Wednesday, 3 February 2016
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Bill 2012 – Report Stage (Amendments from Dáil Éireann) and Final Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, Energy Bill 2016 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1.
The ball is in. The Taoiseach announced the beginning of the general election campaign this morning. I was listening to his contribution in the Dáil. He was in and out like a man in the night and did not give the Opposition leaders any opportunity to speak or indeed to wish retiring Deputies, particularly those on the Opposition side, well in the future. Perhaps on reflection, that was the wrong thing to do. He also forgot to mention the date of the election, which I thought was quite amazing. He picked up on it later on Twitter on the way to Áras an Uachtaráin and he tweeted the date of the election in very unfamiliar fashion. No doubt, we are now in election territory.
The first thing I would like to do is wish all of the candidates, particularly those from within this House, the very best of luck. It will be a short campaign. It is an important election, as is every general election. The people will have the opportunity to reflect on some of the policies of the various parties. This morning, we think about some of the promises that were made in the early days of the 2011 campaign. One of those promises, which impacted heavily on my colleague's constituency, related to Roscommon County Hospital and we know what happened there. All parties should consider not making promises that they cannot fulfil. If that proves possible, they would be doing the State some service.
On a more serious note, I wish to mention two colleagues on this side of the House who are retiring. Senator Quinn has given many years of distinguished service not only to Seanad Éireann but to commerce, business, employment and economic activity within this State. I wish Senator Quinn and his wife and family well in the years ahead. I also wish my colleague and friend, Senator Walsh, well. He tells me that he was first elected in 1974. I was not even born then. This tells you something about the service this man has given not only to Seanad Éireann since 1997 but also to local government, the members of which - both town and county councillors - elect us.That tells us something about the service he has given not only to Seanad Éireann since 1997 but to local government whose members elect us through the town and county councils. He has done the State some service. I wish Jim, Marie and the family well in the years to come.
Given that it is almost the last day as we know it, I thank the Leader of the House, Senator Maurice Cummins, the Deputy Leader and all colleagues on the opposite side for their co-operation. Senator Cummins introduced changes which served the House well. I pay tribute to the staff, to Deirdre Lane, the Clerk, who heads up the team and all the staff in the Seanad Office, who provide their services so diligently and professionally to us all. I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator O’Donovan, for their excellent stewardship of Seanad Éireann over the past five years. It was non-partisan and always in the spirit of democracy. I wish all the Seanad candidates who will be looking for votes after the general election well in their endeavours. I am sure we will all be on the road at the same time.
On behalf of the Labour Party group I wish everyone well and thank the Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach and all the staff in the Seanad Office, especially Deirdre Lane, the Clerk of the Seanad, for all the work and help they have given us over the years, and I wish them the very best for the future. I thank the Leader, Senator Cummins, with whom it has been a pleasure to work. I thank Orla Murray and the staff in the Leader’s office. I wish all colleagues well and good luck to those running in the general election and in the Seanad election. It has been a momentous term and there will be a momentous few weeks ahead as we face into the general election on 26 February.
Like others, I pay tribute in particular to Senator Feargal Quinn, who is retiring after 23 years here. As a fellow university Senator he has been tremendously helpful to, and supportive of, me and the other university Senators. He has been a pleasure and a joy to work with. He is a model for us in terms of his activity and immense contribution to the Seanad over those years. I thank him for his time and public service.
I am glad that while business is wound up in the Dáil we will have important business here on what is effectively the last sitting day of this session. The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Bill 2012, which is a very important penal reform measure long promised by successive governments. It is great to see it being delivered today. I am glad we will finish that and the Energy Bill 2016. We will have proper legislative business in this House as befits the tradition of the Seanad on our last sitting day. I wish everyone well and look forward to the debate today.
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le chuile dhuine - chuile Sheanadóir anseo - as ucht an t-am suimiúil agus spreagúil a bhí againn le ceithre bliana anuas. I acknowledge this important day. I acknowledge the Taoiseach who nominated me as a Senator. It was a deep privilege for me to be inside, working in a democratic institution, albeit in grave need of reform, which is one thing we have not achieved. I appreciate that privilege and the cross-party support I have received as a Senator. The guidance of the Cathaoirleach throughout the past four and a half to five years was important, as was that of the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Denis O’Donovan. In particular, I pay tribute to the Leader, Senator Maurice Cummins, who demonstrated grace under pressure at times. He did an extraordinary job, particularly at times when the Government did not have a majority. I pay particular tribute to Orla Murray in his office.
On behalf of all our group, I thank and acknowledge Senator Bacik, the leader of the Labour group, and her colleagues. I learnt a lot from Senator Bacik and admire her greatly for all the work she has done. I acknowledge the leader of the Fianna Fáil group, Senator Darragh O’Brien, who is obviously busy at the moment in his constituency.I wish all Senators running in the general election the very best. I do not have the courage to run for election but many others here do and I admire them for it. Some Senators are also becoming my friends because of the vote I might possibly be able to give them in the next Seanad election.
I give particular credit to the leader of the independent Taoiseach's nominees group, Senator Jillian van Turnhout; her assistant, Ms Amy McCardle; my assistant, Ms Sarah Kelly, and at the Abbey, Ms Fiona Reynolds, for all of the work they have done in supporting me in the past few years.
I pay tribute to the Superintendent, Commandant Paul Conway; the Captain of the Guard, Commandant John Flaherty; and the head usher, Mr. Colm O'Rourke, all of whom, with respect, dignity and gentlemanly conduct, make it their duty to support us in our work. I also pay tribute to the staff of the Library and Research Service.
This is our last day and I agree with Senator Ivana Bacik on the work we have to do today. I that know the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 was contentious when it went through the Seanad. I am disappointed, on behalf of many NGOs, that the provision providing for the criminalisation of the purchase of sexual services has not been passed. We have advocated and campaigned for it and I hope to continue to do so in my role as a citizen in the future.
I will conclude on a slightly depressing note, but it is important. One of the things we achieved in this Seanad through various Private Members' motions was to stop the amalgamation of various national cultural institutions, particularly those involving the National Gallery of Ireland and the IMMA and the National Library of Ireland and the National Museum of Ireland. Having lauded our Oscar nominees and international reputation, Ireland is still at the bottom of the European league for Government investment in culture and the arts. Council of Europe data show that in 2012 in Ireland just 0.11% of GDP was spent on culture and the arts compared with the European average of 0.6%. I hope the next Seanad, Oireachtas and Government will increase investment in the arts as a matter of priority.
You, obviously, have no intention of retiring and on that basis, long may you continue. I say to you and the Leader that the support this House has received from both of you, as well as from Ms Deirdre Lane and all of her team, has been greatly appreciated because a great deal has been achieved. I was first elected to the Seanad way back in 1993. I remember coming through the gates and assuming I would have to introduce myself, but I was delighted to be made welcome by the ushers at the door and everybody else. It seems that the team of people working in Leinster House make a huge effort, for which I thank them. On my first day the late Senator Mr. Tom Fitzgerald from County Kerry, whom I had not met previously, met me and offered to show me around. I got a great inkling of where everything was, what to do and what the traditions were. Approximately one week later the then Taoiseach appointed the late Mr. Gordon Wilson as one of his nominees to the Seanad. I had met Gordon a few weeks earlier and had the great pleasure of showing him around Leinster House. Even though I had never been around it myself, except with Mr. Fitzgerald, it was a great way to give the impression that I knew my way around. It is an example of how each of us was made welcome by so many others, including by Senators on the other side of the Chamber. I do not think the willingness and enthusiasm of Senators I have come across in the past 23 years are recognised enough.
I have been involved in a number of careers but in this one every single day from the first time I came into this House I have been fortunate enough to get a sense of achievement and satisfaction. There is a seanfhocal I remember well: éist le fuaim na habhann, agus gheobhaidh tú bradán - listen to the sound of the river and you will catch a salmon.It is listening that has given us a great opportunity to be able to participate in so many different things. That is one of the reasons I sometimes feel guilty when people criticise the television view of the Seanad or the Dáil and see empty seats. They do not realise how much work is going on and how much work can go on not necessarily in the Chamber.
Years ago, I remember being asked to explain the word “management” in five words or fewer. We spoke about it a lot and came up with, “Management is getting results through other people”. That is what I have learned here in this House. It is about the ability of the Government, this and the other House to get results through other people. I found listening and getting results on that basis has been a huge success. It could not have taken place, however, without the enthusiasm, commitment and the dedication of so many people, both who work here and who have been elected to this House.
Last night, I checked the number of Bills I have had the pleasure of introducing in the House. I have introduced 17 Bills, some of which have become law and others which have become law in different cases. I would love to think it would be possible that somebody in the new Seanad will grab hold of those remaining Bills which have been prepared and will be able to continue with them.
The real challenge is to ensure this House is respected and regarded well. It could not happen without the enthusiasm we get from right around this House. I mention Senator David Norris, the father of the House, as our leader. There are also the other Senators on this side, Senators John Crown, Sean D. Barrett and Rónán Mullen, who cannot be here today. If we are going to succeed, we have to continue with the commitment, the dedication and the enthusiasm which I have seen here over the years.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing us this time to be able to say a few words. I offer everyone going for election every success, even the retiring but not very retiring Senator Craughwell. He is certainly not very retiring, in spite of that today. I wish him well. It would be a shame not to have his voice, along with all the other voices, we hear. Congratulations and I wish everyone going for election, whether for the Dáil or the Seanad, well and I hope we see them back here. I certainly intend to maintain my interest in what is going on here in the years ahead.
Today is a day on which we reflect on the past five years and it is important we thank people. I thank the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Leader and the Deputy Leader, Deirdre Lane and all the staff in the Seanad office, the ushers and everybody around the House who has helped us over the past five years.
During this term, we retained the Seanad, and rightly so. I wish all incoming Senators all the best and hope their presence justifies why the Seanad was retained. These five years I have made many friends in this House and met many people whom I will not forget. Whether I get back here is up to the people when I knock on their doors over the next few weeks after the general election. I thank everybody for the courtesy and friendship they have shown to me.
I know we cannot get a Minister to come into the House now but there is one issue which the new Seanad, or even the new Dáil, should look at. Yesterday, driving from Kilkenny, I filled my car with diesel which cost 99 cent per litre. When I got to Dublin, I noticed the price per litre was €1.06, €1.07 or €1.08. Somebody has to do something about this. The same company from which I bought my fuel in Kilkenny are selling it in Dublin for €1.06. Somebody is ripping somebody off. The oil companies have to be questioned on the price of diesel. We know the price of a barrel of oil has dropped to under $30.
I wish everybody running in the Dáil and Seanad elections every success. I hope many of us will be back here.
This is not the last sitting of Seanad Éireann. The Seanad will sit until 26 April. The new Government that will come in on 10 March might require urgent legislation which we will be required to address. This is a pre-emptive strike as far as this Seanad is concerned. The Seanad is alive and well and functioning.
Because I might not get an opportunity to say it when we return I wish to speak about Senator Feargal Quinn. He and I crossed paths when he was chairman of An Post in 1982. As far as I recall, he was appointed by the Jack Lynch Government and I was Minister of State at the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. We worked together in that capacity. As chief executive of the wonderful Superquinn supermarket group he was also involved in the area of trade and marketing when I was Minister for Trade and Marketing and we had many Irish promotions. He assisted many Irish companies to get established. He has played a very important role. I wish him well not on his retirement, because he is very active in life, generally speaking, but I wish him well in the future.
I also wish the Taoiseach's nominees well. They are the most enlightened appointments of any Taoiseach since the foundation of the State. The Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and the then Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, compiled a list of Senators in this House who have contributed greatly. They brought a vast range of experience to this House and I wish them well, both those who will contest the election and those who will not.
I certainly will not resist anyone that wishes to vote No. 1 on the labour panel. I must seek the nomination of the Irish Conference of Professional and Service Associations, ICPSA. It is a matter for the association to decide on its nominees so I will not pre-empt or prejudice its decision at this stage. Nobody is a candidate until he or she is nominated. I wish you well, a Chathaoirligh.
I am. By the way, I am seeking the nomination at this stage.
On another note, today I was in the Dáil Chamber for the dissolution of the Dáil. The Taoiseach rightly came to the House and put the dissolution before the House. He did not sneak up to the Áras and present his request to the President to dissolve the Dáil. He went into the Dáil and he informed the Dáil that he was going to the President in a proper manner. He then left for Áras an Uachtaráin and the President signed the order to dissolve the Dáil. That is the proper procedure. He and I share one thing in common, namely, that we are the only Members of the Oireachtas who were Members of the Dáil in June 1977. He voted for Liam Cosgrave and I voted for Jack Lynch and Jack won. I was rather delighted to be in the Chamber today to wish him bon voyage, as such.
Congratulations and a happy birthday to you, a Chathaoirligh. You have played a very important role and you have been a fantastic Cathaoirleach. You have been the most fair Cathaoirleach under whom I have served in this House.
I commend you, the Leader of the House, the Deputy Leader and the Leader of the Opposition and everybody else. This is an excellent Seanad and will continue to be such until the new Seanad takes office.
The Garda lost its appeal in relation to sick time and sick pay in the Court of Appeal yesterday. The Garda is in a position quite separate to public servants. Gardaí are the only public servants who have to wear a knife vest on duty and they put their lives at risk every day of the week. The decision in this case is wrong and I hope it will be reversed because the Garda deserves the full support of the people. I was quite surprised that the general secretary of Impact, Shay Cody, warned that he would ballot for industrial action if the Garda was exempt from the rules of sick pay. That was very unfair. I wish the Garda Representative Association, GRA, success in any appeal it takes in that regard because gardaí put their lives at risk every day of the week. On Monday, two gardaí were struck down in an incident in Ardrahan. They were in hospital as a result of carrying out their duties. We should be very conscious of the role of An Garda Síochána. I hope this ruling will be changed and that gardaí will be given proper sick leave because they stand in the line of duty defending the public. They are an exemplary Garda force, which is unarmed. It is one of the finest police forces in the world. I hope the Garda will get justice in this particular regard.
I join with all other Senators in wishing Senator Quinn very well in his retirement. To me, he epitomises the word "gentleman". He is an utter gentleman.I also wish Senators Walsh and Mac Conghail well in their retirement as well as to anybody who has indicated they do not intend to come back to the House. I extend my good wishes to the Cathaoirleach, the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House, Senator Ivana Bacik. I extend good wishes to Senator Denis O'Donovan who has acted as leader of the Opposition. We have had a Seanad in which we did not have an overall Government majority and yet I can say without hesitation that this has been one of the most productive Seanad's in the history of the House. That is borne out by the extensive body of legislation which has gone through this House and which has gone through relatively smoothly, considering the fact we did not have an overall Government majority. It could not have happened without the positive contribution of Members of the Opposition and, in particular, the positive contribution of members of the Fianna Fáil party. I thank Senator Diarmuid Wilson, the Whip of the Opposition, for his exceedingly gentlemanly conduct at all times and for the kindness he showed to our colleague, Senator Jimmy Harte, when he experienced his unfortunate accident.
I thank all the support staff of the House, specifically the stenographers who sit there hour after hour and who must sometimes ask themselves what on God's earth we are talking about. I wish all other staff of the House well, in particular Deirdre Lane, who has already been mentioned.
We have had very positive and robust debate in this House on a significant number of occasions. It has certainly been lively from time to time. I hope we see the same robust and positive debate on the issues facing Irish society in the course of the upcoming general election. I wish all colleagues well in their futures, those who are and those who are not seeking re-election.
I think I have heard everything now. I heard on the wireless this morning that various firms of accountants are offering to cost the election proposals of various parties. What a laugh. These are the people who signed off on the cooked books of every corrupt bank in the country and now they are offering to cost the election proposals of the parties. God almighty preserve me.
This is one of the last days of the Seanad. We will be moving from this beautiful Chamber. I believe the Leader has found some place that will be appropriate in terms of dignity, space and so on. I hope the work that will be done here will be done efficiently and quickly so that we get back because this is where the Seanad belongs. It is a wonderful place to work.
I endorse all the compliments paid to the various members of the staff and officeholders. I will not recite the same rigmarole but my initials are on those compliments. Senator Maurice Cummins, as Leader of the House, has been one of the finest Leaders I can remember in this House. A small example of that was yesterday when my colleague, Senator Barrett, who was a member of the banking inquiry committee, asked that the time given to the debate on it be extended. Senator Cummins came up with a very good solution - he increased the amount of time for the first speakers on each side, which gave Senator Barrett an opportunity to put his views on the record. The Cathaoirleach has been a very dignified Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and has done credit to this House.
It has been an extraordinary Seanad, one that actually voted for its own extermination, which was quite an unusual political gambit. Several Members on the other side of the House campaigned to retain the Seanad and yet voted for its extinction, which was one of the most Swiftian absurdities that I can remember in a political career of about 40 years.
Finally, I turn to my colleague, Senator Feargal Quinn. It has been a real pleasure to work with him. The word "gentlemanly" has been used and I think it is really appropriate to use it in terms of Senator Quinn. He has been a most courteous, decent and gentlemanly Member of the House. It has been a pleasure to work with him. We did not always see eye to eye but that is the nature of political life.Moreover, he has done much service to the Seanad by introducing a considerable number of Bills here - more, I think, than anybody else - and that is a purpose for which this House was intended. Members pioneered it in the early days with a few items of legislation but Senator Quinn took up the baton and has made a really remarkable impact on Irish public life. I wish him every happiness with his wife and family in his retirement, which I hope will be very long.
I join all my colleagues in wishing everybody well and, in particular, Senators Quinn, Walsh and all the other Members who are retiring. It was a great honour to have been in this House for the past five years and to have worked with them all. I wish all the Senators who are standing in the election well and hope they are successful. I also hope that colleagues who are running for re-election to the Seanad will be successful and that they will return. It would be great to be returned and to work with them again for another term. I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach for looking after Members and for being so courteous to them during the current term. I also thank the staff and the ushers, as well as the leaders on both sides. It was great to have worked with them. On this historic day, I will conclude by wishing everyone well and I hope to see them all back here early in the summer.
Apart from that, it is genuinely meant. I will start by noting that I came across a quotation a few years ago that really struck me as commendable as a political philosophy. It was by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, a Superior General of the Jesuits of whom Pope Francis is a particular devotee and it states "Let there be men and women who will bend their energies not to strengthen positions of privilege, but, to the extent possible, reduce privilege in favour of the underprivileged." I was so struck by this quotation that I have kept it on the back of my business card ever since. It is a very simple philosophy in that if one helps the underprivileged and the vulnerable, one cannot go wrong politically. It certainly has guided me to protect, in the first instance, the unborn. I hope the situation will never arise in Ireland where, as happens on the other side of the Irish Sea or on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, 25% of unborn babies are aborted because that would be a travesty. It has also guided me to ensuring Members protect the right of every individual and child to a good education. It is striking that 50 years after Donogh O'Malley had the vision of free secondary education, people still look to him and what he achieved. In the future, were Members to apply themselves to invest in education, it would be to the economic benefit of Ireland and its future and would enhance the lifestyle of the people. One item at local level of which I am probably most proud is that I was involved in constructing a couple of advance factories in Wexford and New Ross and two highly successful companies now operate there. This brings me to the third feature, which is that people have a right to employment and to a job. One of the best works of life is to use one's endeavours to raise one's family and I am glad to note the rate of unemployment is falling. It must be halved from its present level and hopefully, all those who were obliged to emigrate during the difficult times will return to Ireland.
On the right to housing, like a number of other Members probably, I grew up in a local authority house. I saw the importance of that and of improving the quality of local authority housing stock. I have taken a lifelong interest in it and must state, as I leave this House, it troubles me that we probably face the biggest housing crisis for many decades in the history of the State. I hope all Members of this House and the incoming Government will make this their top priority.
I thank Senator Ó Domhnaill for his kind comments and good wishes and note he had not yet been born when I started out on this path in 1974. I had never intended to be around for that long and I am sure many other Members also had not yet been born at that time. Having served as a Fianna Fáil public representative for 42 years, 19 of them in this House, I am particularly satisfied with my performance at local level. At national level, one does not necessarily see the outputs and outcomes of the debates in which one participated and it is not easy to identify what are one's achievements.However, there is some unfinished work to which I would like to allude. Along with others, I worked on the sub-committee which examined the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974. Yesterday, I raised the matter at the sovereign committee of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Belfast under the chairmanship of Senator Paul Coghlan. I urged that body to see if it could resolve the issue so that the victims' families would have access to what caused that event and, in particular, the question of collusion.
All my life, since I was a child, one of my great aspirations and ambitions was to see a united Ireland and a British withdrawal from the island of Ireland. That is ongoing work but I have to say, it has not received the focus it should have in recent times because of economic difficulties. I hope we will return to that, reunite the people and move on.
I will conclude by wishing friends, colleagues and all Members of the House safe travel and every success in the election. Go n-éirí go mór libh sna míonna atá romhainn, go mórmhór san olltoghchán don Dáil agus don Seanad. I also express my good wishes to the Clerk of the Seanad and all the staff. At the count in 1997, I was sitting there wondering how many votes I would get and I wondered why all the promises were not coming through in ballot papers. The Clerk, Ms Deirdre Lane, came to me as she put down some bundles and said, "I think we are going to see a little more of you around the House." As it turned out, I was elected then for the first time.
To those retiring, I wish them health, happiness and a long life. I will finish with a short quotation from John Buchan's Pilgrim's Way:
Public life is regarded as the crown of a career, and to young men [and women] it is the worthiest ambition. Politics is still the greatest and the most honourable adventure.
Go n-éirí go mór libh.
Along with others, I take this opportunity to wish everybody who is running for election the very best of luck, whether for the Dáil or Seanad. I also wish anyone who is retiring, particularly Senator Feargal Quinn, the very best of luck and good health in retirement. I know there was some confusion over whether Senator Craughwell would run for re-election. It amuses me, however, that since he was elected to the Seanad, every time he spoke he complained that he did not have enough speaking time. If we check the records, however, I think we will find nobody has spoken as much as he has in that time.
I pay tribute to the Cathaoirleach who is a good, decent Mayo man. He has been very kind to every Senator in this House. I also want to compliment Senator Cummins who was an excellent Leader of the House. I also thank Senators Bacik and Hayden who were of help to me. In addition, I thank Senator Wilson who, as the Opposition Whip, was always so amenable to giving one a pair where necessary. I wish him well in the forthcoming election.
Over the past couple of years, one disappointment is that I was unable to have my wind turbines Bill 2012 introduced, despite support from the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly. He was frustrated on this issue by his colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. I still think, however, that it is something we need to bring about, whether before the close of business today or when the new government is formed.
I wish to propose an amendment to today's Order of Business that No. 11 be taken before No. 1. No. 11 is the Local Government (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2016 - First Stage. I am seeking a seconder for that.
I am willing to second Senator Kelly's amendment to the Order of Business.
Today, there is a strike in the institutes of technology throughout the country. The institutes have had a 33% increase in students with a 10% decline in staff.I hope the new Oireachtas will address that issue and perhaps look to the highly successful apprenticeship systems in Norway, Austria, Germany and Switzerland. We have neglected that aspect of training.
I support the complimentary remarks as to how well and fairly the Cathaoirleach has chaired the sittings of the House. The Leader has shown the same fairness and helped to make this a memorable Seanad. He oversaw innovations such as the presentation made in the House by the leader of the Orange Order, the speeches given by MEPs in the Chamber and the addresses to Senators by former President, Ms Mary Robinson, and the Nobel prize winner, Professor Christopher Pissarides. Notable reforms were carried out during this Seanad.
On developments in Northern Ireland, my namesake, the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, Assembly Speaker, William Hay, and his successor as Speaker, Mitchel McLaughlin, have played a notable role in bringing us together in this Chamber. One of the strongest Unionists I have ever met told me after visiting the Seanad, "This is the finest parliamentary Chamber I have ever been in but do not tell any of my constituents". It would not go down well in the heartlands of the DUP if it were known how much that individual admired the proceedings of this House and the building in which we are honoured to come to work every day.
Some people claim the Seanad does not do anything but we have shown otherwise, even in the past few months. We achieved an amendment to the climate change legislation, for example, to secure a right for this House to have an input on climate matters. We secured agreement on an amendment to the legal services legislation to ensure the omission of representatives from Northern Ireland on the new authority was rectified. Senator Jillian van Turnhout and I succeeded in having the offence of chastisement abolished. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, full credit to him, was willing to take that amendment. In attendance in the Visitors Gallery for some of the debate on that legislation was Dr. Toddy Daly, son of Dr. Cyril Daly. The latter was a long-time advocate against corporal punishment. It was a wonderful moment when that provision was accepted.
Parliament should be entitled to ask questions. I agree with the former Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Ronan Keane, and with Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns in his recent retirement speeches that we cannot be in a situation in these Houses where a decision is made one evening to give away €64 billion and we are not allowed to ask questions as to what happened to that money and why it was needed. That is a reform which should be pushed through in the next Oireachtas.
I join colleagues in thanking, as we have by our applause, the wonderful service over 23 years of Senator Feargal Quinn. I wish him and Denise many happy years ahead. I likewise convey my good wishes to Senator Jim Walsh and his wife, Marie. I hope as many of us as possible return to this House because we have played a notable role in the development of parliamentary democracy in this country and received, particularly in Dublin working-class areas, a huge endorsement by the people to continue that good work. Let us return in short order to go on with our important national work. Parliament is not a branch of "The Muppet Show" and its Members are not inferior to those who achieve political power through the barrel of a gun. We are in the tradition of Burke, Parnell and the other great orators-----
On this historic occasion, it is not possible but to reflect on how fortunate we are to have a democracy in this country. We see how difficult the commencement of peace talks have been in Syria and the various appalling situations people are facing around the world. We in Ireland have a democracy where power transfers seamlessly from one Administration to another. There were many young people in the Visitors Gallery this morning and I hope that is something they will reflect on and take away from their visit.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his courtesy over the past five years and congratulate him on his 23rd anniversary in the House. I thank, too, the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the staff of the House, all of whom have been the essence of courtesy and helpfulness to Members. As previous speakers said, the Leader has done an amazing job.That is acknowledged by everybody. I wish him well and thank him. I also thank the Deputy Leader, Senator Bacik. I wish all of the retiring Members well, particularly Senators Quinn and Walsh, who are long-serving Members of the House.
It has been a wonderful experience to have served in the House with people who are household names and whom I admired in many guises. I was an avid watcher of "Oireachtas Report" and saw many Members in action over the years. It has been particularly pleasant for me to see how courteous everybody was towards each other and how well everybody worked for the betterment of the country and to improve legislation. I never imagined that five years on from 2011, when the country was in a very difficult situation, we would now be heading into an election in a much more optimistic and positive place. The Government was given a job to do - namely, to fix the public finances and get people back to work - and, despite the fact that mistakes were made, we are, on balance, in a much better place today. I wish all of my colleagues who are contesting the general election every success. I hope they will vacate their seats in the Seanad and find themselves in the Lower House. I wish all of my colleagues who will contest the forthcoming Seanad elections well.
My experience over the past five years has been wonderful. I was astounded by the volume of legislation that came through the House, particularly over the past year. Many very difficult and significant issues that had lain around for quite some time were addressed during the lifetime of this Administration. I express my sincere thanks to everybody for their wonderful courtesy, support and guidance over the past five years. It is to be hoped many of us will meet back here in the next Seanad in the middle of April.
I, too, would like to join with colleagues on both sides of the House in thanking the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator O'Donovan, and the Leader of the House, Senator Cummins, who has played an outstanding role. It should not be forgotten that he took a very brave and courageous stance on the referendum on the Seanad in effectively going against Government proposals, which takes a particular type of courage. That needs to be acknowledged.
I would also like to thank Deirdre, Martin and all of the wonderful staff in the Seanad office. On behalf of those of us who have had the privilege of being part of the Acting Chairman panel, I offer particular thanks to Aisling Hart, who has done an extraordinary job in ensuring the smooth running of the House. Hers is a name that does not spring automatically to mind, but without her effectiveness the House might not have run as smoothly as it did.
I am sure both sides of the House would agree with me in singling out my friend and colleague, the Fianna Fáil Whip, Senator Diarmuid Wilson. I know Senator Paul Coghlan would say his job as Government Chief Whip has been a difficult one and was a balancing act at the best of times.
He worked closely with Senator Wilson. It was much more difficult to manage the smaller group of Fianna Fáil Senators to ensure that we looked after our side of the House. He did that magnificently and there were occasions when he stepped into the breach, something that is not on the record, but I want to acknowledge it. That ensured the smooth and effective running of the House. I want to wish Senator Wilson well in the elections, as well as all other colleagues who are running.
Senator Mullen briefly touched on the camaraderie in the House. To the outside world, the cut and thrust of politics comes across through the media, but all of us who are Members of the House know there is collegiality. In a sense, we look after each other, and life is not perhaps as difficult politically as the outside world might think. That ensures the effective running of this democratic institution. I pay tribute to Senators Quinn and Walsh, in particular. Senator Quinn has left an astonishing legacy. He has put 17 Bills through the House as an Independent Senator, which is an extraordinary record. Several of the Bills were successful and the Government took them on board. Irrespective of the other facets of his extraordinary life, Senator Quinn has left a rich legacy of legislation in this House and I wish him and his family every happiness in his retirement.
Senator Walsh came into this House as a Member of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party and I am particularly pleased he is leaving it as a full member of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party.
He has taken stances and principled positions on issues that perhaps did not always generate unanimity. It has been his strength that he has stuck to his principles. I have had the pleasure of working with him on a group he set up in this House some years ago called the human dignity group. As the name suggests, it is about the preservation of human dignity and it has attracted support from all sides of this House and from the other House. That is his legacy and in a way, a voice has been stilled. I hope that the stances, policies and principled positions taken by Senator Walsh on issues, which are basic to civilisation and humanity, will be continued in the new Seanad. I have no doubt he too will continue in that regard.
I thank my friends and colleagues on all sides of the House for their continuing courtesy. To echo the words of Senator Leyden, the nominations by the Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, to this House were unique and unprecedented. Those of us who have worked with the Independent group know the nominations have enhanced this House considerably with their presence. Irrespective of what they do, I wish them well in their careers. Some will be running for re-election and others may be bowing out of public life but they too have left a rich legacy in this House and I wish them well.
I wish to be associated with the tributes paid to the Cathaoirleach and wish him a happy 23rd Seanad birthday today. There were times when Senators would take issue with some decisions but he would disarm us completely with his charming smile and that would be the end of any issue we might have. I also pay tribute to Ms Deirdre Lane, Mr. Martin Groves and all the staff who have kept me on the straight and narrow, especially when I was Acting Chairman. They guided and advised me on the protocol and I thank them for that.
I pay tribute to the leaders of all the parties and the nominees. We have all got on well over the years. The tributes being paid to the Leader of the House, Senator Cummins, by the long-standing Members are the ones which carry the most weight. We do not know what previous Seanaid were like and how Leaders acted but Members have paid tribute to Senator Cummins on bringing about great change, for which I commend him.
I have to pay a special tribute to my own leader, Senator Ivana Bacik. When we came into the House, we were newbies, we did not know the protocol and we were trying to find our feet but she has been an inspiration to us and a superb leader. Her guidance, expertise and knowledge have been invaluable to us and we have learned from her, and I thank her for that. I pay tribute also to our Whip, Senator Aideen Hayden, who has always tried to facilitate us. When controversial legislation was passing through the House and some Senators could not be here, Senator Diarmuid Wilson facilitated Senator Hayden and pairs were arranged for those of us who could not attend.
I wish Senators Walsh and Quinn all the best in their retirement. Senator Walsh will admit that we have not always seen eye to eye but he has always been a man of principle and has stood by what he believes. That is what defines him.Senator Quinn has been nothing but a true gentleman in this House. I have never heard a bad word said about the Senator by anybody. As I travel around the country and people ask about my days in the Seanad, the two Senators whom everybody will ask about are Senators Norris and Quinn. They are the two who will always be brought up. I can assure them they have made their mark in the Seanad.
Whatever it is with the public, these Senators have made their mark with it. An odd time, I might hear another name but those are the two names that will always come up.
I wish candidates standing in the general election well. I refer to a few of my own colleagues and colleagues on the other side of the House standing in the general election. I also wish those who may or may not be contesting the next Seanad election well.
For me, it has been an honour and a privilege to have been elected to Seanad Éireann. I am honoured to have sat on the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection, which is the committee that is dear to my heart and one that I probably would have been most au faitwith. I have made many friends whom I hope I will remain friends with. Regardless of whether we are in the next Seanad, I hope we will remain friends down through the years.
Something that kept coming up during my term in the Seanad was how difficult it was for parents who are on social welfare to put their children through third level education. Even with the special rate of the SUSI third level grant, it is difficult. The grant barely covers accommodation. There is also travel, books and the student's living expenses. Parents on social welfare just do not have the money to give them. We must develop some sort of system, even a loan system. It is difficult, in particular, for students who must repeat because such students cannot access the third level grant. That is life. Students fail examinations and must repeat them. I hope the next Government and, in particular, the Seanad, will moot a system where we can help those students who are in financial distress.
I will start by dispelling any doubts as to my future intentions. I have had the car serviced and a new set of tyres put on it. The tax has been paid and I am on the road from tomorrow. I will be seeking re-election.
I thank all Members of the House who are not running on the labour panel for supporting my re-election and promising to get votes for me. I really thank them for that.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his kindness and for the even-handed way in which he dealt with me. As I travel around the country, I assure him I will seek his re-election because he is a decent guy. That is really important. I thank Ms Deirdre Lane and Mr. Martin Groves, who got a fairly rough time during my by-election success, for the courteous way in which they took my rather irate phone calls. I very much appreciate their even-handedness and the welcome I received when I came in.
I thank Fine Gael for bringing me in here. When I ran for election, my son asked me if I was mad running for an election I could not possibly win. He asked me what sort of a clown I was. On the day I got elected, just before we walked through that door, he said, "Dad, when your posterior hits that seat in there, remember you will be one of the very few citizens of this country who ever gets to sit in one of those chairs." For a guy who started off as a private soldier in the Army, I cannot begin to tell the House the honour it has been to be here and to have worked with Members. I am glad I introduced the party Whips to the notion of working with Independents.I know that bringing them to the table was like pulling teeth but I brought them there and I am delighted to see they have learned.
To my colleague, Senator Quinn, I say it is a terrible pity that he is going. I hope he will return to run seminars on how to deal with the electorate so that the Members will remember to take the latter into account as they go forward.
With the forthcoming election, we are truly heading into uncertain waters. What way it will all work out, I do not know. I ask that when they publish their manifestoes, the various parties should indicate the red line issues on which they will not negotiate in the context of a programme for Government. The people have a right to know what and whom they are electing and why they are electing them. I have started a "#getoutandvote" drive on Twitter. I do not care who people vote for so long as they vote. I have no time for people who complain about a Government and then do not participate in the political system.
I wish those who are retiring and those who are contesting the election well. As for those on the Labour Panel, I hope they come second to me. The best of luck to everybody.
As this is our final sitting day, I wish, like everyone else, to pay warm tribute to the Cathaoirleach. I sat in front of a number of chairpersons during my days in local government. The manner and professionalism with which the Cathaoirleach has chaired proceedings here and his fairness are an example. If they are writing a template on chairing, they should have a good word with the Cathaoirleach and, indeed, with Aisling in the Seanad Office in terms of how she manages his offices and so forth.
I would also like to pay tribute to the Leader, Senator Cummins, who is inspirational. This is my first time serving as a member of the House but by all accounts he has set an unprecedented standard in the way he has done his business. I also acknowledge his private secretary, Orla, and, indeed, Frankie and Lauren and the staff of the House, all of whom deserve our praise. They are courteous beyond belief. I also thank Deirdre, Martin, Ronan, Niamh, Keishia - who came before Niamh - all the ushers, the Journal Office staff and so forth for the way they look after us. It makes our job easier when we are dealt with by such courteous people.
Senator Ó Domhnaill said he was not born when Senator Walsh came into the House. I looked up the date of the 1974 local elections on Google and I can tell the House that I was 24 days old when Senator Walsh was elected.
Senator Walsh's principled position is unflinching. He sticks to it because he believes in it and that is what politics is about. It is about getting elected and sticking to one's principles. If a lot of other politicians stuck to their principles, this country would be a far better place.
My generation is the one that respected the likes of Senators Quinn and Norris. I was a second year politics student in UCD being lectured on Tuesday and Thursday mornings by the Seanad's former Leader, Maurice Manning, when Senator Quinn was elected. Sadly, I did not have a vote then because I was an undergraduate. We spent our political careers admiring people such as Senators Norris and Quinn and, indeed, Senator Barrett, who was a lecturer at the time and who has proven a very outspoken person in terms of the area of economics and the rights and wrongs relating to it. It has been a great pleasure serving with people of such distinction.
I wish all those Senators who are seeking election to the Lower House the very best, particularly the leader of the Opposition, a thorough gentleman, Senator Darragh O'Brien. He was very disappointed when he lost his Dáil seat on the previous occasion. I think he is going to be back in the Lower House, which will be a loss to the next Seanad. I tried it myself but, unfortunately, I did not get to the starting line on that occasion. I will hopefully be in a position to seek re-election to this House and what happens, happens. The past five years have been phenomenal in terms of the learning curve I have been on and it has been a huge honour to serve here. It is amazing how, over time, one develops a very deep, personal bond - as well as a political one - with all of the other 59 Members of this House.I suppose the politics is what creates the personal bond. Every person in this House is here because he or she wants to serve and better Ireland. They want to see a better society at the end of the day. All of us have considerable regard for each other. I have served in council chambers where there was rancour and so on and sometimes it lasted, but I can say that the professionalism with which people have done their business here has been inspirational. It has been a pleasure to work with such a group of distinguished parliamentarians. Let us hope we see other days in future.
Like other colleagues, I join in the tributes paid to you, a Chathaoirligh. You have been very fair and impartial as our Cathaoirleach. I know there were rumours some time ago that you may not be contesting this election, but I am glad that you have clarified the situation and I wish you well.
I also wish to pay tribute to the Leas-Chathaoirleach, my colleague, Senator Denis O'Donovan. He was also fair and impartial and an excellent vice chairman. I pay tribute to Deirdre, Martin, Aisling and all the staff of the Seanad office for their courtesy and help to me throughout the past five years and previously when I first became a Member.
I pay tribute to Senator Feargal Quinn and Senator Jim Walsh who have announced their retirement. I pay tribute to other colleagues in the House who have decided not to go forward either in the Seanad or the general elections. It has been a privilege to serve with each and every one of them. Like Senator Michael Mullins, before I became a Member I was an avid follower of "Oireachtas Report". I soon went off it when I became a Member and I have not looked at it since.
It was a pleasure to meet Senator Quinn when I first became a Member. Yesterday, Senator Mary Ann O'Brien commented on how she went to one of his shops when she was starting up her business and introduced herself and her product. She was welcomed by the manager of the store, John Foy. John Foy learned a lot from Senator Quinn - he told me as much himself - and he went on to open his own supermarket in Cootehill, County Cavan. The supermarket is going from strength to strength and services not only Cootehill, but much of the surrounding area into County Monaghan and beyond. That is only one of the stories that emerged as a result of Senator Quinn setting up Superquinn. John Foy is one of thousands of people who went on to successful careers of their own as a result of working with Senator Quinn.
I also pay tribute to Senator Jim Walsh. It has been a privilege for me to be a party colleague of his. I am glad to see that he is back in the parliamentary party, where he belongs. As has been said here, Senator Walsh is a man of principle. I agree with most of those principles, but not all of them, and we have had discussions and disagreements in the past. Along with Senator Quinn, I wish them and their families many years of happiness together in future.
Tributes have been paid to the Leader of the House as well and I agree with each of the positive comments made in regard to him. I worked with the Leader when I was Government Chief Whip. We were elected to the House on the same day. We became very close friends when I became Government Chief Whip during the last Seanad. I thank people for their comments in respect of me and the job I have carried out during the past five years. The reason I carried out the job to the best of my ability is that I understood exactly where the Government Chief Whip of the day and his deputy, Senator Hayden, stood when it came to tight votes. In case any of my party colleagues are listening in, I was not a soft touch or anything like that.
Only deserving cases were paired. I am glad to join in the tributes to the Leader.
I thank Senator Paul Coghlan and Senator Aideen Hayden, the Whip and deputy Whip on the Government side. I thank my leader in the House, Senator Darragh O'Brien, and those who filled in for him in his absence for their help.I thank all colleagues in the House, in particular those in Fianna Fáil and on this side, for their help in my attempts to defeat the Government on occasion.
Since starting out five years ago, we have lost three Members. Thankfully, it was through their own free will and not as in previous Seanaid when Members unfortunately passed away. I want to remember them today. I wish Jimmy Harte, who retired recently due to illness, and his family the very best of luck in the years ahead.
Martin McAleese resigned for personal reasons, in that he was going on to do other things. I wish him well. Deirdre Clune went on not to bigger and better things, but to a different place. I wish her well. She is not facing the uncertainty over the next couple of weeks that we are, but Deirdre was an excellent Member of the House and a good colleague. I wish her well, too.
Senator Norris stated that we would be moving from this beautiful Chamber to a lesser place. All I can say is that I hope I will be moving to that lesser place in the weeks ahead. I wish each and every Senator who is contesting the Seanad and general elections the very best of luck. I hope to be among their number in the weeks ahead. I thank everyone.
From one Burke to another, I thank the Cathaoirleach for the way in which he has managed the affairs of the House in the past five years. I thank the group leaders, in particular ours, who is the Leader of the House, for the manner in which they worked together to try to effect change. I pay tribute to the staff for their dedication and commitment in the past five years to assisting Members in every way possible. I also pay tribute to the Oireachtas Library and Research Service staff, who have always been helpful, and those involved in drafting legislation, who provided assistance when we were introducing our own.
In that regard, there is a role for the House in terms of Private Members' Bills. Departments need to wake up to the fact that not everything needs to come from them. Senators know what is required on the ground and when laws must be changed. If a Senator proposes draft legislation, Departments and Ministers should get on board. I have tabled three Private Members' Bills. While one was eventually accepted by the Government, I am disappointed that the others were not taken on board. Other Senators tabled Private Members' Bills. During my time in the European Parliament, people worked together around a table to find the best way forward. Every Senator wants to bring about the best changes for the people of the country. This is to the forefront of our minds when we introduce legislation. It is important that the next Seanad takes this point on board.
I pay tribute to those Senators who are retiring. None of us has any guarantee that we will return, but I thank those who will definitely not be back for their contribution over the past five years or even longer, in particular Jim Walsh and Feargal Quinn. The latter is self-employed and has his own business. There is a lack of people from the business community in the Oireachtas. When the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party had 99 members, I worked out that 20 were teachers and only six of us had practised law. We need a balance and must involve self-employed people in the Oireachtas and in determining how to develop and grow the economy.People from the private sector have a contribution to make and Senator Quinn has certainly proved that in the 23 years he has been here. I wish him well in his retirement.
The areas of health and housing are the two major challenges we face in the next five years. As a country, we have the second highest spend on health care in the whole EU, yet we have quite an inefficient service. We face major challenges in this area, which the next Government and Oireachtas will have to face up to. We have a huge change in demographics over the next 15 to 20 years and we need to start planning for that. I do not think we are focused on it, but if we do not focus on it, we will have major difficulties in five, ten and 15 years time. Those are two issues that we need to focus on over the next five years.
I come back to something Senator Mullins raised regarding democracy. I worked on the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the European Parliament and Subcommittee on Human Rights and travelled to a number of different countries where democracy does not exist. I travelled to one country where up to 10,000 young people carry machine guns, where every place one went on the street, every second person had a gun. At least in this country we have a democracy, which has been very good. We may not always agree with the Government and the Opposition, but at least we have a democratic system that gives the choice to people, who elect the Government of the day. That is something we should never forget. We have been so good in managing our affairs over the last 90 or 100 years and long may it continue. Now that we are coming to the anniversary of the 1916 Rising, there will be another 100 years where democracy thrives and the people have the right to change the law and to change the Government and not be dictated to by the people who carry guns and ammunition.
Ba mhaith liom comhcheangal leis na Seanadóirí eile agus míle buíochas a ghabháil leis an Chathaoirleach. Is post an-ghnóthach atá anseo agat. Gabhaim míle buíochas leis an Seanadóir Maurice Cummins, mar Leader an tSeanaid. Mar a dúirt an Seanadóir David Norris, is eisean "the best Leader ever". I can say that from my term in the Seanad, but coming from Senator Norris, the Leader can very fittingly take a bow, as can the Cathaoirleach, given the way he has chaired. Gabhaim míle buíochas freisin le Deirdre, Martin, Aisling agus an foireann go léir in Oifig an tSeanaid agus leis na huiséirí agus na gardaí atá ansin gach uile lá. Gabhaim buíochas le hOrla Murray freisin, atá in oifig an Cheannaire, agus lena fear céile, an Seanadóir John Crown. Táim ag ceapadh go ndúirt seisean freisin that he was retiring.
I said a few words yesterday about Senator Quinn. He is a man of the people as well as a businessman, a man of the Seanad and he has proposed much legislation. It is said that if one gives a busy person some work, it will be done. There is no better man to say that of than Senator Feargal Quinn.
Another Member of the Seanad who has done the Seanad some service in bringing forward legislation, along with Senator Quinn, is Senator Jim Walsh. I have soldiered a long time with him and I wish him well. He is a man of his word. What he says, he always carries out. I worked with him on the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, and I want to note in particular the interest he took in the North-South situation. I am a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly now, but when we were members of LAMA, along with Michael Lawlor, and setting up the Confederation of European Councillors, as we have seen with the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, networking on the ground was so important. We set up the North-South body of councillors, with Senator Quinn guiding it. It is a thing we will have to look at again because it is the bottom-up approach. The councillors are so important, as is networking and North-South co-operation. I will talk to Councillor Colm Brophy, who is now president of the AILG, and maybe he will be able to carry that forward. While I am talking about Senator Walsh and co-operation, I want to particularly thank all the Senators who served on the banking inquiry. I know Senator Michael D'Arcy mentioned them yesterday. As Senator Moloney said, the names of Senators Quinn and Norris are often mentioned. I have heard Senator Barrett's name mentioned with particular reference to his input on economics and to the banking inquiry since it was set up. I want to pay tribute to all those who spent hours and hours in the basement, including Senator Michael D'Arcy-----
As I have said, they gave of their time when other people were out pounding the pavements. Many of them are running for election. I wish them well. Indeed, I wish all of my colleagues in the Seanad and in government who are running for election the very best of luck. I would also like to mention the co-operation we received from Senator Wilson. I know we had our spats on occasion but I want to refer particularly to the co-operation we received. We have seen how the Independent Senators, including those nominated by the Taoiseach, have co-operated, albeit not on every occasion. The Independents stepped forward in the context of bringing that out.
I would like to congratulate the Minister for Education and Skills on her announcement yesterday of the introduction of politics and society as a new subject on the leaving certificate curriculum. If it does nothing else, I hope it will inform students of how important it is that everybody who has a vote goes out and uses it - both in the Seanad election and the general election - because that will determine how we run the country. The new leaving certificate subject, politics and society, will educate people on how important this is. We have seen its importance for people from every sector of society. I think that is where the Seanad has been seen. There are people from all sectors of society in here. As I have said, I wish everybody the best of luck going forward. I will finish by saying a big "Thank you" to all of the staff.
I have to say I did not enjoy a single day of my first three months in the Seanad. To be honest, having come from 25 years in local government and having served as chairperson of my local county council, I could not take it into me. I could not understand the disrespect to the Chair from different sides of the House. I could not understand why Senators desisted from doing what he said when he stood up, such as, for example, when he said time was up. That was one of the first things I noticed. I am glad to say that things have changed. I have enjoyed my five years here. I have made many friends whom I hope to have for life. I will not be voting for Senator Maurice Cummins this time. He will be getting my No. 2. I acknowledge the contribution he has made. I am after getting a slap on my bottom. I have made the wrong decision as usual.
I am going to interrupt the Senator in a minute. I can tell him that. I acknowledge the contributions made by the Deputy Leader and the Leader of the Opposition and by all leaders and Whips.
Everyone has mentioned Senator Quinn. I would like to recall something that happened when I was a young man. Senator Quinn may not recall this because it was not today or yesterday. I was sitting at a lunch table in Dundalk with Senator Quinn and some of our mutual friends. A guy came in at approximately 1.15 p.m. and said "Feargal, you are not going to be pleased with what I have to say to you". I did not know what he was about to say. I recall what he said and I recall Senator Quinn's response. This guy said that a major competitor was coming to Dundalk. I will not name the company concerned.I will never forget the business head the Senator had then. He said to the man that his wish was that the competitor would occupy the shop right next door to him, Lipton's. The man asked why and Senator Quinn said it was because he would have the bargains and the competitor the footfall, but that he, the Senator, would gain from it. I never forgot that. I know of shops that have objected to competitors arriving, but Senator Quinn welcomed it. I agree with one of my Seanad colleagues who said we do not have enough business heads in both Houses of this establishment. Well done to Senator Quinn. He has contributed to politics in the same way as he contributed to business in Dundalk and other parts of the country.
Many Senators have already traversed the country four and five times. I have done it only once. Senators, including any Fianna Fáil councillors who come to the Cooley Peninsula, will be hit by the telephone and Internet reception. On Monday of this week, I witnessed a councillor taking a call on a mobile phone with his head out the kitchen window to get a reception. The Internet and telephone receptions on the Cooley Peninsula are practically non-existent. We will be hit by this.
One will need a reception going around the country.
I have had a few blips with my health over the past four or five years but, thankfully and touch wood, it is nothing serious. However, I do not and will not forget the individual whom I and others call "the gentlemen of the Seanad," Senator Diarmuid Wilson. When I needed somebody to stand in for me or pair with me, Diarmuid said, "Scobie, whatever you need is forthcoming."
I acknowledge the contribution of the Leas-Chathaoirleach, who allowed me to continue on a few occasions when I should have shut up but did not. It has been a happy five years and I have made some great friends. I acknowledge the contribution of the Independent Senators. At this late stage, I acknowledge the contribution of our newest member, Senator Máiría Cahill, who has been here for a very short time. As far as I am concerned, she has made a significant contribution to the Seanad.
I had not intended to speak as I was sitting in my office listening to everybody else’s contribution, but I decided I would. I did not believe I would ever in my life use the phrase "Senator Scobie." I thank the Senator very much for his remarks.
I became a Member a very short time ago. I was somewhat nervous coming here because, although one is used to watching people on the television making their contributions, one never believes in a million years that one will be sitting among some political heavyweights here. I became a Member with the intention of raising specific issues and I believe I stand on record as having done that. I treat people the way I am treated and in the way in which I find them. I thank everybody right across the House for the very decent way in which I have been treated. I believe I have made some very good friendships, certainly personal friendships, along the way.
It is a great honour and privilege to be in this House, as I said when I came here at the start of November. It is particularly good to have some Northern representation. I have treated my role very seriously and have very much enjoyed my time here. Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on the way he ensured order in this House over the past five years. I thank Deirdre, Martin and Aisling. The Leader of the Seanad, Senator Maurice Cummins, has done a fantastic job and has been very fair to all the Senators across the House. Well done to him and everybody in his office. They have been very approachable and efficient.
I congratulate Senator Coghlan, whom I have known for a long time, on his job as Whip. I know we have our own little situation but I am still very fond of him.
I wish all those Senators who have completed a term of five years and have decided not to go forward for election again every success in whatever they choose to do. I wish Senators Jim Walsh and Feargal Quinn a very happy retirement. If Senator Quinn gets a little bored, it would be a good idea for him to open a tie shop. I have a good eye for fashion but have never seen anything like the ties the Senator has worn.
I agree with Senator Burke in that I hope the next Oireachtas will have more businesspeople. This is very important.
I thank Senator Diarmuid Wilson for finding me to be a deserving case on all those occasions on which he gave me a pair. It is sometimes not easy when one has family and lives down the country. This can give rise to difficulties, a few of which I had myself. I thank Senator Wilson and Senator Paul Coghlan for being understanding. I hope I will be re-elected to the House.
Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir Paddy Burke as ucht an obair a rinne sé mar Chathaoirleach le cúig bliana anuas. Ba mhaith liom fosta mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le Deirdre Lane agus a foireann as ucht an cuidiú a thug sí, ní amháin domsa ach do gach Seanadóir.
I thank the Leader for being such a good Leader, and the Chief Whip, in particular, for the cross-Border task force, on which he did a great job, and for keeping us in line.
With regard to Senator Feargal Quinn, the Russian novel and the Irish short story have the same feature, which is called the "críoch ciorclach," or the circular ending. The people of Dundalk have a fondness for the Senator but they were a wee bit annoyed with him that he went down to Drogheda and helped it. Perhaps he will come back to Clanbrassil Street now with an overarching plan for the regeneration of the town of Dundalk, seeing as he made his first billion in that town.
Two points stood out for me in the Seanad. As education spokesperson, I noted that we were the ones who introduced the education and training boards Bill and the further education Bill. It is important that we raise the status of vocational education and skills training. The education and training boards are doing a good job in this regard. All, or most, of the amendments came through this House, so we can take special pride in that.
I support Senator Jim Walsh regarding Justice for the Forgotten. We need to keep the debate going here. We cannot allow the issues not to be explained fully to the people. There is no hierarchy of Irishness. When someone stands up and says he or she is an Irish republican, he or she should note that we are all Irish republicans. We live in a republic.
I was on Raidió na Gaeltachta yesterday and someone rang in and asked me in a friendly way whether I still support doing away with the national anthem. Senator Quinn raised the subject of the national anthem on one occasion and I added to his remarks by saying, just for debate, that we should do away with it altogether and have another one. The caller made a remark to which I was not able to reply.He said on a radio programme that it has been sung in every school in Ireland, but I would have told him that it is not being sung in the Shankill Road or in east Belfast. I love the national anthem, and I still get choked with emotion when I hear it. However, we must remember that when we make a statement about something we might not always be inclusive or working on an all-Ireland basis, but that is a debate for the next Seanad.
I want to thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Denis O'Donovan, who always gave me more time than the Cathaoirleach did.
I had not intended to speak but the Cathaoirleach indicated that he wanted me to do so and manners are important in all of our lives.
The Senators used beautiful words when referring to our amazing leaders, and the ushers, but "thank you" is what I want to say to everyone. My time here has been the fastest five years of my life. I am a confident person in the food business, and out and about, but it took me a long time to find my feet in here. However, they have been the most decent, welcoming and polite group of people.
I got out of the traps early yesterday with my comments about Senator Feargal Quinn, so I will not say anything about him today. He was embarrassed yesterday because I piled adoration on him. I said nothing about "St. Diarmuid" yesterday but we will leave that for another day.
Sadly, I am not running again, although I am only 55 so the Senators may see me again in five years time. However, the Senators who are re-elected will see a lot of me because I am dedicated to children with disabilities. The Jack & Jill Children's Foundation, and all the families I am connected to on the medical cards issue, will be part of me forever. I am not going away in terms of that.
I am very upset about the way we treat the environment in Ireland. The Senators know my views on fluoride, and we will not start that debate now, but we are the only country in Europe that puts that strange stuff in our water. I will not go away on that issue either.
I love business, food and chocolate. I love entrepreneurs. I believe in the island of Ireland and its greenness. In what other country in the world can one take a satellite photograph and get the real thing. We are green, so I will never stop in terms of my belief in that. I told the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, the other night that he has been a brilliant Minister. Ireland has taken off in terms of exports. We are over the €12 billion figure and are on our way to reaching €19 billion by 2025. I hope the Senators who return here will remain focused on that issue, which is indigenous. It belongs to us so we should stay focused on it.
I am not saying goodbye to any of the Senators because I will be in here morning, noon and night. However, I have three people over 90 whom I hope to spend more time with. I will spend a little more time on my business for a while, but I will be plugged into what the Senators are doing in this House also.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson, Senator Seán Barrett, Senator Imelda Henry and all the Senators who return will see a good deal of me. The Leader is down the road from me in Waterford. I will stay plugged into what this House is doing because it is the best club and the greatest honour to be a Member, but we will not stop in terms of our will to change things and do better.
Senators can stop using the word "retirement" when speaking about Senator Feargal Quinn because he has so many plans. He is launching a new book in May. He has a new television series planned that will take him a year to make. His beautiful wife Denise is thinking of divorcing him because she never sees him. She never will see him. For the record, he is not retiring.
I thank Deirdre and the staff. We would not be here only for them. I agree with the comments about the parliamentary reporters. I do not know how they do it.
I heartily agree with all the fine tributes to the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Cathaoirleach, the Leader of the House, the Opposition leader, Deirdre and her staff, and the staff in all the sections of the House including the Library & Research Service and the ushers. Everybody has been very kind to us.
I pay tribute to those Members who have announced their retirement including Senator Feargal Quinn, who trained a good man in John Foy, Senator John Crown, Senator Fiach MacConghail and Senator Jim Walsh. I can assure Senator Walsh that if I am fortunate enough to be back here and to have anything to do with that body, once the sensitivity of the timing is approved that issue will not go off the agenda.
My colleague, Senator Hayden, referred to the fact that we did not lose any legislation. Were we not fortunate? Technically, we were a minority but we never lost any aspect of legislation. The Government may have caught us once or twice in terms of inconsequential motions but that did not do any harm.
That just sharpens us.
What can I say about the Opposition Whip, Senator Diarmuid Wilson, who was Government Chief Whip in a previous Parliament I was honoured to be a member of? He made my job very easy. Members have heard all the tributes paid, and he deserves them all. I did not have to do a lot on many occasions. He used to refer me to the foreign office but that was a joke between us. We always got on very well and managed to agree on many issues. The wording for one or two motions were agreed on an all-party basis, thanks be to God. He referred to Senator Norris speaking about moving from this Chamber to a lesser place. I hope I will make it to that lesser place with him.
Senator Norris, the father of the House, was as interesting and amusing as ever when he referred to all of us on this side of the House voting for our extinction in terms of abolishing this House. That was never the case. As true democrats we passed the legislation to allow the people to have their say but I dare say that in the secrecy of the ballot box we did the right thing. Well done to all the Senators. We will met anon. God bless.
I want to first thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence in terms of my position as Leas-Cathaoirleach over the past four years and eight months, to be precise. I thank those who paid compliments to me, although I am not sure whether I deserved them. I thank the staff here, Deirdre and Martin, the Captain of the Guard and the Superintendent.
It is a special day for Senator Jim Walsh whom I wish every happiness in retirement. It is a long time ago since I canvassed with him in New Ross, although not on the same panel.
I refer to the inimitable Senator Feargal Quinn, who says his piece quietly. He reminds me of the village schoolmaster, "that one small head could carry all he knew", but when he spoke he spoke eloquently and to the point. He will be a loss to this House but I am sure there are others outside it to replace him.
The one thing I have learned about politics, and I am around a long time, is that there is no security of tenure for any of us. My sister sent me a text this morning as soon as she heard that the Dáil was dissolved stating that it is 29 years since I first decided to run for the Dáil. In that regard I feel a weight off my shoulders; I am relieved. I say to those who are thinking of running on the Agricultural Panel that I will be on that panel and will be a thorn in their sides. However, it is surreal for me not to be running in the Dáil election for the first time in what is almost all of my adult life. To see people today who are retiring from this House, and the other House, is surreal also.
The most phenomenal achievement over the past five years of this Seanad occurred when the future of this elegant and noble Chamber, the Upper House, was put to the test. It was a mistake by the Taoiseach to go down that road but a message was sent to this House by the people not alone in terms of saving the Seanad but about reform. There has not been enough done in that regard. That is an issue the next Seanad, and the Government, might re-examine because it is important that we would do that.
It is also important to compliment the Leader of the House with whom I have had a great working relationship.He has done a great job. I also compliment the Government Whip, Senator Paul Coghlan, and Senator Aideen Hayden, as well as our own leader, Senator Darragh O'Brien, who is on the trail. I wish everyone success, whether in running for the Dáil or the Seanad or not running at all. Politics is difficult. There are Members here today who think we will be back in three months time, but we may not be. It could be me who may not be back. It is an uncertain lifestyle. I often wonder if I made the right decision when I came to the fork in the road and had a choice of continuing in the legal profession or pursuing a career in politics. However, I am now on the road and there is no turning back, but I have had a good innings.
I thank everyone from all sides of the House, including Independent Senators, for the camaraderie I have experienced here. By and large, party politics are left aside when we are in the House. That is very important. The Seanad is different from the other House. If there are issues to be dealt with, we try to deal with them and leave the veil of political parties outside the Chamber. I understand the Cathaoirleach's indulgence. This is like mass on Holy Saturday, probably one of the longest masses of the year. This Order of Business has been extremely long, but it is probably the last in this Seanad.
Members have referred to Senator Diarmuid Wilson. We are supposed to have a Whip on this side of the House, but, unfortunately, he does not have a whip. He has a fur or sheep-skinned whip because he does not lash too hard with it. This should be recognised, but he deals effectively with business and that is what is important.
I wish all of my colleagues luck, whether they are running for the Dáil or the Seanad. There are a few tough months ahead of us and there will be winners and losers. There will be the vanquished and the victors. Sometimes, in politics this is a hard pill to swallow and I have swallowed it many a time. I hope on the road ahead it will be a little sweeter.
There I was thinking we would have a very brief Order of Business this morning, but it is only right and fitting that we reminisce and reflect on the five year period of this Seanad. Looking back, there have been five referenda and a presidential election, while quite a volume of legislation has passed through the House. The five important referenda included the children's rights referendum, as well as the marriage equality referendum. We also had a referendum on whether the second House of the Oireachtas should continue. In their wisdom, the people decided to retain it. Naturally, I think they made a very good decision. There were two other referenda on judges' pay and Oireachtas inquiries, an issue which may be revisited.
I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach. They are important people in keeping the House running in a seaman-like manner. I mention running the House in a seaman-like manner as I see a gentleman in the Visitors Gallery, Mr. Enda O'Coineen, who travelled around the world on his own. The Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach did a wonderful job in steering the ship through what at times were stormy waters, for which I pay tribute to them.
I also pay tribute to Deirdre and all of the staff in the Seanad office, as well as all other staff in the Oireachtas, including the ushers and stenographers. I pay tribute to my own staff, Orla, Frankie and Jason, who also stepped in.
We have worked here as a team during the five years and our strong point has always been the scrutiny of legislation. This is something the House does very well and I hope it will continue to do so. This something that has been commented on by Ministers from all sides, past and present. We have not guillotined debates on too much legislation in this House in the past five years, which is the way it should be. It is only in circumstances where emergency legislation is being dealt with where debates should be guillotined. I recollect on one occasion a certain Minister insisting on the debate on legislation being guillotined and suggesting that the Taoiseach would be rung to make me guillotine the debate. I told the said person that if he rang the Pope, it would not be guillotined and it was not. Its role in the scrutiny of legislation has been the most important aspect of this House.
I pay tribute to colleagues who are retiring. I did so yesterday in the case of Senator Feargal Quinn. That he has introduced almost 17 Bills in the period he has been in the House bears testimony to the amount of work he has done and the esteem in which he is held by all colleagues on all sides. Likewise, Senator Jim Walsh has also been in the Seanad for quite some time and I wish him well in his retirement. We have had many differences, but we have agreed on several occasions, too, on which I compliment. As Senator Paschal Mooney said, he came here as a Fianna Fáil Senator and it is only fitting that he leave as a Fianna Fáil Senator.
Other colleagues who have announced they are retiring include Senator Fiach Mac Conghail who has been a wonderful advocate for the arts. I agree with him that the issue of arts funding will have to be examined by the new Government.
Senator John Crown has also been a wonderful Member of the House. He was insightful and on many occasions his knowledge was very important when considering Bills dealing with health matters. We will certainly miss his expertise.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien has indicated today that she will not be standing again. She contributed to debates on many Bills. She certainly displayed her expertise last week when dealing with the horse racing Bill. Her in-depth knowledge of the industry surprised many.
I wish all Members who are retiring and all those who will contesting elections, be it the general election or the Seanad election, every success. It has been an honour to be Leader of the House for the past five years, but I could not have done it without the help and co-operation of each and every Member. I thank all Members for their assistance.
Mr. Enda O'Coineen is most welcome to the Visitors Gallery. There will be many Enda O'Coineens in the next few months, although it is only around Ireland they will be travelling. I wish them well.
I thank the Leader for the way he has conducted the business of the House in the past five years. I also thank the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Darragh O'Brien; the father of the House, Senator David Norris, as well as the Government and Opposition Whips and various group leaders. It has been a great honour and privilege to serve as Cathaoirleach for the past five years. I am one of the few to come into the House who has not stood and never intended to stand for election to the other House.
I have been fully committed at all stages to this House. I believe in the Second Chamber and was delighted when the people made the right decision a number of years ago.
Some Members are retiring. I have been in the House with Senator Feargal Quinn for 23 years and it has been a great honour to serve with him. He has been a very strong and well respected voice in this House. When he spoke, people listened to what he had to say.Senator Walsh and I go back quite a long time. I knew him before I came into this House through the Local Authority Members Association and the local authority system. He has been a public representative since 1974, so it will be quite a change for him when he leaves public life. I wish him well in his retirement.
All of the Taoiseach's nominees were an inspiration to this House, and all are present bar one or two who may be standing for the Dáil. It was great to hear different voices to those from the parliamentary parties and political parties. I believe it was inspirational for the Taoiseach to nominate people such as Senators Mary Ann O'Brien, John Crown, Jillian van Turnhout, Marie-Louise O'Donnell, Fiach Mac Conghail and Katherine Zappone.
This was a different Seanad to all the others I have been a Member of. We had Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, Sinn Féin, the Taoiseach's nominees, the university Senators, the other Independent Senators and, as it turned out, Renua. It was a very different Seanad to all of the others. I believe all of the legislation that went through this House was well scrutinised. That is what this House is about - scrutinising legislation - and that is what the people decided was best for the country.
I thank the Clerk, Deirdre Lane, the Clerk Assistant, Martin Groves, as well as Jody Blake, who was here for two and a half years of this Seanad. I also thank Jason, Keishia, Ronan, Niamh and Aisling, the secretary to the Cathaoirleach, who regulates the Chair. They have done a wonderful job over what was a difficult five-year period in that the Government did not always have the majority, amendments were brought in late and so forth. I compliment the staff. It was a great honour to work with them and to see how it works from the other side.
As Senator Wilson pointed out, there are three other Members who started out with us, Martin McAleese, Deirdre Clune and Jimmy Harte, two of whom retired and one who went to Europe. I wish the three of them well, Jimmy Harte in particular.
By and large, this was an excellent Seanad. When I look around, I see quite a number of Members who will not be back. It will be a changed Seanad, just as this Seanad was much changed from the previous one. I want to wish anyone who is standing for the Dáil the very best of luck and the same goes for all Members who are standing for the next Seanad election. While this may not be our last meeting, we may not get the opportunity to say this again. I wish them all the best of luck.
In a glaring omission, I forgot to thank the Deputy Leader, Senator Ivana Bacik, who has been such a wonderful stalwart over the past five years. I also wish to thank the other people who make the place tick, the Whips, Senators Paul Coghlan, Aideen Hayden and Diarmuid Wilson. Most of our people, when they come to the House, would say: "I must get on to Diarmuid for a pair", and I would have to say, "We have a Government Whip, you know." I did not know who was the Government Whip for a long time. I thank the Whips, as that was another glaring omission on my part.
I want to be associated with the thanks to Senator Ivana Bacik, who did an excellent job when the Leader was not present. This House is not run by any one person. It takes everyone here to contribute to the running of the House. I would also take the opportunity to compliment those from the House who have served on the commission, as well as the Ceann Comhairle, who deserves congratulations in that regard. The commission runs the Houses of the Oireachtas and there are over 1,200 people here, between Members, staff, ushers and so on. It is a huge organisation, when we think of it. The Ceann Comhairle did a wonderful job in chairing those meetings and running the Houses, and I thank him for that. I want to wish everybody well in the future.
Senator John Kelly has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 11 be taken before No. 1." Is the Leader willing to accept the amendment?