Tributes by Members.

Wednesday, 17 September 1997

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 152 No. 1

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Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  I wish to say a few words in honour of our former President. I welcome this opportunity to pay tribute to Mary Robinson who in her capacity of President of Ireland represented the Irish people in a most outstanding manner for almost seven years. She was someone of whom we could be proud. During this period she brought the highest office of the State into contact with people in a very human way and presented a view of Ireland on the international stage. She emphasised Ireland's commitment to working for justice in international relations and her visits to Rwanda and other areas of the world where people were suffering showed the generous [15] spirit of the Irish people to those less fortunate than ourselves.

I have no doubt that what she did for Irish exiles around the world will always be remembered. She visited Irish communities in America and as far away as Australia and even further afield. She worked hard to make them feel included just as she did to make everyone in the Irish community feel included.

I join everyone in this House and throughout the country in wishing her continued success as she takes up her new and challenging role as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. She will bring her unique style and commitment to her new position as she did to the Presidency and to every position she has held whether in her professional office, the legal world, or here as a Member of Seanad Éireann.

From her earliest involvement in public affairs she always espoused human rights issues and her new position reflects the quality of her work and the strength of her convictions to such issues. We wish her and her husband, Nick, and their children all the very best for the future.

I express our sympathy and deep regret on learning of the tragic death of Mother Teresa last Friday week. She was undoubtedly a shining light to all the world in her remarkable work of reaching out to the poorest and weakest in our society. Her single-minded efforts on their behalf stemmed from the belief that God was greater than she and that it was his will that she work for the service of others. She first came to Ireland in 1928, joined the Loreto Sisters in Rathfarnham and later left the convent to work in the slumps of Calcutta where she received Vatican approval for the establishment of her Society of the Missionaries of Charity in 1950. The society now has more than 4,000 members worldwide working in more than 115 countries, including Ireland, in hospices for AIDS victims, in shelters for the homeless, in homes for drug addicts and orphanages. In all these places her sisters and volunteers work to alleviate not only physical discomfort but also great levels of despair and loneliness.

In a world that materialises everything it is important to realise that it was Mother Teresa's fate in something that surpasses the material which made her such an inspiring and self-sacrificing figure. In work and deed, in her public and private dealings with people she showed the deepest respect for others and consequently people reached out to embrace her and work with her.

I am glad we had the privilege to bestow on her the freedom of our capital city in 1993. I express our deepest gratitude to the sisters for Mother Teresa's work on behalf of peace in Ireland. We are privileged to have lived in her time and to have learned from her the lessons of selfless devotion and total giving. May she rest in peace.

I too express my sympathy and great sense of loss following the sudden, tragic and appalling [16] death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Few events in modern times have resulted in such an outpouring of emotion all over the world. A deep feeling of regret and sorrow for her death was universal but we must remember the greatest loss was not suffered by those who may have known her slightly or only through the media but by her two sons, William and Harry. The death of a young mother, whatever her position in society, is always a particularly tragic affair and everything must be done to ensure her sons are assisted in coping with this dreadful loss.

From the time she first came to public notice, Diana's face and smile have dominated news stands and our television screens. She was a person of great status, beauty and prestige who chose to use her great assets for the benefit of others. Through her work Diana, Princess of Wales, showed great compassion and kindness to many people — the poor, the sick, the disadvantaged and particularly children. She used her prestige to help remove the stigma that applied to the sufferers of those dreadful diseases, AIDS and leprosy. Her work with AIDS patients was groundbreaking and it urged a reluctant world to come to terms with a frightening disease. Her work with leprosy victims was of a similar vein and her work on the landmines issue cannot be put down purely to charitable instincts.

Her concern challenged the vested interests of those who produced those dreadful instruments of destruction and mutilation. She was the people's princess and our thoughts and prayers are especially with her two children, her family, who have to endure this almost unbearable burden of grief. May she also rest in peace.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly  Zoom on Brian Mullooly  To pay tribute to our former President Mary Robinson, Mother Teresa and Lady Diana Spencer I will call a spokesperson from each of the groups as is normal procedure. I call Senator Maurice Manning.

Mr. Manning: Information on Maurice Manning  Zoom on Maurice Manning  A great deal has been said and written recently about the role of our former President Mary Robinson. So glowing, comprehensive and positive has been virtually everything that has been written and said that at times in recent weeks she must have felt she was reading her own obituary. Nonetheless, as is exceptional on these occasions, virtually everything that has been written and said about her conduct of the Presidency has been accurate. Hers has been an outstanding Presidency. I remind Members that President Robinson, as Senator Robinson, made her political name here. A consistent thread has run through her career. Many of the issues she raised as a young independent Senator here, often against considerable conventional wisdom and opposition, were issues which were also raised during her Presidency.

President Mary Robinson built on the foundation of earlier Presidents. All our Presidents in the almost 60 year history of the Constitution have been good Presidents. Each in his own way [17] was right for his time, whether it was Douglas Hyde, Protestant and Gaelic scholar, a reconciler and our first President, a symbol that this State intended to be a tolerant State or whether it was President Patrick Hillery, a decent honourable man of integrity who symbolised some of the unchanging and better values of Irish politics.

As President, Mrs. Mary Robinson built on the tradition she inherited and changed it in a way few people thought was possible. She brought the Presidency closer to the people. She enhanced our international prestige in a way which few, if anybody could have thought possible at the beginning of her Presidency and gave a voice to many who felt neglected or excluded by conventional public voices. In talking about Mrs. Mary Robinson today we are not talking about somebody who has come to the end of her political career but one who has served this country well, first in this House and then much more remarkably in the Presidency. We wish her well in her new appointment. We know she has much serious and important public work to do now on a wider stage.

Senator Cassidy has spoken eloquently on both Mother Teresa and Princess Diana and his words will stand for this group as testimony to their contributions.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  I thank the Independent Senators for allowing me to speak on their behalf. Mary Robinson, when she went forward as a President with a purpose, fulfilled all she set out to do. She did an extremely important thing for 50 per cent of the electorate, that is for women, by making them really part of the political process regarding the presidency, so much so that, to date, all four candidates who are to go forward for the next presidential election are women. The enfranchisement of that 50 per cent of the electorate cannot be underestimated. When Máire Bradshaw, the Cork poet, wrote her poem A High Tide for All the Marys she showed the huge differences within the political process for women in Ireland.

As President she followed other Presidents and became involved with community and voluntary groups in the Republic. She managed, tactfully, to extend this on an all-Ireland basis, and her involvement with community and voluntary groups within Northern Ireland was also much valued.

I agree also with the Leader of the House regarding her international role. It was extraordinarily important that she reinforced the valuable work that so many people from Ireland have done internationally in human rights, peace-keeping, missionary work, teaching, nursing and in the formation of medical institutions across the world and, as well, tried to involve Irish emigrants in the process of what was happening within Ireland which they left, unwillingly in many cases. We all join in wishing her tremendous success in her new task as human rights Commissioner, a very onerous [18] task, in an area that is demoralised within the United Nations owing to the many abuses of human rights, despite United Nations conventions.

I agree also with what the Leader of the House said in regard to Mother Teresa. I had the privilege of meeting her in the Philippines many years ago and seeing the work she undertook there. People forget that her work is widespread in the Far East; the work she was doing in the slums of Manila was incredible. The greatest tribute to her would be if her order were in a position to continue their work and expand it even further.

The sad death of a young mother is the saddest thing about the death of Princess Diana. She may have been an important woman, but it is to her children and to her family that the loss is greatest. Let us hope that her loss will not have too great an effect on the various charities with which she was involved. In particular, the removal of landmines and the cessation of their production should be of paramount importance. Let us hope that the conference currently under way in Norway comes to a satisfactory conclusion and that all countries are able to adopt the proposals being put forward there. That surely would be one of the most important international tributes that could be paid to her.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  Let me first congratulate you, a Chathaoirligh, on your appointment to the office of Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. I hope that in the coming weeks you will not be called upon to undertake too many presidential functions, being now one of the most senior people in the State in that respect.

It is important and appropriate that we should recognise and salute the work undertaken by President Robinson during her term of office and wish her well in the very onerous job she is taking on as High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

It has been suggested that President Robinson might not have changed Irish society, that Irish society was in the midst of great change anyway, and that all she did was reflect that change. I would not subscribe to that. She had a profound effect on our society and changed for the better the way we look at things. She transformed the presidency in a sure-footed and sensitive way within the constitutional constraints on the office. She represented the country extremely well and whenever she visited Africa or the United Nations we were proud to be Irish.

It is worth pointing out that Mrs. Robinson was elected to the office having served as a politician. She lit a candle in society, not just the one in the window of Áras an Uachtaráin for our emigrants, and in so doing cursed the darkness. On leaving office she said her life had been enhanced. Whatever about her own she certainly enhanced ours and for that she should be applauded. Hers will be an extremely hard act to follow.

I subscribe to the views expressed by the Leader of the House about Mother Teresa and [19] Diana, Princess of Wales. Mother Teresa respected the human dignity of every person — the same could be said for Mary Robinson — irrespective of status. I hope the process of canonisation proceeds rapidly.

The sudden passing of Diana, Princess of Wales, because of her high profile, was greeted with shock not just within the United Kingdom but throughout the world, a sign that we now live in a global society. In a display of people power, the more staid parts of the upper echelons of British society were shaken to their foundations by the demands made by the British people following her death. Whether this will have permanent repercussions remains to be seen but it was remarkable to hear applause during the religious service at Westminster Abbey which was anathema to many at certain levels within British society.

The parallels that have been drawn between the lives of Mother Teresa and Diana, Princess of Wales are invidious. They were different people except in one respect. As the Leader of the House said, Diana, Princess of Wales felt concern for those suffering from AIDS and leprosy and those who were socially excluded and took an interest in the question of landmines. In that respect there was a conjunction of their lives and it is appropriate that we should mark their passing.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  On behalf of the Labour Party I pay tribute to Mrs. Mary Robinson who was a great President. We are proud we nominated her to run for the office and that she was successful. It is highly significant that her first act as President was to visit a small marginalised rural community in west Cork and her last was to visit a small marginalised community in the inner city of Dublin. In her first statement as the new UN Commissioner for Human Rights she pledged to act as a voice for victims of abuse worldwide and to raise the profile of human rights. She is continuing in the same vein in expressing support for the marginalised and in raising human rights and justice issues on which she has worked efficiently, effectively and sensitively during the past seven years. She said she was enriched by the experience of serving as President for seven years and we were enriched by her contribution. She was the first really independent President of Ireland; as she put it herself, “a President with a purpose”. Here she was a voice for the voiceless. She travelled the length and breadth of the country and no community was too small or great for her to visit. There was a candle in the Áras to welcome groups which came to visit. It was a haven for the disadvantaged, the mentally handicapped, the homeless and for people North and South of the Border. After the 1980s Áras an Uachtaráin was a strong symbol for the Irish diaspora. Emigration is now, happily, coming to an end, although it might not have been possible to see it at the time. We had experienced a decade of [20] substantial emigration and that light in the Áras encouraged many people to come home.

During her term President Robinson visited Belfast, Warrington and Buckingham Palace in London among other places. She offered the hand of peace across every divide. She had a strong role abroad in human rights, particularly in famine-torn areas. None of us will ever forget the impact her visit to Somalia had, both at home and abroad.

We in the Labour Party wish her every success. With a new presidential election coming up our task is to pass on that flame to a new torch-bearer who can maintain and elaborate upon the presidential role Mrs. Robinson initiated.

I agree with all the tributes that have been paid to Mother Teresa and Diana, Princess of Wales. We have lost two world renowned figures in the past two weeks. One died in the prime of youth, the other at a ripe old age. They came from totally different ends of the spectrum. One was from a privileged and wealthy background, the other from a very poor background but they met in the centre. They shared a passionate concern for justice, in Mother Teresa's case for the poorest of the poor. She was called the saint of the gutter and nothing was too humble for her attention or that of her missionary sisters. She pledged 50 years of her life to the poor of Calcutta and was a tremendous role model for the world.

Princess Diana's contribution was to the homeless, those suffering from AIDS and the less well off. Even though she came from a totally different background, we must respect that and pay a strong tribute to her work.

In the last week another great woman with a passion for justice died in the person of Mrs. Anna Spring, the mother of the Leader of the Labour Party. While she came from a different background, her route was through the trade union movement, her commitment to the marginalised and poor in society was equally strong. We pay tribute to her also. All three women were legends in their time. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamnacha.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on Des Hanafin  Zoom on Des Hanafin  On a point of order, is it traditional for only the leaders of each party to speak during tributes?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly  Zoom on Brian Mullooly  Yes, that is the normal procedure. However, in view of the nature and number of tributes I will call any other Senators who wish to contribute, although it is not normal procedure.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on Des Hanafin  Zoom on Des Hanafin  I do not want to break with tradition and I certainly do not want to give you a hard time on your first day, a Chathaoirligh.

Mr. Burke: Information on Paddy Burke  Zoom on Paddy Burke  The Senator is the father of the House.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on Des Hanafin  Zoom on Des Hanafin  The Father of the House, yes. I stayed under Mother Teresa's roof and I am [21] proud to say that my children worked with her in the slums. It was a great privilege to know such a person well. I also join in the tributes paid to both the former President and Princess Diana. Nobody in the whole world, however, can compare to Mother Teresa. I regret that she was refused the opportunity to speak in this House. It is to their shame that they prevented her from speaking here.

Mr. Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  I do not disagree with the substance of the remarks made about the people who died so tragically recently. However, it would be inappropriate not to point out the utter hypocrisy of what is going on here. This House refused Mother Teresa a hearing during the last Seanad session. It is a little bit ill to hear those who refused her a hearing, for reasons which were never explained, pay such glowing tributes today. The House should be reminded of that in situations where it is easy to glibly pay tribute to people when they are dead but to oppose them and their words and message when they are alive.

Mr. O'Brien: Information on Francis O'Brien  Zoom on Francis O'Brien  I congratulate you, a Chathaoirligh, on achieving this high office. I know you will fulfil the role of Cathaoirleach with honour and dignity.

I also want to be associated with the messages of condolence on the tragic deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta who committed her life to the poor and under-privileged throughout the world.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan  Zoom on Mick Lanigan  On this day when we are congratulating you, a Chathaoirleach, commiserating with the families of Mother Teresa and Diana, Princess of Wales, and talking about the great work done by President Mary Robinson, we should call for a debate on landmines. We must condemn the United States for refusing to sign the document which would rid countries of landmines.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly  Zoom on Brian Mullooly  That matter might be more appropriately addressed to the Leader on the Order of Business.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan  Zoom on Mick Lanigan  This might be an appropriate way to deal with the issue of landmines.

As part of our discussion on what Mother Teresa did during her life, we should address the problems which created poverty in Calcutta and other places. It is too late when Mother Teresa is dead to say she worked hard for the people of Calcutta. We must ask the Indian Government to examine the situation there. We must try to ensure the death of Mother Teresa is the catalyst which eliminates poverty.

I agree with everything that was said about President Mary Robinson. We must remember that Ireland has changed, although people might not think so. I read a poem by Austin Clarke recently, Burial of an Irish President, and we [22] should reflect on the Ireland of that day. The poem is as follows:

At the last bench

Two Catholics, the French

Ambassador and I, knelt down.

The vergers waited. Outside.

The hush of Dublin town,

Professors of cap and gown,

Costello, his Cabinet,

In Government cars, hiding

Around the corner, ready

Tall hat in hand, dreading

Our Father in English. Better

Not hear that ‘which’ for ‘who’

And risk eternal doom.

Ireland and the Presidency have changed. I hope that in the run up to the election someone will come forward who acknowledges the change mentioned by Austin Clarke.

Dr. Haughey: Information on Edward Haughey  Zoom on Edward Haughey  I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his appointment and applaud the unanimous endorsement of that appointment by the House.

I concur with the Leader's comments on the former President, Mrs. Mary Robinson, Mother Teresa and Diana, Princess of Wales. The friend of the late princess, Mr. Dodi Fayed, also tragically lost his life in the car crash which killed her. I remind the House that Mr. Fayed's family has suffered a great deal in silence to date.

I wish the Northern Ireland peace process every success. I congratulate all concerned on their enormous efforts and their great achievements to date. Perhaps it might be appropriate to debate this issue in the future. I wish everyone involved with the process every blessing and success.

Mr. Lydon: Information on Don Lydon  Zoom on Don Lydon  I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his elevation. I know he will be successful in his new post.

I concur with the sentiments expressed by the Leader and others in respect of Mother Teresa. I had the privilege to attend mass with her at her order's small convent in Dublin and of spending time with her. She did marvellous work and was a great woman. I also concur with Senator Ross's comments. Before Mother Teresa's visit to Ireland I contacted Senators seeking their agreement to permit her to address this House and it is ironic that we pay her tribute now that she is dead.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on Des Hanafin  Zoom on Des Hanafin  There is a presidential candidate present in the Visitors' Gallery.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly  Zoom on Brian Mullooly  That matter is out of order.

Mr. Hanafin: Information on Des Hanafin  Zoom on Des Hanafin  Far be it for me to be out of order.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly  Zoom on Brian Mullooly  I thank the Senator for his co-operation.

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