I wish Deputy Dick Spring well on the backbenches as he takes his leave as Leader of the Labour Party. I pay tribute to him for the service he gave as Leader of the Labour Party for 15 years and for the diligent and caring work he undertook in the House on behalf of all people.
Tributes to Member
As the person who answers questions every day from Deputy Spring, I concur with the remarks about him. Deputy Spring is not leaving the Labour Party or the House and, therefore, we are not paying the usual tributes. He has led his party since the end of 1982 during which time there have been many elections and many trials and tribulations in the political system. He has done an excellent job for the country. During his 15 years as leader of his party he dealt with all matters relating to Northern Ireland and, in addition to his work in other areas, that is something for which he will be remembered. I wish him, his wife Kristi and his family many years of success.
As a person who is unable to apply for the vacancy, I wish Deputy Spring well in his decision to step down as party leader.
Is Deputy De Rossa considering a similar course of action?
No, the Deputy may relax. As anybody who has aspired to or been a party leader will be aware, whether we are talking about a large or small party, it is not an easy task. Neither is it an easy task to make up your mind to go. Many people depend on leadership. Regardless of the difficulties or disagreements within any party, the cohesion of the party depends to a large extent on the quality of leadership of that party. It is in that context Deputy Spring has demonstrated his ability, having brought the Labour Party from a point where it was extremely weak, fractious and disunited to one of the largest parties of the left in Irish history, and he deserves great credit for that. He intends to continue to make a contribution to politics and he is still young enough to return to the job of leader in the future.
While Deputy Spring is not leaving the Labour Party, it is appropriate to pay tribute to him since he has been leader of that party for so long. During his 15 years as leader he experienced highs and lows and many of us who have not been that long in the House can learn from the lessons of that time. As a member of one of the few parties that has not been in Government with the Labour Party, I take it all the people who spoke who have been in Government with him mean every word they said in his praise and that is good enough for me.
I join the Taoiseach and Deputies Owen, De Rossa and Sargent in paying tribute to Deputy Spring. It is difficult to imagine that at the age of 47 he has served 15 years as leader of a political party, which must be unique. The Ceann Comhairle's predecessor, having heard the tributes paid to him, said he might change his mind about leaving, and I do not know if Deputy Spring is tempted to do that. He has been one of the giants of Irish politics for the past 15 years. He has made an outstanding contribution to public life, particularly in regard to Northern Ireland and bringing peace to this island. For that, we will all be eternally grateful. I wish him, his wife Kristi and their family the best of luck in whatever they do. They deserve time together and all our support. I know Deputy Spring intends to stay around for a long time and to be a thorn in the Government's side. I am sure he will do that, but we all wish him the best of luck.
A Cheann Comhairle and colleagues, I shall arise and go now. I am tempted to use Deputy Rabbitte's remark on a late night radio programme when the broadcaster allowed the conversation to go all over the place. When it came to his turn to speak he said, "You had better ask me a question, I can't think of anything to say".
I thank the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Deputies Owen, De Rossa and Sargent for their kind remarks. The important thing in politics is to have the last word. I will try to have a little gravitas and make some weighty remarks because my remarks may not carry as much weight from three or four benches back next week.
I thank the Clerk of the House and his staff, the Superintendent and the Captain who has never had to have any involvement with me because of my conduct in the House. In 1944, one of his predecessors had to escort my father from the House, but I shall take my own leave. I also thank the Head Usher and his staff, the officials and the staff in the restaurant for their assistance. I have experienced nothing but courtesy from every one of them during the past 16 years. I hope there will be time for more courtesies during the next 16 years. I thank the Taoiseach and all his colleagues for their kind remarks.
I led our party to the best of my ability for the past 15 years. We have had our difficulties and exchanges, but I would like to believe many good friendships have been made. I will create some mischief, but I will support the important work of the Government, particularly in relation to Northern Ireland. As I said publicly yesterday and again this morning, I will co-operate with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the important work that needs to be done during the next few months. I wish members of my party and my colleagues every success and I will continue to work with them for the foreseeable future. I think I am doing the right thing. To use John B. Keane's words, when you are from Kerry and as ignorant as us, you have to be fierce clever.