Updates for staff
Last updated: 13 May 16:00
We celebrated Europe Day on Monday, 9 May which marks the anniversary of the historic 'Schuman Declaration'. The Declaration proposed the creation of a European Coal and Steel Community, whose members would pool coal and steel production and who would later become the founding members of what developed to be the modern-day European Union.
This week also marks the 50th Anniversary of the referendum in which the Irish people voted to join the then European Economic Community (10 May 1972). Over the last two years it was difficult to mark the day as we would have liked but this year we were able to film the flag raising ceremony, hear from young people in a Committee meeting, receive Commissioner Hahn and conduct various other activities which highlight the central role and importance of Irish involvement in the evolving European project. I wish to thank all of the teams who were involved across the organisation in bringing these Service- and Member-led events to us.
Training Section has initiated a very successful set of knowledge sharing seminars for staff. Next week the staff of the Seanad Office will give the seminar on their roles and how they do their work. Previously you would have heard from OCSG, the Bills Office, the Journal Office and the Questions Office. And while the first few seminars have emphasised the procedural aspects of our work there are further seminars planned presented by other non-procedural Sections. The seminars are given on Teams and are easy to access. I encourage you to join the sessions to meet colleagues you may not know and to learn about the great work done across the organisation. I would like to thank the Training Section for organising this initiative as part of the organisation Learning and Development Strategy.
You will recall that we recently asked staff to consider a temporary assignment with the Dept. of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) to assist them in issues arising from the Ukrainian crisis, in particular to support the refugees who have come to Ireland. I am pleased to say that five staff (1 Clerical Officer, 1 Junior Clerk, 2 Administrative Officers and 1 Assistant Principal Officer) volunteered and were supported by their managers and colleagues to commence their roles this month. I wish our colleagues every success in their assignments.
On a happy note, one of our ushers, Eamon Lavin, is retiring shortly. Eamon has been working with us as an usher for nine years having joined us in January 2013 following following a full career as a Chief Officer in the Prison Service. Eamon has been a quiet, pleasant and unassuming member of our security team. We wish him and his family good health and an enjoyable retirement.
I know that you are all well aware of the Covid-19 message as you’ve probably read it here almost a hundred times in the last 26 months, so I’ll be brief – please continue to be careful and respect the safety choices of those who may be living with or caring for vulnerable loved ones.
Tomorrow is UN International Day of Families so enjoy your weekend with family and friends agus fanaigí slán.
06 May 17:15
I hope everyone enjoyed the May Bank Holiday break despite the mixed weather. It was good to get some time off and as we head into these longer days I would encourage everyone to use their leave to achieve a healthy balance between work and personal life. We returned to business in what has been a short but productive week dealing with bills at all stages and with debates on issues of importance to all citizens at local, national and international level.
I wrote last week about the changing Covid-19 situation and we announced our latest updated response earlier this week. We have made a few adjustments to take account of the current public health advice. However, the basic rules are still the same:
- Do not attend Leinster House if unwell
- Wear a mask in busy and crowded areas
- Follow the usual hygiene rules on hand-washing
- Resume attendance in the office 2 days a week and to continue to attend in person where it is required to undertake a particular role.
We have also changed the limit of 20 people at events. Numbers attending will now be subject to the maximum capacity of the venue. This is a welcome change as people are eager to attend events again. Hopefully, it is an indication that things are returning somewhat to normal.
On that note, this week we saw the formal launch of the #Seanad100 programme. There are some display cases in the Garden Room just off the main lobby which contain original Seanad roll books and other artefacts while in the lobby there is a temporary exhibition about some notable Senators from the last 100 years. I wish to thank the Seanad Office and Public Engagement team for their excellent work in making these arrangements.
The Parliamentary Budget Office working with the OECD and supported by our Protocol Team organised a really interesting international conference in Dublin Castle this week. We hosted Budget Offices, independent fiscal institutions and parliaments from over 35 countries around the world. The conference is a very important networking and shared learning opportunity where best practice and improved methodologies are discussed. Among others, the conference was addressed by Commissioner Mairead McGuinness who spoke about sanctions taken by the EU against the aggressors in the war in Ukraine. It went really well and was a great team effort. It was the first major event hosted by the Houses since Covid restrictions were reduced and it was hugely important that it went well. I want to thank Annette Connolly, Denise O’Connell and the team for organising this very successful event.
As always, enjoy your weekend and stay connected with family and friends.
29 Apr 16:00
I hope you all had a chance to take a decent break during the Easter recess and to enjoy some down time with family and friends. It is so important to take time away from the pressures of work and to look after yourselves and those around you. We are heading into the May Bank Holiday weekend which I hope will give you the opportunity to take some extra time to do that.
Business this week was, nonetheless, back to usual with various government Bills and Private Member’s Bills taken at various stages and motions which led to vigorous debate on issues of importance to Irish people across the country. The subject of turf garnered a lot of media coverage. I think we can be quite proud of the fact that the Houses of the Oireachtas are the national forum for discussion and debate irrespective of whatever position may be held on an issue and that we serve to facilitate those debates.
Our Health and Wellbeing team have continued to organise events for 2022. The most recent webinar this week was on Fighting Fake News. I wish to thank the team and the presenters Ciaran O’Connor and Aoife Gallagher from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think-tank based in London which specialises in monitoring disinformation and extremism. I gather it was a really interesting presentation.
Positive Covid-19 cases have decreased compared with recent weeks, but we are still asking everyone to continue to be vigilant and follow public health advice on preventing the spread of Covid-19 infection in the Leinster House complex. We will be issuing new guidance next week to reflect the current public health advice.
The May Bank Holiday has existed in Ireland since 04 May 1994 and is most closely related to the International Worker's Day celebrated around the world on 01 May each year. In Ireland we have long celebrated Lá Bealtaine or Beltane which divided the ancient Celtic year in two and signalled the end of winter and the start of summer – let’s hope the weather holds for the weekend. Enjoy your time off.
08 Apr 16:00
This week we hosted a range of very high profile events. President Zelenskyy addressed a Joint Sitting of both Houses on Wednesday. It was a historic and emotional occasion in front of a packed Chamber. Ukrainian citizens who had recently arrived in Ireland were present in the Chamber to witness the event with the Ukrainian Ambassador while the Diplomatic Corps and other Ukrainian citizens were present in the public gallery. This was also a first in that the address was delivered by video conference by a Head of State from a country at war. It was a hugely significant event. The address from the President brought home to all in a very forceful way, the reality and the horrendous events of this terrible war. From our point of view the planning and implementation of the arrangements by our staff to support the address was first class. I wish thank all those involved but, in particular, I wish to thank Elaine Gunn, Ciaran Doyle, Noreen Banim, Sheila Ryan, Donnacha McKeon, Jason Kiernan, Liam O’Brien and Alan Ruane who led their teams and the various contractors who were so intimately involved in this event. The Ukrainian Day menu created by Julie and John in catering was a brilliant addition to the day. We were also pleased to host Her Excellency Marta Lucía Ramírez, Vice President and Foreign Minister of Colombia on Tuesday and Alison Johnstone, MSP, the Scottish Presiding Officer and her staff on Thursday so it was a very busy and productive week all round.
On staff news I wish to again acknowledge the departure and achievements of Teresa Doolan as Superintendent and to announce that we are pleased to welcome Noel Murphy who has been appointed temporarily as Superintendent and Liam O’Brien who will temporarily take on the duties of Captain. These are important security and front of House positions and I am pleased that both officers have agreed to take on such challenging roles.
Paul Godden is retiring this week. Paul worked for a time for the Fine Gael party as a printer from April 2002 and he then worked as a printer in the print facility from January 2007 until his retirement. Paul is known to all as a hard-working, reliable and chatty character with a wry sense of humour. He will be missed by work colleagues. We wish him and his wife Iris the best for a healthy retirement.
Today is the Cystic Fibrosis Ireland’s Annual Fundraising Day, better known as ‘65 Roses Day’. This is a very worthwhile charity and we have some staff members who suffer from this disorder. If you would like to support ‘65 Roses Day’ there are boxes of Purple Roses located in the Houses of the Oireachtas this week; the self-service restaurant, LH2000 reception and the enquiries desk in Main Hall. Darren Fitzgerald is kindly promoting this charity.
Finally, we are heading into a two-week well-earned break over the Easter recess and I hope you all get an opportunity to take annual leave during this time. I also hope the weather remains kind and that you get a chance to meet family and friends and have an enjoyable Easter Holiday.
01 Apr 16:30
We have reached the 1st of April and I ask myself where the time has gone. I am sure I am not alone in asking myself this question. The first quarter seems to have flown by. This week I want to give a huge thanks to all for the work done to date. Next week is our last before we have a well-earned break for the Easter recess.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Blended Working Policy Framework has now been published on Plinth. This document provides an overarching framework to inform the development of blended working policies in government departments and offices and to ensure a consistency of approach across the Public Service. The HR team have been working on the development of the policy document for the Oireachtas Service in anticipation of the publication of the framework based on two surveys of staff conducted in 2020 and 2021 and an assessment of role suitability for blended working. Consultation with all staff networks is commencing and as well as consultation with staff unions/associations. Staff feedback sessions on the policy will be organised shortly and I strongly encourage you to take the opportunity to give your views on the best approach for making this new way of working operate most effectively for all. We are working towards having a policy in place by the end of June 2022 and I will keep you updated on progress.
On the business front we are deep into preparations for the address of President Zelenskyy to a joint sitting of the Houses on 6 April. The format for the event has been approved by the Business Committee and the Seanad CPPO. It should last for about an hour and promises to be a historic, moving and innovative moment. It will be the first address delivered by video conferencing and all of our teams are working hard to make sure it happens seamlessly. We intend to invite some Ukrainian citizens in Ireland and Ukrainian citizens working in the Houses to be present for the address. The Diplomatic Corps will also be present and the address itself will be carried on Oireachtas TV and on our web and social media platforms. It will also be covered by national and international broadcasters. I want to thank all of the teams across the Service who have been involved in preparing this important work.
World Autism Awareness Day takes place tomorrow 2 April and begins World Autism Month which will be celebrated during April. Autism is something which many people can find challenging to understand and many are unaware of barriers Autistic people face within society. This week, a number of reports and guidance documents have been published to raise awareness and provide supports to people with Autism in Ireland. On Wednesday, AsIAm Ireland’s National Autism Charity, launched a new report, Same Chance Report, which gives a snapshot of where public knowledge of Autism is at presently and what it is like to stand in the shoes of an Autistic person in Ireland. Some of its findings include: Only 4 in 10 Irish people claim to have a ‘good’ understanding of Autism, 6 in 10 people associate negative connotations with Autism and only 6 in 10 people believe autistic children should attend the same school as non-autistic children. If you would like to learn more about autism and how you can support a person you know with autism some useful links include: https://autism.ie/ and https://asiam.ie
Everyone will have noticed that Covid-19 is still with us, and the BA.2 sub-strain is extremely contagious. The Service is monitoring public health advice and will do everything necessary to comply with that advice. Although I've said this many times before, I still need, and genuinely appreciate your continued support in keeping the parliamentary community safe. Please do not come onsite if you have any symptoms, follow the public health advice, wear a mask and wash/sanitise your hands.
Enjoy your weekend, stay connected with family and friends and remember that Sunday is Census night.
25 Mar 12:00
This week, I want to start with a reminder about COVID 19. There have been an estimated 120,000 cases in the last 6 days and with 10 days isolation that means that nationally there have been over one million absences due to sick leave. I issued two staff emails on this matter this week as it is such an important matter. With the increase in positive Covid-19 cases being reported across society (including in the Houses of the Oireachtas), we really have to step up our efforts and remind everyone of our COVID 19 preventative measures. We are doing this because we want a safe workplace. If you are feeling unwell, please do not come onsite. If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, please follow the latest HSE advice. We have published updated COVID-19 guidance documents on the Plinth – please take the time to read them.
The Business Committee agreed yesterday that we would restrict group visitor numbers on site to a maximum of 20 and that we would advise and request that everyone wears masks while on site until the Easter break. Our current advice:
- Wear a mask in the Leinster House Complex unless alone or eating.
- Continued handwashing using soap and water and regular use of hand sanitisers which have been provided onsite.
- Cover your nose and mouth with your bent elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Put used tissues into a bin and wash your hands.
- Choose open, well-ventilated spaces over closed ones. Open a window if indoors.
- Try to avoid crowded places where you cannot keep a distance from people – there’s a greater risk of infection in crowded and enclosed spaces.
- Respect the personal space of others.
- Continue to implement the Clean Desk and Shared Spaces Policy
Between now and Easter, we have also reduced the requirement for staff to attend the office from up to 2 days to 1 day a week unless it is necessary to attend in person to undertake a particular role.
The war in Ukraine has brought some horrendous sights into our homes on a daily basis. The Business Committee has agreed to a proposal from the Ceann Comhairle to hear from President Zelenskyy. This will take place with Members of both Houses at 10 a.m. on 6 April next and will be a moment to show solidarity with the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament and the Ukrainian people. We have a connection with the Verkhovna Rada because five years ago we welcomed a staff delegation from there to LH. Following this Michael Errity, Derek Dignam, Bridget Doody and Karin Whooley travelled to Kiev to run workshops on parliamentary procedure, governance and communications and witnessed at first hand the very difficult situation that people were living under.
The war in Ukraine has also increased the level of risk for cyber-attacks. Our ICT team are doing everything possible to prevent such attacks but we need staff to be vigilant when opening emails or dealing with phone calls, SMS text messages, social media, etc. The Houses of the Oireachtas remain a real target for cyber-attacks. Look out for the unexpected, being asked to do something you have never been asked to do before or anything indicating a sense of urgency, claiming you will be penalized if you do not take action immediately! If you have any doubts, please contact the ICT Service Desk, who are here to help.
Most importantly, even if you think you may have accidently clicked on a link that you now think may be malicious, please contact the ICT Service Desk immediately. Anyone can make a mistake and the sooner we know the more likely it is that we can curtail or mitigate a cyber-attack!
On a more positive note, our Health and Wellbeing event yesterday was about our OWL Programme, the applied learning, development and socialisation programme for young adults with an intellectual disability. The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Roisin Deery, introduced the session and spoke about how the programme was delivered during the pandemic and the successes of the programme. Peter Furlong from KARE discussed the origins of the programme that is run in partnership with WALK and the Houses of the Oireachtas Service since 2018. Jane Courtney and Jessica Potter, the OWL Co-ordinators, discussed the benefits of the programme and the supports they provide to trainees and staff. Three of the 2019-2021 OWL Programme Graduates, Aaron Collins, Kim O'Kelly, and Sarah Carroll, spoke about their experiences of participating in the programme 2019 – 2021. The general consensus was that the programme has been of enormous benefit not only to the trainees but also to the sections of the Service and other workplaces that they have joined. For staff who were unable to attend, or would like to watch again, the video can be viewed on the Plinth here.
A panel of graduates from the programme 2019 – 2021 has been set up and so far 5 of the graduates will be placed in various Government departments and bodies over the coming weeks. The Oireachtas Service are continuing to work with DPER and PAS to secure employment for all graduates. We wish the programme, and the trainees, every success on their continuing journey and careers. A formal graduation ceremony will take place when the current COVID 19 situation improves. For more information on the programme please click here. It is one of the best programmes I have seen in a long time and is a credit to the Houses of the Oireachtas and our staff – long may it continue. I want to pay particular tribute to Margaret Crawley for the fabulous work she has done on the programme since its inception. Margaret has been the driving force behind the programme and deserves enormous credit for its success. Roisin Deery is now leading the Oireachtas team overseeing the programme and continuing the great work.
Finally, I wish to close by letting you know that Teresa Doolan, our Superintendent is leaving her post and moving to the Department of Justice. Teresa has been with us for just over two years and was our first female Superintendent in over 100 years. Teresa has been a brilliant addition to our team; a calm, efficient and highly effective Superintendent who brought a new outlook to the position. We are sad to see her leave us and her expertise will be greatly missed. We wish her every success in the future. Personally, it has been an immense pleasure working with Teresa and I am sure I am not alone in that view. We wish her every success in her new role.
Finally, the weather looks good for the weekend; it’s promised to be up to 18⁰C on Saturday so wherever you are get out and enjoy the sunshine and stay safe.
11 Mar 17:00
As we approach the St Patrick’s Day break, I wish to sincerely thank everyone for the immense hard work that you have all been doing since the start of this session in January. We started the year with great hope that COVID-19 would soon vanish from our everyday conversation. To a great extent the covid situation has stabilised albeit that many people are still being infected daily. However, COVID-19 has been displaced in the news cycle by the horrific events of the war in Ukraine. Our thoughts are with those who are suffering and dying in the conflict and, in particular, with the women, children and elderly who are bearing the brunt of it according to independent reports.
Is cuid de thraidisiún bródúil Thithe an Oireachtais é an Ghaeilge a chothú agus a chur chun cinn, agus tá ról reachtúil againn ina leith sin. Dé Máirt seo caite, sheol an Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Caitríona Ní Chonghaile TD agus Leas-Chathaoirleach an tSeanaid, Seosamh Ó Raghallaigh, Grúpa Stiúrtha maidir leis an nGaeilge don dá Theach. Mar chuid de Straitéis na Gaeilge agus de réir Scéim Teanga Sheirbhís Thithe an Oireachtais, is é cuspóir na nGrúpaí go mbainfear úsáid níos mó as an nGaeilge sa dá Theach. Trí thacaí a sholáthar do Theachtaí Dála agus do Sheanadóirí, oibreoimid chun cur de réir a chéile leis an méid Gaeilge a labhraítear sa dá Theach. Déanfaidh na Comhaltaí a bheidh páirteach sna Grúpaí Stiúrtha faireachán ar an gcuspóir sin.
In the Houses of the Oireachtas, we have a very proud tradition and a statutory role to protect and promote the Irish language. Last Tuesday, An Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Catherine Connolly, TD and An Leas-Chathaoirleach of the Seanad, Joe O’Reilly launched steering groups on Irish Language for both Houses. As part of Straitéis na Gaeilge and in line with our Irish Language Scheme, the purpose of the groups is to focus on greater use of the Irish language in both Houses. Through the provision of supports to Deputies and Senators, we will work towards facilitating a progressive increase in the amount of Irish spoken in both Houses. The Members participating in the steering groups will monitor that objective.
We celebrated International Women’s Day on 8 March with an important debate in the House, by lighting up the Kildare Street façade in purple and by highlighting the day on social media. We will continue to mark occasions like IWD because of their importance and as part of our public engagement programme. The Merrion Street façade, of course, continues to be illuminated in the Ukrainian colours. I wish to thank our hardworking Facilities Team and the OPW who arrange such lighting projects, sometimes at short notice, and our Social Media Team who bring our efforts in this regard to public attention.
Finally, Training Unit have organised an online training course on Workplace Bullying for Members, Office staff, and staff employed by Members and political parties. All staff and Members are encouraged to take the time to complete the e-Learning course, which takes approximately 45 minutes. The purpose of the course is to raise awareness of bullying in the workplace and to help identify it and to explain how to report it. Courses like this are important in promoting mutual respect and in helping us to maintain the Houses as a good place to work into the future.
The weather is promising to be wet and windy for the weekend but hopefully it will be better for next week as we move back to public festivities and parades around the country. Enjoy the Saint Patrick’s Day break and events and stay connected with family and friends.
04 Mar 17:40
The House dealt with many items of business which were in the news for much of this week; there were debates on Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territory and the issues facing the Traveller community. Bills on institutional burials, reducing electricity costs, redundancy payment and health-related matters were also considered. A new joint committee on gender equality also began its work in considering the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly. Seachtain na Gaeilge was marked by statements in the Dáil on Wednesday and in the Seanad on Thursday by an address by Ms. Linda Ervine. All in all a lot of work is being done by our teams, as always.
As we gradually return to the office you will begin to notice that there are many new faces around the place. This is not surprising as we have welcomed 144 new staff since March 2020. Many of the new staff have not met colleagues even in their own sections. During the week I heard of two ways that some sections are dealing with this gap. The Editors Office led by Anne Maxwell did a 'walk and talk' in the Phoenix Park over the weekend which was really successful. Next week the Committee Secretariat will hold a social evening in the Visitors' Bar organised by Noel Murphy. These are simple but really effective measures to get to know each other again and anew, and enjoyable occasions for all those attending.
Brian Hickey retired last week. Astute and unflappable, he was one of the leaders of the Committee Secretariat and had spent many years there as a clerk as well. Brian also served in many of the procedural sections over the years and in many departments having started in the Department of Education. He is an unassuming man and capable of the most honest insights. More often than not he kept his counsel but was someone to whom everyone listened when he spoke. He will be greatly missed by his colleagues and friends and we wish him and his wife, Carmel, many happy years in retirement and in supporting his beloved Dubs.
One final thought: This week, in particular, because many daffodils are now out, you may have pondered about the coming of spring and milder weather. On 1 March we saw the beginning of what is known as Meteorological Spring. Later in the month, on 20 March, we will have the Vernal Equinox or Astronomical Spring. And some hold to the idea that St Brigid’s Day on 1 February marks the end of winter and, therefore, the beginning of spring in Ireland. Whatever date you decide, take time to enjoy the first flush of flowers and maybe the start of serious gardening for the year.
The overall Covid-19 situation in the Houses is still stable and the return to normal is continuing. The key advice is not to attend on site if you have any symptoms, and to follow hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette guidelines. Enjoy your weekend, take time to meet with family and friends and, as always, stay safe.
25 Feb 16:10
It has been quite a busy week on the diplomatic front. The Ceann Comhairle and the Cathaoirleach met with the new US Ambassador Claire Cronin after which the Ambassador was warmly greeted in both Houses. The Dáil also recognised the presence of the Ukrainian Ambassador to Ireland Ms. Larysa Gerasko, who was in the Distinguished Visitor’s Gallery for a very poignant debate on the Russia-Ukraine security situation which took place on Wednesday evening just hours before the first missiles were launched. Our thoughts are with Irish citizens living in Ukraine, with Ukrainian citizens living in Ireland and with all those who will inevitably be harmed by the intensification of this dreadful crisis. As a gesture of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, the east and west facades of Leinster House and the Obelisk on Leinster Lawn will be lit in the Ukrainian colours at night.
Today, both Officeholders also hosted EU Commissioner Suica and representatives from the European Parliament and the European Council for a working lunch in advance of an event taking place over the weekend as part of the Conference on the Future of Europe. The purpose of the Conference is to give European citizens a voice in how the European Union should respond to the challenges, priorities and opportunities we are all facing. The Conference is expected to reach preliminary conclusions in Spring 2022. I wish to thank Sheila Ryan, our new Head of Protocol and her team and, of course, our indefatigable Usher team for the warm greeting they give to all our visitors on these important occasions.
Our hard-working Health and Wellbeing group organised a webinar on Thursday with Caroline Reidy who spoke about the Remote Working Policy, a phased return to the workplace approach, the benefits and challenges of remote working and how to manage in these new scenarios while maintaining a good work-life balance. I had the benefit recently of attending a webinar given by Caroline which was really thought provoking so I hope those who managed to attend it got the same value as I did out of the presentation. Rest assured that as we transition back to the new normal we will support you all in the best way we can.
As you know further public health changes were announced this week. It is a welcome development to know that the pandemic situation is stabilising. With effect from next Monday the mandatory requirement to wear masks will be removed while the public health advice that masks should continue to be worn on public transport and in healthcare settings remains. The public health guidance is that we continue to manage risk for ourselves and for others who are more vulnerable including by wearing masks, physical distancing and avoiding crowds as well as basic hand and respiratory hygiene. Our COVID-19 Response Plan and Code of Conduct are being updated to reflect the recent changes in consultation with the Health and Safety Committee. The requirement not to come onsite if you have symptoms of COVID-19 also remains.
We seem to be entering a colder but more settled period of weather and there is definitely a “stretch in the evenings” so be sure to get out and about and to enjoy time with family and friends this weekend.
- HSE information about Covid-19
- Department of Public Expenditure and Reform -- information for civil and public servants