Tuesday, 21 January 2020
Business of Seanad: Motion
That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, and having regard to the dissolution of Dáil Éireann on 14th January, 2020, Standing Orders 16, 29 and 30 shall stand suspended in respect of the sitting of Seanad Éireann on Tuesday, 21st January, 2020.
I welcome the Members. As I am not contesting the election, I take this opportunity to thank the multitude of people who have supported, advised, encouraged and canvassed for me over the last 14 years. It has been a privilege to serve my constituents since I entered the Dáil in 2007. With this privilege comes responsibility, whereby one puts one's life on hold. Every Member, regardless of party, has done that. We are all here to serve rather than be served, and sometimes it is for 24 hours per day. That commitment requires the support of an army of people around us including our staff - I compliment my staff, Ruth and Conor, and all the people who worked for me over the years - and family. That support has been there at all times.
I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, and all the Seanad staff for their courtesy and guidance when supporting me in the performance of my duties, whatever they may have been. It was above and beyond the call of duty over the years. I wish colleagues in my party and colleagues in this House, irrespective of party, well in the forthcoming elections to the Lower House and to this House. Politicians in all parties give an enormous commitment. We seldom agree on policies, procedures or whatever is at issue, but for as long as I have been involved and for as long as I will be watching from outside I always admire those who put their name on a ballot paper. I wish everybody well in their future careers, be it inside or outside politics.
I am speaking on behalf of Fianna Fáil and Senators Wilson and Davitt. This occasion arrived a little more quickly than some Members might have expected last December when it was proposed that the House would sit again today. I happened to be in the Chair at the time. Some of us might have hoped to reach April or May, but it is what it is. Some 23 Members of this House are running for election to the Lower House and many of the other Members, myself included, will be running for election to this House. My message to everybody present is that they try not to forget me somewhere on the ballot paper before they are finished.
I now seek forgiveness rather than permission. Only one candidate in the election to the Lower House is present, Senator Conway-Walsh. Fair play to her for turning up. I wish the best to all my colleagues from all parties who are seeking election to the Lower House, including Senators Ardagh, Clifford-Lee, Murnane O'Connor and Gallagher from my party, and to all people who put their names forward. When I was elected to this House in April 2016 - we finally took our seats in June that year - not many people would have predicted that the Seanad would survive this long. It is great that we have. Much good legislation has gone through this House and, indeed, some bad legislation was prevented from getting through this House and certainly through both Houses before the Lower House was dissolved last week.
I pay tribute to the Clerk of the Seanad, Mr. Martin Groves, and his team, to his predecessor, Ms Deirdre Lane, and to the staff of the Seanad office as well as to Fiona, my office staff and all my friends and family who have helped me to get this far.I hope to be back the next time, but that is for another day. I would like to wish those who are not standing again every success in their future lives, whatever they choose to do.
It is a day of new beginnings, departures and farewells. Some people will be packing up by choice while others may be packing up but hoping to come back. Whatever road they take, I want to wish them well and every success.
I want to thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for your work over the last few years and the way you have conducted this Seanad. It is exemplary and shows your parliamentary experience and I want to acknowledge your work. I want to thank the Leader and the Deputy Leader, who cannot be here today as they are involved in the election. I particularly want to thank Orla Murray, who supports them and the staff who run this House and put together the Order Papers and all the documents that go with it.
I want to thank the Clerk of the Seanad, Martin Groves. His calm, sure and steady hand on the proceedings of this House is never in doubt. I want to thank Ms Bridget Doody, and all the staff and background staff. I particularly want to thank the parliamentary reporters, the sound technicians and all the back-up team. I particularly want to thank the Captain of the Guard and the ushers who play an exceptional role in the conduct and the swift and professional running of this House. I do not want to forget the caterers, the gardeners and all the other staff who feed and manage us in this place because that it is really important.
I want to acknowledge the work of Peter Finnegan and the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission and how it runs this House. It is not always an easy task, and there have been many controversies and setbacks, particularly in the last year, in relation to the conduct of Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas. They have had to take much flack on behalf of a lot of people, and they are in many cases, the unsung heroes of the constant Civil Service who keep this institution and establishment going. It is important that they are acknowledged here today.
When I came in here today, I tried to summarise for myself what we did here in the last few years. The best thing I did, because I can only speak for myself, related to the power of soft power and what soft power means. As Senators we have an opportunity to shine a light in many dark places, to bring many issues to the table of these Houses of the Oireachtas, to negotiate and mediate and share our concerns with Government Ministers who we meet on the corridors and with Dáil Deputies with whom we have an opportunity to meet. That is really important. I particularly want to acknowledge the importance of the joint committees and the power and influence we can have within these committees. If I was to leave here today, and never come back, the greatest contribution I made was through the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, of which I was a member. I found it fulfilling. I was happy there, I was valued there, and I believe, like all its members, we made a contribution. I want to acknowledge and thank the three Ministers responsible for that Department who actively negotiated and kept in touch. They are, of course, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy; the Minister of State, Deputy English; and the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan. They were active in their work on that committee and it is important that we acknowledge them.
I think we all accept that there are limitations on the Seanad, but we had the possibility and the opportunity to bring a soft power, and to bring our unique experiences and our diversity to the deliberations of this House. We all played a role based on our experience, and that has to be acknowledged.
I want to thank the press. We get a lot of bad press, but the press have a job to do and a story to tell. They, too, have to shine a light on many a shady space and many a dark corner and, on the whole, they have served the Oireachtas well.
I want to thank the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, which is one of the greatest services in this House and which we perhaps underestimate. The team consists of a dedicated group of people who we often do not see, but whom we can call upon to provide independent, validated research and support for our work as Oireachtas Members. I could not let the opportunity go without particularly thanking them for the enormous support that they give each and every one of us.
To those who seek re-election to this House, I wish them well. I will be one of them. For those who are retiring, I wish them well and I hope they will stay in contact. More importantly, may we support and encourage younger people and new people to come into both Houses of the Oireachtas.This is a noble profession. It may be a difficult one from time to time, but let us be advocates for Parliament, politicians and lawmakers, and let us support people in our communities into the future to come and take seats in both Houses of the Oireachtas.
I thank the Independent councillors that I have had the pleasure of leading for the past few years. We are very different and diverse but we have used our talents to the best of our ability. We have made an impact, as has the other Independent group in this House. The contribution that group has made has been exceptional. One of the great things about this House is that not only political party members but also Independents can be elected to serve, be valued and make a contribution. I am confident as I stand here today that there will be many new Independent Senators, as well as some old ones, in this House making contributions into the future.
I am honoured to stand here today as a retiring Member of the Oireachtas, having served for 13 years at various levels and, prior to that, for seven years at local council level. Every public representative here knows that it is an honour to serve the public in any capacity and I have had that honour and privilege for more than 20 years. I have had the honour of being a councillor, Senator, Deputy and Minister of State and have sat on both sides of the Chamber, in opposition and in government. We are all very fortunate and privileged to be Members of this House and, for some of us, former Members of the Lower House. We celebrated the centenary of the first Dáil in 2019, which afforded us all the opportunity to reflect on and appreciate the fully functioning democracy that we enjoy and to remember those who made life sacrifices to build democracy in Ireland. I will certainly always cherish that. I will also cherish the great colleagues I have had in this and the other House, from all parties and none. Despite our political differences, we are all here to serve our communities and our people. We are passionate about that, and while we may differ on policies and politics, we are all here for the right reasons.
I acknowledge and wish well those colleagues who are standing for election to the Dáil or to the Seanad in the coming weeks and months. I wish my retiring colleagues the very best. I hope we will continue to meet and enjoy the pleasure of each other's company because, at the end of the day, when politics is done and dusted and the fight is over, it is important that we retain our friendships. I wish everyone well and want to put on the record my thanks to the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas and to the Cathaoirleach for his engagement with us over recent years. I thank the ushers and other staff of the House who make us welcome here. This is especially important for those of us who do not reside at home when the Seanad and Dáil are sitting. We must remind people that some of us stay away from our families for two or three nights per week when the Houses of the Oireachtas are sitting and our family on those days is the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas, including the ushers and others who make our lives a little bit easier. I wish everyone well in the coming weeks and months and thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me the time to put my thoughts on the record.
I know. This is where all of the intellectual debates happen. I thank the Cathaoirleach for the manner in which he has presided over this House since I was elected to it in 2016. He has run it in an exemplary way. I also thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Coghlan. It is not just because my mother is from Kerry that I am saying thanks to him. His kindness and direction, no more than the Cathaoirleach's, needs to be acknowledged on a day like today as well as on many other tough days in the past. I will always remember when Martin McGuinness passed away the kindness shown to us by Senator Coghlan over that period.
I thank all Seanadóirí.We come from different persuasions and we have different ideas about things but we have all worked together in a respectful manner. We do not always have to agree on everything. In fact, sometimes we get the best results when people do not agree on things. I even found myself agreeing with Senator McDowell on occasion. That really worried me but I have got over it.
That is true. I thank Mr. Martin Groves, Ms Bridget Doody and all of the team, including the ushers and everybody involved with the Seanad, for the contributions they make and for the way they do their business. In his absence, I thank the Leader, Senator Buttimer, and Ms Orla Murray for the fair manner in which they run things. We have had many a spat but we have not fallen out so far.
I thank my team. I have had the pleasure of leading the Sinn Féin team in the Seanad. There has been great diversity, consensus and debates among the group. It has really been a pleasure. I really want to acknowledge that. I thank the Senators. It is the easiest team I have ever led in my working life. To refer to Senator Ó Donnghaile, I want to say how important it is to have a voice from the North. Together with Senator Marshall, voices from all communities in the North are represented and that must be brought forward to the next Seanad. It has added a richness to the House and has educated us, encouraged a society inclusive of all, and has helped to shape the type of island in which we all want to live.
I also acknowledge Senator Lawless in respect of the work he has done with the diaspora. Irish citizens are Irish citizens. It does not matter whether they live in the North, the South, the east, the west, Chicago or anywhere else in the world; it is important we bring their issues to this House. These three Senators in particular have brought the voices of these citizens to the House and that is very necessary for us in doing our work.
We did not get to carry out the Seanad reforms we had hoped to. We hope to see work continue in that respect. My colleagues will talk a bit about that. It has, however, been a privilege and an honour to serve in this House. I have sought to make this House count for the ordinary decent people, particularly those living in rural Ireland. I have sought at all times to put rural Ireland front and centre in Seanad Éireann. I hope I have done that in some small way because it does matter.
One of the two things out of which I have got most satisfaction was the Domestic Violence Act 2018 on which we all worked together, particularly the Seanadóirí and women to my right. I will not name them because they know who they are and I would definitely leave somebody out. That was a really good achievement. I see it playing out on the ground, particularly with regard to coercive control. It matters. It makes a difference, it has made a difference, and it will continue to make a difference once the resources are in place to underpin the legislation we brought through. I acknowledge the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, who worked with us; Women's Aid; Safe Ireland; and all of the other organisations.
The other major legislation which passed through the Dáil and then this House was the Consumer Insurance Contracts Act 2019, which I led through the Seanad. It is very important in order to put money back in people's pockets and to address the absolute crisis in the area of insurance.
I wish all candidates from all parties well. I know what it is like to be a candidate in this election; I know how tough it is. I made a point of being here today out of respect for the House. I could be knocking on doors in Mayo but I know that Mayo people will understand that this House also deals with their issues.
Not yet. I will end my contribution by mentioning the importance of voting, regardless of how people choose to vote. At lunchtime, Geraldine, whom I acknowledge, said to me that, if one votes, one gets the representatives one wants, and if one does not, one gets the representatives one deserves.It is awfully important for people to vote. I would like this House to look at how it can make it easier for people to vote. We are asking people to go to council offices and Garda stations before going back to council offices. It just does not work. Perhaps those who are Members of this House in the future could work together to ensure people do not have to jump through hoops to vote in future elections. I encourage everybody to come out and vote.
It is hard not to be moved as I listen to all the speeches. I never expected to be here. One day in May 2016, I got an unexpected phone call from Deputy Micheál Martin. I was expecting it to be about issues with a day service in Cork or something like that. He asked me whether I was willing to allow my name to be put forward to the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, for nomination to the Seanad. He told me that I had an hour to decide and that I should not tell anyone, but I told my husband before responding by accepting this incredible gift. I am grateful that I did. My name was announced as a Taoiseach's nominee the following day. When members of my family heard about it on a bus as they made their way to a Bruce Springsteen concert, they could not believe their ears. My phone began to ring and people started to ask me what I intended to do as a Senator. As I had neither sought nor expected the honour of being nominated to the Seanad, I had no manifesto and no plans. I was not prepared at all. I entered the Seanad with my life experience and my values to guide me. I recall meeting Senator Diarmuid Wilson; the Cathaoirleach, Senator Denis O'Donovan; Senator Ned O'Sullivan and a few others. Noel Murphy was appointed to mind me. With that good start, I tried my best to make the most of the incredible opportunity that had been given to me.
I would like to thank many people. I thank the Captain of the Guard and the ushers for their great kindness and their immense patience with me. I always seemed to be breaking rules that I did not know existed until I came across them. They were very good to me throughout. I thank all the cheery catering staff, including Margaret in the coffee dock. I thank the early morning cleaners who tried to tidy my messy office. I thank the staff of the Oireachtas, including Anita in the Joint Committee on Public Petitions and Aileen in the Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community. I thank the staff of the one stop shop, Library and Research Service and Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisers. I thank the Ceann Comhairle and his staff. I thank the Leader and the staff of the Seanad Office, including Martin, Bridget and all the others. I thank the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach and my fellow Seanadóirí, including the members of the wonderful Civil Engagement group. I thank all of the staff, including Aengus, Seb, Aisling, Conor, Emma, Doreen, Oisín, Janet, Ciara, Nem, Sinéad and Ed, who is now in Brussels with Grace O'Sullivan MEP. I thank my own little team, including Hannah Twomey and her predecessors, Ben Meany, Oein De Bhairdúin and Pádraig Rice. I thank Jennifer, Sarah and Fiadha, who helped with projects. I thank Ministers, civil servants, political parties, staff and advisers.
I would like to thank the many civil society organisations I have worked with and through, including AsIAm, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, the Irish Dementia Working Group, the Abortion Rights Campaign, the Adoption Rights Alliance, the Cork Simon Community, the Cork Traveller Visibility Group, Safeguarding Ireland, Sage Advocacy, Safe Ireland, the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, Together for Yes, Women's Health in Ireland, the National Women's Council of Ireland, the Irish Traveller Movement and all the Traveller NGOs, the Irish Refugee Council, the Irish Family Planning Association, Independent Living Movement Ireland, Nasc, Oxfam Ireland and the Public Interest Law Alliance. I know I have forgotten some of the organisations in question. I have been helped along the way by many academics and practitioners, including Dr. Cathy Burke and Dr. Mary Favier, and by inspirational activists such as Graham Manning and the teachers and pupils of Largy College in Monaghan.
I thank my family and friends for their moral support. It strikes me as I reflect on the past four years that we always worked together to do some good. Senator Conway-Walsh spoke about the work we did in the area of domestic violence. The passing of the Domestic Violence Act 2018 was an amazing moment. It is an example of the lasting change of which we can all be proud. Last Saturday, I went to see a film called "A Hidden Life". If there has been a thread running through what I have been doing in this Chamber, it has been a recognition that hidden lives and the private troubles that go with them are public issues. I owe that insight to C. Wright Mills. I have worked with many others to shine some light on the hidden lives of people who experience adult abuse and the private troubles of children and young people who encounter difficulties because they are gay.We have made some progress in the public sphere on issues like dementia, home care, disability, the difficulties faced by children with autism, children living in homelessness, drug reform which was spearheaded by Senator Ruane, matters relating to refugees and the difficulties faced by some reuniting with families, Travellers' rights, and women's health, including abortion care, contraceptive care, and dealing with gynaecology waiting lists at a local level. I will be relying on all Members to carry on the work because I am not standing. The family reunification Bill is in the Dáil and I hope it see its way all the way through. It is nearly there. The work has been done, so I ask Members to please take it up.
The Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018 passed all Stages here. The former Minister made promises. Members should make sure that the incoming Minister is reminded of those promises and that this important Bill is passed. Adult safeguarding is in the safe hands of Ms Justice Mary Laffoy. It could not be in safer hands, but it will need advocates and champions to make sure that it does not slide down the agenda.
There are Oireachtas groups that I want people to champion. These include the all-party group on dementia where Deputy Butler, Senators Devine and Humphreys and I worked so hard together. I mention also the women's caucus group, the Oireachtas Traveller group, the Oireachtas disability group which I suggested to Senator Dolan and which I left to him, the group on drugs policy, and the sexual reproductive rights group. I wish those standing luck in the gruelling days ahead as they stand before the electorate for this House and the other House. If like me people are not standing, I wish them good wishes in wherever else they find themselves next. I know the friendships made will endure and that our paths will cross again.
I have been very bad at the auld Irish here, but this is my chance. Moll an obair atá déanta agus an obair atá le déanamh. Go n-eirí an bóthar leis na Seanadóirí uilig.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. I wish to start where he left off in his remarks. I want to thank him for the pleasure of working with him and the guidance and leadership he has given the Seanad over the last few years. As the Cathaoirleach said, he and I do go back a long time. We began here, I think, together, and hopefully we are not finished here yet. It has been a pleasure to work with him and he is accepted across this House as an exemplary Chair, and a man of personal integrity. In that regard I would echo the kind words to my colleague, the Leas-Cathaoirleach. He is a man of no small account and has done a good job too.
The main purpose of any of us standing up, certainly in my case, is to wish colleagues well whatever their destiny. Whether they intend to fight to come back here or they intend, as in the case of Senator Conway-Walsh, to run for the Dáil, or whatever their destiny or career, like my good friends who intend to take other paths in life, I wish them all great fortune in their pursuits. If they bring the same idealism, capacity and integrity to the roles that they take up in the future, and no doubt they will, they will enhance those roles and those situations greatly, as they have done this one.
The Seanad has been very much a part of my life down the years. I have either sought to be here and failed, or I have been here for a number of terms. It is something that I cherish and is very important to me.
I want to echo the remarks to the staff here who are exemplary people. We are blessed in Ireland in this regard. I know it merits repetition but when I am abroad I often say our diplomatic service does an exemplary job for this country. We have an exemplary Civil Service, which is non-partisan. It is a continuous force for good in our country, is available to all of us and works in a very real way, which is good.
A remark made earlier merits repetition. I have had the privilege of serving on Cavan County Council, and indeed being cathaoirleach of it for a term.I have had the privilege of serving here and in Dáil Éireann, and I have to say that the vast majority of people I have served with, of all parties and none, are in politics for the right reasons, are in it to do good for others, are in it to improve the lives of people around them, and they do that very successfully through genuine effort. I would have difficulty counting on one hand the people whom I ever come across who were any different. I want to acknowledge that fact. It is something that we should be proud of collectively and individually, and whatever nuances on policy and personality differences exist, they are differences of style, operation, direction or ideology, but there is no difference in a willingness and a desire to do good. There is a camaraderie and a community in Leinster House. It is a very friendly environment, and in that regard, it is right that we pay tribute today to all the ushers and auxiliary staff and to everybody in Leinster House who contribute to making it a warm, pleasant community.
On a personal note, and it is a little bit of a distraction or on a slight tangent from the normal pattern of these kinds of speeches, I thank my own county colleague, Senator Diarmuid Wilson, for his eternal good humour and banter. Self-deprecatory humour, banter and a capacity to take ourselves in context and have a sense of humour about ourselves is very important in our work. Senator Wilson has that in abundance, and I find it a joy to work with him at home and here. He does a lot for his community, and in fact he underestimates the degree to which he is a great ambassador for his county. I am also inspired by my great friend and exemplary, one of our national treasures and a person of great integrity and quality. Senator O'Mahony made the point that with the privilege of being here comes the responsibility to do good. That is a responsibility we take seriously, but it is a responsibility I exhort everyone who is re-elected to go on taking seriously. It is a huge privilege that we have a democracy. It is a huge privilege to be selected within that democracy to lead and to be a member of a parliament, and with that privilege, we have a duty to be honest, we have a duty to be exemplary in the way we seek to do our business, we have a duty to give proper leadership, and we have a duty to lead our communities and to avoid populism for the sake of the common good. We must be capable of avoiding the lowest common denominator on populism.
I wish everybody well, and let us hope wherever we end up, whatever our destiny, that we will go on doing good and being relevant to others. Finally, I would like to have it on the record, because I would like my family to read this, that I am blessed to have the support of my wife and three sons and extended family. Similarly with everyone here, without our families, we could not do what we do. They are the unsung heroes of what we do, and we should recognise that, appreciate their role and the sacrifices they make to keep democracy working.
We do indeed. Go raibh maith agat, Cathaoirleach. I am delighted to speak on behalf of the Seanad Technical Group as the group leader on behalf of myself, Senator David Norris, and my Labour Party colleagues, Senators Kevin Humphreys, Gerald Nash and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. I wish them the very best of luck in the general election, along with other Senators who are running, of course, and along with all of the Labour candidates in particular. We have 32 candidates running in the general election. This is an historic day, not just for us here in the Seanad, but also because 101 years ago today at 3:30 p.m., on 21 January 1919, the First Dáil Éireann sat in the Mansion House. It is worth reflecting on that historic anniversary and on the privilege and the honour it is for all of us to be here as elected Members or, indeed, nominated Members of Seanad Éireann.I, for one, will never forget that and I know others will not forget it either.
I pay tribute to all the colleagues who are stepping down and will not be running for the Seanad again. It was a pleasure to work with them all. I also wish the best of luck to those of us who are running again for this House. I will run again on the Trinity College panel, as will Senators Norris and Ruane. I am aware that many others will also run again on the NUI panel and the other panels. I wish them luck in that.
It has been my privilege to serve three Seanad terms. This has been a strong Seanad, which has had some notable achievements. I was very proud to have proposed some Private Members' Bills that have become law in the lifetime of this Seanad, notably the Competition (Amendment) Act 2017, which gives collective bargaining rights to freelance workers; a Bill to ensure pension equality for LGBT couples; and the gender pay gap legislation, which I would like to see passed. There is much unfinished business to be done, as Senator Kelleher pointed out, not only on the gender pay gap but also on other issues. These include Senator Black's Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill, which we would all like to see passed, and Seanad reform, an area on which Senator Conway-Walsh and others have worked. We have had real achievements with legislation on domestic violence, sex offences, parental leave and several other fronts. It has been a hardworking and effective Seanad. Personally, I am especially proud of the role I played in the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment, which passed in May 2018, and in helping to steer through this House the legislation to provide for abortion services in Ireland. I was also very proud to serve as chair of the Vótáil 100 programme committee which ran a series of events in 2018 to commemorate the centenary of women's suffrage in Ireland. It was a real pleasure to work with Oireachtas staff, including staff in the communications unit, ushers and many others.
I express sincere thanks to the Cathaoirleach and his team, Martin Groves, Bridget Doody, Aisling Hart, as well as the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I thank all the Oireachtas staff, including Orla Murray in the Leader's office who has been such a help and support to all of us. I also thank Ms Ursula Ní Choill in my office who has worked so hard with me over the past four years. It has been a real pleasure to work with her.
I wish all Members the best in their future careers, be it here in the Seanad - and I hope to work with many of them again in this House - or be it in other areas of life. Go raibh maith agaibh go léir agus go n-éirí an t-ádh libh.
I echo what all the previous speakers said. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his dignified wisdom. This was my first time working in a situation like this and I was most impressed. I also thank Senator Paul Coghlan in his role as the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I pay special tribute to Martin Groves and Bridget Doody. They know that I would not be here today without them. I would have been totally lost. I have worn a path to their office.
As Senator Bacik said, today is an historic day - certainly for me - as it is the last day the Seanad will sit. On the way here, I thought about the hundreds of desperate families who have reached out to me during this time seeking support and advice or just that I lend them an ear and listen to their problems about accessing mental health services, especially for children. These families are the reason I started Pieta House and entered political life.
I would not be here today were it not for Deputy Micheál Martin who nominated me. I sincerely thank him. It has been a great honour and privilege to work in the Seanad for my country and with the Government. While I am thanking people, I also thank my colleagues in the Seanad, especially my fellow Independent Senators who have been led very well by Senator Victor Boyhan. They have shown me incredible kindness and, in particular, patience because I have asked them the most ridiculous things at times when I did not know what I was talking about. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has been a staunch support to me over the years.
It is hard to believe that we have been here for years. It seems only months that we have been here. I thank all of my colleagues. I have been struck by their hard work and dedication. I have seen a side of politicians that I had not seen before, simply by being here among them.I never thought I would be a politician and I am sure many people would say I am still not a politician but I want to briefly acknowledge what being on the other side has done for me during the last three and a half years. I have always been fighting the Government and giving out about the HSE and politicians. When I came over to the other side, I saw the hard work and dedication these men and women have put in for their country.
I am proud of what I have achieved in the last three and a half years. I introduced the Children's Digital Protection Bill 2018 to safeguard vulnerable children, and I hope to God it will be carried through in the Dáil. Before that, I introduced the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2016, which aimed to protect those most at risk, namely, the children of our nation. I am proud both of these Bills passed through the Seanad and I trust and hope the Government will recognise their importance and continue to push these issues. I initiated the first public consultation day on mental health in the Oireachtas in the history of the State and I am grateful to the experts who came in that day and to the parents who were petrified to come in here and talk in public. I chaired the first Oireachtas Committee on Future of Mental Health Care and I thank my colleagues on that committee and the incredible staff who assisted us. I can only trust that the next Government will implement the carefully thought through recommendations of our final report. I acknowledge my assistant, Claire Chambers, who held my hand every day I was here, Samantha Long and Anita Finucane. If I had three hands, they held those three hands.
I have been fighting for mental health support in this country for most of my adult life and I am not finished yet. The honour of serving in the Seanad has only strengthened my resolve and clarified to me the need to keep on fighting. I am fighting for the desperate and broken families that reach out for help, especially those that suffer in silence. I want to ask all Members, whatever position they find themselves at the commencement of the next Seanad, to join me in this fight.
I am pleased to have an opportunity on a day such as this to make a few remarks, to show appreciation and to make one or two points. Much correct and worthy appreciation and thanks have been expressed by other Senators to colleagues here and in the other House and to staff, etc., so I will not go through that in any detail. Many people with disabilities and other marginalised groups, whom it has been my honour to bring into this House in the last term, have particularly noted the welcome and support they have got from staff and from Members of both Houses. That is important. Both of these Houses are for the people of Ireland. It is valuable to be able to bring people and groups into committees to be listened to. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was unanimously ratified by the Dáil two years ago on foot of a motion from the Government. I very much appreciated that and it was a major step forward.
I will make a few points about that in a minute or two but the work Senator Kelleher has mentioned about the Oireachtas disability group is related to that. I have had the honour of chairing it and former Deputy Ó Caoláin has been a great partner as the leas-chathaoirleach. I want to particularly pay tribute to him and to his work, which is not just tied to what he has done as a member of a party. His heart and soul has been in that for all of his life. In that regard, I send him my condolences and that of the Oireachtas disability group organisation and membership on the death of his beloved brother, Dermot, before Christmas.My colleagues in the Civil Engagement group would certainly share that sentiment.
The organisations involved with the Oireachtas disability group include: Disability Federation of Ireland, a not-for-profit association; Inclusion Ireland; Independent Living Movement Ireland; and the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies. They have played an important part. The Seanad will see in the coming weeks the tenor and results of the work done collaboratively and cohesively.
Senator O'Reilly spoke effectively and memorably about family. I am eternally grateful for the compromises made by and the support and understanding of those who are close to me, especially my wife, Liz, and my daughter, Ruth, as well as many others.
Senator Victor Boyhan made a strong reference to councillors. My eyes were opened when I met councillors. I grew up with the "Hall's Pictorial Weekly" caricature of councillors. These people may be homely and local and have particular accents and a way of expressing themselves in doing their work, but they are the bedrock of democracy at local level. I am concerned that their role is not supported as best as it could be. In parallel with councillors, we should, as Senator Freeman and others stated, keep in mind all of the organisations - including local and national groups in the various areas of civic participation - that are equally a part of our democratic process. That aspect needs to be better understood.
I am most thankful for the support I received from the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers, OPLA, in producing my Community Participation (Disability) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. OPLA provides an excellent example of the type of service that can be provided to Members of both Houses, regardless of their parties or backgrounds. I perish the thought when I consider how things were done before such a service existed.
The State, the Dáil and the Government have unanimously stated that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is to be implemented. That puts it in a different place. It is not a case of whether we should proceed, but how we should do so. It is a technical issue now. I wish to make a number of very particular points about how to make progress. Since the convention takes the form of an international treaty that we have taken on board and due to the fact that this is both a national issue and an issue for every household - hopefully not every day but there is no escaping that someday it will be - it has to be afforded the same priority that has been afforded to other issues. When we came in here, housing and health were the issues. Northern Ireland and Brexit quickly followed. Thankfully, Northern Ireland is getting back to itself with the regeneration of the assembly. We still have Brexit to deal with and we have finally come to taking climate change seriously. Disability and all the issues relating to it must be considered as being in the first division of priorities for the State. Dá bhrí sin, the Taoiseach and his Department need to provide leadership. A Minister of State with responsibility in this area should be attached to that Department. An Oireachtas committee designed to deal with the related interlocking and interdepartmental issues should be set up. If we do not take these or similar steps, we will waste energy and resources in trying to resolve the problem.
Let me explain the point. I have spent 40 years of my adult life working in the area of disability. I had some understanding of the matter before then. There is a growing crisis in this area.Yes, there has been further money put in but we are not keeping pace with the accelerated needs. People are living longer; we can diagnose and do lots of things. We are not winning the battle. We are making a few scores but we are not scoring more than the other side is. That is the key message I want to put across. There is poverty, isolation, lack of services and ultimately a lack of hope for people. That is not party political or a slag or anything like that. It is my assessment having been 40 years involved in this area and being the chief executive of a large umbrella body. Poverty rates for people with a disability have doubled since 2011. This is not my assessment. These are all footnoted and referenced. Only 22% of people with disabilities are at work compared with a figure of 61% for others. Disability services in the round, including mental health areas, are crumbling. There are mounting deficits in organisations of over €40 million. They are in the territory of trading recklessly. In respect of the 643,000 people, or 13.5% of the population, the National Disability Authority tells us that number will be 20% of the population in six years. A lot has to change in the way things are done and the amount of resources provided. It is between the ages of 18 and 65 that 85% of people acquire their disability. There are major issues. When I started my adult, working life I spent two years in a seminary. I have just spent four years in the Seanad coming to the other end of my life. I was only thinking about this the other day. The two places were in different ways formative for me.
These four years were my noviciate, we hope. The Cathaoirleach is making an interesting point. That was called a vocational experience but politics in a democracy is a vocation. We need to be skilled and professional but actually, at its deepest, it is a vocation. I clearly see that. I thank my Civil Engagement colleagues who were very tolerant towards me, not because of my gender, it was deeper than that. They were most helpful to me throughout the years and I owe them a lot for their support. I am looking forward to spending more time here. That is in the lap of the gods. I was upset and shocked at the death of Noel Whelan and, as we come into an election period, I feel it intensely and remember his analysis, his views, good humour and strong communication. I am happy to have the opportunity to serve and I hope I can serve in some way again.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach, all of the Seanad staff, Conor Stitt who served with me on level 6, and Tonie Walsh, an icon of mine who joined me this year in the office. It has been a great privilege to serve as the youngest Member of the Oireachtas. I think I have always been valued as equal to everyone else here. I thank colleagues for that and for their generosity. It has been an incredible privilege to advocate for the things that I love, for arts and culture and for the LGBT community. I am reflecting on what I found was one of the most productive periods of my time here, the Seanad reform implementation group. I pay tribute to my party colleague on that group, Senator Ó Donnghaile, and to Senators Higgins and McDowell.It was a productive period and I wish that the Taoiseach took the conclusion of that period more seriously. On that front, Members of the next Dáil and Seanad should put their heads together on Seanad reform. The people must begin to have their say. Senators must be directly elected and have the confidence of the people. The first part of the reform should involve lowering the voting age, followed by the abolition of Taoiseach's nominees. A maximum of ten seats for local councillors should be kept and there should be an absolute gender balance. Finally, as the general election campaign is under way, we should address what the Americans call campaign finance to ensure there is a limit on campaign spending.
I thank my partner Stephen, who has been by my side in political life. My experience has given me respect for those who travel from Belfast, the Glenties, Mayo and Cork and are unable to go home on weekday evenings. There have been some unexpected friendships built around political and personal issues and I thank everyone for that. I thank Senators for their generosity and for sharing their experience, knowledge and time.
I begin by thanking the Cathaoirleach for his fairness and great patience over many debates as I sought to use this incredible opportunity to serve in Seanad Éireann to the greatest extent possible. It has been an extraordinary opportunity and it is only passion that leads one to speak at length. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Martin, Bridget and all of the staff in the Seanad, Oireachtas and Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers, in particular, for their support on my public procurement Bill which we were due to debate next week but which, it is to be hoped, will have to wait for another term. I thank the Bills Office staff for their patience with what were, at times, the hundreds of amendments we tabled as we sought to tweak and improve every Bill in any way we could.
I thank the Leader, Senator Jerry Buttimer, who is not here today. I thank Orla Murray, who has been very good and fair in all of her engagements with all of us. I thank my staff, Janet Horner, Ciara Gaynor, Aengus Ó Maoláin, Nem Kearns and Sinéad Mercier, all of whom have worked in different ways and at different times to help make what we do possible. I thank Fiona Cashin and Anne-Marie Lynch, the clerks of the climate action and social protection committees.
I am extremely proud of what we have done in the Twenty-fifth Seanad. It has been remarkable and one of which we should all be aware. I often say when people-----
Senator Higgins, I rarely interrupt you but I have to go to an urgent commission meeting for five minutes. People are waiting for me. I will ask the very reliable Leas-Chathaoirleach to take over. I hope to be back in the Chamber to say goodbye in a few minutes.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. It is to be hoped I will have finished before he comes back. This Seanad has been remarkable in terms of what it has achieved. I look to all Members of the House when I say this. It has been a Seanad in which no group has had a majority. I often say it is a space in which, therefore, acts of persuasion have had to take place. We have each brought our ideas forward, but have had to engage with and talk to each other. Nobody, whether a Government, Opposition, Independent, Labour Party, Sinn Féin or other Senator, has been able to execute change without engaging with and persuading others. We have achieved change. The Seanad is not simply a space in which a light is shone and voices are raised, as has historically been the case for so many years on issues of equality, the environment, housing, human rights, health, peace, decent work, international solidarity and a rights-based approach.My colleagues in the Civil Engagement group have championed, in particular, on issues such as disability, Traveller rights, drug reform and migration. The Seanad is not simply a space to highlight and bring debates and to frame, often in a positive and constructive way together, the debates on those issues, it is also a space where real legislative work has happened. The Seanad has been an incredibly important instrument of legislation. We have had amendments passed. The Civil Engagement group has had more than 52 amendments passed. Collectively, we have passed amendments on very important legislation. We have challenged, interrogated, scrutinised and amended legislation on issues such as data protection and wildlife and heritage. As mentioned by Senator Conway Walsh, it was collective collaboration across this House that made coercive control an offence in terms of domestic violence, which we had been told was not possible but we made possible. That is a huge legacy of which we should be proud. In terms of Bills, in the previous Oireachtas four Private Members' Bills were brought forward and enacted. In this Oireachtas, ten Private Members' Bills, three of which came from the Seanad, were enacted and became part of the collective space of laws we make together as a State. To those who say policy is a complicated matter, in end it is the simplest thing in the world because it is a set of decisions about how we live together. It is about each of us bringing our best thinking and the voices and experiences of others in civil society and in our communities into the making of those decisions. We need Seanad reform so that more people can have a say in those debates and the legislative work that we do. It is great regret that given the mandate in 1979 - more than 40 years ago now - for the expansion of the university franchise and the huge mandate in 2013 for reform, we have not had Seanad reform, and it is not for the want of trying and effort on the part of people such as Senators McDowell, Warfield and Ó Donnghaile and former Senator Grace O'Sullivan. We have pressed for it. It must be delivered. People care about the work of the Seanad and they should have a voice in it.
I will conclude with some remarks in regard to the Civil Engagement group and our work. I am incredibly proud of the group, the members of which came together as newly elected Senators. Not one of us had served previously. We made an ambitious decision to try to do things a little bit differently and to try to work together as five Independents and one Green Party member. Each of us has brought different life experience but common passion in terms of civil society and the vision that we have for society. We have sought to support each other. I have learned immense amounts from my colleagues, including a philosophical perspective from Senator Dolan. I was proud to work with the former Senator, Grace O'Sullivan, on marine issues such as microbeads and on vacant sites and with Senator Kelleher on the issues affecting the most marginalised groups in society, including those seeking reunification, migrants and the Traveller groups. She has placed those issues at the centre, not just as matters that should not be forgotten but rather matters that must be recognised at the centre of a collective State and a State for all. Senator Ruane and I have so often backed and worked with each other on different issues. It has been brilliant to do the detective work on legislation with her from the point of view of who benefits, who is being served, could it serve better and what could happen that would make a change. Some of the little changes that we, collectively, have made to legislation will matter in the lived experience of people across Ireland.
I am thankful and proud to have had the opportunity to serve in this Seanad. I will run again on the NUI panel and I hope that I will be returned to this House. The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories Bill) is an international model now, which I hope will become law in the next Oireachtas but will happen in other parts of the world because legislatures internationally are looking to that model. I could list all of the Civil Engagement group Bills.They included the Community Participation (Disability) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2019, the Electoral (Civil Society Freedom) (Amendment) Bill 2019, the Public Authorities and Utility Undertakings (Contract Preparation and Award Criteria) Bill 2019, Senator Fintan Warfield's Prohibition of Conversion Therapies Bill 2018, the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018, the International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017, the Controlled Drugs and Harm Reduction Bill 2017, the Derelict and Vacant Sites Bill 2017, amendments to the Microbeads (Prohibition) Bill 2019, the Seanad Bill 2016, which we sponsored on our very first day in the Seanad and which aimed to deliver Seanad reform, and the Adult Safeguarding Bill 2017. There has been a huge amount of work. I hope we can take it forward, and if not, I hope that others in this Chamber will take it forward in the future. I would like to finish by thanking my staff again, my friends and my family for their love, wisdom and support. I thank my partner in life, Mr. Ken Dempsey. I have learned a lot from all of those mentioned. I hope I will get the opportunity to work with them again, either in this Chamber or in the wider process of social transformation in the decade ahead.
On this last sitting of the Twenty-fifth Seanad, I would like to say that it has been the greatest honour and privilege of my life to serve in Seanad Éireann for the past four years as Senator for the diaspora. During my time in the Seanad I have worked with the most enthusiastic and passionate group of people I have had the pleasure and honour to meet. I would like to start by thanking the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Cathaoirleach and the Leader of the Seanad, Senator Buttimer, for their leadership in the past four years. I pay tribute to Members from my own Seanad Independent group. I thank them for their friendship and guidance since I entered this House. We have worked very well on many issues over the course of the Seanad. I give very special thanks to my loyal assistant, Ms Tracy Young. She is one of the finest and most efficient people I have ever worked with.
One disappointment of this Seanad has been the failure to implement the excellent report of the Seanad reform implementation group, which includes my colleague Senator McDowell. Ireland needs to modernise and reform its electoral system and perhaps create a global panel in this House. I give sincere thanks to Mr. Martin Groves and all the staff of the Seanad Office for all their assistance in keeping it running like a well-oiled machine.
It was a privilege to serve on the all-party Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, which was ably chaired by Deputy Brendan Smith and assisted by Mr. Noel Murphy. As Senator for the diaspora one of my ambitions was to hold a national referendum on giving Irish citizens worldwide and in Northern Ireland the right to vote in presidential elections. Unfortunately, due to issues such as Brexit, by-elections and the current general election, the referendum did not happen. I hope it is included in all the parties' manifestos and is discussed as part of a Government programme in the future.
I take this opportunity to thank the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, for their committed support for this referendum and for the global Irish. I am sure that whatever Government is in place following the general election will not forget about and will continue to lobby on behalf of the undocumented Irish. That is one of the main reasons I was appointed to this House. There is a very toxic situation in the United States at present with regard to immigration, but we have to keep fighting for them and keep them in our minds. They have not gone away. Most of them cannot ever come home. It is a very serious situation.
I pay great credit to the Government's special envoy to the United States Congress, Deputy John Deasy, with whom I have been working very closely for the past two years to secure E3 visas for Ireland. The negotiations with both Houses of Congress have sometimes been fraught, but with the assistance of the embassy in Washington, Deputy Deasy and I have been successful in introducing a Bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, to be voted on shortly. It is held up at the moment because the impeachment trial has started in the Senate today. Its passage would mean between 4,000 and 5,000 visas for Ireland annually. We have not had a visa increase in the past 35 years. It would be a major achievement.I am very confident that we have bipartisan support for the Bill. It would be a great boost for us.
I will end by extending my very best wishes to my fellow Seanadóirí - those who will be seeking re-election, those who are seeking election to the Thirty-third Dáil and those who are retiring. I hope they and their families will have every happiness in their lives.
I hope I will be remembered for more than just being the Senator who lifted the ban on pubs opening on Good Friday. I especially thank all the staff of the Dáil and the Seanad who assisted me in making that happen. I wish everyone the very best of luck. It has been a privilege to have met and worked with everybody.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach agus leis an Chathaoirleach. Ba phribhléid é a bheith faoi cheannasaíocht, faoi stiúir, faoi threoir agus, ó am go chéile, faoi smacht acu sa Seanad seo nuair a bhí sé de dhíth. I want to extend a word of thanks to the Leas-Cathaoirleach, the Cathaoirleach and all of those mentioned by colleagues for their steadfast and valued support for us over these past four years. In many ways, we could not have done it without each and every one of those to whom I refer. We are very conscious of that fact and we thank them for their work.
In rather typical fashion, I rose to my feet without having a clue about what I am about to say-----
-----but I will say it anyway. I suppose that has been my mantra since coming to this House. Sometimes I have got it right and I acknowledge and appreciate that sometimes I have got it wrong. We all need to be big enough to recognise our own failings in life, whether they are political or otherwise.
It has been a great privilege to come into this institution and to be a bit of a "Nordie" nuisance, to give voice to people who, perhaps as a result of historical misconceptions, have not always featured within the confines of this House as they should have done. On that note, I thank the Leader for recognising the remit and the role of this place beyond those, perhaps perceived, confines and for pursuing initiatives such as inviting the then Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Deirdre Hargey, to make a historic address to us - she has subsequently become a Minister in the new Executive and I wish her well. I also recognise our own work as Seanadóirí in travelling to Belfast for the sitting of the Ballymurphy inquest, at which all parties and groups were represented. On many occasions, Senator Marshall and I have looked at one another in terms of the very courteous references made to us in this Chamber in the context of our providing diverse voices from the North. We want to get to the point where that will no longer be a novelty but will instead be just the norm and where those from the different traditions - fellow Irish citizens from the North and the representatives who give them a voice here - will be treated just the same. I recognise, respect and deeply appreciate the way colleagues in the Seanad have received that voice, have understood the political dynamic that is at play across our island and have shared in our work on, for example, the omnibus legislation relating to Brexit and the Seanad special select committee on Brexit, chaired by Senator Richmond. That work has shown that we are up to the challenges that lie ahead.
The unique privilege that is afforded to this institution is that it can be nationally representative and representative of our diaspora and our global family as well. That gives us a great strength. I hope it will be more so down the line. At times, however, it has provided us with challenges as well because, regardless of where we fall down in respect of the issue or how enthusiastic, or not, we are about it, there is no doubt that the dynamics on this island are changing. Politics and society on this island are changing. The Seanad shown and proven, in a modest way initially, that we can play a role in helping to create a platform for, engage with, give voice to and provide representation for the changing dynamic that is out there.In the climate we are in, the Seanad has an opportunity to play a positive and important role. As we enter into the Twenty-sixth Seanad, for those of us who come back one way or the other, one of the first things we should do is fulfil the long-standing promise - it was not the fault of this Seanad by any means - to have an address from the First and deputy First Minister of the institutions in the North. That was meant to happen previously with the former holders of that office. Unfortunately, however they have left us and are not able to do that.
We have the institutions back up and running, however, and have an opportunity to work collaboratively, positively and collectively for the betterment of all. The Seanad can be proud of the role it has played in giving that national representative voice, and we as Senators can, should and must do more. Go raibh ceád míle maith ag na Seanadóirí uile.
Fellow Senators, it is 21 months since my election to this Twenty-fifth Seanad. It was an election where it was only possible for me to get elected through cross-party support. Whether that support came from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Labour Party, Independents or even the Greens, it was a huge challenge for them to place their support in a complete unknown who is a former dairy farmer from Northern Ireland. Nonetheless, they gave me that support. I express my sincere gratitude to my fellow Senators for their welcome and support over that period. I also thank my fellow Independent group members, who have been a fantastic group of Senators with whom to work.
I will refer briefly to Senator Conway-Walsh's comments about Senator Ó Donnghaile. He came here much earlier than I did and was effectively a bit of a trailblazer. It is fair to say we both know we probably blaze slightly different trails. Nonetheless, we can agree on the vast majority of things, and that has been important. I thank all the Seanad staff, the administrative staff, the ushers and, perhaps especially, the catering staff. As this House knows, an army marches on its stomach and that sustenance over many long days and nights kept us going.
In this particularly challenging time, with an election unfolding in front of us and the visceral vitriolic business that is politics around elections, one thing I have noted in these Houses is the collegiate spirit that exists. That exists from the administrative staff, the ushers and the catering staff right up to the Department of the Taoiseach, all the Ministers and the Cabinet. When a crisis happens, the green shirt goes on and Team Ireland comes into play. Everybody needs to be commended on that.
The past 20 months have demonstrated the value of this House and it is something - I am sure Senator Ó Donnghaile will agree with this point - that is glaringly absent in Northern Ireland at the moment. I refer to this House's ability to scrutinise, interrogate, amend and challenge legislation. Interestingly, in the past 12 months I have learned the true meaning of the verb "to filibuster". I have also learned that if one is of sound mind and intelligence and has a good command of the English language, it is possible to speak on one word for one hour and 20 minutes without repetition. That must be commended. The interesting thing is that can be done the next day and the next day without repetition. That is something I have learned from my colleagues. This House provides an invaluable service and I think it is sometimes misunderstood. We need to recognise that it is often not until after something has been lost that there is a realisation of what we had.
This has been a journey for me and it has been about building bridges and learning and understanding ourselves and others. It has been about recognising that we actually have more that unites us than divides us. In closing, it is interesting to note that I was in a meeting recently in Northern Ireland. It was a formal meeting, and when I turned to address the chairman, I addressed him as "cathaoirleach". We do, therefore, absorb things from the environment around us in which we live and work. For that reason, we as Senators all need to send out positive messages.
I want to first thank the Cathaoirleach. I know he is supposed to be impartial in his role but he definitely played the role of my Seanad daddy here in the House. I thank him very much for that. He has always been very kind to me since I came in here with many-----
I echo everything that every Member said regarding the staff - our colleagues here in the House. I have learned a huge amount from every person. Regardless of whether I agreed with them, I have taken something from every single conversation, communication, relationship and friendship I have built in this House.
I thank Seb in my office. He is the perfect balance to my madness. I am sure that if he had not worked so hard to keep a tight rein on me over the past few years, there would have been many more scandals out there as a result of me not being able to shut up when I should have done so. He has been brilliant in pushing and building my work. I am only as successful as I am because he was behind me and supporting me for the past number of years.
I would like to acknowledge my role in Trinity College. It was an unusual path for someone like me to take on my journey into politics, a journey I thought I would never take. I have been marching outside Leinster House since the age of 17 and I never saw myself being on the other side of those gates. That is not necessarily because I do not believe people like me should be on the other side of the gates. It is that it does not even cross one's mind that that is where one could and should be and therefore it does not even become a thought. Regardless of the barriers preventing one getting in here, it does not even become a thought. It is the same with Trinity College. We do not really believe that someone with low levels of educational attainment and the passing background I had would make it through Trinity in the way that I have done. I have been supported by the Trinity electorate, its staff and graduates and my two colleagues on the Trinity panel who trail-blazed on the issue of social justice long before I came on the scene. They carved out a path for Trinity Senators to be justice warriors in one way or another in this Chamber. Whether it was Senator Norris on LGBT issues or Senator Bacik on the eighth amendment and other issues of gender, they have provided a space for someone like me to come here and raise the issues I care about. These include human rights for people with an addiction, people living in poverty, inequality, lack of educational attainment, ex-prisoners and people who are currently in the prison system. All the legislation I have brought forward to date has been reflective of my lived experience and the realities of lives like mine in my community.
I remember being petrified on the first day I came in here to speak. I was chosen to raise a Commencement matter with the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, related to drugs that were to be included in the Misuse of Drugs Act. I had a recurring dream for several nights beforehand in which I was walking up Grafton Street and saw someone in a Tommy Hilfiger navy blue skirt suit. It almost looked Fianna Fáil-ish. I know Senator Wilson would like to claim me as some sort of conservative liberal but the suit looked conservative and was definitely not something I would ever wear. In my dream, I put the suit on to go into the Chamber to speak but it turned into fleece Mickey Mouse pyjamas every time I sat down. I had that dream for about two or three nights. I kept trying to put on the suit. I had to sit with that and think about it, but I decided that I needed to be me. I have my accent and style, my culture and working class-ness, whatever that is, and it is definitely not a navy skirt suit. I just had to embrace who I was and politics - the Seanad and everyone here - also embraced that and all the work I have done with civil society over the years.
As a community worker, my aim has been to take the Seanad and Trinity College into the hearts of communities. I have tried to use those community development principles not only to work on legislation but also to build initiatives with the cultural and social capital that being a Trinity graduate and a Senator allowed me to have in my three and a half years here.If I am not re-elected, I can look to the likes of Project SUMS, which sees over 150 students a week getting free mathematics grinds, all developed with UCD graduates and retired lecturers through my role here, and to my philosophy in the community module in Dolphin House, which allows residents, community workers and youth workers to look at the philosophical questions and big questions in life that they encounter every day in their communities without realising it.
I am working extremely hard to have the Homeless World Cup held in Ireland. Our bid has been short-listed. I will continue to support Irish Homeless Street Leagues in trying to host the massive event in Ireland. I have tried to marry everything I am as a working-class community development worker with who I can be and am as a politician in order to legislate here while also bringing the work of the Seanad and my work out into the communities that need resources and services the most. My Dad would have been proud and my Mam is proud. They would probably be most proud of the fact that I have managed to be in here for three and a half years and not say the "F" word once.
It is definitely an achievement.
I will finish on that. It has been an absolute pleasure and honour to be here. The counsellor I had for years growing up always said to me a person's job is only done when he or she is not needed anymore. I definitely do not believe for a second I am not needed anymore so I hope to be back here in the next term.
Gabhaim buíochas mór leis an gCathaoirleach agus leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach as ucht a dtacaíocht le trí bliana go leith anuas. I also thank Martin, Bridget and the team. We would not be able to do what we are doing without their support and commitment.
The person who supported me most here was Ms Cáit Nic Amhlaoibh, my personal assistant. The Senators probably all know her. She is a very special lady. She is one of the best people, if not the best, I have ever had the privilege of working with. She was absolutely committed. It was not 35 or 40 hours a week but whatever it took to do what had to be done.
Ba mhaith liom, ar an ócáid seo, comhbhrón a dhéanamh le fear uasal as an Spidéal, Joe Steve Ó Neachtain. Cailleadh Joe Steve cúpla lá ó shin. Bhí sé taobh thiar de chearta sibhialta na Gaeltachta – civil rights for the Gaeltacht regions – 40 years ago. Bhí Joe Steve, Timín Joe Tim Ó Curraoin agus Seosamh Ó Cuaig taobh thiar de Raidió na Gaeltachta, TG4, agus go leor imeachtaí eile. Bhí Údarás na Gaeltachta dhá scór bliain ar an saol i mbliana. Ba cheann de na daoine a thosaigh Údarás na Gaeltachta ná Joe Steve Ó Neachtain – file agus drámadóir. Go ndéana Dia grásta ar a anam. Táimid ag smaoineamh inniu ar a bhean, Máirín, ar a chlann, agus ar na cairde uilig atá aige. Bhí mé ag iarraidh é sin a rá.
On another front, as Senator Lawless and others have said, this has been the biggest privilege of our lives. I have done many things, tried many things and failed many times but this has been a great privilege. Just like Senator Kelleher, I got a telephone call from Micheál Martin. He said to me he would like to suggest me and Senator Kelleher as candidates to the then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. Thankfully, Mr. Kenny accepted our names. We made a great effort in making a difference. I have a whiteboard at home. Written on it is, "The world with you versus the world without you." We must ask whether we make any real difference. Senator Higgins and I go back a long time. We had lovely years together in Coláiste Iognáid in Galway. I have got to know all the Senators very well. We agree on some matters and disagree on others but yet there is passion and we are here for the same reason. Regarding the phrase "The world with you versus the world without you", it is about the difference we make, small or big. When I was not a wet week in here, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, contacted me and asked me whether I would chair the committee on water to try to sort out the issues with Irish Water. On that, I did not know where I was going. Like Senator Ruane, I had not a clue. I was nervous and did not know how to do it but the secretariat here was absolutely amazing.It supported and directed me in working through the issues with a wonderful committee, and while many of us disagreed on a number of matters, we got a result.
As for the Perjury and Related Offences Bill, there is not one of us inside or outside of the House who has not been blamed in the wrong or lied about. The Bill, which seeks to address a lacuna in the law, received the full support of Seanad Éireann and reached the final Stages of its passage. It would have been passed in the Dáil but for the snap election that was recently called.
There was a motion on the Irish language policy and thug chuile Sheanadóir anseo tacaíocht ó thaobh polasaí na Gaeilge an tSeanaid de. Is doiciméad Seanaid é. Thosaigh sé liomsa ach is doiciméad Seanaid atá i gceist ansin.
I served as rapporteur to the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on SMEs. With the involvement of the Leas-Chathaoirleach and others in that committee, we created a White Paper - a blueprint - for SMEs. Some 250,000 such companies employ more than 1 million people. That is the backbone of who we are and what we are about, not least in regional Ireland.
From the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, I highlight Senator O'Mahony. While he has been a hero of mine and of many others for many years, I got to know him and observed his integrity, commitment and passion, which are considerable, as one will see if one works closely with him. Senator Wilson and I have become good friends. I value his direction, passion, friendship, humour, integrity and unique spiritiuality.
Déanaim comhghairdeas le Tuaisceart Éireann, leis na haontachtóirí ach go háirithe agus le mo chomhghleacaithe as Sinn Féin. Tá sé seo fíor-thábhachtach. Feicim go bhfuil sé ar an Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile agus nár laga Dia é. Tá an Ghaeilge fíor-thábhachtach do dhaoine sa tír seo. Má bhíonn aon ghuí agam, is í go labhródh muid níos mó Gaeilge sa Teach seo, go bhfeicfeadh muid í, go mbeadh aitheantas againn aisti agus go mbeadh muid bródúil as sin. B'fhéidir an chéad uair eile, cibé duine a bheas anseo, go ndéanfar turas go dtí An Cheathrú Rua nó go dtí Gaeltacht éigint eile. D'fhéadfadh muid tuilleadh Gaeilge a fhoghlaim agus í a chleachtadh le chéile.
The Cathaoirleach and I come from a similar background, like many other Senators who come from a working class background. There were no silver spoons and we were brought up the rough way. It has been a great privilege for me to be in their company - every one of them. It has been the greatest privilege of my life. They are special people who are all here for the same reason, namely, the betterment of community. The world is better with them than without them.
Gabhann buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach, although it is a pity that it may be the final time I say that for a long time. The House is often called, including by me over the years, a kind of retirement home for the bewildered. It is where wannabe Deputies cut their teeth before seeking the supposedly coveted title of "Deputy" and, less kindly, is often considered to be a chamber of elitist misfits. The Twenty-fifth Seanad, of which I have been privileged and proud to have been a Member, has been the most diverse. It has contained the highest number of female Senators, as I am sure Senators Bacik and Marie-Louise O'Donnell will be aware. Often, there is greater kindness and humanity when more women are in a group. Senator Ó Céidigh talked about the fact that many of us have come from working class families and have made our way to this august Chamber. While we may never have envisaged that, we have a right to belong, to have a voice through our accents and the life experience that we have to share with our nation, and to make it a better place for all. For that, Seanad reform needs to take place - I am looking at Senator O'Reilly - and I imagine that the lack of it will be one of the regrets of the Twenty-fifth Seanad.Along with Senator Freeman, I found the most engaging and often quite shocking committee was the Joint Committee on Future of Mental Health Care. It was the most learning, enjoyable and disappointing experience. However, we did Trojan work and it was a shame to see its report just sit on a shelf. We know what needs to happen for the well-being of our nation and our children in particular, along with the loss of vital services we need. Like Senator Freeman, I hope it will not be forgotten but implemented. I hope the cries of many families trying to access the services in question will be listened to.
My legislation providing the right to consent to mental health treatment for 16 and 17 year olds is sitting on Committee Stage, as is the advanced care directive. It is up to the next Seanad to pull it out and see it through.
I gave my maiden speech in June 2016, paying tribute to my nursing colleagues, the 100,000 nurses and midwives across this island. The World Health Organization has designated 2020 to be the year of the nurse and midwife, the first time ever. I had written a motion prior to the dissolution of the Dáil. I hope the Seanad will provide a celebratory event to show our respect and thanks to our much-needed front-line nursing staff.
A united Ireland will be a major issue in the next Seanad. I know we have our differences about planning for it. We would be sticking our head in the sand if we did not address it, however. We need that conversation as it is already happening nationally. I wish the Twenty-sixth Seanad well in what will be an exciting journey for the lot of us in this State where we can work together, understand each other and build a different society that benefits all. A united Ireland will be on the agenda by the end of the next Seanad. We may even be having the referendum on it.
I thank the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the staff, ushers and everybody here. I hope to see them the next time. Who knows how things will pan out? I loved the adventure and contributing to the Seanad. I kind of loved most of you as well.
The first person I would like to thank this afternoon is Deputy Enda Kenny. The reason is that he appointed me to the Seanad in 2011 and then reappointed me in 2016. That is possibly the greatest affirmation one could ever have. Most of us need affirmation in our lives. Sometimes one gets it in the strangest places. “Behaviour that’s admired is the path to power”. So says Seamus Heaney in Beowulf. I always felt very privileged with that appointment. I had been hacking away in education, lecturing for years, working very hard in one of the finest and the most urbane, steely and newest universities in the country, DCU. With many staff, we built it from the ground up. We were kind of ignored out in the northside of the city until I got that phone call. I was absolutely delighted to bring all those years of experience, language, orality, romance and whatever into the Seanad. That is the first person I would like to thank.
I would also like to thank all my colleagues here. The Seanad is the House of orality, reflection, thought, discussion and debate. I have learned so much from the listening aspect. Colleagues come from a thousand different backgrounds and have so much to bring. I have changed my mind in here which for an old dog for a hard road is a difficult thing for me, especially being from north Mayo. I have changed my mind in here for the better. I thank everybody.
I do not dislike anybody in here. I might not particularly like their policies or their politics. Some may be a bit territorial when we start talking about bridges and lakes. Generally speaking, everybody was in here for a good reason, namely, the common good. They came with a tremendous sense of the positive and for a better Ireland. I thank all my colleagues for the learning experience, as well as the Civil Service, the ushers, the staff and the secretariat.What experience those people have. Somebody mentioned earlier that our Civil Service is the best in Europe. The civil servants are absolutely outstanding and they are so emotionally contained that one never really knows what they are thinking. They give good advice and were the greatest mentors and teachers in the silent way in which they sat and taught me.
I thank Ms Bronagh Curran, an extraordinary person who came from the Irish Hospice Foundation to work for me and who is sitting in my office. I also thank Ms Nora Doheny and Ms Jane Lehane, but I particularly thank Ms Curran.
I learned most in my time here as a member of various committees. It was at committee meetings that the real training happened because we had the privilege of sitting there as non-governmental organisations, NGOs, those involved with projects, organisations and people came from all over Ireland and all walks of life to teach us the way the world is, to find a route for us and to articulate how we could help them. The people who came before the committees were my greatest teachers. There is expertise and brilliance out there and not necessarily in people with famous names, degrees and big titles; it often comes from people who work on the ground. Senator Ruane remarked on that in another way. Those people brought field work and knowledge into committee meetings and I found my articulation from them.
A Carmelite nun told me that it is only in the service of others that one finds the best in oneself. She was right. I do not like looking in a mirror because I do not like what I see a lot of the time - physically, but also mentally and emotionally. When I am doing something for other people is when I get the best from myself. I wrote a report, Finite Lives - Dying, Death and Bereavement: An Examination of State Services in Ireland, which relates to the majority of Departments because of the way people are treated when they are facing their own mortality. I am most proud of the privilege to have had around me the people who helped me to do that. The report was recently taken up by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty. Leaving this planet relates not only to health but to everything, including community, life, education, arts, travel, transport, food, heat and light. We have a very narrow view of what happens to people when they are facing the ends of their lives. As stated, the report relates to all Departments except the Department of Health. The latter has its own manifesto. I am proud of the report but I am most proud of the Irish Hospice Foundation and the people who worked with me on it.
There must be reform of the Seanad. I do not believe in all of the aspects of reform but the great university I mentioned at the outset and in which I taught for 25 years has no vote in Seanad elections. Those in the regional technical colleges and the education and training boards have no vote. Many people in third level education do not have a vote. That is completely wrong. This aspect of reform - if that is the way we want to go - could be progressed overnight. I believe in reform. That particular reform must be pushed through in the lifetime of the next Seanad.
My heart was, I hope, in the right place when I came in here and is still in the right place insofar as I am still standing here. Whether I will be standing here again in the future is for another day. I leave here with friendships, with a sense that I have been on a learning curve and with a feeling of privilege that the Seanad contained me and gave me a platform. I appreciate everybody who gave me an opportunity during my time here but, most particularly, Deputy Enda Kenny. Loyalty is the most important thing in political life and I hope I afforded loyalty back to him to parallel the affirmation he gave me.
I understand that the business to which we are speaking this afternoon is a motion to adjourn the House. It occurs to me that rather than prolong the matter too much, we have a number of months to go as Senators. In that context, if any of those present are patient, I can keep going.I want to start by thanking the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the wonderful service given to this House and the friendship, kindness and competence they have demonstrated. I also want to thank Martin Groves and Bridget Doody, who are here, for the immaculate way in which they have performed their functions and encouraged us to keep the dignity of this House while at the same time, accepting the diversity of this Seanad compared with others and the absence of a ruling Whip in it.
I listened to Senator Ruane, who discussed her background and her concerns here, as she has done on other occasions. I will say in passing that on trips abroad, one of which was to Morocco while I have also been recently been to Taiwan, it is great to make prolonged contact with fellow Members of this House because one gets to understand them a good deal more. On one occasion, she recounted an outing before Judge James Paul McDonnell in the District Court in Tallaght. I wondered recently whether she noticed in the newspapers a man who was prosecuted for stealing 42 packets of rashers. When Judge McDonnell asked the man whether he was pleading guilty or not guilty, he said "Galtee".
On a serious note, I noted in today's edition of The Irish Timesa namesake of mine, Bishop John McDowell of Clogher, a Church of Ireland bishop in Northern Ireland whose diocese straddles the Border, emphasising the importance of civility. It seems to me that apart from simple friendship, of which there is an abundance in this House, there has always been civility. Recently when some people were urging me to go somewhere else with what remains of my political career, it did occur to me, and in fairness to Deputies, this should be said, that they are at war nearly every day. Nearly every day, they wake up and wonder whether FOI will hit them below the waterline, what competitors will say about them and the like. It is a truth that political discourse in this democracy has been under stress recently and there has been a willingness to impugn the integrity and motivation of others but this has never been the case in this House. No matter what persuasion Members of this House have on any ideological or party basis, I think we are all friends here and have never had sharp words. I have never seen really sharp words in this House or any ongoing disputes or feuds that go through that door to any other place. I thank the Members of this House for their friendship and kindness. I was thinking about what the difference was between here and Dáil Éireann and I think it is that civility and friendship exist here. What Bishop McDowell was saying is very true and there is no reason we should lose sight of that.
Senator Marshall invited a group of us to visit Stormont, which was an empty building in which the Speaker sat alone in an office. In the course of a tour, we were given a briefing on the political situation in Northern Ireland in an empty senate chamber in Northern Ireland. I understand what has been said here today, particularly by Sinn Féin contributors, about the Northern dimension but one thing that should be said is that if there is to be unity on this island, it is quite probable that there will be two separate political parts of a united Ireland. In preparation for that, it would be a wonderful thing if Northern Ireland reinstated some kind of chamber where people were not elected simply on the basis of their position on the constitutional question but where groups were represented in civil society in Northern Ireland in the legislative process along the lines of what the people in 1937 had in mind when they established this vocational Chamber. Members have mentioned the question of the reform of this Chamber. I have never been naive on this subject. When dealing with a Chamber that has run for 50 years on one basis, it is difficult to persuade people to change it. Nonetheless, however that process is brought forward now, I strongly believe in it as much as I did when Feargal Quinn asked me to stand in his place for the NUI to progress the matter. Members have mentioned the Seanad Reform Implementation Group report. Amid all of the persons mentioned for gratitude, I want to single out again Síle de Búrca, Amanda Reilly and Brian Hunt, who hugely assisted in the preparation of that report. I am confident it will be the locus and focus of a movement for reform in the future.
We have had four years, more or less, in this House, and some people have been more pessimistic than others about its longevity. I met Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell the other day and she reminded me that I owed her a bet, given she had said it would last until after Christmas. I have brought along my money to pay the debt. She is a very inventive and resourceful woman because my clear recollection is that I laid the huge sum of €100 with her on this subject, but she is now demanding €500. That is not the kind of loyalty that Enda Kenny would have got.
Whatever may be the case, I will finish on this note. This House is a wonderful part of our constitutional architecture but it was nearly abolished. We have made the journey to the National Museum and back in the past four years. None of us should cease to be ambitious for this House. All of us should be very grateful for the support we get from the staff of Leinster House in every shape and form. Our democracy depends on them and it depends on this House continuing in existence. This House will only continue in its existence if its Members are ambitious for it. I believe that, in future years, this House will live up to those ambitions and that the people of Ireland will be glad they maintained their confidence in Seanad Éireann.
I had not intended to speak but I wish to add a few words. I thank the Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach for their professionalism and courtesy to me during the past four years. I also thank the Clerk, Martin Groves, the Clerk-Assistant, Bridget Doody, and all of their staff for the help and assistance they have given me and my colleagues on this side of the House, and all of the other staff who have been mentioned, such as the ushers and the reporters, who assist us on a daily basis.
Since 2002, it has been an honour to serve in this House with four different collections of people, very few of whom remain here. Each and every person I have met and served with in all of those four Seanaid have been exceptional and outstanding people in their own way and in their own field. Some of them have gone to their eternal reward and we have paid tribute to them down through the years. This Seanad is unique in one sense.It never remains the same, normally because of people who are elected to other offices, get jobs where they cannot be involved in politics or, unfortunately, pass on before the Seanad comes to an end. Thankfully, we have had new Members join us over the last years here, but none because we lost somebody to his or her eternal reward.
I, like Senator McDowell, have been out of the country just twice during this Seanad, and four times in the 18 years I have been here. Like Senator McDowell, Senator Ruane was one of the comrades we had on one occasion, going to Morocco. She was an outstanding guide, host and historian, who was able to enlighten us on the history of Morocco and the things to do and, mainly, what not to do while we were there. On the last occasion I was out of the country, I was in Taiwan and I recently returned. I have much respect for the country. On that occasion, I was accompanied by Senator Lawless, who represented the rest of the world apart from Ireland, Senator Marshall, who was the expert on Brexit and got the outcome of it right, to my amazement, and the hypnotist himself, Senator Ó Céidigh. All three were excellent ambassadors for our country in Taiwan. Senator Ruane, the Cathaoirleach and the others who I accompanied to Morocco were also outstanding ambassadors for our country. That is true of everybody from this Chamber who represents our country in one forum or another.
As Senator McDowell said in concluding his remarks, this Chamber is exceptionally important for our democracy and it is important that we retain it. It is also important to remember that we still exist as a Seanad and as Senators until the day when those of us who are going for re-election go into the count. They then walk out as a Senator or a former Senator. People tend to forget that this House exists under our Constitution. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that we may even sit before the Seanad election is held if a Government is formed fairly quickly after the general election. It is an important House. I agree that it needs to be reformed but it needs to be reformed with the consensus of the people who are elected to it and in conjunction with proposals that can be put forward and agreed by colleagues of all parties and groupings. It is also important to point out that while excellent work was done by the committee set up under Senator McDowell, unfortunately that committee now falls with this Seanad, as does the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill in the Lower House. We will start all over again and hopefully I will be here to contribute to it.
I am very honoured to be one of only seven Cavan people who have been elected to this House since the foundation of the State. Senator Conway-Walsh said that it is important to have the views of the people from the North represented here, naming Senators Ó Donnghaile and Marshall, and I totally agree. They are outstanding contributors to this House and representatives of the people of the Six Counties. It is also important that the three remaining counties of Ulster are represented in this House. I think that my colleague, Senator O'Reilly, would agree with me on that point.We want people to bear that in mind when they are marking their ballot papers.
I ask the Cathaoirleach to bear with me. Senator O'Reilly was very gracious in his comments about me. I have known him since 1985. It is a long time ago, but I was very young. Since the late 1980s I have been working through every general election since he first stood to ensure he would not be elected to the Dáil. However, I was disappointed in recent weeks to learn that he had decided not to contest the general election on this occasion. I was disappointed because if Fine Gael is to win one of the five seats in the Cavan-Monaghan constituency, I was hoping that Senator O'Reilly would be that one. Unfortunately that will not be the case.
Senator O'Reilly has been totally underestimated by his party - not by the people of Cavan and Monaghan. When Deputy Enda Kenny carried out his first reshuffle of his first Government, there was great expectation that Senator O'Reilly would get promotion, but unfortunately that did not happen. His loss of promotion was Deputy Heather Humphreys's gain when she was appointed Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht on that occasion. I remember remarking in this House that it was unfortunate that somebody of Senator O'Reilly's stature and experience was not appointed to that position. He subsequently pointed out to me that he was not really qualified for that position because he had only an honours master's degree in history, he was only fluent in Irish, he had been involved in the arts for three decades and had been an all-Ireland winning actor. Perhaps Deputy Enda Kenny was right; the Senator may have been overqualified for that position. Sometimes it might be better to have somebody with less experience in the Department.
I wish everybody well in the forthcoming elections both to the Lower House and to the Upper House. To those who are retiring, especially those who have decided to retire-----
Nobody has indicated that to me yet, a Chathaoirligh.
I pay particular tribute to the Deputy Government Whip, Senator O'Mahony. It was a pleasure to work with him and his colleague, Senator McFadden. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, it was an honour to work with all the Whips and the leaders of all the other groups, including the Leader and Deputy Leader of this House. I hope to be back again at a future date.
I say to Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, I personally never got too many calls from Deputy Micheál Martin, but I do have his number and I can give it to her. She can have it in her phone just in case he happens to ring her in a number of weeks' time.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach for their courtesy over the past four years. It was a pleasure to work with both of them. It was not an easy task for them because there was no majority in this Chamber for one of the few times ever; we have probably had the most diverse Seanad in its history.
I thank Martin Groves and Bridget Doody, and all the support staff who work to streamline how the Seanad runs.We take an awful lot for granted as to how the House operates and runs. When we really dig down and see how the Order Paper is produced, and see the day-to-day running of the Seanad, the Library and Research Service and all of the services we take for granted, we can see that a lot of hard work has to go into all of that. We finish on some nights at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. but there is an Order Paper the following morning, and the same applies to amendment for Bills and all of that sort of work. We do not really appreciate how it has happened and how it is put together. Great credit is due to the House for the way it operates under the Clerk, Martin Groves.
The past four years have been different from all of the previous terms in which I have been a Member of the Seanad. It has been a more diverse Chamber and there has not been a majority. There is no reason to say the next Seanad would not have the same type of membership and I believe it will do an even better job than it did in the past four years. While the Dáil holds the Government to account, this Chamber can play a hugely important role in framing legislation. I believe the next Seanad will play an even more important role in holding the Government to account and in regard to how legislation is teased out and framed.
As previous speakers have said, this is a very important Chamber and it plays a very important role. I hope it will move forward at the same rate as it did in the past four years with regard to the changes that have happened. Before this, Governments had a majority, or had a majority with the support of Independents or a smaller party, and they pushed through legislation. In the past four years, this was not the case. The Government and its Ministers had to accept amendments. The Government lost votes and it has learned from the votes it lost. This House will play a hugely important role in the future and I hope that, whoever is here, they will see to it that this will continue.
There was a 60% turnover of the Members of the previous Seanad and only six Senators here today were here four years ago, so there is no guarantee that anybody here will be in the next Seanad. I wish the best to those who are retiring. They have played a hugely important role in dealing with legislation. Some of them have been Members of both Houses and more have been Members of just this House. When we sign up for public life, we are there to be scrutinised by the public, who can take a shot at us. A person needs to have great courage to put their name before the people, whether as a councillor, a Deputy or a Senator. They are held to account and scrutinised. I wish those who are retiring very well. They have done magnificent work in both Houses of this Oireachtas. I wish those standing again the very best of luck. As I said, it takes great courage for candidates to put their names before the people, whether they are council representatives or members of the public. A total of 12 Fine Gael Senators are running for the Dáil and I wish them all well, as I do every other Member standing for Dáil Éireann.
Senator Wilson was quite parochial with regard to the seven Senators from Cavan. There are five Mayo people or honorary Mayo people in the Chamber, namely, Senators O'Mahony, Conway-Walsh, Marie-Louise O'Donnell, Noone and me, and I think it is the highest representation ever from County Mayo. I hope we will have good representation when the House comes back.
With that, I wish the Cathaoirleach and the House well, and I wish everybody well in their endeavours over the next couple of weeks.
Mar fhocal scoir, although that is the Cathaoirleach's right, obviously. I feel somewhat like Senator Ó Donnghaile when he said earlier that he had not really planned to speak today. As Senator McDowell said, we could have had another sitting or two, perhaps. Who knows? I do not have anything planned to say as such, and following all that eloquence and wit, one feels at a loss. I certainly do. I intend to be brief. I do not think I have ever been long-winded. I am not saying any of the Senators are long-winded but I do admire the way many of them were able to fill space, and my God they did it with some style.
I wish simply to endorse and agree with all that has been said by way of all the kind and generous thank yous to the Cathaoirleach and to Mr. Martin Groves, Ms Bridget Doody, Ms Aisling Hart, Ms Carol Judge, Ms Ilinca Popa and all the other staff. I thank my parliamentary assistant, Mr. John McGahon. I wish him well in Louth. I also thank Ms Mary O'Connor in the office. She has helped me out a few days a week. I thank Ms Karen Warren. I thank them for all their help and assistance. I wish everyone well, whether in this House, the other House or whatever other house. One never knows where any of us will end up. I have certainly enjoyed my time here, and I hope I might enjoy more time here. Who knows? I am anxious to be with all the Senators in whatever guise.
I do not think I have excluded anyone. I have really enjoyed my tenure as Cathaoirleach of the Twenty-fifth Seanad. I thank all the Senators for their co-operation, in particular the Leas-Chathaoirleach. Not alone has he been an exemplary Leas-Chathaoirleach, but before he became Leas-Chathaoirleach he respected me as a close friend and was somebody in whom I could confide. His integrity, demeanour and dedication to this House is second to none. I hope we will see him back here. He was very loyal to me. When I was ill for a few weeks, he took over the responsibility of the Chair with great aplomb. If he has any failing, it is that he was too considerate and too helpful to many of our colleagues here. He was too nice.
I also thank our Clerk, Mr. Martin Groves, and Ms Bridget Doody, who are, as we would say in rowing parlance, the stroke oar. They decide how the race is run. I thank Ms Popa and Ms Judge in the office and Ms Hart, who is my personal secretary and who has been extremely patient with and understanding of me. Over the past four years I think she has got to know certain aspects of me that I hope she will not reveal to anyone. In his absence, I pay compliment to Senator Buttimer, the Leader of the House. He has been a great Leader. He is out canvassing in Cork for re-election. As someone mentioned, in this Seanad the Government did not have absolute control. It was a very diverse Seanad. I wish Senator Buttimer well in his campaign. I also thank my secretary on another level, Ms Sheena Bourke. I should like to compliment the National Museum on allowing us into its facilities and letting us use its graceful room over a period of almost two years. That should be acknowledged. We are grateful for it, and I am sure the National Museum is grateful we returned to our natural home.
I thank the Captain and all the staff here: the ushers, the stenographers and the press and media who cover our proceedings. I have been here a good few years and I think the Houses are like a second home to the staff.We are always made welcome here, whether it is in the restaurant or the bar or when meeting a member of staff and by the security people at the gate. There is always great camaraderie and great respect shown to Members and I want to acknowledge this.
In one sense, as someone said to me, this is like the last supper, but there is no breaking of bread and, thankfully, there is no wine here. It is an occasion at which we can get nostalgic. This has been an extraordinarily diverse Seanad and there are a number of reasons for this. I was a Member of the Seanad from 1989 to 1992 or 1993. It was a short enough term. Then we had Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Now there are various groupings, and it enriches the Seanad, whether they are from universities, appointees, representing the Irish language, the North or the diaspora. The selection of Senator Lawless to represent the diaspora was made not before time. I am the youngest of 11, of whom seven emigrated. I lived in London where my daughter was born. I have five sisters who are US citizens, one of whom is now deceased. Senator Lawless's appointment reaches out to the people who left our land, whether in the 1940s, 1950s or, more recently, in the 1990s. When we go to Boston, London, Chicago or Melbourne, we have the feeling there are Irish everywhere.
The Seanad is diverse in other ways and we have had some amazing debates. At all other times the Government Whip could whip everybody into line to win a vote and perhaps it was a good thing that on certain days there was uncertainty and there were probably some votes lost. This adds to the intrigue and the diverse type of Seanad we should have.
I am a small bit nostalgic because not quite three months ago, when I was looking up at a white ceiling in St. James's Hospital, my consultant was saying, "You must remember, Mr. O'Donovan, [I do not think the lady knew I was a Senator and it did not matter to me because I was alive] that you have come through a near-death experience and it will take some time before you get back on your feet." I am grateful to be here. I have a little story to tell from that episode. The incident happened on a Friday at approximately 12 o'clock in Rathfarnham and within half an hour I was in St. James's Hospital with a few sore ribs after being resuscitated. It was a bank holiday weekend and the following Tuesday morning was the first time my phone was brought back to me. I had been told I was not getting the phone. Eileen brought in the phone to me and there must have been 1,000 messages and calls. I wondered how in the name of God people knew about what had happened because it was a private event. She told me I did not want to know. I told her I did. I was on all sorts of tubes and I was really sore around the rib cage because the fireman who brought me back to life nearly broke my ribs. They say in that parlance it is better to break a rib and get you going again then to let you go. After about a half an hour pleading, my good wife said she would show me. She gave me a cutting from the back of the Irish Examiner. Obviously, there are leaks in all sorts of lives and somebody leaked that I was very ill and at death's door. The journalist, whom I shall not name now, said I was seriously ill, on life support and that I had suffered a heart attack. I cannot remember the exact wording. Despite the soreness of my ribs I laughed uncontrollably for 15 minutes and it was hard to laugh because it hurt. Eileen kept asking me what I was laughing at because she said there was nothing to laugh about. She was really angry about it because she said it should not have gone out, that we needed privacy, that we had to have a life and that we had a family. She asked me what the hell I was laughing at. Eventually, I calmed down and said the only thing he did not print was the time of the removal. I thought it was a good end.
We are all back here and I thank everyone sincerely. From all diverse aspects of life Senators have been very kind to me and understanding. I have tried in the best way I can, as a cábóg from the Sheepshead Peninsula in west Cork now living in Schull, to be fair to everyone, and I hope I have been reasonably fair, without any agenda only to try to get the work of the House done.I wish those who are running for election, particularly Seanadóirí, well. I was in that situation many times. Politics is a tough game. People talk about winning and losing All-Irelands and playing matches of rugby, hurling or football, but in politics, one must be made of tougher steel than what it takes to watch a rival walk up the Hogan Stand to get the Sam Maguire Cup or Liam MacCarthy Cup. Politics is a tough game and I have been at it for 35 years. I wish everyone luck. I never had an enemy in politics. I always got on with people from whatever side they came. There might be rivalries during a campaign, but when the campaign is over, one puts that rivalry behind and moves on.
I must now ask a question of the Acting Leader, Senator John O'Mahony. I should say that I regret that some of our colleagues are not running. I call John a half-west Cork man because his people came from there. Senator, I am sorry that you are not running again. You are a loss to the Seanad, but I wish you well on a personal basis. When is it proposed to sit again?