Seanad debates

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Election of Leas-Chathaoirleach

 

2:30 pm

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Both motions on the Order Paper will be discussed together and before we debate them I acknowledge the presence of the previous Leas-Chathaoirleach, from Kerry, who is in the Distinguished Visitors' Gallery. Myself and the former Senator, Paul Coghlan, had many a row in the previous three Seanaid. These were reported widely on Radio Kerry. Most people thought we were doing it just for the publicity. We are also the best of friends and I welcome the former Leas-Chathaoirleach. I am sure Senator Jerry Buttimer will get loads of advice from him. I thank Paul for making the journey today.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I move: "That Senator Jerry Buttimer be elected Leas-Chathaoirleach."

I also welcome our dear friend and former Leas-Chathaoirleach, Paul Coghlan, to the Gallery. He has become a very dear friend to most of us who have been around here for a while. He has served County Kerry, as has the Cathaoirleach, his country, the State and Seanad Éireann with enormous distinction over a very lengthy career as a Member of the House. The State and Seanad Éireann owe him a big debt of gratitude.

With that, it is an absolute privilege to be asked to stand up today and nominate my dear friend, Senator Jerry Buttimer, for the position of Leas-Chathaoirleach of the House. Senator Buttimer was elected to Cork City Council on the same day I was elected to Clare County Council, on, I think, 12 June 2004. During his three years on Cork City Council Jerry impressed a huge number of people, not just in Cork but throughout the country. He got elected to Seanad Éireann on his first attempt, on the labour panel, in 2007. During that four-year period he worked exceptionally hard and got elected to Dáil Éireann in the 2011 general election.

Following his election to Dáil Éireann, Senator Buttimer chaired the health committee. That is where his skill set and his ability to chair definitely came to fruition because he chaired the committee at an extremely important time in this country's history, when we saw the beginning of significant social change. Many Members will recall the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, on which the health committee held extensive hearings and engagements. Senator Buttimer's fair-minded chairing of the health committee during that period was well regarded by people on both sides of that debate.

His star quality as a public representative was shown in his leadership the length and breadth of this country during the marriage equality referendum campaign, in respect of which he has already left a major legacy. Jerry's husband, Conchobar, who is in the Public Gallery, is somebody I have got to know very well and admire and respect very much over recent years. When Jerry came out as gay and shared his story with the Irish people, I think the people the length and breadth of this country took Jerry Buttimer into their hearts and their souls. It played a significant role in getting the result in 2015, when the people of Ireland agreed on the right thing to do, led the world in having an open referendum and gay marriage was approved. Jerry Buttimer, a Senator and a colleague of ours, can hold his head with pride because he played a major role not just in the country but also within the Fine Gael Party. As many will know, there were and still are conservative elements to the two major parties, but the conservative elements in Fine Gael drifted away and supported Jerry because they saw his empathy and saw one of their own display his heart on his sleeve and do the right thing for Ireland. I remember that Enda Kenny at that time travelled a personal journey in supporting that referendum. It was a commitment in the programme for Government with the Labour Party but it would not have got over the line unless all elements in the Oireachtas who wanted to see a "Yes" vote had played their part. Senator Buttimer was an inspiration to us all back then.

I have no doubt that, as Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Buttimer will bring his skill set and his ability to lead from the front and will support you, a Chathaoirligh, in your role in transforming this House and bringing it to a new level. As a team, I have no doubt but that Senator Buttimer and the Cathaoirleach will work together. As Leas-Chathaoirleach, he will embody everything that is good about this House. This Chamber over decades has fostered and driven change, going back to the crusading changes Senator Norris led in the 1980s and 1990s. This House is completely in tune with the Irish people. It knows what they want and can see further than any other institution in this country where Ireland should and can be.I believe that my friend and our colleague, Senator Buttimer, will play a role in ensuring that the position of this House in politics and in Irish society will continue in the proud tradition that it has had in the past. It is an absolute pleasure, an honour and a privilege for me to propose Senator Buttimer as Leas-Chathaoirleach here today.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I call on my friend, Senator Wilson, to second the motion.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach. Like the Cathaoirleach and Senator Conway I would like to welcome the iar-Leas-Chathaoirleach, the iar-Sheanadóir Paul Coghlan to the House. I cannot see him up there but he is welcome. I thank him for his service to this House and this country over 23 years as a Member of this House.

It is an honour and a personal pleasure to be given the opportunity to second the proposal that Senator Buttimer be elected as Leas-Chathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. I first met Jerry Buttimer, as he was then, in September 1984. I was a student in St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, and I was asked to show a small group of some of the new seminarians around the college. Halfway through the tour, I realised that Jerry knew more about the place than I did, so I let him continue with the tour. He has been leading things ever since that. We took different paths in life until 2007, when I was starting my second term here and Senator Buttimer was elected to this House for the first time. I took it upon myself to give it another go after 23 years and I started to show him around the place. Thankfully, on that occasion, I knew slightly more than he did about the place, although that seems to have changed in recent years.

There are many stories I could tell about the then Jerry Buttimer but in fairness to him, even though I have privilege, I will not do so. Suffice it to say that he was well known as a very good footballer and he had the amazing ability to play the game and commentate on it at the same time. No one who has served here with Senator Buttimer or has ever watched our proceedings from afar will require any explanation as to why Senator Buttimer is more than well qualified to serve as Leas-Chathaoirleach of this House. He was an excellent Leader of the Seanad. In that role, he always served and represented this House with commitment, dedication and passion. He demonstrated his ability to work with Senators across the House with respect and understanding. No one can accuse him of not getting quickly to the point. Indeed, all too often, he was there at the point waiting impatiently while some of us were still slowly building up to it. I have no doubt that he will bring this capacity for efficiency and brevity - most of the time - to his time in the Chair.

That is reason enough to support his nomination here today but it is only one of several important reasons why I am honoured to second Senator Buttimer and why I asked my colleagues to support him. In electing Senator Buttimer to the position of Leas-Chathaoirleach, we are, as his colleagues and as Senators, sending a clear signal about how we view this place and see it as representing the best of the Ireland of today. Senator Buttimer represents much of what is good about this House. He is very proud of his party, its values and its history but not to the point that he cannot see and acknowledge that it might not always be 100% right on everything - and I would argue that it is not 50% right on most occasions.By the way, for those Senators who might not be aware of the fact as he mentions it so rarely, he hails from Cork. Indeed, he is not only from Cork but, to be more precise, from Bishopstown. It was there that he learned the great importance of community to our personal identity, our development and our values. Via his mother, Nancy, a nurse, and his father, Jerry, the highly regarded CEO of COPE, the Cork-based not-for-profit foundation that supports adults and children with intellectual disabilities, Jerry Jnr. saw how giving of yourself to your community and your society benefits you and improves life for all. As a teacher and later as a director of adult education, Senator Buttimer showed this commitment to and passion for education, both as an agent for lifelong personal development and an advocate for equality and social justice.

Senator Buttimer comes to the post of Leas-Chathaoirleach with a strong record of political service, from his time as a councillor on Cork City Council from 2004 to 2007 to his two full terms in this House - the Senator is beginning his third - and one term in the Lower House. I have no doubt that Senator Buttimer will preside over the Seanad with fairness and impartiality. I have no doubt that his conduct with the business of the House will be fair and always in accordance with the letter and spirit of our Standing Orders. This is all we ask of our Leas-Chathaoirleach and I know it is what we will get from Senator Buttimer.

I wish Senator Buttimer well in the role and I extend those good wishes to his wonderfully patient and accepting partner and husband, Conchobhar Ó Laoghaire, and to all the Senator's family and friends. Táim bródúil as ucht ainm an Seanadóir Buttimer a chur os comhair an Tí don phost mar Leas-Chathaoirleach.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I call Senator Joe O'Reilly, who indicated first, and then Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I wanted to rise to join in the support of and the good wishes to Senator Buttimer. At the outset, I acknowledge the presence in the Chamber of his husband, Conchobhar, whom I briefly met today and I had met briefly in the past. I want to wish him well today. It is a big day for both of them. I also want to pay tribute to the rest of Jerry's family. I know that Jerry's brother, John, was a councillor for many years and his father has been a great supporter of his down the years too. It is a big day for the family and I want to wish them well.

It is unusual to be friendly with people on one's own panel from one's own party. It might not so much be unusual as that there can be quite a strain if you share the same panel with a party colleague. It involves a certain level of competition, and whatever, at times. It might be slightly aided by geography, but I have been on the Labour Panel with Jerry for a couple of terms and we have campaigned across the country. Often, we are in the one county on the same day and are following each other around. In fact, we met on one occasion for a very long social evening in one of the counties. We have managed to maintain a strong friendship despite that internal competition and even though we have been vying for the same votes with the same electorate.That says much about Senator Buttimer as well. He is emotionally intelligent and copped on in these ways, and we managed it very well.

He has been elegantly proposed and seconded. The proposer and seconder did good jobs, and I will not go back over that, except to say that I believe Senator Buttimer will be very fair in the role. He understands the democratic process and the process of how this House works in a way that will ensure he will be fair and will respect and operate its rules efficiently and effectively. He gets all that, so I see he has the full set of skills to do a very good job in the Chair. He will also be a good representative for the Chamber outside the House, and he will present a very positive image of the Seanad. That is also important, because, in the same way as the Cathaoirleach is now, Senator Buttimer will then also be an ambassador for the House, especially as a member of the Council of State and other bodies. It is important that be someone who has the gravitas and the awareness of what goes on to do it right.

I am personally delighted. I felt it incumbent on me to comment because of our longevity together in this House, and I appreciate being let in now. As we have co-existed for so long in political life, been on the same panel for so long and managed to maintain a friendship throughout that period, I thought it was worthy of putting that on the record. I congratulate Senator Buttimer and I look forward to working with him in future. He is profoundly committed to public service and the good of others, and that is what we should all aspire to and be about.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I call Senator Ó Donnghaile to move the motion proposing Senator Warfield.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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I move: "That Senator Fintan Warfield be elected Leas-Chathaoirleach."

I intend to propose that Senator Fintan Warfield be elected Leas-Chathaoirleach. I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom fáilte mhór mhaith a chur roimh ár gcara, an iar-Sheanadóir Paul Coghlan ón ríocht, atá linn inniu. I always feel much better and more assured in my Seanad place when Senator Coghlan is in the room. It is great to have him here today.

Before I speak to our motion, I would like to refer to the other candidate for the position, Senator Buttimer. I echo the words said regarding his rambunctious nature as Leader of the last Seanad, and that is putting it kindly. He could be rambunctious, I think that is the right word. I do not even know if I am saying it right, it is a hard one to get the tongue around, but the Senators know what I mean.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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We had unparliamentary language, so we are not going to have a repeat.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Chair for that advice. Certainly, however, what I found most about Senator Buttimer was that as passionate and committed to the role of Leader as he was, that did not always put him against us in Sinn Féin or members of other parties. It sometimes put him up against members of his own party, so he treated us all equally in that role. I know he will bring, hopefully, that spirit of equality of treatment to the role of Leas-Chathaoirleach, should he get it, in the same way as he did as the last Leader.

Hopefully, he will just be a wee bit more suaimhnitheach. I am sure he will be and I think he is ready for that now, if he gets the role. He needs to be a wee bit more pacifying and take a leaf from the Cathaoirleach's book. Whatever role he takes on, I know Senator Buttimer will bring a great deal of passion, commitment and authority to it. As a good Fine Gael party man, he knows we will work courteously and collaboratively with whomsoever takes on the role to ensure this Seanad works in the best possible way.

The purpose of my proposed motion, however, will not surprise the Chair or any other Members. I thought Senator Gavan put this well last week when he said that the positions of Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach are not partisan and nor should they be. They are not political and nor should they be. We have the opportunity, however, as political beings, political activists and political representatives to ensure we have political choice regarding the type of Seanad we want composed.As Senator O'Reilly rightly said, the position of Leas-Chathaoirleach, given what goes along with it, is nothing to be sneered at. It is an important one. I refer to the composition of this Seanad in terms of the important positions afforded to Members. If we are serious about diversity, and we have talked a lot about diversity and the Seanad being representative of diversity, that should really include political diversity. That should include the realpolitik out there. It has been my experience in the Seanad that when we put our minds to it, when we put effort into it and when we bring our ingenuity to it, we can work very well together. We should not be afraid of affording each other political respect and opportunity where it presents itself.

I nominate Senator Warfield for the position of Leas-Chathaoirleach. He was a steadfast presence in the last Seanad. He is someone who has brought imagination and creativity and maybe that is due to his background in the arts. He has always brought an enthusiasm to his work in the Seanad, whether that was seeking to reduce the voting age to 16, seeking to give transgender people the right to self-identify at 16, working on committees or bringing really important legislative opportunities to the institution. He did it with a great spirit of co-operation. Sometimes we, his party colleagues, would say "God, you are getting an awful lot of support" and ask "Where are you getting it from?". That is because of the character of Senator Warfield. Much like what has been said about Senator Buttimer, Senator Warfield would bring a collaborative spirit to the position of Leas-Chathaoirleach. He is the other former mayor among the Sinn Féin group. While sometimes he has been held up as the youthful representative in this Chamber he is not new to political activism, to political work and to political graft, so he can go toe-to-toe with many in this Chamber as far as experience and background are concerned.

In wishing Senator Buttimer well, and in nominating Senator Warfield, it is a reminder to us that we are very lucky that we have two Senators of their calibre going forward for this very esteemed position. I hope we will have the day but regardless of who ends up in that seat alongside the Cathaoirleach, we will work in the very best interests of advancing political change and progress in this Chamber. We wish both candidates well.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Ó Donnghaile. I ask Senator Boylan to second the motion.

Lynn Boylan (Sinn Fein)
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It is a privilege for me to second the nomination of my friend and comrade Senator Warfield for the role of Leas-Chathaoirleach. I have known him for many years and we have campaigned together in south Dublin. I was proud to see him take on the role of mayor of South Dublin County Council when he was only a newly-elected councillor. One of the things that stands out about Senator Warfield is his humility. He is a very humble and very thoughtful person. During his time as mayor on South Dublin County Council he championed the rights of the youth, particularly youth unemployment. He also lead from the front on the marriage equality referendum. Myself and Senator Warfield have worked collaboratively on the issue of transgender rights and he continued that work when he took up his role as a Senator in the last Seanad. One of the things he has proven as a Senator is that he is very capable of working collaboratively. He has succeeded on many occasions when he has brought Bills forward in getting support across the House for those Bills and that is testament to the kind of person he is. I have no hesitation at all in recommending him for the role of Leas-Chathaoirleach.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I will put the questions in the order in which the motions have been moved. Is the motion proposing Senator Buttimer agreed to?

Question put: "That Senator Jerry Buttimer be elected Leas-Chathaoirleach."

The Seanad divided: Tá, 43; Níl, 6.



Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Daly and Seán Kyne; Níl, Senators Niall Ó Donnghaile and Paul Gavan.

Question declared carried.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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As the motion in respect of Senator Buttimer's nomination has been successful, the motion proposing Senator Warfield lapses. I call on the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Buttimer, to address the House.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. Is mór an onóir dom a bheith tofa mar Leas-Chathaoirleach inniu. Táim ag súil go mór le bheith ag obair leis an gCathaoirleach ar bhonn éifeachtach agus cothrom chun gnó an Tí Uachtaraigh a riaradh go héifeachtach agus go cothrom. Gabhaim fíorbhuíochas leis an Seanadóir Conway a mhol mé agus leis an Seanadóir Wilson a thacaigh leis an moladh.

It is a great honour and privilege for me to be elected as Leas-Chathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. I look forward to working with the Cathaoirleach to ensure the fair and effective running of this very important Upper House of the Oireachtas. I thank Senator Warfield for putting his name forward. It is apt that on this day in 2010, Seanad Éireann discussed Second Stage of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Bill 2009, which was the stepping stone towards marriage equality. After taking a journey as a country, two members of the LGBT community can now stand for election as Leas-Chathaoirleach of this House. That says a lot about us as a country and about the institutions of the Oireachtas. I thank Senator Warfield for that.

When I entered this House in 2007, little did I think that 13 years later I would stand for, and be elected as, Leas-Chathaoirleach. I am sure the former Senator, Pat Moylan, is looking on today, smiling and noting how far I have travelled, as has the Cathaoirleach. It is important to remember those who have gone before us, including both those who have served with us and who are still living and those who have gone to their eternal reward. We thank them for their service.

I thank Senator Conway, a very good friend of mine, and Senator Wilson, an equally good friend of mine, for their very kind words on my proposal and seconding today. I had to check the mirror to see who they were talking about. I particularly thank Senator Wilson for not telling certain stories. If he had privilege, so do I. I am sure we could regale Members of the House.

I am conscious today of the footsteps in which we all follow. My immediate predecessor, the former Senator, Paul Coghlan, is in the House. Like many others, I thank him for his service as a Member of the Oireachtas and as a public representative. We have always looked up to him and admired him for his collegiality, his friendship, his ability to reach out and, more importantly, his pride in the institutions of the Houses of the Oireachtas. I thank the former Cathaoirleach, Senator O'Donovan, for his leadership and my good friend, Senator Burke, who was our predecessor, having served both as Leas-Chathaoirleach and Cathaoirleach. I also acknowledge a mentor and great friend of mine, the former Senator, Denis Cregan, who, more than any other Member of the Oireachtas, played a key role in my election to public life.

I am humbled to be joined today by my husband, who is in the Public Gallery. Those elected to and involved in public life understand the great sacrifices our family members make. I thank him for his support, encouragement, dedication to my life as a politician, and constructive words. We have a new Government. We are a mixed marriage as regards politics but I am thankful that I have converted him from most of his bad habits. I thank him most sincerely. I am also conscious that my dad is looking on today.I thank my father for his great ability to teach us all at home about the importance of serving, service and equality in what we all want from our communities and political parties.

I will be brief because we have had a very long Order of Business. Today, I would like to put on record my appreciation to my former Deputy Leader, Catherine Noone, former Government Chief Whip, Gabrielle McFadden, and former Senator Maria Byrne, in the last Seanad for their tremendous support and dedication. They were wonderful Members of the last Seanad. We had a very positive contribution last week about former Senator Ian Marshall. I also wish to put on record my thanks to former Senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell, Billy Lawless, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Colette Kelleher and John Dolan, who brought great insight and perspectives in the last Seanad. I hope that the new Members in this Seanad can equally be as powerful as they were.

A Chathaoirligh, Seanad Éireann has a very serious constitutional role. All of us are committed to this House and its work and I hope that we can bring a collaborative approach, as we did in the last Seanad. We had some differences, as Senator Ó Donnghaile noted, but we managed to bring them together and worked for the betterment of one another. I assure the Cathaoirleach that I will work with him and with all Members of the House to ensure its fair and smooth running. My role is to serve the Members and to deputise for the Cathaoirleach. I thank the House for their trust and appreciate the support of my party leader in putting me forward for the role of Leas-Chathaoirleach. Go raibh maith agaibh.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and call Senator Warfield.

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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I appreciate the Cathaoirleach allowing me time to congratulate Senator Buttimer on his election as Leas-Chathaoirleach. It is a very special day for him and his husband, Conchobar. I am sure the Leas-Chathaoirleach will not mind me saying that in his role as Leader, he was sometimes combative and always well able to wind us up on this side of the House but it proved impossible not to establish a friendship with him. He was always on hand with advice and for that reason, I have a good expectation that he will be a fair and balanced Leas-Chathaoirleach.

I commend his work on establishing the parliamentary LGBT caucus, which is hugely important. With the number of LGBT people in these Houses at this point and given the time that Senator Buttimer has served here, it is easy to overlook how significant an occasion this is but I know that as a proud openly gay man and a Member of the Oireachtas, in filling this role he will be a role model for young people and older LGBT people. This week, we heard a transgender farmer from Cork speak on Joe Duffy's radio show about his experience and for all of the LGBT community across Ireland, these moments are seen. Our young people and all people need positive role models like Roderic O'Gorman and Jerry Buttimer. I wish the Senator well and congratulate him on his election.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I look forward to working with the Leas-Chathaoirleach. He is a formidable politician and I mean that in the best sense of the word. He advocates for his community, county and party, as he should do, but in a forceful and fair way. Fine Gael is lucky to have him and we are lucky to have him as Leas-Chathaoirleach.

As there are no other speakers, I will ask the Leader when it is proposed to sit again.

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael)
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We will adjourn until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, in the Seanad Chamber in Leinster House.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 9 July 2020.