Gnó na Dála - Business of Dáil

I am breaking with precedent and I am giving each of the Deputies departing for the European Parliament a minute to say goodbye.

Can the Leas-Cheann Comhairle guarantee it will only be a minute?

Some of them may like to take the opportunity to make up for any hurt they have caused.

Three of our departing Members are here. I call the former Tánaiste, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I was not expecting this but I thank him for giving me the opportunity to say a few words on this very special day for me, which is the last day of my service in the Houses of the Oireachtas. I remember very clearly the first day I walked into the Dáil and the sense I had of what a fantastic privilege it was to be elected by the public to serve. Almost everyone here will have had that same feeling. It is a huge honour to have been elected by the public to serve in these Houses. I have been very lucky to have had the opportunity to serve as a Deputy, a Senator and as a Minister and to bring forward very important legislation and see it passed in the Houses, and, of course, to serve as Tánaiste.

I want to take this opportunity to say this and to thank my constituents in two constituencies in Dublin, namely, Dublin South-East, which is now Dublin Bay South, and Dublin Mid-West. I thank people from all sides of the House for the camaraderie I have experienced here and for the friendship. I have spent an extremely challenging, interesting and worthwhile time here and I have really enjoyed it. I also thank all of my colleagues in Fine Gael and the staff of these Houses, who give us such a fantastic service and I know everybody will agree with me on that.

When one is the point I am at, one becomes very conscious not just of one's own work because we do not do these things on our own and we do not serve here on our own. We have wonderful teams of people and parties behind us and we have constituents, families and friends. I say a very big thank you to everybody, including my family who have always supported me through the ups and downs of political life and we all know how challenging it can be. As I said, it is so worthwhile. I really look forward to becoming a Member of the European Parliament representing this great city and county of Dublin. I say a very big thank you to everyone. I will be back and forth. I am not disappearing. I will be back here linking and working with colleagues in the years ahead. I thank everyone. It has been a huge privilege. Particularly to my constituents, I say a very big thank you for the honour of having the opportunity to serve in the Houses of the Oireachtas.

It is always nice to be able to pay tribute to yourself in the House and to listen to others paying tribute to you when you sit at home watching it on the television. In one sense, it is nice to leave the Houses of the Oireachtas on your own terms. It is something that is very unusual in this very precarious occupation.

First and foremost, it is a huge honour to have served in the Houses of the Oireachtas since 1993. I came in here when I was 24 years of age and it has been a hugely enjoyable journey filled with honour and privilege on many occasions. I served under numerous taoisigh from various parties. I worked in a collegial manner with most people in the House. I would like to think I have made friends along the way and learned an awful lot. From this perspective, I thank everybody in the Dáil, the previous incumbents of previous Dáileanna and Seanaid I have served in. I also thank each and every one of the previous Leas-Chinn Comhairle and Cinn Comhairle for their courtesy, co-operation and support.

On the issue of family, friends and supporters, a huge team of people give of their time and service in a voluntary capacity to put every one of us in here and very often this is forgotten. I thank each and every one of them. The people of Cork North-Central in particular have been very supportive of me over many years. It has been a privilege and an honour to represent them and I hope I never took that privilege or honour for granted. I thank each and every Member, my wife, Liza, and my family. I look forward to playing a representative role with dignity in the European Parliament on behalf of the people of Ireland South.

I have sorted out a few things with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle about the times he pulled on me when he should not have done so and tried to shut me up before my time. I was not in here quite as long as Billy and thanks be to God for that. I can live with that. I start by thanking the people of Wexford for electing me in 2011 and 2016. In 2019, it was pretty emotional to get so much support in Wexford, Wicklow, Carlow, Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly, Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Clare and Tipperary. It was probably more support than I deserved. If I never do anything else I will always appreciate it.

I have had an amazing time in here. It has been very frustrating and fulfilling in equal measure. It has been an incredible experience. I thank all of the staff and Members. I have probably been pretty merciless with many Ministers but I like to think that my criticism was never personal and I always respected the person I was taking lumps off. A few of them pushed me to the bone all right and I was threatening to go down those steps and across the floor after a couple of fellows but I stayed on this side.

I do not know what it will be like in Europe. From the couple of weeks I have been over there trying to organise things, it will be very challenging and difficult to make a difference but I was never afraid of hard work and I am going to work incredibly hard to try to make that difference and to rescue Europe from the hands of large corporations and the neoliberal philosophy. I see this as something the people who elected me want me to do.

There are two people I will mention and I am probably abusing my position. Catriona Lawlor and Conor Sugrue both work for the HSE. I have been pretty critical of the HSE in my time in here but both of them have done some very good work for someone very close to me. Thank you.

There will be no further opportunity to speak on this but I remind the departing Deputies that all of the Leaders or their representatives spoke on questions on promised legislation today and wished them all well. I believe I speak for everyone when I wish Clare Daly well. I know all four departing Deputies will be missed. They made a major contribution to political life in Ireland and they will make a major contribution to political life in Europe. As an Irish mother would always say, the door will always be open. It will be a hard door to open. The Tánaiste and I are two of those who had a dual mandate and both doors were open to us but that is not the way it is now. Some of us came back and we are very happy.

As I said yesterday, I have no doubt that, despite carrying different flags, from the left and the right, the four departing Deputies will all represent Ireland and wear the Irish jersey while in Brussels. We are confident that they will do so. Guím gach rath ar na Teachtaí. Áth mór orthu agus go n-éirí go geal leo.