Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020: Motion for Earlier Signature

I move:

That pursuant to subsection 2° of section 2 of Article 25 of the Constitution, Seanad Éireann concurs with the Government in a request to the President to sign the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020 on a date which is earlier than the fifth day after the date on which the Bill shall have been presented to him.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to speak. I thank all Senators for the way they have treated this Bill today. During a period of emergency like this, it is really important that the normal functioning of democracy continues, that questions are asked and that opposing views are aired but it is so important that this Bill passed through this House this afternoon. I thank all Senators for allowing that to happen and for the manner in which they raised their concerns or views on the Bill. The fact that this Bill is about to commence its final phase before it becomes law means that potentially very many people who will need support from the State next week will now get it. I am also conscious that these are the last moments of this session of the Seanad and I wish all those Members who will be getting ready for the count next week and those Members who may be going on to other things either through choice or not every success. I thank them for the courtesy and rigour with which they have always treated me when I have been in this House. I thank the Cathaoirleach and all his staff and wish everybody good luck in the days to come.

I will allow each group one minute to say farewell and comment on this Bill.

I was not expecting that and as I am the only one in my group who is here-----

Well it has been requested by a couple of Members.

-----I had better say something. I thank the Cathaoirleach and Minister. The legislation passed here is very significant and momentous and I am glad I was able to play my part in it. To everybody here, it has a been a wonderful experience for me and I hope to continue it but who knows? They are in the post upstairs somewhere but we will have to wait until Thursday to get the result. I wish everybody the best. I have enjoyed working with every single person here, including my own group and every other group, being in the Chair and so on. Hopefully, I and many other people who are running can get back.

It is a tiny level of trepidation in comparison to what we are facing as a country. In the last few weeks of the campaign sometimes it was difficult to talk about trying to get oneself elected when there were so many things going on in people's lives and businesses that are far more serious and significant in terms of how people are going to exist. I wish everybody the best. I wish the very best to the Minister and the Government. I also wish the very best to whatever form of Government we will have in the coming weeks, and whoever is involved in it, in making sure that our country emerges from this awful pandemic and crisis as best we can. I am happy to play my part, as is my party and our group in the Seanad, in whatever happens. I wish everyone in the country the very best. I wish everyone who is suffering with this awful viral disease the very best in terms of getting better and that their circumstances can be mitigated and made better as best they can.

I will not delay you long, a Chathaoirligh. This may be the last time I will ever speak in this House. I will let the Minister know on Thursday morning.

First and foremost, I thank my colleagues for the support that I have always had since I entered this House. I thank the Government for the way in which I have always been treated. Any time I ever sought information or assistance I always got it. When one sees the words "emergency measures in the public interest" on the front of a Bill, it strikes horror in the hearts of all Irish people dating back to 2008 or thereabouts.

I compliment the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and the Government for putting the citizen at the centre of this legislation, for thinking of the people of this country first, making sure people have incomes and that they have something to look forward to in what must be the blackest days in some of our lives. As I wandered around the supermarket, which I have only done twice since we were asked to stay at home, when I went out for essential supplies I was amazed to see how afraid people were as I walked towards them and how they looked towards the ground, almost embarrassed to say they were afraid. I would be lying if I said I was not petrified myself of the likely outcomes of this virus. I hope to God it passes my door and does not enter the doors of anybody that I know. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, has done a good job. He has put the citizen first.

My final kick is that the Minister should please go back and have a look at the Defence Forces and do something about the military service allowance. The members are decent young men and women who should be training as cadets but today they are taking phone calls. It is the same thing for apprentices and recruits. I ask the Minister to do that as my final, final word in the Seanad.

That is the third time today the Senator has made that point.

I give high praise to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and all Ministers for the work they have done throughout this terrible ordeal our wonderful country is going through. I do not often agree with Senator Craughwell but I always agree with him on defence matters. I have spent the past four years harassing the poor Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, on behalf of the Defence Forces. On my last day I will not leave without giving one last push, that is, that the Defence Forces would be paid a fair day's salary for a fair day's work, which is what we have always sought in here.

I was very honoured to have been elected here in 2016. I have served to the best of my ability over the past almost four years. It has been a great honour to have worked with everybody here of all parties and none. I hope anyone who wants to be back will be back and that those who decide not to come back will have a wonderful future. Throughout the crisis what has been said all along is that we should pull together by staying apart. We must do that and we must keep saying that because people get complacent. When we leave here today we need to keep pushing the message that we need to pull together by staying apart. I thank the Minister and the Government. In parting, I believe the next Government we have will be critical for the country. I strongly believe that the next Government should be a Fine Gael-led Government. I am not bothered by the fact that it is 35 seats versus 37 seats. Fine Gael has shown that it is the best Government in times of crisis and that is the direction in which we should be going.

I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for your courtesy and how fairly you have always run the House. I also thank the wonderful staff without whom we could not have survived in here.

I wish the Minister well. Any Cabinet or any organisation is always better with a Tottenham Hotspur supporter in it. Am I correct in saying that the Minister is a Tottenham Hotspur supporter?

I wanted to clarify that. He looked a little concerned.

I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for your courtesy and fairness throughout the past four years. You have done an excellent job. I thank all the staff here. I thank all colleagues on all sides and all parties for their courtesy and, indeed, their patience at times. I wish everybody well in this difficult period. Let us keep safe and keep well.

Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, because you have been so patient, so good, so fair and so even-handed. You have served extraordinarily well and honourably in your role as Cathaoirleach. I thank all the staff who I know are working under difficult circumstances, even to arrange these sittings of the Houses.

I am very proud to have been part of the Twenty-fifth Seanad. It has been an extraordinary Seanad in terms of the real changes it has made in law and in policy which has affected people's lives. Private Members’ Bills and ideas which came from different sides of this House have gone on to become law and shape lives. Democracy, as the Minister said, really does matter. We have just come out of the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions which reminded us that human rights and laws matter, even in war. Human rights and laws matter when democracy matters, even in times such as this unprecedented challenge that we face.

The choices people make in terms of election are important. I urge those who can safely do so to cast their votes today because there are still elections under way. It is important because the choices they make affect the space and decisions we make together. If I am lucky enough to be in the next Seanad, I hope the Minister will recognise the key role the Seanad and its expertise has to play as we face into the next challenges. Whatever government may form, be it a national unity government or negotiated one, the Seanad will always give an additional expertise and different perspective. The 11 Taoiseach’s nominees should be those who can really contribute to this national debate and decision-making at this time, be they from a party background or not.

I commend the Minister for the work of the Government, particularly under duress at this time and for emphasising the importance of continued, active and civil engagement with all parties in the Oireachtas.

I wish us all safety.

I am making a ruling now. I was being lenient allowing one from each group but then people started emerging. Next thing, I will have a full House and everybody will want to speak. Anybody who is in the House has one minute and then I am closing the door.

I thank all Members for the work they have done for the past four years. I have not agreed with everybody in the House but their good intentions were certainly there.

I wish the Minister the best in these difficult times. He has done extremely well over the past several weeks and I thank him for that. I thank the public and civil servants who are going to work every day and working so well and diligently. They are not thanked often enough. The professional Civil Service we have underpins our democracy. Whatever Government is elected, one can depend on our public servants to do their job.

I also want to acknowledge the front-line services from doctors, nurses, cleaners to the person working in the supermarket stacking shelves. We will come out of this stronger. When we do, however, we have to look at who are the true risk-takers. The true risk-takers over the past several weeks and in the coming months are those who provide those important services. They support the health services. They provide the masks.

They are going to make sure there is food in the supermarket. Be they farmers, staff working in the warehouse who load the truck that goes to the supermarket or the staff at the till in the supermarket, who are mainly female, they are making sure we can get the necessities of life. I hope that, at the end of this, we will realise they are the real risk-takers. Over recent weeks, they have risked their health. In the coming weeks, we will expect them to do the same again. Every morning, they will leave their families to do their jobs. To them, I say thank you.

This is my last contribution in the House because I am not going forward for re-election. I wish the incoming Seanad the very best of luck. It will be very difficult and mistakes will be made. All parties and individuals have to realise this, regardless of what Government is formed. The Government is acting at such speed that there will be mistakes, but they will not be made on purpose. Mistakes will be made because the Government will want to do the best it can as quickly as it can. A personalised attack should not happen. We have to seek to have a Government that acts in the best interest of the citizens. I accept that and accept that there will be mistakes made but the Government will not be setting out to make them. It will be trying to deliver a really good service to citizens. In that regard, I applaud whatever Government comes in. Over the next weeks and months, I will do my share voluntarily in whatever way possible. I wish the incoming Government the best of luck. I wish everybody who has gone forward for election to the Seanad the best of luck. Above all, I wish my neighbours, fellow Dubliners and fellow countrymen the best of luck over the coming months. We will get through this.

I, too, wish the Cathaoirleach all the best and thank him. We have not always seen eye to eye but he has always been fair. The Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Coghlan, is stepping down. Both he and the Cathaoirleach have done an excellent job. I thank the ushers and other staff in Leinster House for the courtesy they have shown me and all Members. They are going through difficult times themselves. They are affected as well as the rest of us.

This is my last day in politics. It has been strange. I got back into politics in the midst of an crisis, an economic one, and I am leaving in the midst of a medical one. I hope everyone will stay as safe as they can, remain healthy and adhere to the advice. Let us keep our distance, talk to people, make a phone call every day to someone we know, who may be elderly, and help them in whatever way we can. We can all do something in this crisis.

I appreciate the work of the members of the medical profession. They have stepped up to the mark. I appreciate the work of my colleagues in the agriculture sector and all those along the food chain, who are working to ensure food is provided for people.

I wish the Minister and his colleagues the best in the talks that are going ahead. It is vital that we get a stable Government over a period. We will come out of this. This is a country of resilient people. This is a resilient country and we will stand together and be strong when we come out of it. I wish everybody going for election the best in the counts next week. Those who are stepping aside, like me, have another door to go through. Let us see what that leads us to. I wish everybody all the best. Stay safe and keep your distance.

I am relatively new to the Seanad. I have been here for only two years. In those two years, I have been fortunate and privileged to meet many great people. I always urge people outside Leinster House not to underestimate the value of this building and the people in it. I ask them not to underestimate the importance of the Seanad because it is critical.

Considering the crisis we are all living through, the irony for me is that the year 2020, in which there have been no St. Patrick's Day celebrations, has seen a bigger celebration of what it means to be Irish and of the nation state. In an era in which we have seen the worst of humanity, we have also seen the very best.

We have seen how people can pull together and work together. If we take anything away from the coronavirus crisis, it is the fact that if we knuckle down and get on with things, working together as a collective, we can achieve much more. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be here. I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Paul Coghlan, who chaired the Seanad fantastically and professionally. I applaud them for that and thank them for the privilege to work with them. I think that when there is a crisis like this, sometimes the cream rises to the top, and we have been privileged and honoured to have good people in key positions in the Government. It is a case of keeping steady to get through the crisis. Whatever happens next week, I wish my fellow Senators and my colleagues in the Independent Group all the best. It was a pleasure to work with them all.

We have no idea of where we are, where we are going to go or how long it will last. We are waiting for the storm to come. We listen to and are guided by the science. We value what is most important: our people and our public services, especially the health services. This has shown that universal healthcare can be achieved and is the best way to achieve a public health system. It is a wake-up call for this country, that we need to roll back the privatisation and commodification of our health. I ask everybody to stay safe. It has been a delight to work with them. Maybe we will all see each other soon.

I thank the Minister. He is doing vital work for our country, not just now, but in how it will shape us going forward. It is still unknown. I have no doubt that the decisions that he is making now, under enormous pressure, will help our country and society. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his forbearance and wish him well next week. I offer best wishes to my good friends who are not standing next week. I have no doubt that great people such as Senator Lawlor or others could end up back in here again in some shape or form. I never say never to these things. I thank them for their friendship, loyalty and their service to this Chamber, our country and our people. It is easier to do other things. It is not necessarily always easy to be in politics. What we are doing in this Chamber is justifying what the people decided in 2013 when they voted to retain Seanad Éireann as a second House. Every day that we are here, working on behalf of the people, it is to justify their decision and make their decision the correct decision. I wish colleagues well. Martin, the staff of the Seanad and the staff of the Houses are full of courtesy, decency and integrity, and work hard. We would not be able to do this job without them. I wish everybody well and wish everyone the best of luck next week.

I wish Senators Humphreys and Lawlor, who are not running again, the best of luck in their private lives. I am sure there is life outside politics. I wish those who are running every success next week. I ask the Minister, his colleagues and the caretaker Government to keep up the good work. There are many difficult decisions to be made.

I convey my deepest sympathies to the families, friends and relations of those who have died because of this terrible disease. I wish everyone well who is currently in intensive care fighting the disease, waiting to be tested or waiting for results. It is a worrying time for them.

I thanked a lot of people here today, including all the staff. I forgot one person. On 25 October last, a particular woman, my wife, Eileen, saved my life because I collapsed due to low sodium levels, and spent most of a week in St. James's Hospital, with 14 hours in intensive care. Fortunately, I came out the other side. She is my pillar of strength. Not only did she save my life, she has been there for me in my hours of weakness, which I do have, since I am not invincible.

She has been there for me and is certainly keeping me safe at the moment and wants me home safe tonight. That is my final say before I conclude; I presume we will be adjourning. The House is adjourned sine die.

Question put and agreed to.
The Seanad adjourned at 5.10 p.m. sine die.