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Information for staff

Last updated: 01 Apr 18:15

Dear all,

I think we are all ready to breathe a sigh of relief at the prospect of a break from the intensity of the workload in recent weeks. Thank you all for your tremendous efforts over the last year and particularly over the last short while. It takes a huge and sustained team effort to enable the Houses of the Oireachtas and their committees to meet as frequently as they do in person or virtually and I greatly appreciate the huge effort and superb teamwork that goes into delivering consistently across the organisation for Members and for the the public. In particular, I want to thank our Covid-19 Compliance Team, the ushers, service officers and cleaners who have done a difficult job excellently in supporting the parliamentary community to operate in a safe work environment over the past year.

This week Tim Hayes, Parliamentary Usher, who many of us know has retired after 21 years of service. Tim has been a quiet and unassuming security presence and always extremely pleasant to deal with and was well respected by members and staff colleagues alike. We wish him well on his retirement after his many years of dedicated service in the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Easter is traditionally a time of celebration. In religious terms, for the majority of people in Ireland, it marks The Resurrection and rebirth but it has a similar meaning across many other beliefs. For us today, it also marks the beginning of a period of hope and expectation in terms of how we are dealing with Covid-19. Vaccination rates are rising and incidence rates, while stubbornly higher than we would want, are stable or declining over the longer term. There is the hope, however, that from 12 April things will improve; in-school teaching will return in full, we will be able to move around more freely and meet family and friends in other households under certain conditions and some construction work will restart. We can see the path for the weeks and months to come for a staged re-opening of the country which will be greatly welcomed by all of us.

Before closing there are two interesting things I want to draw to your attention: HR have issued the new newsletter which has some staff news and recipes for Easter and they have also issued a time limited link to a talk with national and international perspectives on the future of remote working which is really useful.

Have a good Easter break, enjoy time safely with your family and friends, follow the basic guidelines that have kept us safe up to this, fanáigí slán agus Beannachtaí na Cásca oraibh go léir

Peter

 


 

26 Mar 18:50

Next week is our last week of the session before we head into the Easter break. The last three months has been a difficult and anxious period for many people but with the vaccine programme due to ramp up over the coming weeks better times are ahead. On behalf of myself and the Management Board I wish to thank you most sincerely for your unwavering commitment and the superb work you have all been doing.  I know it hasn’t been easy as so many people are also trying to manage commitments and pressures outside of work.  
 
In that context I couldn’t help but notice an email that came from Ben Dunne in HR this week on the subject of anxiety. As the year has worn on many people are quite understandably anxious about what’s happening in their lives.  Anxiety is a common and, indeed, natural feeling that everyone experiences at some stage and it is triggered by different things for different people.  The important thing is that if you are feeling anxious our colleagues at the Civil Service Employee Assistance Service are available to help you. Their link gives good advice on the subject.   If you have any queries regarding this or seek any other assistance, please do not hesitate to contact our dedicated assistance officer Ms. Deirdre Farrell, tel : 0761 000 037 Mob: 086 8384358  or by Email: deirdre.farrell@per.gov.ie. Deirdre is a very supportive and empathetic person, and is there to speak to anyone who needs help.
 
You may have noticed that over the last while we have been trying to start a conversation around having a more family friendly and inclusive working environment. This week, the Ceann Comhairle established a Forum on a Family Friendly and Inclusive Parliament to facilitate this discussion.  The objective of the Forum, which has internal and external members, is to consider and make practical recommendations on:

  1. making the Houses of the Oireachtas a more inclusive, family friendly, and gender-sensitive workplace for the parliamentary community;
  2. ensuring that the Houses of the Oireachtas are supported and resourced to take account of gender and equality issues when legislating;
  3. improving the diversity of the parliamentary community to better reflect society in Ireland.

If you have any ideas to offer please contact breda.burke@oireachtas.ie who is Secretary to the Forum.
 
This week the Business Committee met to review the sitting arrangements. The Ceann Comhairle read a letter to the Committee which he had received from Fórsa and the AHCPS expressing concerns at increased activity levels in the Houses. I advised the Committee that it would be more prudent to review sitting arrangements after the Easter given the very uncertain public health situation and the Committee accepted this advice.
 
Through your caution and cooperation we have so far, avoided a cluster of COVID-19 in the Oireachtas complex.  We need to continue this for all of our sakes, and I particularly appeal to all staff to continue to comply with the public health measures which are being implemented throughout the complex and in The CCD.  I understand that wearing a face mask all of the time is difficult, but case numbers remain stubbornly high and the new variants are far more transmissible.  For these reasons, it is absolutely essential that we all continue to protect ourselves and everyone else.  We can do this by suppressing transmission of the virus and ensuring maximum safety through our ongoing compliance with the safety measures such as mask wearing, hand sanitisation, respiratory etiquette and social distancing.
 
Enjoy your weekend, and stay connected at a safe distance. Don’t forget to put the clocks forward on Saturday night!
 
Fanáigí slán.
 
Peter


 

19 Mar 13:00

Just a short update as it is a non-sitting week. I hope you all took some time off and enjoyed the glorious weather we had on the eve of St Patrick’s Day and the day itself. I discovered a little known or discussed piece of information about the man himself this week. This year we were approached by the St Patrick’s Festival organisers to allow programmes they made to be played out on Oireachtas TV. The Ceann Comhairle and the Commission kindly agreed to this request and the Festival organisers were delighted with the results. While they had set up an online TV platform it was viewable only on laptops and other mobile devices. By allowing them access to Oireachtas TV they were able to broadcast their programmes to television sets all over Ireland. In any event, while I was watching a short comedy sketch by Foil, Arms and Hog the name of Maewyn Succat mentioned. According to legend this was the given name of our patron saint – one for the quizzers among you.

On matters formal, HR recently issued a notice on the Covid-19 Working from Home Policy 2021. The policy updates Office Notice 8 of 2020 -- Temporary Home Working Scheme - Arrangements for Working from Home during the Covid-19 Pandemic (1 April 2020). The updated policy is aligned with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) Working from Home During Covid-19 -- Guidance for Civil Service Organisations (which issued 15 Dec 2020). A key change in the policy is to provide information on the Health and Safety Authority updated guidance in November 2020 on Working from Home for Employers and Employees. The Facilities Management Unit will be in contact shortly with the arrangements for the risk assessment set out in the policy. For any HR issues in relation to working from home please contact finbarr.monahan@oireachtas.ie. HR continue to be available to support staff during Covid-19. The information from HR is updated on the following link: Covid-19 HR Office Notices.

On a more personal note, this week will see the retirement of Ted McEnery. Ted has been a stalwart in the Houses since 1980 where he started his career in the Personnel Unit. He returned to Personnel as Personnel Officer many years later and has inducted and onboarded many staff in that time. Over the years he has worked in the General Office, the Journal office and the Bills and for four years was seconded to the Department of Finance. A quintessential Kerryman, Ted’s smile and humour were the first things that many of us saw and heard as we started our careers in the Houses. He is an exceptionally kind man, very generous with his time, a huge supporter of his native football team and his local club Geraldines P Moran in Cabinteely where he is Chairperson, a raconteur of great stories and purveyor of endless good humour. As a union member and Branch Secretary or Branch Chair for more years than most people can remember he has quietly and quickly resolved many issues for branch members. We will miss him when he retires and he will, in particular, be missed by his colleagues in the Committee Secretariat where he has been working as a Committee Clerk on some of the most difficult issues for the last thirteen years. Ted was our ‘Go-To’ man for so many big issues and leaves big shoes to fill.

Enjoy your weekends, stay within your 5K agus fanáigí slán!

Peter

 


 

05 Mar 18:15

This week saw the return to school of younger pupils and Leaving Cert students. It was a relief to everyone that our schools have re-opened all be it on a phased basis. The other development this week was the noticeable increase in traffic on the roads and pedestrians walking around the streets of the capital. Travelling into work on Thursday morning there was a line of traffic approaching Heuston Station which I hadn’t seen for months. There is an increasing sense of fatigue with the level 5 lockdown and that is understandable. But the incidence rate and the risks of transmission are still relatively high and the more cautious approach is fully justified. It would not make sense to throw away the hard gotten gains of the last few difficult weeks.

Business in the House this week dealt with statements and questions and with the Land Development Agency Bill and the Public Service Pay Bill. Committees, showing great flexibility held in person meetings on Tuesday and a range of virtual meetings every day except Monday. I wish to commend the Committees Secretariat for their capacity to support this business and also the staff in ICT, Broadcasting, Superintendent’s, Rannóg, Facilities and the Editor’s Office for their work across the week in support of these meetings.

Next Monday is International Women’s Day. It will be celebrated in a number of ways so look out for the announcements next week. Mellissa English, our Chief Parliamentary Legal Advisor, has prepared a lecture which she delivered for Carlow IT on the theme of ‘challenging stereotypes’. In it she deals, among other topics, with the origins of her office, Women and Irish Political History and progress so far, Women in the Irish Workforce and Workplace Equality in the Oireachtas and recent initiatives to promote inclusiveness and diversity in the parliamentary workplace. We will arrange to have the lecture put up on the Plinth when it is ready. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Catherine Connolly, has also recorded a short video piece for our social media channels which will be released on Monday. Both Houses will also devote time to discussing this important day.

On a sad note, our friend and former colleague Eoin Faherty passed away yesterday. We are so sorry to hear of his passing. Eoin was a fantastic character, a great Committee Clerk, a true sports fan, the driving force behind the retired staff association and the backbone of the Oireachtas rugby team. He will be sadly missed by his family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam Uasal.

Our Health, Wellbeing and Inclusion Strategy will be launched next week on Thursday 11th March. An invitation to the launch will be sent to everyone. The launch event will include a workshop on Wellbeing in the Workplace, by Patricia Murray, Senior Psychologist at the Health and Safety Authority and I hope you will be able to attend. I wish to thank everyone involved in developing this strategy and the Health and Wellbeing Group who actively support HR in developing initiatives to support staff wellbeing.

Our Covid Compliance Team continues to look after us exceptionally well. I would ask you all to continue the great efforts made to date and to continue to respect any instructions given to you by the team. If you are requested to mask up or move to two meters distance please do so without question.

I will leave you on that note, have a good weekend agus fanáigí slán.

Peter

 


 

26 Feb 18:00

This week’s political news was dominated by the Government’s announcement of the extension of the level 5 restrictions until 5 April. While it was well-flagged in advance, the formal confirmation by the Taoiseach of another six weeks of lockdown was hard psychologically. But there is hope. We are starting to get on top of the situation, the vaccinations are happening and seeing pupils going back to school next Monday and at various other dates in March will be very uplifting. The February edition of the newsletter contains messages and tips on how to help us all stay connected and supported as we continue to work apart. Now more than ever we need to stay in contact with one another. In the newsletter our colleagues in Catering are making sure we are kept aware of onsite events even though many of us cannot be there. Other staff members have shared ideas that have kept them occupied over the last few months. The newsletter team are always looking for ideas to connect and share with colleagues to help us through these times. While we are all trying to schedule in some virtual tea breaks with our teams, it is also important to keep in contact with colleagues in other sections who we would normally see on site. So I have a little challenge for you next week: schedule a virtual tea break with a friend who you used to meet on site but haven’t spoken to for a while.

On matters internal, our colleague, Séamus Haughey, Research Librarian and avid Donegal football fan, retired today. Séamus joined the Oireachtas Library in September 1983, as a recent graduate of Economics from Trinity College Dublin, later gaining a Post Graduate Degree in Library and Information Studies. Over the last 38 years Séamus has been the trusted ‘go to’ librarian for information queries on an incredibly diverse range of subjects for Members, their staff, and Service colleagues. Throughout his career he was committed to delivering a first-class information service to Members. He wrote the key guide on how to undertake research on former Members, and was responsible for the production of the first online bibliography of the Oireachtas. In addition to his considerable expertise, colleagues across the parliamentary community will miss his kindness and good-humour. Séamus spent much of his career working in the Library’s Reading Room becoming an expert on the history of the Room. The Reading Room will feel different now with his well-earned departure. We all wish him well in his retirement. And can I say a big thanks to Mairead Treanor and everyone in the L&RS for giving Seamus such a lovely send off on Teams earlier today.

On a similar note I would like to publicly mark the retirement of Dermod Dwyer, Executive Chairperson of the Convention Centre Dublin. Since we have started to sit in The CCD, Dermod has shown great leadership and collegiality in helping us to set up there and to meet the needs of the Oireachtas and of all in the parliamentary community who have to work there. Dermod has had a lifelong interest in Irish and American politics so it was somewhat of a labour of love for him to host the Oireachtas in CCD. I would like to thank Dermod for all of the support given to us by him and his team.

There are other internal changes that I want to let you all know about in relation to our health and safety function. Overall responsibility for health and safety matters is moving from the Superintendent of the Houses, Teresa Doolan, to the Head of Facilities / COVID19 Compliance, Charles Hearne. I don’t usually refer to internal changes in my emails, but Covid-19 is a really critical issue, and for this reason, I want to thank Damian Byrne for his work leading the Covid-19 Compliance Team over the last eight months during which he earned his recent transfer to the Bills Office. The Service has appointed a new Health and Safety Manager, Liam Doherty, whom we welcome and who has succeeded Damian as Covid-19 Compliance Manager. Liam will be developing our health and safety policies and procedures. On this issue, I’d also urge everyone to continue to comply with the various safety measures we have in place including hand washing, mask wearing, social distancing and protecting one another.

In business this week the Houses dealt with the Health (Amendment) Bill which allows for mandatory quarantine of travellers and a range of Private Members’ Bills and Motions. Committees held a full schedule of meetings on Tuesday with further entirely virtual meetings on Wednesday and Thursday. In that regard I would like to thank our Committee Secretariat staff who have worked so hard to hold as many meetings as were permitted under current health advice and also to thank the support staff in ICT and Broadcasting and in the Superintendent’s Section. Special thanks to Michelle Grant and her cross Oireachtas support team for organising the first full virtual meeting of the British Irish Interparliamentary Assembly last Monday which was addressed by the Taoiseach and which went off flawlessly. Also a big thank you to Ciaran Doyle and the ICT unit. We had some technical glitches with our system recently but Ciaran and his colleagues worked enormously hard over the past week to resolve them in advance of BIPA.

The Business Committee met yesterday and on foot of proposals from the Service has agreed that the Dáil will meet for an extra four hours from next week so finishing at 9 pm on Wednesdays and at 7.50 pm on Thursdays and that committee meetings will increase from 12 to 16 from the week commencing 8 March with the addition of a fourth committees time slot from 6.30 to 8.30 pm on Tuesdays. These arrangements will be reviewed on 25 March and I will, as always, continue to brief you as matters evolve. We discussed these changes with our health and safety advisors and we think that with everyone’s support we can facilitate the additional hours whilst continuing to ensure the health and safety of everyone.

Enjoy your weekend. Hopefully Ireland will register their first win in the Six Nations against Italy. Agus fanáigí slán.

Peter

 


 

19 Feb 18:05

Sitting in my office at home I can’t help but notice the daylight. The brighter evenings are nearly upon us and in five weeks time the clocks will be going forward again! I would encourage you all to take advantage of these evenings: get out for a walk, go for a run or do some activity with your family. Our overall well-being can be helped considerably by the simple act of getting out for some exercise when we have the opportunity. I know that everyone is working hard but it helps to take time away from the desk in the morning, during the day or in the evening to give yourself some extra headspace.

Reviewing the news this week, there are many stories which give us hope. There has been a 25% decrease in the number of people admitted to hospital; 280,581 doses of the vaccine were given up to Monday of this week with a planned 80,000 vaccines due to be given this week and 1 million doses a month coming in April, May and June – so there is progress being made on the roll-out which is very good news. Our colleagues in the health service are doing an immense job in rolling out the vaccine for everyone. And we know that it will make a difference to how we look at life and as to what the future may hold. We can see that from the situation in Israel where 30% of the population has been vaccinated and it has made a huge impact on reducing transmission. Let’s hope that we can get to that position as soon as possible.

The schedule of sittings for the Dáil, Seanad and Committees took place over five days this week and will probably be the same again next week. The Business Committee will begin reviewing the schedules next week. The purpose of the review will be to see how we can match the demand from members for more sitting time and the requirement to deal with essential business or important legislation with the need to keep staff and members safe and to continue to operate within public health guidelines. I will continue to keep you briefed on developments. This week the House considered the Land Development Agency Bill while next week should see the introduction of the bill dealing with mandatory quarantine.

Tomorrow, February 20th, is World Social Justice Day. It focuses on looking at how social justice affects poverty eradication. It also focuses on the goal of achieving full employment and support for social integration. One of our strategic goals is to foster a culture of dignity and respect, diversity and inclusion in the Oireachtas Service. In 2021 we will be working on the Equality Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and with your support we will continue with the development of very worthwhile initiatives such as the OWL programme.

My final thoughts this week are with those preparing for the Leaving Certificate exams. It is a stressful time for students, teachers and parents as the Leaving Cert has achieved such an immense status as a point of departure for students from the second-level system to access opportunities in further and higher education or employment. This year it is also a significant challenge for those who are organising the exams, the practical course work and in resolving the issue of predicted grades. I wish our colleagues in the Department of Education and Skills, and all those working together to reach a successful outcome, well in their endeavours.

Enjoy your weekend, stay connected agus fanáigí slán.

Peter

 


 

12 Feb 17:55

I hope you are all well and had a good week. As the days get noticeably longer, we are all looking forward to the vaccine being rolled amongst the general population and the unveiling of the plans for the gradual easing of the lookdown. On Thursday’s Six-One News there was a report about the reopening of our 124 special schools. It featured Rosedale Special School which is in Renmore on the outskirts of Galway. It was so uplifting to see the children returning to their classrooms, full of joy at seeing their friends and teachers again. Scenes like these give us hope and remind us of the goodness that is in our world. While the return to normal may be slow, we know that there are brighter days ahead.

This week the Seanad sat on Monday and Friday, Committees met on Tuesday and the Dáil sat on Wednesday and Thursday in the CCD. These are very challenging weeks for our staff but through your cooperation, professionalism and great goodwill, we have managed our way through the week as safely as we possibly could. I’m pleased to confirm that there were no new confirmed cases of Covid-19 or close contacts / suspected cases reported in the parliamentary community in the last week. I wish to thank all of the staff involved in supporting the sittings and the committee meetings. We have agreed that the closing time for all buildings and car parks in the Houses of the Oireachtas complex next week will continue to be at 7pm each day and that the restriction on visitor access to the Leinster House complex and to The Convention Centre Dublin remains in place. We have issued further guidance to everyone in the parliamentary community to wear masks except while alone, eating, drinking or contributing to debates. And we have made it clear that an exemption that may apply for anyone with a relevant medical condition is subject to the provision of a doctor’s certificate. More than ever we need to protect each other so we will continue to encourage everyone with these timely reminders.

Since Covid-19 began, many people have asked why we can’t simply switch to a full or partial virtual parliament. The answer lies in the fact that we have a written constitution which we are obliged to uphold. There are three main constitutional imperatives which Ramona Quinn calls the 3Ps and these explain why the Houses and Committees must operate from a physical location as opposed to virtually.

  • Place: The constitution addresses the location of the exercise of parliamentary power in Article 15. It unambiguously states that (1) the National Parliament will conduct sittings (2) that those sittings will be in public and (3) that they must be conducted in a place chosen by the Houses.
  • Presence: Article 15.11.1 requires that all questions in each House shall be determined by a majority of the members “present and voting”.
  • Privilege: Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of any democratic Parliament and to facilitate this, Articles 15.12 and 15.13 provide for absolute privilege for members’ utterances. The language in Article 15.12 is clear that the privilege attaches to utterances made in either House. Therefore, the protections afforded by the Constitution only apply to utterances made by a member when physically in the House. We might wish it were not so and we might have the technical capability to host a virtual parliament, but the constitution is sacrosanct and we are obliged to respect it.

Tuesday, 9 February, was Safer Internet Day; an important event for the promotion of online safety among young people. This online information will be of interest to parents and a helpful resource to everyone on the safe use of internet. The theme for 2021 is online well-being and digital resilience which is timely given that we are going to issue the updated Covid-19 Working from Home Policy and launch the Health, Wellbeing and Inclusion Strategy in February.

To conclude, this Sunday is Saint Valentine’s Day. The saint’s remains are to be found in Whitefriar Street Carmelites Church in Dublin not too far from the Houses. For those of you interested in the story and who would enjoy reading a small piece of Dublin history, this is a good explainer. Whatever about the story behind the day, do make sure to look after the ones you love and care for and who love and care for you this weekend.

I will leave it there, stay connected agus fanáigí slán.

Peter


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