Retirement of Head Usher

Before moving on to the Order of Business, I invite Leaders to contribute on an important event happening today, the retirement of our Head Usher, Mr. Tom McGrath. Tom joined the staff of the Oireachtas on 29 December 1977 and has held many appointments here, including his recent promotion in 2012 to Head Usher.

It is fair to say Tom is well-respected, and fondly remembered by those who have since left the House, for his excellent and professional service in those 30-odd years. I came here in 1981, which is 32 years ago, when Tom was a young usher. He has not got any older looking since, despite the way I look. It is a great pleasure indeed to be able to say a few words and to say that as Members we deeply appreciate the service given to us by all ushers.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

I note Tom is standing beside the Captain of the Guard, whom we also appreciate very much for the service he gives to the House.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

During his service here Tom has had occasion to serve loyally many who addressed the House, including Presidents Reagan, Clinton and Mitterrand, Chancellor Kohl, Prime Minister Blair, the Honourable John Howard MP from Australia, and Xi Jinping, who is now President of China. Tom is no stranger to dealing with dignitaries of world renown. He also looked after two of our Presidents who addressed us, Presidents Robinson and McAleese. On behalf of all the Members and staff of the Oireachtas, as Ceann Comhairle, I thank Tom for his outstanding service and wish him well during his retirement, particularly in enjoying the company of his family.

It is only appropriate the Ceann Comhairle should make a little time available for comments on Tom McGrath. I arrived here very shortly before he did and I recall the young usher about whom the Ceann Comhairle spoke so fondly. Over the 37 years he has been here he has witnessed political changes and political history at first hand. As the Ceann Comhairle stated, he has served eight taoisigh and seen the House rise for ten general elections and many by-elections. He has witnessed political careers rise and soar and go into oblivion. He was present for some of the most heated, vigorous and sensitive debates in the House. As the Ceann Comhairle pointed out, he has greeted presidents, prime ministers, royalty and dignitaries from throughout the world. He greeted many Members of the Houses on their first day in the premises. He did all of this with unfailing courtesy, professionalism and dedication to the highest standards of the Houses of the Oireachtas. We who are in these seats in the House carry out our duties only with the incredible support Tom and all those who work with him provide for the Members of the House. It is support I have deeply valued and appreciated over my many years in this place and I know my colleagues on all sides share this view.

We are lucky to have a Parliament which is so accessible to visitors from home and abroad who come here to see how we work. We hope they might leave with a favourable impression of the structure of the Houses. Whatever about the performances of the Members, who are only the temporary staff, visitors leave impressed by the presentation of Leinster House and with a greater sense of Leinster House's history and a deeper understanding of the Dáil and Seanad. That is to the credit of the wonderful team Tom has led, and it is something of which he can be immensely proud. He has given the State and the House a career of dedicated service, and on behalf of the Government I wish him every success and happiness in the time ahead.

Tom McGrath is a man with deep Tipperary roots and I hope the time following his retirement gives him an opportunity to devote some time to the things he cherishes. I have no doubt iománaíocht in Tiobraid Árann is among the loves of his life. I thank Tom for his friendship, kindness and support and for his public presentation of the highest standards of service and integrity in Dáil Éireann.

Ba mhaith liom i dtús báire mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le Tom McGrath as ucht na seirbhíse atá tugtha aige don Dáil agus don Oireachtas i rith na mblianta. Ba mhaith liom freisin comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis as ucht an méid atá bainte amach aige sa Teach seo. Táimid go léir buíoch de. Tá súil agam go n-éireoidh go geal leis sna blianta atá roimhe lasmuigh de Theach Laighean amach anseo. I am delighted to join the Taoiseach and everybody in the House in wishing Tom a very long, happy and enjoyable retirement. I was struck by the Ceann Comhairle's introduction. 1977 was a momentous year in terms of political events. I can accept no culpability for it as I was a 17-year-old second level student who none the less enjoyed reading about the extraordinary victories a certain party had on that occasion. Tom came in on a momentous occasion. I acknowledge that I have also experienced momentous elections from that time to the present day. All Members of the House have been struck by the professionalism, warmth, commitment and pride that the ushers and all who work here take in the Oireachtas and in what it represents. Tom was the personification of this in the conduct of his duty.

As a Corkman I always like an opportunity to pay tribute to Tipperary people. I have no doubt we will meet Tom more often, perhaps on occasions when spring breaks and the Munster championship begins afresh and anew. Be under no illusions - our dander is up, notwithstanding what happened this year, and we will head to Thurles next year with some degree of confidence. Tom has always been very courteous and professional with the public and Members of the House. He is particularly synonymous with the very good and informative tours of Leinster House, and many delegations who came here spoke of his knowledge about the detail of its history and all that went with it. His knowledge is par excellence, as is his enthusiasm about the history of Leinster House what it represents for the country.

I am very conscious that memoirs are the order of the day as we head into Christmas, and Eamon Dunphy and Sean Óg Ó hAilpín are launching their blockbusters. Given his experience and knowledge - I know the Captain might look askance at the suggestion - it seems to me the period from 1977 to 2013 would be one hell of a memoir from the perspective of a head usher or usher, in terms of excitement, interest and no little gossip about what transpired over the years. Suffice it to say Tom has done his country some service. We wish him a healthy and enjoyable retirement and, may I say, a politics-free environment in the years to come.

I do not have 30 years' service in this place but I can say from the recent years I have served here that I have always been struck by Tom's professionalism, courtesy and good humour. Let this be said also of all of the ushers who work in the Oireachtas. I join with others in thanking Tom for this and in congratulating him for such an outstanding record of public service. The idea of a memoir is quite a good one and I am taken with it. It certainly would make interesting reading. I would like to let Tom know that when his name was first mentioned in the Chamber this morning the beginnings of a chorus of "Ooh, aah, Tom McGrath" started and then stopped. It would accurately reflect the esteem in which he is held on all sides of the House. I wish him and his family well in his retirement. I wish Tom health and the enjoyment of the Premier County, which I can say with deep sincerity, having a Tipperary mother. Ar son Shinn Féin, ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le Tom. I thank Tom and wish him the very best of luck.

On behalf of the Technical Group, I would like to join in saying farewell with great affection to Tom McGrath. It has always been one of my greatest nightmares that either Tom McGrath, or Denis, who was the manager of the bar, would write memoirs. I do not think any Member of the House would wish that to be done with any degree of sincerity or truth and I hope he does not do that.

Having said that, I would like to pay enormous tribute to Tom McGrath, whom I have known for, I suppose, 30 years, like the Taoiseach and other Members of this House. It has always struck me that the dignity with which the ushers, and Tom in particular, have carried out their duty has been something of an example which we might follow, but which would not do us any good in our political careers. They carry a quality which we do not have, which is a kind of professional anonymity which has served this House extraordinarily well, but for which they do not get the sort of recognition politicians get. I would like to say that I believe there is a unanimous respect for the work the ushers, like Tom McGrath, have done over that period. We do not often get an opportunity to thank them for doing that, and I would like to do it on behalf of the Technical Group here today.

I agree with so much that has been said by other Members about the pride that he took in his job. I too would like to echo what has been said about the extraordinary dedication which he and many of the others have shown in taking tours around Leinster House. They are responsible not just for the fantastic condition of this House but, by sending the message out about this House and about the great traditions, the pride, the rules and the enormous history this House has, by taking those tours around and by facilitating members of the public in bringing them to the Visitors Gallery, they send out a different message about this House from the one we sometimes do. That is a very important role which they have to play.

I would like to reiterate what has been said. I wish Tom McGrath a very happy and very long retirement and I want to thank him very much indeed on behalf of the Technical Group.

On behalf of the Labour Party, I agree with all of the tributes paid by my colleagues to Tom McGrath, whom I knew before I came into this House and have known well since I came in. He has, indeed, taken great pride in the discharge of his duties.

These exchanges have been useful in that they have established on the record that Deputy Micheál Martin cannot be blamed for the mistaken decision of the people in 1977. When it comes to more modern times, I cannot be so generous.

I would be worried if you were.

I would like to thank Tom McGrath for his service to the Oireachtas and to the people, and to thank him for his unfailing courtesy and professionalism down the years. I hope he enjoys his retirement.

On behalf of the "others", could I make a few remarks?

I thought the Deputy was still in the Labour Party.

The "others", an ever-expanding group.

On behalf of the "others", and a number of us sitting on the benches here, I would also like to thank Tom warmly for his service over the past 35 years or so. It is fair to say he has always been a good friend of mine. As the Ceann Comhairle knows, Deputies cherish deeply the support system provided by the Oireachtas staff, Oireachtas commission staff and, indeed, the ushers. Very often, the first sounding board we have in regard to public policy comes from our friends around the House and from the ushers. I know Tom has been a diligent, committed public servant, a really dedicated staff member of these Houses, and he has carried out all of his duties as usher and head usher to perfection. Over my own 20-plus years in this House, I have had to seek the protection at times of the Ceann Comhairle and, indeed, earlier Ceann Comhairligh, and I have always received tremendous help and support from our staff of ushers, Tom in particular. I want to wish him very well on behalf of the "others" on these benches.

Thank you, Tom. We wish you well and wish many years of happiness in retirement to you and your family.