting here for a couple of weeks before leaving. We had a recent example of the Taoiseach appointing such nominees. With the honourable exception of the Leader of the House, Senator Donie Cassidy, people were appointed who had no interest in standing for the House again. Their membership gave them privileges with no responsibilities. Such behaviour denigrates the House in the eyes of members of the public. There is not necessarily anything wrong with the custom of Taoiseach's nominees but those appointed must take seriously the interests of the Seanad, represent something and come to the House to debate, as opposed to simply wanting to acquire membership of the House before sailing off into the distance. While the nominations have sometimes been used in an inspired way, they are too often used to reward people in various constituencies for political favours. The practice should end if the House is to be taken seriously.
I will refer to university seats in passing as it is only fair that I should do so. Those of us on the university benches who have been accused of being elected by unfair, discriminating and elitist methods should reply to that accusation by stating this is a perfectly fair criticism. It is a flawed electoral system which is as much in need of reform as any other part of the House. There is no justification for certain third level institutions having a right to elect Senators while others do not have the same right. If university Senators are to criticise the composition of the House, it would be wrong not to take some of that criticism on the chin. Patronage should be abolished and removed and the university seats reformed. Let us start by considering a proposal that the Seanad and Dáil be elected on the same day. This would immediately eliminate a great deal of the political patronage to which I referred. It would mean that people would have to opt for one or other Chamber and Senators would be here on the basis that they were committed to this House, not because it was their second choice.
We must grasp the nettle of reform in this five-year period. We must not return to an unreformed Seanad next time. We must not be the political insiders who benefit from the perks of others and do less in terms of legislation. I look forward to working with everybody in the House in a united way to make constructive changes to legislation and to taking initiatives and a leadership position on Seanad reform and other public issues.
I thank Senators for tolerating my contribution. I shall now take nominations for the position of Cathaoirleach.
I thank Senator Ross, although I do not agree with many of the sentiments he expressed. Every man and woman appointed, selected or elected to the House had something to offer and made a marvellous contribution to the political system during the years. That includes the four colleagues of mine recently appointed to the House by the Taoiseach for a short period. One of them, the General Secretary of the Fianna Fáil Party, is a marvellous man who contributed a great deal to the re-election of the party which confounded all the pundits who stated it was not possible.
I am a Senator from a rural constituency. I assure the silent majority of 70% of the people that during this Seanad term Senators on this side will not tolerate the hot air and nonsense spoken from time to time because it is not relevant.
I assure Senator Ross that, under my stewardship as the new Leader of the House, Seanad reform will be examined——
——particularly reform of the university panel. I congratulate the voters of the five panels who had a 99.7% turnout in the election, unlike the university panel voters where the turnout was 34% or 35%. How undemocratic is that panel?
As Leader of the Fianna Fáil group in the 23rd Seanad, it gives me great pleasure to propose Senator Pat Moylan as Cathaoirleach. Senator Moylan will bring to this position a great wealth of experience. He has served his local authority in County Offaly since 1976 and has the distinction of having been chairman of that local authority in 1991 and in 1992. He is a former member and colleague of mine on the Midland Health Board and was a distinguished chairman of that board in 1999 and 2000. He is a former member of the Midland Regional Authority, and of the EU Committee of the Regions from 1999 to 2000. Senator Pat Moylan was elected to Seanad Éireann in 1997 on the agricultural panel where he was spokesperson on tourism, sport and recreation. He was also a member of the Joint Services Committee.
For years I have seen at first hand Senator Moylan's dedication and total commitment to this House through his role as assistant Chief Whip from 1997 to 2002 and, for the past five years, as Government Chief Whip in this House. Senator Moylan has a great deal of respect for the House and its traditions. I have no doubt he will display the utmost impartiality and uphold the high standards of fairness that attach to the Chair. For these reasons I have great pleasure in proposing Senator Pat Moylan for the position of Cathaoirleach of the 23rd Seanad.
I appreciate the opportunity of speaking so early in today's proceedings. It is an honour to be present in the 23rd Seanad despite the circumstances in which many of us have arrived here today. We all have a valuable contribution to make in the workings of what will be a very exciting and valuable Seanad.
I concur with much of what Senator Ross said. While the Seanad is important, vital and effective, there is an onus on those of us who are appointed or elected today to make the Seanad more vital and more effective. Important work was done by the 22nd Seanad on reform of the Seanad. Efforts were made, through a joint committee of the Dáil and the Seanad, to progress that. It is unfortunate that the committee met so infrequently. There is an intention in other places to reconstitute that committee to give it a particular mandate and have it report on the benefit of both Houses so that during the term of the 23rd Seanad we will see recommendations that will have all-party approval. I am confident we will see necessary changes being made. That will be the responsibility of the new Cathaoirleach who will be elected today.
In seconding the nomination of Senator Pat Moylan I endorse both the recommendation of him by the Leader of the House and the vote of confidence in him by his party colleagues. This is an inter-party Government. I and my colleague, Senator de Búrca, who is also sitting here for the first time, are happy to endorse and support that nomination and to offer Senator Moylan, should he be accepted by the House as Cathaoirleach, our personal support in carrying out what will be a very invigorating programme of activities in the 23rd Seanad. On those grounds it is my particular privilege to second the nomination and seek the support of others in the House for that nomination.
Despite Senator Ross's comments on the urgent need for Seanad reform, he has succeeded in being here for 26 years and has made a strong contribution during that period, on which I congratulate him. Twenty-six years is quite a record. We have an unfinished democracy. The representation of women is, obviously, unfinished. Nevertheless, despite the imperfections in the Seanad, we are all proud to sit here and honoured to participate in our democracy.
Fine Gael does not oppose Senator Moylan's nomination as Cathaoirleach. He has received a strong endorsement from his party; he is a well-respected former Whip and experienced politician and Senator and has been a Member of the Seanad for ten years. He is a man of character and will be fair and impartial in handling the business of the House. This is a day of immense pride for him. My Fine Gael colleagues and I look forward to working with him in making the Seanad effective and efficient.
I also congratulate Senator Cassidy on his appointment as Leader of the House. While supporting his nomination I must lay down some markers regarding the business of the House. First, however, on behalf of Fine Gael, I congratulate every Member who has been elected to the Seanad. It is a great honour.
I am deeply honoured to have been appointed Fine Gael leader in the House. My party colleagues bring a mix of experience, talent, gender, age and urban and rural backgrounds. We have the potential to make a dynamic impact in the House and to play our part in holding the Government to account for its policies. We do not intend to oppose for the sake of opposition but we are aware of our role, which is to highlight issues of public concern, scrutinise legislation and seek accountability and integrity at all levels of public life and governance.
It is an exciting and challenging time to be a Member of the Oireachtas. Many opportunities face society and we must harness those opportunities and maximise their benefit for the people. With those opportunities come challenges the House will address. We face challenges in the health and education sectors and in the housing market. We must deal with the pressures on family life, protect and preserve our environment and ensure the future stability of the economy. Our public services, on which society depends for care, protection and assistance, must receive adequate investment and be properly and efficiently managed. For example, the deplorable and unacceptable breast cancer services highlight the urgent need to manage and support our vital public services. The Seanad must be seen to be real, present and relevant to what is going on. We have the ability to ensure that is the case.
The House must address the issue of integration in education, employment and society. The question of integration will pose a challenge and present an opportunity to legislators. We will do all we can to ensure that we have a society of integration and cultural diversity which is inclusive and pluralist. We must pursue the politics of inclusion and not of alienation.
The issue of women in politics appears to have faded from the political agenda but it must be pursued, along with Seanad reform. Reports of the previous Seanad contain many recommendations on which we might act. I note there have been 11 such reports so there is plenty of food for thought. What we are looking for is political will in implementing the recommendations contained therein. I am sure the Leader of the House, Senator Cassidy, will take up this matter with the Government and I look forward to hearing his response at the beginning of the new term.
There is much we can achieve, despite the need for reform. We can achieve a great deal in initiating legislation, proposing amendments to Bills, highlighting areas of legitimate public concern and holding to account the democratic institutions of the State and their officeholders. Each and every one of us has an obligation and a serious part to play in restoring and improving trust in political institutions and the body politic. I am sure everybody present is conscious of this. A democracy is only as strong as the faith and confidence its people have in it.
During the life of this Seanad the Fine Gael group intends to place accountability, trust in public life and integrity at the core of its work. We know we will be joined in this task by Members from all sides of the House. During the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting in Galway, Deputy Enda Kenny referred to the fact that in politics it was no longer enough to simply reassure the public of one's competence and ability; one must also strive to inspire. This House has played a role in inspiring Irish politics. We should set ourselves the task of ensuring we not merely carry out our work competently but that we do so with a view to inspiring and positively impacting on Irish life in order that we will know when this Seanad comes to an end we did all we could for the betterment of the people. The Fine Gael team and I look forward to taking up this task with immediate effect. Given the volume of work with which we are faced, I ask the Leader of the House to recall the Seanad early in order that we can begin this important work.
We wish Senator Pat Moylan the very best on his nomination as Cathaoirleach of the Seanad. We will support his leadership. As I stated, Fine Gael will not be opposing his nomination.
On behalf of the Independents, I congratulate Members on all sides of the House on their election or appointment. I also wish to point out to new Members that my particular role in this House comes without a title in that I am required to discharge all the functions, duties and responsibilities carried out by the leaders of the other groups but I dare not be called by the "L" word on any occasion because being independent means we are independent of all others. We reshuffle our front bench every week.
We are not leaderless because we have a steady rudder.
I extend our congratulations to the leaders of the various parties and groups, including Senator Fitzgerald, Senator White, Senator Boyle and, in particular, Senator Cassidy who has served this House with distinction previously. We look forward to keeping him under pressure. I will respond later to some of the points made by him.
I am delighted that the number of Members representing County Kerry in the House has increased by 100%. We have almost enough Members to create a Kerry group. It could be a good week for Kerry all round.
Ba mhaith liom fáilte ar leith a chur rompu. Is céim chun cinn tábhachtach i saol daonlathach na tíre seo go bhfuil ionadaí ó Sinn Féin anseo linn don chéad uair riamh. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Seanadóir Pearse Doherty for that reason. I look forward to hearing his contribution. In as much as the country is becoming more diverse, this is the most diverse Seanad of which I have been a Member. Sa mhéad sin, caithfidh mé fáilte a chur roimh an Chomhaontas Glas, the Green Party, with its new views and ideas. I hope the Senator's party does not get suffocated in Government. We have watched small parties on the Government benches die, and we have given them every opportunity.
I am not sure whether Senator O'Malley takes the view of her leader, but we look forward to congratulating her, perhaps, in a few weeks' time.
It is a positive reflection on progressive politics that my old sparring partner, Senator Eoghan Harris, has finally made it to the upper echelons of political power. No doubt he will bring colour, controversy and character to the role. He has found his promised land, safe and secure in Fianna Fáil——
——but in finding his way to that particular Damascus, he found more routes than the Michelin guide has to offer. I wish him well.
Senator Ross looks very comfortable in the role of Cathaoirleach. Among this group there was a feeling that he might have considered a nomination to that office but as he declined, we will not propose anybody at this point. We believe it would be appropriate that the proposed candidates, prior to having their candidacies voted on, would offer to Members their vision for the House and for its reform. I do not think it is too much to ask that we would have a hustings and hear what people have to say before we cast our vote. Only one person has been nominated. Senator Moylan is an excellent candidate and the best on offer so far. We have found him honourable, dependable and trustworthy in the past five years of working closely with him.
We need to make this House lively and constructive in terms of debate and relevant in terms of its business. That means there is a duty on the Leader and the new Cathaoirleach to ensure we deal with issues as they arise. Could we make a simple rule that if an issue is good enough to be discussed in lounge bars and pubs and on television chat shows and radio phone-in shows, we should discuss it in the Chamber at the time and not a fortnight later? We should show leadership in the debate and not be running after the crowd.
I welcome the Cathaoirleach's comments on the reform of the House and noted his enthusiasm for much of that change. No doubt we will discuss reforming the Seanad. There are eight different reports on Seanad reform. In my time as a Member of the House, I have worked on and been a signatory to at least four of them. I was also, on behalf of our group, a member of the committee that worked on the issue in the previous Dáil and Seanad.
The Members of this House are effective and hard-working; that is not the issue. The method of election, however, is undemocratic, unrepresentative, elitist and has no place in a modern democracy. It is no reflection on the elected Members because we must work the current system. However, it is in our hands to change it. We can no longer live with an anachronistic system, and that includes the university seats.
We do not want the soft option of changingthe university representation and making no other changes, which I know those on the Government benches would do in the morning. We need to be creative in making changes which do not reduce the representation produced by the distilled form of democracy whereby the people elected to local government elect another tier. There is nothing wrong with that, it is acceptable and the Seanad report recognises that. If the outcome is to continue to elect the same number through that process, that is fine, but it should not be the same percentage. That would not be correct. In a modern democracy, we must ensure there is as near as possible universal franchise in the election of a House of Parliament. It is not acceptable that election to the Seanad continues in the current way. It is an embarrassment in a modern democracy and is unacceptable to that extent.
The report on Seanad reform was signed off by every group in the previous Seanad and was presented to Government. The Government sent the report to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which set up a joint committee of the Dáil and Seanad to examine it. Senator Boyle of the Green Party is enthusiastic to have the report's measures brought forward, but I remind him that the matter is in the hands of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who is a member of the Green Party. Let us look for action. We do not need to examine the issue further as all the work has been done. It is now a matter of implementing the report.
Our group will not propose anyone for the office of Cathaoirleach. Previously, we have worked clearly, usefully and productively with Senator Moylan. If his is the only nomination, we look forward to working with him, as he checks the boxes as we see them.
The Labour Party group will not oppose the nomination of Senator Moylan to the position of Cathaoirleach. Like many new Members of the House, I only had the briefest of opportunities to meet the Senator yesterday evening, but I know him by reputation to be a fair-minded and courteous person. I am sure he will employ those attributes and talents in his stewardship of the business of the House.
The Labour Party group will have occasion to rely on those skills in the days, weeks and months ahead whether in pursuing its objectives or in respect of issues that have been briefly touched on, namely, the procedures of the House. They are not a matter for today, but questions as to the priority to be accorded to groups with equal numbers of Members is an issue I propose to have revisited at the appropriate time. I am sure Senator Moylan will employ the sense of fairness and sound judgment for which he is known in the House.
I join my colleagues in congratulating everyone elected to the House. I am a new Member, which I have in common with a significant percentage of this House. More than in the other House, many of this House's Members have been elected for the first time. It is a great honour for me to stand as the leader of my group in my first contribution as a Member of the Oireachtas. It is important to note that while we all want to respect and rely on the considerable experience of people such as the Acting Chairman, whom I have known for many years, Senator Norris and others, each of us has a mandate of equal standing irrespective of whether we have been here since time immemorial or we arrived today. This should not be taken as a criticism of anyone, but we should reflect on the fact that our 60 mandates have the same standing, be we nominated or elected or regardless of how long we have been here. There is no basis for an accumulated mandate or anything of that kind. Having said that, I look forward to working with experienced Members of the Seanad.
The Labour Party group has only one previous Senator returned to the House — Senator McCarthy. Five of the six Labour Party Senators are new. I am honoured to be in this position and am conscious of the distinguished service given by the many people who stood in this spot, not least of whom was Mr. Brendan Ryan who gave many years of service to the House. His is a hard act to follow.
I agree with comments on the need for a real debate on reform of the Seanad and, more widely, democratic institutions. When we discuss reform, there is a tendency on the part of speakers to concentrate on one aspect in which they are interested and to ignore equally important aspects that would make them uncomfortable were those reforms to come about.
Senator O'Toole pointed out that a report on representation in the House was conducted. It is my brief reflection that the report's outcome was tame in terms of what needed to be done. I am conscious of the Acting Chairman's background and the other comments, but if we are to discuss university representation, for example, we should be prepared to go beyond considering the question of reform and adding institutions. We should consider whether it is legitimate or appropriate for university graduates to have privileged access to the House in terms of electing people to it. I do not contend that the removal of this privilege should necessarily be the outcome of our discussions. However, the question of whether one should be eligible to vote in elections to this House simply because one is a graduate should be on the agenda. I agree with Senator Boyle that everything should be on the table rather than merely those issues with which we are comfortable.
My Labour Party colleagues and I do not intend to oppose the nomination of Senator Moylan to the Chair, which seems likely to succeed. I wish him well in what will be his new position and I look forward to engaging, along with my colleagues, with all the business that comes before us. That business will, on many occasions, require us to oppose the Government. However, it is also important that we undertake fully our role as legislators by bringing forward innovative ideas and proposals rather than simply waiting for them to issue from the Government. This legislative function is an important aspect of the role of Members of this House and one with which I and my Labour Party colleagues intend to engage. We will oppose as necessary while also respecting this House as a forum for true debate and engagement with all the important issues and challenges that face us in this State.
We have got off to a good start in that we are united in the nomination of Senator Moylan to the position of Cathaoirleach. I hope we will continue to work in this constructive manner. It bodes well for us if we do. On behalf of the Progressive Democrats and my colleague, Senator Cannon, it gives me great pleasure to jointly second the nomination of Senator Moylan to the position of Cathaoirleach.
Seanad reform is high on many Members' agenda. It is to be welcomed that there are so many new Members. The wise counsel of Senator Moylan, who is calm, collected, considered and always fair, will be very much required as Members chomp at the bit in their efforts to make this Chamber relevant. This is a point on which we are all united. Many people are not satisfied that the Seanad is relevant. I very much look forward to undertaking my work as a Senator and performing my duties correctly. The primary issue will be for us to make this Chamber relevant to the public. I echo Senator O'Toole's comments that this Chamber should be a natural forum for discussion of any topic being debated publicly.
Being a nominated Senator is something different in that one has a constituency of only one and, with this, comes a certain freedom as well as certain duties and expectations. Nominated Members are appointed for particular reasons, and I intend to exercise my duty with due caution, criticising and supporting where appropriate. There is no question of merely turning up to make up the numbers. Nominated Members have an important contribution to make and should not expect that all will necessarily be quiet on their side of the Chamber.
It is a great privilege to be here. Having come from Dáil Éireann, I look forward to the change the Seanad will present. An issue of which I will be particularly aware is the scrutiny of legislation. I look forward to this process as something different to that which pertains in the Dáil and I am eager to participate in the proud tradition of Seanad Éireann in this regard. I look forward to the next five years.
Ní bheidh mé ag chuir in éadan ainmniúcháin an Seanadóir Moylan. Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis as ucht an ainmniúcháin a fháil. Mar atá le feiceáil sa Teach seo, is dócha go mbeidh sé tofa mar Chathaoirleach i ndiadh seo. Déanaim comhghairdeas leis agus le gach éinne atá tofa nó ainmnithe go dtí an Teach seo. Is lá bródúil é seo dúinn uilig go léir, go mórmhór domsa agus do mo pháirtí. Tá mé taréis an chéad suíochán sa Seanad a bhaint amach ar son Sinn Féin. Níl dabht ar bith agam faoin dualgas atá orm cinntiú go mbeidh an Rialtas freagrach ó thaobh rudaí ar nós sláinte, oideachas, cúrsaí teaghlaigh, forbairt réigiúnach agus infrastruchtúr. Tá mé anseo fosta chun glór a thabhairt do phobal Dhún na nGall — pobal atá fágtha ar an ngannchuid agus ar an imeall. Tá na rátaí is airde dífhostaíochta agus bochtanais sa tír i gContae Dhún na nGall. Tá na seirbhísí sláinte faoi bhrú sa chontae. Níl seirbhísí raidióteiripe nó BreastCheck againn go fóill. Tá súil agam go mbeidh mé in ann comhoibriú le gach Seanadóir agus go dtabharfaimid aghaidh ar na fadbhanna sin. Tá fadhbanna le infrastruchtúr na réigiúin — níl aon iarnród againn, mar shampla. Níl seirbhísí banda leathan ar fáil i gceantair iargúlta. Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Seanadóir Moylan arís as ucht an ainmniúcháin a fháil. Tá súil agam go ndéanfaidh mé comhoibriú le gach éinne. Beidh mé i mo ghlór láidir do Sinn Féin sa Teach seo. Beidh mé ag iarraidh dul chun cinn a dhéanamh ar chlár poblachtach agus sóisialach, chun go mbeimid ábalta ath-aontú na tíre seo a bhaint amach, agus chun go mbeidh cearta ag gach saoránach, ní miste cén carn don chontae nó an tír seo ar a tháinig siad ar an saol, nó cén ioncam atá acu. Tá súil agam go gheobhaidh mé tacaíocht na Tithe seo san am atá amach romhainn.
I looked around and wondered whether Senators were discussing someone else. I welcome and sincerely thank all Members for their kind words and the support they unanimously offered me. It is a great honour and privilege to be elected Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. I am deeply grateful to Senators on all sides of the House for unanimously electing me to this important office. I am especially thankful to my colleagues for selecting me as their nominee. Thanks also go to my proposer, the Leader of the House, Senator Cassidy; the deputy leader, Senator Boyle, and those who spoke in support of the proposal. Their kind words were greatly appreciated.
As I assume the office of Cathaoirleach, I pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, former Senator Rory Kiely, and the other distinguished holders of the office. I will do my utmost to live up to the high standards they have set and will maintain the excellent record of impartiality and fairness which has been the hallmark of Cathaoirligh of Seanad Éireann.
I was first elected to the Seanad in August 1997 and during the past ten years have developed a deep respect and admiration for the proceedings of the House. The Seanad has an important role to play in Irish political life. As Cathaoirleach, I will do my utmost to ensure it will continue to fulfil its constitutional and political mandates. Those who have worked with me during the past ten years will know that my approach to Seanad business has always been based on co-operation and consultation. I intend to continue in this way as Cathaoirleach and look forward to receiving Senators' support and co-operation in carrying out my responsibilities.
I thank my wife, Mary, and my family for their support and encouragement at all times. I thank the many members of local authorities who elected me to Seanad Éireann. As Cathaoirleach, my door will always be open to all Members to help in whatever way I can.
As Leader of the House and of the Fianna Fáil Party in the House, I offer my heartfelt congratulations to Senator Pat Moylan on his election to the position of Cathaoirleach of the 23rd Seanad. His election represents a continuity of excellence and he will lead us with great dignity, impartiality and fairness, continuing the tradition established by his predecessors.
I wish to digress for a moment. It is almost as if nothing happened in the Seanad but we have 25 new Members and 35 re-elected Members in the House. That is an enormous change. From 1997, when I first became Leader, the Seanad has secured 30% of all legislation initiated. A great deal is being done in this House. If there is any imbalance, it is the lack of respect by the media for this House when Bills are initiated here. When a Bill is initiated in Dáil Éireann it receives significant coverage and respect on television, radio and in the press. I compliment "Oireachtas Report" and Mr. Jimmy Walsh of The Irish Times but the rest of those in the media have much to do to play their part in covering what takes place in Seanad Éireann.
I am reluctant to say this today, on this joyous occasion when a wonderful man is taking office, but something urgent must be done by the national broadcaster regarding the coverage of the recent Seanad elections. It was appalling, to say the least. There was no text information on any channel nor coverage in the hourly news bulletins. This is one of the most democratic assemblies we have ever had, an assembly for which people gave their lives. As Leader, I intend to discuss the situation with the director general and the chairman of the RTE Authority, who have a responsibility to give fair coverage to both Houses of Parliament, in particular to our activities as Members and active participants in a democratic assembly working on behalf of the people of Ireland.
This is a great day for the Cathaoirleach's wife, Mary, his three sons and his daughter Sinéad, who is carrying the torch at local election level in County Offaly as a member of the local authority, for his native town of Banagher and County Offaly as a whole. Many people may not know that the new Cathaoirleach was a distinguished sportsman. He won ten championships with St. Rynagh's in hurling, the first love of the gaels in the hurling district of the midlands. He won three Leinster senior championships with his club, which is a great distinction. He represented his county at under-21, minor and senior levels. His family is renowned for hurling. When I was wearing the maroon of Westmeath at minor level, I remember meeting his brother, Barnie, who was a tremendous hurler.
Pat Moylan continued to actively participate in hurling when he finished as a player. He was a selector on the Offaly minor team that won the 1986 and 1987 All-Ireland minor hurling championships. Offaly missed out in 1988 but they brought Pat Moylan back in 1989 and he trained Offaly to win the All-Ireland minor championship again. He contributed greatly to the success of his native county.
The Cathaoirleach is a lifetime member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, of which I am also a member. It must be said that Ms Deirdre Lane and Ms Jody Corcoran have been the backbone of Seanad Éireann and I wish to acknowledge every——
I echo the Cathaoirleach's sentiments in congratulating former Senator Rory Kiely on his stewardship and membership of the Seanad. He was a respected Member for 30 years, Cathaoirleach for the past five and we always knew we had a friend in him.
We wish the new Cathaoirleach well and look forward to working under his stewardship over the next five years. At the end of that term I hope we will all be able to say that our membership of Seanad Éireann made a difference and assisted those most in need in Ireland.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his appointment; this will be a day of immense pride for him, his family and his supporters. We in the Fine Gael group look forward to working effectively with the Cathaoirleach in the years to come. We hope this will be a successful Seanad and that we carry out a significant amount of work. I have no doubt that the Cathaoirleach will deal with the business of the House in a fair and efficient manner.
I also welcome the families and friends of all Senators who are in the House today. We are all aware of the background support we receive for our work and our election to this House is a reflection on the work of our families, friends and supporters. I especially welcome those who have been able to attend today.
On behalf of the independent Senators I offer my warmest congratulations to the Cathaoirleach on his appointment. We are delighted for him and are confident he will do a fair and equitable job as he always did in his previous roles in the House. They may even celebrate in Lusmagh tonight; that will be the real test. I thank the Cathaoirleach for the courtesy he always extended to us in his role as Government Whip over the past five years. We found it very easy to do business with him. Gabhaim comhghairdeas leat. Go n-éirí leat sa phost nua. Tá mé cinnte go ndéanfaidh tú beart an uair seo arís.
On behalf of myself, a newly elected Senator, and my colleague, Senator Dan Boyle, I congratulate Senator Moylan on his election to the position of Cathaoirleach of this 23rd Seanad. I do not know the Cathaoirleach personally but I have heard the tributes paid to him and people have spoken of his fairness. I look forward to working with him in this new Seanad.
As others have said, this will be a very interesting Seanad. The Green Party speaks frequently on the issue of biodiversity as it is essential to the health of any ecosystem. As a political system there is plenty of diversity in this Seanad with regard to gender balance, experience of Members and the representation of different political parties. I welcome the Sinn Féin representative to Seanad Éireann and Senator Dan Boyle and I are the first Green Party Members of the House. I look forward to working in an interesting and lively Seanad.
It is important that the issue of Seanad reform be raised, as it has been, on this the day of the formation of this Seanad. The public has an appetite for the reform of this institution, although that is not to say that the Seanad has not performed a very important and valuable role in the country to date. We should move with the times as the public wishes to see this institution become more democratic. My colleague and I will do everything we can to ensure those reforms receive cross-party support and are brought about during the lifetime of this Seanad.
I wish to add my voice to those that have congratulated the Cathaoirleach on his election to this distinguished post. I can think of nobody better equipped to fill the role. I met Senator Moylan in the car park when I had just learnt that he would be Cathaoirleach and said privately, as I am happy to say here, that he is an outstanding choice. As Government Whip of the Fianna Fáil group in the Seanad, he operated with courtesy, fairness and integrity, and showed himself to be hard-working and amenable to suggestion. Those are the qualities needed in this role.
It is a tribute to the Senator that there was no election. In the past I proposed Members from the Independent group as candidates for Cathaoirleach because I thought it important in a democracy that we should have an election, but I am happy that Senator Moylan is an outstanding candidate and I look forward to working with him.
I was entertained by the Cathaoirleach's reference to his nomination by his colleagues on the left and wondered was it a reference to the socialism of the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern.
Senator Cassidy, the restored Leader of the House, referred to the media in trenchant terms. We do not need to be frightened. There are many new Senators here, including Senator Eoghan Harris who, having got it so spectacularly wrong on the war in Iraq, may find that in his reportage from the battlefront here in Seanad Éireann he is able to give the people who read the largest selling newspaper in the country the real news.
I congratulate my good colleague and friend, the longest serving Member of this House, and a poll topper, Senator Ross, on the dignity and courage with which he spoke before Senator Moylan attained his present eminence.
I am greatly encouraged by the universal appetite for Seanad reform which usually dwindles after the first day. To encourage it to continue, I have placed on the Order Paper as No. 15, a proposal that we do something about this and adopt the principal recommendations of the report on Seanad reform. I note with interest that for some technical reasons, the names of my colleagues, Senators O'Toole and Ross, are not on the motion. I am sure they will be there, however, by the time we return. I will put it before the House and I ask the Government Members to show their cards by voting for the proposals for Seanad reform, not the wishy-washy drivel that we all talk about. Let us see them vote for those concrete proposals. That will be a good day.
We have nothing to fear from the further democratisation of the Seanad. I am not ashamed to represent university graduates and do not deprecate them. It is a fine achievement for people to have university degrees. It does not make them better than other people but if the entire panel system had been operated, the university seats would not have been left on their lonely eminence as the only fully democratic section of the Seanad. I remind Senator Cassidy that Senator Ross and I got approximately 5,500 votes each.
Does the Senator mean he was elected to the Dáil? There is not one Member on the Government side of the House who received more than approximately 100 real votes. To persuade the people of the fiction that they are genuinely elected, their votes must be multiplied by a factor of 1,000 so that a gullible public will consume the figures.
There are more than three people on this side of the House who received more than 100 votes. There we will let the matter lie.
I am a proud Tullamore woman and I can barely keep the smile off my face because it is a great honour for me to stand in the House today and congratulate Senator Moylan on being elected Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. I believe he is the first Offaly man to be elected to the position.
Pat entered public office more than 30 years ago when he was first elected to Offaly County Council to fill the vacancy left by the death of the great K.P. Egan, a former Banagher man like himself. K.P. Egan represented the electoral constituency of Ferbane and was a former Deputy and Senator. Senator Moylan succeeded him in the seat for Ferbane, which included Banagher in those days. Shortly afterwards, however, the latter was included in the Birr electoral area and it was a measure of his popularity that he moved with such ease from Ferbane to Banagher, notwithstanding the great old rivalry between St. Rynagh's and Birr, which those in the Gallery today will understand.
Not only did Senator Moylan move from one constituency to another with great ease but he was elected in every county council election thereafter until he stood down after the abolition of the dual mandate in 2004. Not only was he elected but he was elected on the first count, which is also a testament to where he is today. After his retirement from the county council in 2004 he was replaced by his daughter Sinéad Moylan-Ryan, who was elected in the local elections of 2004.
Senator Moylan has a great reputation in this House. As we have heard today, he is respected by all sides, which was very evident in the last Seanad when he was Government Whip. The new Cathaoirleach has gained a reputation for his constructiveness, thoughtfulness and intelligence in his approach to proceedings, both political and otherwise. We all know the Pat Moylan who achieves great results in a quiet fashion, in a way in which none of the rest of us is capable. We also know the Pat Moylan who respects the other person's point of view, which is what has put him where he is today.
The position of Cathaoirleach was hotly contested in our party and we had four excellent candidates but Senator Moylan came through with flying colours. He takes the great honour of Cathaoirleach of this Seanad because of all those great attributes. He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the Chair, gained not only in political arenas but also, as the Leader outlined, in the sporting arena. Senator Moylan told me a few days ago he won his first championship with the great club St. Rynagh's in 1960. However, we will leave that subject now to avoid causing him further embarrassment. For those who do not know, Pat hails from and represents the part of Offaly known for its hurling. Not too many years ago we proudly boasted about our hurlers, as well as our footballers, and we look forward to the day we boast about them again.
I will offer a special welcome to the cathaoirleach of Offaly County Council, Councillor Eamon Dooley, who is joined today by Councillor Tom Feighery.
I will conclude by wishing the Cathaoirleach wealth, health and happiness in his term of office. It is a great day for him and for the whole of Offaly. I wish his wife, Mary, his daughter, Sinead, and his sons, Dermot, Cormac and Padraig all the best, as I do their spouses and all his grandchildren. I hope he has five wonderful years in the Chair and he can be assured of the support of all of us.
I add my words of congratulations to the Cathaoirleach. The fact that he has been elected unopposed which, as Senator Norris said, is the first time that has happened in the 15 years I have been a Senator, is a tribute to the confidence the House has in him. It was President Theodore Roosevelt who said that one should speak quietly and carry a big stick. I am confident that you, a Chathaoirligh, will manage the affairs of this House in the next five years by speaking softly and carrying a big stick, which I am sure is the office you hold.
I am confident that you, a Chathaoirligh, will grab hold of the challenges we face in reforming the Seanad. In my 15 years here, I have been impressed by the extraordinary talent in the House. I am again impressed by the potential talent that exists today. If there is a lack of respect among the public, it is because of the way we have been elected. We must do something about Seanad reform and if we do, we will earn that respect. It is fair to say that there is a lack of democratic legitimacy because of the manner of the elections. Senator O'Toole pointed out that we have had eight different reports on Seanad reform, and there may well have been up to 11. This is the occasion when we can do something about it. A head of steam has been building up in recent weeks and it is in your hands, a Chathaoirligh, to say that this is the challenge that faces you. If you accept that challenge and we manage to change the manner in which we are elected, you will find that the respect this House deserves will be gained and it will be nurtured and will grow.
I congratulate you on your election, a Chathaoirligh. I have every confidence in you and I know how much you have been able to achieve in the last five years in your previous job while still maintaining the confidence of everyone.
As a constituency colleague, I am delighted to congratulate Senator Moylan on becoming Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. It is a very proud day for the people of Laoighis-Offaly. I notice a number of people from Laois and Offaly in both public galleries. We are very proud that you have succeeded to this very high office. I have been a Member of this House for the past five years and, please God, I will be a Member for another five years. Knowing you in that time, I have no doubt that you will be a very fair Cathaoirleach. It is a very proud day for the people of Banagher, the people of Offaly and the people of Laoighis-Offaly. I have no doubt that over the next few years, you will do us proud. I wish your wife, Mary, and family well and I hope you have a very enjoyable five years.
A Chathaoirligh, I join in the warm tributes being paid to you today and congratulate you on becoming Cathaoirleach. Your unopposed election is a testament to your popularity and the esteem in which you are held by all Members. The fact that you have been elected by consensus is also a testament to your ability and the esteem in which you are held. In the past five years I got to know you well as you were Government Chief Whip. I found you courteous, able, articulate, very friendly and particularly helpful to newer Members, which I really appreciated.
I echo the point made by Senator Cassidy. There is a strong case to be made about media coverage of the Seanad. I headed back to my constituency when I was re-elected to the Seanad in July, but it was difficult to find out how other candidates were getting on. I want to pay tribute to the people who kept feeding information to the Oireachtas website because it would have been very difficult to obtain that knowledge otherwise.
As a west Cork man from Dunmanway, I am very happy that west Cork is so well represented in this House. Senator O'Donovan is from Bantry, Senator Callanan is from Inishannon, Senator Harris is from Baltimore, and he has been warned not to go back there without a new pier, Senator Buttimer has Kilmichael connections, Senator Twomey is my neighbour from Bealad, while Senator Bacik is from Crookstown.
I congratulate all Members who have been elected by whatever method. I would like to tell Senator O'Toole and his three Kerry colleagues that Corkonians will be anxious to ensure Sam Maguire returns back to its rightful home in County Cork.
A Chathaoirligh, ba mhaith liom mo chomhghairdeas pearsanta a ghabháil leat as ucht an post nua atá bronnta ort inniu. Bhí suim ag trí Seanadóirí eile sa phost, mar is eol duit, ach bhí bua iontach agat. As Senator Lisa McDonald will testify, we have a saying in Wexford reserved for those we hold in the highest regard. It is used scarcely, with great discrimination — he is one of nature's gentlemen. I can think of nobody who fits the description better than the Cathaoirleach. The attributes of sincerity and dedication, shown in this House in the past, will stand him in good stead as he guides the Seanad through the coming years.
Go n-éirí go geal leat sa phost tábhachtach seo.
A Chathaoirligh, ba bhreá liom mo ghuth a chur leis na guthanna siúd atá ag gabháil chomhghairdis leat ar an ocáid seo. Is lá iontach duit fhéin é, is lá iontach dod' mhuintir é agus, dar ndóigh, is lá iontach go mhuintir Uíbh Fhailí é. Offaly appears to be in the ascendancy politically. I hope it has better fortune in matters related to Gaelic games in due course. As one of the leaderless in this House I add my voice to those who congratulate the Cathaoirleach. I envy him because it appears there was no doubt that he was the man for the job. In recent days not only did I not hear anything bad about him, or that he was given the charity of silence, it was much more than that. Everyone said he was a model of fairness and gentleness. It is only a matter of time before he acquires a nickname as he comes to be known as the benign, impartial fellow from Offaly.
I add my voice to those calling for Seanad reform. As someone returned by the good graduates of NUI, who I hope will continue as they started, it might seem that in calling for Seanad reform particularly in relation to the election of the University candidates, I am like a turkey voting for Christmas. However, it must be said that the respect due to this Chamber because of the great debates that take place here over the years, is not forthcoming, perhaps because of the manner in which some Members are elected. I support reform in this area. In the university sector I would like to be spared the embarrassment in five years time of having to canvass graduates for their votes only to learn that although they have degrees as good as mine, they are not entitled to vote. I urge Members, and those in higher places, to take seriously the imperative of Seanad reform. Senator Cassidy said that many people had given their lives for this House, and no doubt that is true but because of the lack of respect and the flaws in the means of election not many people would give their lives for this House right now. The task facing us is to continue the great tradition of debate and reform the House sufficiently. We must keep the pressure on the media, which I partially represent today, to give greater coverage to deliberations in the Chamber.
Mar sin, a Chathaoirligh, is mian liom mo bhuíochas agus mo chomhghairdeas a ghabháil leat arís, agus le mo chomhghleacaithe anseo, agus gach ráth a guí oraibh don téarma atá le teacht.
I have known Senator Moylan for more than ten years. I have known him to be a man of great integrity, a team player and fair in his role as Chief Whip and in handling his social life with all of us during the last Seanad.
While I put my hat into the ring, when I discovered that Senator Pat Moylan would be contesting it, I knew I could not match his attributes. Pat and his wife, Mary, are very good friends of mine. They are lovely people and Members have made the right choice today. I assure the Cathaoirleach that I will give him every support and will help in all ways possible to improve and promote the work of Seanad Éireann and consider how best we can reflect on its future. There is much work to be done in terms of reform, initiating legislation, the referendum that is about to take place and, as Senator Cassidy noted, on how Members can best tackle the media to show how we work in this Chamber. While many major contributions were made during the last Seanad, one would seldom see any of them highlighted in any aspect of the media. I wish the Cathaoirleach the best of luck. He has my full support and best wishes and I will do anything I can to help him in his role over the next five years.
I offer Senator Moylan my sincere congratulations on his unanimous election as Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. It is a great honour for him, his wife, Mary, and his family that he has been selected by the Fianna Fáil Party and unanimously supported by all parties in the House. It is a great personal tribute to his work in the House over the past ten years, as well as his work as Fianna Fáil Chief Whip.
Senators Ormonde, Walsh and I had a contest with Senator Moylan, which shows we are a very democratic party. Our party leader, the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, gave the nomination of the position of Cathaoirleach to the Members of the Fianna Fáil group in this House. Until 1989, it was selected by the Taoiseach of the day. It is one of the only contested offices in this House and the party members select the person to represent them as Cathaoirleach. However, Senator Moylan represents all Members. Having put on the mantle of Cathaoirleach today, undoubtedly he will be completely fair and impartial in his work. I have known Senator Moylan for a long time and am delighted he is joined in the Gallery by his colleagues from Offaly and from the Oireachtas today.
In the circumstances, I wish him health and every success, as well as best wishes in his role as Cathaoirleach. It is a great and well-deserved honour for him personally. I am delighted our party has such an approach to business. Moreover, one will find that we are not in any way daunted by any other Member. The Fianna Fáil group in the House works in harmony and has also initiated legislation. The House's role can be enhanced greatly by introducing legislation here and other Members have also done so. I agree with the Leader that Members can use their existing powers well in this major forum. I congratulate him, Senator Boyle and Senator O'Malley, on their appointments as Leader, deputy leader and leader of the Progressive Democrats, respectively.
While all parties are represented in the House, the media, apart from The Irish Times and Jimmy Walsh, have not given it the recognition it deserves. RTE, as the national broadcaster, completely ignored the Seanad election. We are the organisation's licence holders and it did not fulfil its responsibility, placed on it by the Oireachtas, to cover an election to the Upper House, whose 60 Members represent 4.2 million people. Indeed they represent the whole island of Ireland. RTE was negligent in its position and I am delighted that Senator Cassidy will bring this matter to the attention of the Director General and the chief executive of RTE to ensure that in future, this House will be given proper recognition. If it means meeting earlier or later than the opening of Dáil Éireann, so be it. This is a matter for the House to decide in the hope of receiving greater coverage. I hope we will return as soon as possible, as there are many issues affecting us which will be debated on another day.
A Chathaoirligh, comhghairdeas, congratulations, well done. Thank you for being the person you are and for the friendship you have offered to all of us in recent years.
Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a gabháil duit, a Chathaoirligh, dod' bhean chéile agus dod' chlann. Tá dóchas agam go mbeidh an sláinte leat sna blianta atá romhainn. I pay a warm tribute to you. As someone who served with you in the Midland Health Board and the Seanad and as your assistant in the Whip's office, I concur thoroughly with those who stated you have dealt even-handedly with everyone in conducting the business of the House. It certainly was not easy, but my job was made very easy because, to be fair, you did the bulk of the work. It was an inspiration to work with you. Your background has been highlighted ably by many people and Senators and I will not go over it other than to state the honour that has been bestowed on you is justly deserved. You will reflect all that is best about being a Member of this House.
I thoroughly agree with the Leader of the House and those who have complained, rightly, that we have been ignored by certain sections of the media. I certainly agree that Mr. Jimmy Walsh of The Irish Times is not included in those adverse comments, but other sections of the media have more than ignored us — if they ignored us, it might not be too bad — and it is something of a joke which I hope will be rectified. I am delighted that the Leader of the House will take up this matter and I congratulate him for doing so.
I will not go over the ground that has been ploughed so ably by many Members who spoke before me other than to wish the Cathaoirleach, his wife, Mary, and family and all those he has represented so ably during the years the best of luck. It will be a great pleasure to serve in this Seanad with him. Go mbeidh an t-ádh leat.