Order of Business.

The proposed Order of Business is No. 1, Ombudsman for Children Bill, 2002, which is a Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil and which will be taken as Report and Final Stages; and No. 2, statements regarding the report on the motor insurance industry, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 20 minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes and on which Senators may share time.

The Order of Business is agreed. This almost certainly will be the last full session of this Seanad now that the general election has been called – I assume we will only be called back if there is an emergency of some kind and only after that election. With a bit of luck, at that stage some of us may have gone to a lower place to which, apparently, people wish to go. That, of course, is their choosing and that of the electorate. I wish the very best to all those who have so chosen.

On this occasion, at the end of the life of this, the longest peacetime Seanad, may I, first, pay tribute to you, a Chathaoirligh. I know you do not like fulsome speeches, so I will not be either unduly lengthy or fulsome. You have been a total and perfect gentleman in everything you have done as Cathaoirleach of this Seanad. You have represented the House, at the very highest level, with the greatest dignity and I believe all of us have always felt very comfortable when you were our representative. You treated everybody fairly and you respected the rights of all to a fair hearing in this House. You have an enormous sense of the importance of the House and a great respect for it.

It is a great tribute to your tact and your understanding of human nature that you have never once had to suspend a Member during your five years in the Chair. I know I may have pushed you close to that on a few occasions and that, perhaps, you had to exert a certain degree of tolerance and tact to ensure that you did not have to expel me, or Senator O'Toole or a few other Senators on some occasions. Maybe, on occasion, we deserved to be suspended, but you refrained from doing so.

During the life of this Seanad, there has been a very harmonious spirit in the House and that is largely due to you, a Chathaoirligh. I know you are very sad to leave, but you bring with you the memories of five very good years as Cathaoirleach of this House and the affection and respect of us all. I hope you will have a very long and happy retirement and I thank you for all you have done for this House.

I also wish to thank all of those who contributed to what has been, in many ways, a very pleasant and productive five years. We have a splendid staff – I will not name them – including the Clerk, the Clerk Assistant, all the officials in the office who make every effort to ensure that the highest standards of professionalism are maintained in the running of the House and the reporting staff. I also thank those of the media who bother to turn up here, especially Jimmy Walsh who faithfully reports what happens in the Seanad and tries to get the fullest possible coverage in Oireachtas Report, which has covered the operations of this House very well.

I thank the Leader of the House and the Whips on the Government side. Senator Cassidy and I have had our differences over the years but we remain friends despite that and relationships have never broken down. I thank Senator O'Toole, as titular leader of the Independent group, and Senator Costello for the very smooth relations which characterised the working of this House over the past five years. I also thank my colleagues for their support.

If I have a regret, it is that we did not take the task of Seanad reform seriously enough. The other House introduced a number of reforms in recent years and in that respect we have been left behind. It should be a priority for those of us elected to the next Seanad. I do not know who will be elected or on which side of the House they will sit, but I hope that whoever is here will give serious consideration to the question of reforming the way we do our business and the type of issues we treat in the House. That is for another day.

I wish all those not seeking re-election a very happy retirement. I know they will keep up their interest in politics and I am sure they will remain on good terms with their colleagues in this House. I also wish those, including myself, who will be seeking re-election the best of luck.

As this is likely to be our last sitting day, it is not appropriate to raise matters on the Order of Business. However, in view of what Deputy Hogan said regarding the investigation of child abuse allegations, I consider it necessary to raise this issue. It is alleged that the person leading the investigation has a record of paedophilia or child abuse. It is inappropriate to expand on this, but the Leader's last function should be to send a letter to the Department of Education and Science at least raising the concerns of the House. I am sure all Members would wish to be on the record insisting that this be investigated. It is not a party political matter but one we share across both sides of the House. The lives of children and victims are at stake. To allay our fears we need to know the extent, if any, of this person's involvement in this allegation.

It is appropriate to support what Senator Manning has said. I also wish to be associated with what he said about you, a Chathaoirligh. You and I go back a long way. I have always been proud of the fact that our trade union, the INTO, first nominated you, and continued to do so, in latter years through the ICTU, to a position on the labour panel. Members of the teaching profession consider that they have been extraordinarily well represented by Brian Mullooly in his various roles in this House during the years. This cuts across party lines. Teacher unions are more political than most, but despite this, he has managed to be a unifying force in the respect he has created for the Seanad. He also made it easier for me to gain an entrée. Before I was elected to the House, Brian publicly committed himself within the trade union to support me, although I was less than popular then. That may also be the case at present. Unpopularity seems to chase me. I owe the Cathaoirleach that debt of gratitude.

In executing his functions in the House, the Cathaoirleach has attracted the respect of all sides. At all times he has discharged his duties, not only with a sense of responsibility, but with a sense of style and humour which has brought great credit to the office and which has respected it. We have all been proud to work with you, a Chathaoirligh. Táimíd buíoch díot as an jab atá déanta agat le cúig blian anuas agus as an méad atá déanta agat. It is of huge importance that you discharged it in a manner to which we could all relate and understand and which showed respect for the different views expressed in the House. It has lubricated the business of the House.

It may be that Members on the Independent benches have a greater reliance on the members of the staff of the House in that we regularly deal with them on an individual basis on complicated amendments, etc. There is little understanding of the breadth of knowledge of the two senior officers, the Clerk and Clerk Assistant, in terms of their approach to and understanding of legislation, of the way it is drafted and how half thought out concepts can be worked into acceptable amendments. It is an extraordinary gift, one which many at the status of senior counsel would not have. It has added significantly to the work of the House. As diligent public servants, they have done their jobs par excellence. This also extends to the support we have always received from the other members of staff, including Ellen in the Leader's office, who has helped us on many occasions. It is important that the work of the people concerned is recognised.

I compliment the Leader on his accessibility. This access usually concluded in a row, disagreement or difference of interpretation. In fairness to him, every issue we sought to put on the agenda was eventually addressed. In this way we dealt with a lot of business and many issues of importance.

I also thank the Whips. Senator Manning has been extraordinarily supportive of those of us in the Independent group in terms of getting across our point of view. As co-ordinator of the Independent group, I thank my colleagues who asked me to represent them, despite the fact that there was no agreed point of view on any matter among the five of us. Individually, they have made a huge contribution to the House. This is important, however awkward we may be at times.

I am tempted to reintroduce the amendment I presented on yesterday's Order of Business. On that occasion I expressed the hope the Leader of the House would reflect on the matter and that we could have a debate today on the past five wasted years. Despite all the wealth that has been created, many of our services, including health, education and housing, are in a critical situation, as is crime and the traffic crisis. Doubtless the Leader and Members on the other side of the House would have other things to say on these issues. It would be well worthwhile, on our last sitting day and as the Taoiseach seeks a dissolution of the Dáil from the President, to debate what we have to show for the Celtic tiger.

I wish to be associated with all that has been said. I always found you a very fine and fair Cathaoirleach. Given the nature of your job, that is very important. We, on this side of the House, received more than our fair share of generosity and latitude from you. I very much appreciate what you have done for the Seanad and the dignified way in which you have run it. That nobody has been suspended from the House during your tenure is probably a record. It is certainly an enviable one. I wish you very well in your retirement and hope it is happy and long. Doubtless others will chase the many votes in County Roscommon and the west which in the past were tied up for the Seanad and which before now they had no hope of securing.

I compliment the Clerk, Clerk Assistant and the other staff of the House. They have dealt with us in a most helpful and courteous fashion. There have been late night sittings, with legislation and amendments brought forward at unearthly hours and, one might say, in an unearthly condition. This involved a huge amount of work and they have always been helpful in doing that. That added to the professional manner in which the House conducted its business.

I compliment the media. Jimmy Walsh has always endeavoured to give as much coverage as possible to the work of this House. I also thank RTÉ for its coverage.

The Leader of the House, Senator Cassidy, has been a fine leader. He was always accessible and nearly always good humoured. He got more legislation initiated in this House than any previous leader and that is a fine record. It adds to the importance of the House that Ministers are happy to initiate their legislation here, where they know it will be debated thoroughly. I pay full tribute to the Leader of the House for the good work he has done in that respect. I also compliment the new Chief Whip, Senator Farrell, and assistant Whip, Senator Moylan.

Finally, I compliment my colleagues, Senator Manning and Senator O'Toole, the leaders of the groups on the Opposition benches, although this has been disputed in the case of Senator O'Toole.

It is beyond dispute.

I thank them for their co-operation and all my colleagues on both sides of the House. I wish those who are retiring a happy retirement and those who are going forward again every success.

My colleague, Senator Lanigan, and I are among the many Members who are retiring. As I came to the House this morning I asked: "What is in store for us now?" He replied: "Free travel and social welfare, I suppose." That is a great advance on what the late Eamon Keane said on one occasion when, in a state of poor health in a hospital ward, he looked at a colleague and said, "You know, Paddy, I think there is little left for us except prayer and porridge".

I endorse what has been said by other Members about you, a Chathaoirligh. I did not seek election to this House but when I arrived here I was immediately struck by the differences between it and the Lower House, the manner in which business is undertaken and conducted and the amount of business that can be completed on a given day. A great deal of that derives from the manner in which the Chair organises business, deals with speakers, gets the debate up and running and keeps the debate on track.

It has been an enormous privilege to have worked with you, a Chathaoirligh, in my last session in the Oireachtas. You were the essence of courtesy and competence. Seán Ó Riordáin was not a lover of the public in general but when he liked somebody, he did so with a passion. He would say, in his great column in The Irish Times, “chuideodh sé leat bualadh leis”– it added to one's own value to meet that person. I believe it added value to all of us to work with somebody with your approach to work, your courtesy and your competence. I thank you for that and I hope there is a great deal more in your life when you retire than prayer and porridge. I am sure there will be, although there is nothing wrong with prayer and porridge, provided it is not the only thing you have. I hope there are other things as well.

I particularly thank the staff of the House. They have been enormously supportive and helpful to each Member. Again, they are the essence of competence and courtesy. We are lucky to work with such people. I thank Deirdre, Jody and all the staff of the House.

I thank everybody in the House. When I first came to the House, it was new to me. There is a good spirit among Senators in their efforts to do the right thing for our country. They try to put the best possible legislation in place for society. It was a great experience. The House does a great deal of valuable work. I will not be in the next Seanad but it has the capacity and potential to do a great deal more if given the opportunity.

I also thank Jimmy Walsh, who has been great. It is not always easy to get coverage for good, constructive, day to day drudge. If the Cathaoirleach had thrown a few of us out, the Seanad would have had a higher profile because that is the way the media operates.

I have a few things to say to those who are seeking election to the other House. I have enormous respect for people who have the courage to put themselves before the electorate, as they will be doing in the next three weeks. I wish all of them well. This country is lucky to have candidates of the calibre and character of most of the candidates on offer. We should not forget that and we should not take it for granted. For that reason, I appeal to the electorate to come out and vote. We should not take it for granted. Democracy is a delicate thing which can easily be eroded and taken away. There is a choice of candidates who are worth supporting and who are worthy of our votes. I appeal to the electorate not to do the dog in the manger but vote for the candidate of their choice.

I would particularly like to see more women in both Houses. The women I have encountered here in my 15 years in the Oireachtas have each done their work efficiently and well. It is poor judgment that more women do not succeed in getting themselves elected to the Houses. At each election there is an opportunity to close that deficit and put it right. I therefore appeal to the electorate, where they have a choice to vote for a woman who has the potential to be a good representative, to vote for them. I hope to see more women in the Houses after the election.

I thank everybody in the House. We worked well together. There were occasional sparks but that is the nature of the business. I found it extremely interesting to work with everybody in this room and I thank them for that, especially the Leader of the House.

I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for your fairness as Chairman and acknowledge the respect with which you are held for your work in presiding over this body over the last five years. I have enjoyed a good friendship with you and we have worked well together. If I was late occasionally for the changing of the guard, you were most understanding. When we were not discussing the workings of the House and the various matters coming before it, we were probably discussing the workings of a four legged friend in which we both have a share. Although the Dáil has been dissolved, there will be no dissolution of the grand alliance. I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for representing us with distinction both at home and abroad. You have elevated the standing of this House, its work and its Members.

I particularly thank the Clerk and Clerk Assistant, Deirdre and Jody, and the staff for the work they have done over the past five years. If Senator O'Toole was talking about benchmarking and one was trying to get extra resources, one would certainly look to the work done in the Seanad office, pound for pound, with Aisling and Veronica and with Tony, Peter and Eileen before them. I thank them, in particular, for all their help. It was mentioned that they help out with the drafting of amendments and the framing of motions, etc. I know some Members nearly wanted the staff to think up amendments and table them for them perhaps because they did not have the time to do so.

I thank the various Members who acted as temporary chairpersons during the years. I certainly tried to give encouragement to some of those who might aspire to be Cathaoirleach in the future, to give some opportunity to get experience.

There is one person who is not present whom I would like to mention, in particular, that is, former Senator Tom Fitzgerald. I am sure we would all send him our best wishes. I was missing on the day his resignation was announced.

I thank all other staff members and, in particular, members of the press, some of whom came to the House often. If we could single out one person, it would be Mr. Jimmy Walsh who has covered the proceedings of the House day in, day out. I would like to think that he was particularly helpful to me. He gave me the odd little bit of coverage.

I have been a Member of the House for 13 years. We do not know what the next few weeks will bring to any of us. There are various Members who may be running for the Dáil, there will be others running for the next Seanad and others who are retiring. I wish them all the best. I also wish all the best to the various leaders and Whips, some of whom I worked with in the past, and, in particular, the five members of the Independent group, who each lead for themselves. I thank all Members for their co-operation, during the time I was Whip, Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach. Whatever the next few weeks bring, I wish everybody all the best.

Like other Members, I join in the tributes being paid to you, a Chathaoirligh, but before I do so I want to say a few words, as the longest serving Member present, apart from Senator Des Hanafin, who unfortunately cannot be present this morning. The 25 years I have served in the House have been valuable, entertaining, educational and amusing. One could go through all the words in the dictionary and not encompass what has happened here in the past 25 years in one little paragraph.

The Seanad has had good and bad days during those 25 years. I suppose I contributed to some of the bad ones. I hope I also contributed to some of the good ones. When I look at the Cathaoirleach, the fantastic job he has done over the past five years and the manner in which he has composed himself and been able to bring the Seanad along with him, I think back to the diversity of those who sat in the Chair and the differences between, say, Tras Honan and Jim Dooge or between Pat Joe Reynolds and various others. Each and every one had their own manner of utilising the Chair and bringing or attempting to bring the Seanad along with them. We have had a period of five years of calm to which I know you have contributed in no small way.

We should not forget that the Cathaoirleach shares equally as Chairman of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. During the five years he has been chairing the committee, the Cathaoirleach has kept a cool head, particularly when issues which could have been difficult for the Seanad were brought forward. But for his chairmanship, matters might have taken a different direction from time to time.

The Seanad is an integral part of the Oireachtas. Its integrity should be maintained at all times. I have always believed that the parachute or umbrella attitude towards the Seanad should disappear and that the integrity of the Seanad, as a House of the Oireachtas, standing on its own, should be of prime importance. This does not mean that it is not important at times when somebody loses his or her seat or is trying to get a seat in the other House, but this should not be a learning House. Equally, it should not be a House where the geriatrics come when they finish elsewhere.

I received a telephone call from somebody who tried to persuade me to change my mind and run again, who said, "Mick, you are not gone past your sell by date yet". I am not too sure whether I have or not, but nevertheless the time comes when one can leave a particular job one loves, look forward to a different style of life in the future and look back at the great work done in a place like the Seanad.

There have been many innovations in and changes to legislation in this House. We have had a huge number of different types of people in the House who came from all walks of life. Whether they were from academia, a farming or labour background, each and every one brought to this House their own expertise which served the people extremely well.

The staff of the House have been extraordinary during the years. Deirdre and Jody epitomise the best in public service, as do other staff members, including the ushers, who have been always courteous to each one of us, and staff in the reporting section. While we must look at Mr. Jimmy Walsh as being the one person who has tried most to get a profile for the Seanad, equally I would not like to denigrate what has been done by "Oireachtas Report" each evening by which we have been well served.

I thank each and every one of my colleagues. I wish everybody going forward for election all the very best and hope those of who are retiring have a long and happy life in the future.

I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, the Clerk, Clerk Assistant and staff of the House for the many kind courtesies paid to me during my time as a Member of the House. I concur with the deserving tributes paid to you personally, Sir. I also thank Members of the House. While we are all drawn from different backgrounds, I thank Members for the wonderful friendship and camaraderie I have enjoyed with them in recent years. I have always considered it to be a great privilege to have been elected a Member of both Houses of the Oireachtas. This is a happy memory I will always cherish.

I will now call the Leader of the House to reply, although several other Members have indicated that they wish to be called. I know the Leader and others are under time constraints.

This will not be the last sitting day before the Seanad elections. While I appreciate there are time constraints on us today, I take the opportunity to thank you, a Chathaoirligh, with all the other leaders and Senators who have served so long in this and the other House. I thank you for your kindness, courtesy and safe pair of hands in handling the affairs of this House over the past five years. I have had the great honour and privilege of standing with you on the Labour panel and being elected in the past six Seanad elections and also of working with you in the various positions you held before becoming Cathaoirleach. It is fair to say you have commanded the respect of everyone in this House and everyone who has come to know you in your position over the last number of years. I thank you personally for all the great advice you have given me over my five years as Leader of the House.

I also thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his kindness, friendship and courtesy over the five years. I thank the Clerks, particularly Deirdre Lane, who has been a tower of strength in terms of the advice she has given me, and Jody Blake, who has also offered great help in this time.

I join others in commending Jimmy Walsh on his coverage of the House and also in commending "Oireachtas Report" which has done this House a considerable service in bringing the good work that has taken place here to the nation. Those of us out on the hustings can appreciate and recognise the benefits it offers us in terms of instant recognition. Despite all the negatives that emanate from other parts of the media, "Oireachtas Report" relays what is actually happening on the floor of the House and enhances the image of the Seanad throughout the country. I thank everyone associated with the programme.

Senator Manning has been a great friend and someone I have worked very closely with over the past five years. He has earned respect through the position he has held in the House and also in his previous capacity as Leader of the House. I thank him for his understanding, friendship and kindness and for the great working relationship we have had on all occasions to ensure the smooth running of the Seanad.

I thank Senator O'Toole and express my hope that he is re-elected – he certainly deserves it. As Chairman of the Seanad Éireann Committee on Members' Interests, I was delighted to be joined on the committee by Senator O'Toole, as well as Senator Manning and Senator Dardis. Senator O'Toole brought his experience, contacts and knowledge of benchmarking to bear on the work of this committee. He has done enormous work for both Houses and their Members, which has taken us from a very poor income at the start of this Seanad to a position where one can live on the income at present. When I started here 20 years ago, the Seanad sat for maybe one day a week whereas now being a Senator is practically a full-time job. I wish Senator O'Toole well and thank him for all the help he has given me over the past five years.

Senator Costello is a neighbour of mine in the north inner city and I thank him for his kind words this morning and wish him well. On most of the occasions I sought co-operation, he was most courteous and co-operative.

I thank Senator Dardis for all his hard work as Deputy Leader of the House and for the many times he took the Order of Business when I was unavailable or had to attend to Government business elsewhere. I wish him well and I thank our partners, the Progressive Democrats, in general for the great working relationship we have enjoyed here in the Seanad and for all their efforts in ensuring the Seanad ran as smoothly as it did.

I wish to express our appreciation for Senator Tom Fitzgerald, who was a wonderful Whip and totally committed to Seanad Éireann. I paid tribute to him a few weeks ago upon the announce ment of his retirement and I wish him well and a speedy recovery. I thank Senator Farrell for his hard work in the last five years as deputy Whip and I am delighted the Taoiseach has appointed him Government Chief Whip for the remainder of the term of this Seanad. I congratulate Senator Moylan from Offaly on his appointment as deputy Whip. He carried out that position for the past year and a half to ensure that everything ran well and smoothly.

At the outset of this Seanad in 1997, we still had the presence of a very experienced and long-serving Senator, the late Paddy McGowan, and I would not like to let this occasion pass without acknowledging the 29 years he served in this House, the contribution he made and the great friendship we all had with him.

To those Senators who are retiring, I wish them all well because this may be my last day as a Member of the House. As everybody here knows, my future is in the hands of the electorate of County Westmeath. To all those who are retiring, I wish them well and hope the friendship we have built up over the years will continue for many years to come. I extend particular good wishes to Senator Lanigan, a former Leader of the House, who came to the Seanad with a reputation as one of the best known sports personalities in the country. When I became a Member of the House, he gave me the opportunity to serve on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and many other committees. I thank him for giving me those opportunities and wish him and his wife all the luck in the future. I know I speak for all sides of the House in that regard.

We have achieved a lot in the lifetime of this Seanad. We initiated 63 Bills, which is unprecedented. There were Governments in the history of the State that did not have 63 Bills processed throughout their entire duration and the initiation of 63 Bills in the House is something of which I am very proud, a feeling that I know is shared by other Members of the House.

This Seanad sat for a longer term than any other since the Second World War and this is an achievement we can all share. I do not believe this record will be surpassed in our lifetime. It was also a Seanad in which, I am proud to say, no Bill was guillotined. Senator Ross and Senator O'Toole will no doubt share my delight in this. Senators were allowed to express their views even into the early hours of the morning.

The 20 years I have served in this House has been a great honour and a wonderful privilege. I express my great appreciation and thanks to my family, most of whom are in the Visitors Gallery, for their great support. If the electorate of County Westmeath decide to elect me to the Dáil, I would be very honoured and will serve with the determination and vigour that is necessary to represent one's people, particularly the people of small villages and rural areas on whose behalf I believe I can make a major contribution. However, if I am not so elected, I would be deeply honoured to return to the Seanad after the general election to continue the work I have been doing over the past 20 years. Looking back over this period, much has been achieved and we have come a long way, both in Ireland in general and in this House, in terms of the way we conduct our business and the important role we now play.

We can introduce reform – we have the report of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution which we debated here last week. That could be our number one priority in the next Seanad. I thank all Members of the House I have worked with over the past five years as Leader and over the past 20 years as a Member of the House.

I thank the Leader of the House, Senator Cassidy, the leader of the Opposition, Senator Manning, and all the other Members of the House for their kind words. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his co-operation and assistance over the past five years; it has been a pleasure to work with Senator Cosgrave.

I thank all those who work in this House for their courtesy and co-operation during the lifetime of this Seanad. I particularly wish to thank the Clerk and Assistant Clerk of the Seanad. Very few people are aware of the huge workload that is borne by the Clerks and all of the other members of the Seanad staff. The Clerk of the Seanad is also a member of the Public Offices Commission and the Referendum Commission; she is the Seanad returning officer and is Clerk to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. The Assistant Clerk is also Clerk of the Seanad Committee on Members' Interests as well as other committees. The work of the Seanad staff is largely unseen and I greatly appreciate their help over the past five years.

I wish every success to those Members who seek election to Dáil Éireann. The Seanad's loss will be the Dáil's gain. I wish every happiness and good health to those Members who are retiring. It has been an honour and a privilege to be Cathaoirleach of this House. Again, I thank all of the Members for their co-operation.

As the Leader has stated, this will not be the last meeting of the Seanad before our election. We will therefore have a further opportunity to say anything that we omitted to say today. Members who did not have the opportunity to speak this morning will be able to do so at a later date. Following my retirement, I look forward to visiting this House from time to time. I hope to be in the Gallery to see my successor elected when the new Seanad meets.

Order of Business agreed to.