Thursday, 4 April 2002
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: The proposed Order of Business is No. 1, Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2002 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken today; No. 2, Civil Defence Bill, 2002 – all Stages, with contributions of spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed 12 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed seven minutes, and Senators may share time; No. 3, Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, 1998 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] – Report and Final Stages, to be taken today; No. 4, Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill, 2002 – all Stages to be taken today, with contributions of spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed 12 minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed ten minutes, and Senators may share time. This Bill is not to be taken before 12.30 p.m.
Mr. Manning: I am slightly concerned about the Order of Business today. I believe that the House should not be taking the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill today because there is still a wide degree of consultation required with interest groups. I freely concede that the Minister has gone a long way towards meeting many of the objections raised last week by Senators Burke and O'Toole. Otherwise I have no objections to the Order of Business.
Mr. O'Toole: I agree with the Order of Business. In a recent Order of Business, the Leader gave a commitment that before the House finishes its business this term there would be a discussion on the report on the Seanad produced by the constitutional non-independent group.
Mr. O'Toole: It was not independent in any way. The report of the all-party group is a creature of the parties and excluded those of us with independent voices. We should have a discussion on this topic and I will have a lot to say when we do. It would be useful for Members on all sides of the House. During the Seanad elections our opinion on the role of the Seanad is always sought and this discussion would allow Senators to put their opinions on the record at an important time and put forward views on how  matters may be dealt with in the future. I ask that a debate on this topic be held before the House finishes its business.
Mr. Costello: Like Senator Manning, I wonder why we are dealing with the Final Stages of the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill. The Taoiseach indicated in the Dáil on the last sitting day before the Easter recess that the Easter period would be available for consultation with the various disability interest groups so that the difficulties could be resolved. Whatever amendments might arise out of that consultation should be available to the House when the Bill is being debated here. I am not aware that the consultation has yet taken place and it would be more appropriate to withdraw the Bill and reintroduce it when that consultation has taken place.
I ask the Leader to consider holding a debate on the state of the nation. It would give the House an opportunity to discuss where we are in economic and employment terms and the issues of health and homelessness. The number of homeless people has quadrupled since the Government came into office.
Mr. Farrell: Chuala mé an scéal ar maidin. Cuireann sé brón orm ach cuireann sé áthas orm fosta. Casadh Tomás orm i 1977 i rith fheachtas thoghchán an tSeanaid sin. From that day we have been great friends. Senator Fitzgerald and I had much in common. We come from very similar backgrounds. I started my first job at 14 earning ten bob a week, roughly 60 cent in today's money. There were no set hours; I worked from sunrise to sunset. Senator Fitzgerald did a bit better in his first job, earning 15 bob a week, about 75 or 80 cent in today's money. We often spent time talking about the wonderful changes we have seen in our time.
Senator Fitzgerald has always been a true friend, someone to confide in and talk with. I always felt and knew that I was someone he could confide in. We became very close, especially in the past ten years. He is a man of great integrity, great honesty and as Senator Manning said his word is his bond. Senator Fitzgerald amazed me by his wonderful knowledge of so many subjects and how much he knew about the administration and workings of this House. At our group meetings, Senator Fitzgerald had an intimate knowledge of every Bill that was discussed. I often thought of Goldsmith:
Senator Fitzgerald should write a book. He has brilliant stories and a brilliant mind. Earlier I said I felt both sadness and joy. I feel joy that I have known and worked with Senator Fitzgerald, a wonderful person, and that he will be able to enjoy his retirement when with the help of God and His Blessed Mother his health will return. So often we pay tributes to people when they cannot  hear us. Senator Fitzgerald knows we hold him in very high esteem.
I feel somewhat emotional at times like this. Senator Fitzgerald and I have spoken almost every day since he got sick and our friendship will continue into the future as will our phone calls and chats. To Senator Fitzgerald, his wife, Bridie, and family I send every God's blessing in the future. I hope and pray that Senator Fitzgerald will return to really good health to enjoy his retirement.
Senator Fitzgerald is a great amateur photographer. He travelled the world, both on Oireachtas business and on holidays, and he captured everything on film. In his retirement, I know he will spend many days on this pastime of editing, splicing and putting together the many reels of film that he has accumulated. If his collection was ever placed in a museum, it would be worth seeing.
Mr. J. Doyle: It was a great privilege for me to have known Senator Fitzgerald and to have served with him in Seanad Éireann. He is one of nature's gentlemen, full of generosity, kindness and above all blessed with a great sense of humour. I join with other Members in wishing him good health and a long and happy retirement.
Dr. M. Hayes: I speak from my slightly anomalous position as a semi-detached Member on this side of the House, an Independent who is a Taoiseach's nominee. In view of what Senator O'Toole said on this and other subjects, I had better declare an interest as being a half Kerry person, not of the Dingle variety—
Dr. M. Hayes: I leave it to others to decide if that is a saving grace. Bhí an Seanadóir Tom Fitzgerald an-chairdiúil domsa agus thug sé an-chabhar dom nuair a tháinig mé isteach sa Seanad. Mhínigh sé rialacha an Tí seo dom agus bhí sé i gcónaí macánta agus, mar a dúradh cheana, ba fhear mór é agus is cailliúnt mór gan é a bheith linn feasta. Tá áthas orm go bhfuil a bhean chéile agus a chlann anseo chun a bheith ag éisteacht lena raibh á rá ag na Seanadóirí. Guím rath Dé agus sláinte air.
Mr. Norris: I will not abuse the opportunity, a Chathaoirligh, but I am grateful that you are allowing us say something about our good friend, Tom Fitzgerald. I am very sad that he is leaving the House. I had no idea this would be put in front of us this morning.
It is very pleasant to be able to say nice things about somebody who is still alive because so often at this point on the Order of Business we speak about people who are dead. Sometimes it is boring because there are times when people are elderly, they have been out of the House for a long time and nobody knows or remembers them, with the result that pleasant platitudes about  them are manufactured. However, it is obvious from what Senators have been saying that Tom was a greatly loved Member of this House. It is appropriate that there should be a degree of emotion. He was a very decent man—
Mr. Norris: I beg your pardon. This is what happens when we only pay tribute to the dead. Long may he continue to delight us. He was a remarkable contributor to this House. I have often told the story – I have used it as an illustration of how the Seanad works – that on one of the first days I was in the House I heard him speak on a fishing Bill. I was fascinated because of the depth of his commitment, his knowledge and understanding and his capacity to deal in an accessible way with complex issues about an industry he knew. I told him his contribution was fascinating and was as good as a good lesson. He responded that of course he knew something about it because of his involvement in the fishing industry. It shows how important it is to have people in the Seanad from different aspects of life. That is what this House was intended for. We had another classic example in the contribution of my colleague, Senator O'Toole, on the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill. The Seanad is about having people with this level of professional expertise adding to legislation.
I understand this may not be last the day but in case of accidents, may I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for your contribution. I am sorry you are retiring because you have done an exceptional job with good humour and wisdom. It will be difficult to find a replacement. I wish you well in your retirement and am sorry you are going.
I understand there may another day's sitting after the general election. Will the Leader consider organising a debate on the report of the Rowntree Trust, reported in the newspapers today? It is worrying because it indicates that corruption is “a central theme of Irish life and politics” and that Ireland is now regarded as one of the more corrupt European states. There is a need to consider the report. It refers to the inadequate treatment of asylum seekers and the lack of an independent police complaints procedure. Most worryingly, it says that Ireland's standards of human and civil rights are below internationally acceptable levels. It reports that Ireland has the second fastest-growing prison population in Europe. The House must address this issue.
Mr. Lanigan: When I arrived at the House this morning, I was very surprised to hear that Senator Fitzgerald was retiring. We can all  become emotional on the occasion of a colleague's retirement.
Senator Fitzgerald's honesty and integrity were absolute. He also had a great sense of humour. In his approach to canvassing for election, he was always organised and got everything right. I recall an occasion when he canvassed in County Meath and visited the home of a bachelor county councillor. Despite his thorough preparation, Senator Fitzgerald made little headway in trying to secure the councillor's vote. As he was a Kerryman and the councillor was from Meath, he decided that he would talk football with the man and asked that he would vote for him on the grounds that they were both from great footballing counties. The councillor responded that he would not vote for him because “that ball was never over the line in 1939”.
I am sure that Senator Fitzgerald's wife, Bridie, will forgive me for mentioning that he was partial to the occasional late night. On one such night, when he and I were photographed at a charity event, the caption stated that we were the two cuddliest toys present. That went down very well with us.
Dr. Henry: Like everyone else, I am very disappointed to hear that Senator Fitzgerald is retiring from this House, not least because my medical powers are not what they used to be. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote to him telling him that I would be down at once to give him a thorough overall examination. I felt sure the thought of that would horrify him so much that he would recover immediately. I did the best I could for him. I am very disappointed that the Senator is retiring. He has been a splendid friend.
If this House will sit for another day before the election, I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill, 2001. The Mental Health Bill went through the Houses of the Oireachtas before the end of last summer. To date, all that has happened is that the commission has been appointed. The members of the commission are splendid people, but we need more action than that. I would be most grateful if the Leader would organise such a debate.
Mr. R. Kiely: I was shaken when I heard that Senator Fitzgerald had tendered his resignation. I have known him for a long time. We first met in 1977 when we were both contesting a general election for the first time. I was on the party's agricultural panel and Senator Fitzgerald was on the administrative panel. We helped each other. On that occasion, I was lucky enough to be elected but Senator Fitzgerald lost out by a narrow margin.
In 1981, both Senator Fitzgerald and I were on the same panel and we were both elected. I do not know whether we helped each other on that  occasion. Since then, we have developed a strong friendship. We are from neighbouring counties and our friendship has never waned. When Senator Fitzgerald was a Whip, he was most courteous and fair. He had the co-operation of all those with whom he worked.
Through my friendship with Senator Fitzgerald, I also developed a good friendship with his wife, Bridie, and their family. I am delighted to see that they are attending this meeting of the House today. I will treasure this friendship forever. I am delighted to hear that the Senator is on the road to recovering his good health. I wish him good health and happiness in his retirement.
Mr. Quinn: I am aware that, since the last election, arrangements have been made to welcome newcomers to this House. When I joined this House in 1993, no such arrangements were in place, but there was Senator Tom Fitzgerald. He met me on my first day, took me around and explained to me the traditions, customs and little rules by which we should abide. I had not met him before, but we established an immediate friendship. The House will be poorer without Senator Tom Fitzgerald and I am delighted his family is here to recognise and to acknowledge the huge admiration and love so many of us have developed for him over the years. His role of welcoming new Members to the House presumably will be taken over by administrative staff, but nobody can replace the joy, enthusiasm, humour and commitment he demonstrated. He will be greatly missed.
I was not under the impression this was likely to be the last day of our session and I therefore want to support Senator Costello regarding the need to debate the economy. The management of our economy at present could be compared to a business coming close to its AGM when the financial controller says: “Do not worry, we are looking after things. I know we have problems, that the expenditure is a bit over and the income is a bit less than we planned, but our mind is distracted at the moment because we have this big AGM coming up.” I have a fear that nobody is minding the shop as we approach the election. I always have this fear in election year. It is not necessarily any different this time, but some of the figures coming through concern me. The inflation rate is double the European average and we are over-spending. On that basis, the Leader must find time for a debate on the economy. We must ensure somebody is minding the shop when we are all distracted by the proximity of an election.
Mr. Bonner: I also wish to refer to the retirement of Senator Tom Fitzgerald. I did not know Senator Fitzgerald before I came to this House, although I had heard much about him from friends and clients of mine in the fishing industry. Everything they told me about him was confirmed when I got to know him. I was only in this House a few days when he abdicated as spokes person on the marine and natural resources and I was appointed to the role.
In my first two or three days here, I had the opportunity to make my maiden speech on an issue that I knew nothing about, the famous Loran C mast that was to be erected in County Clare. Senator Fitzgerald brought me to his office, removed his file and lectured me for hours on the Loran C mast. He gave me great advice on many subsequent occasions in relation to marine matters.
I was delighted both of us were successful in changing regulations in relation to a special class of white fish licence introduced by his good friend, Charles Haughey, but which restricted fishermen on the west coast from entering Box 6 to fish for white fish. We succeeded in having the Minister, Deputy Woods, overturn the regulations. While his friend, Charles Haughey, introduced the legislation, it was Senator Tom Fitzgerald who eventually obtained proper rights for fishermen.
In all the years I have known him in this House, he has always been very helpful, courteous and friendly, although stern when necessary. I met two of his children, who are here today, and I know they are very proud of his achievements. I know also that he was equally proud of them. I wish him many years of happiness in retirement and wish himself and Bridie many years together.
I asked a number of weeks ago for a debate on the fishing industry. I thought about it and decided to do what Tom would have done, which is to represent the people of my constituency. I am, therefore, asking the Leader if it is possible to have a debate on salmon quotas in Dingle and Donegal. I am not convinced that we know the full story, despite the scientific evidence. The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources should attend the House to debate this matter.
Ms Ormonde: I, too, was saddened to hear of the retirement of Senator Tom Fitzgerald. I worked closely with Tom as Assistant Whip from 1994 to 1997. I could not believe the dedication and commitment he had for his position. He was a natural politician rather than an applied one and he worked hard to meet people and work with them. He did his job as a people's representative without stress or strain and found it easy to deal with all sorts of personalities, from academics to the man in the street. No matter what a person's role in society, Tom was able to talk to them on all levels. His capacity to do so was a revelation to me and it demonstrated how important it is for a politician to have such flair, which is becoming less evident these days.
I saw how Senator Tom Fitzgerald worked and behaved with people and I will miss him as a colleague in the House. I had many rows with him but within five minutes he would put his arms around me as if nothing had happened. I might still be seething but it did not matter to Tom because the Seanad was running smoothly. He was very committed and always fearful that the  job would not be done properly. One would have to award him 100% plus for the work he did as Chief Whip. He was a real parliamentarian and I am sorry to see him go. I am delighted to see his family present in the Visitors Gallery. I wish Tom well in his retirement and I wish good health and happiness to him, his wife Bridie and their family for many years to come. Over the next few months I will be rambling around Kerry and I look forward to seeing him at home there and in good health.
Mr. O'Brien: It was with great sadness that I learned of the resignation of Senator Tom Fitzgerald. I wish him a speedy recovery to good health. I met him on various occasions when he was canvassing from 1979 onwards, but I got to know him really well in 1989 when I became a Member of the House. Senator Tom Fitzgerald is a very kind man who always took time to explain the procedures of the House to new Members. I am grateful to him for having taken the time to explain the workings of the House to me when I first arrived in 1989. I am delighted to have served in the Seanad with him for almost 13 years. I wish him, his wife Bridie, and their family every good health, happiness and God's blessing in the years to come.
Mr. Glynn: I join with others in paying tribute to Senator Tom Fitzgerald whom I first met in 1981. It was the year in which I was able to exercise my first Seanad vote, having been first elected to the House in 1979. At around the same time, I met a young candidate from Strokestown, County Roscommon, by the name of Brian Mullooly who was on the Labour Panel. As my wife is from Roscommon, I was reminded that I had to support Mr. Mullooly, although there was opposition in County Westmeath at the time.
Senator Tom Fitzgerald has a heart as big as the Kerry mountains. On a number of visits there, I stayed with the Fitzgerald family. Tom's wife, Bridie, was a very genial hostess and Tom took great pride in showing the attractions of Dingle, including the aquarium, and recalling the history of the town. When I first arrived in this House as a new Member, he advised me of the great honour which had been bestowed on me by being elected to the Seanad. He took great pride in his own membership of the House and he instilled that same pride in other colleagues. To Tom and Bridie, to the members of their family who are present in the Visitors Gallery and to their many friends, I extend my good wishes and the good wishes of my wife. I wish Tom the very best of health and good luck in the future. Seanad Éireann will be the poorer for his absence from the House.
Mr. Moylan: I join other Senators in their tributes to Senator Tom Fitzgerald on his retirement. During his term as party Whip, he was very obliging in accommodating genuine requests for pairing. I was glad to meet him during a recent visit to Kerry and I hope that, with God's help, he will soon be back to full health. He will always be welcome as a visitor to the House. I wish Tom and his wife a happy retirement.
Mr. Callanan: I join the expressions of appreciation to Senator Tom Fitzgerald on his contribution to the Seanad, to national politics and to the Fianna Fáil Party, of which he was extremely proud. He was a loyal servant of the party and I wish to acknowledge that. I also join in the expressions of good wishes to him. Only last Monday night, I had a telephone conversation with him in which he gave no indication of his decision. I wish him long life and good health in his retirement and I extend my best wishes to his wife, Bridie, and their family. I will have the opportunity of paying tribute to you, a Chathaoirligh, in due course.
Mr. Ó Fearghail: As one of the newer Members of the House, I join in the expressions of good wishes to Senator Tom Fitzgerald. I expected to see him here today and I was shocked to hear of his resignation. I met him first in 1987, as a new councillor, when he came to visit me in the course of the Seanad election. In subsequent elections, he was one of those to whose visits I always looked forward. It was a great pleasure to know him then and it was a particular pleasure to know him here as a Member of the Seanad. As other Members said, I found, on my arrival here as a novice, that he was always available to guide, assist and support. In particular, he tried to familiarise me with the IT system, with which he had a special fascination. Regretfully, I have not yet managed to emulate his skill with PCs and laptop computers. I wish Tom and his family long life and happiness together as a just reward for his magnificent service to the State in this House.
Mr. L. Fitzgerald: I join colleagues on all sides of the House in paying a warm tribute to Senator Tom Fitzgerald. One of his great strengths, which has already been recalled today and which struck me in earlier days when I was in the other House, was his tremendous sense of loyalty to his party leader at that time, Mr. C. J. Haughey. Perhaps I had a somewhat different perspective during those times, which I do not wish to recall in detail. At all times, one of the great features Tom displayed was his friendliness and sense of accommodation for all points of view within our party. I greatly valued his particular gifts and strengths which he brought to his relationship with people. I also valued his lovely, disarming smile, even when times were bad – and there were bad times. It is a great strength in a politician to have the depth of conviction which Tom showed and,  at the same time, to have the ability to accommodate other points of view.
Like others, I will miss Tom greatly from the House, particularly for his sense of friendship and commitment to the job. Occasionally, over the past four or five years, words may have been exchanged in the House but Tom was always first to come forward with a gentle, kindly reminder of our duties and the purpose we are here to serve. His many strengths have been well articulated by other speakers. I wish him, his wife, Bridie and their family many happy years together.
Mr. Chambers: I wish Senator Tom Fitzgerald health and happiness in future with his family. I was sorry to hear of his retirement. I recently acquired a tape recording of Steve Cooney and some of his neighbours in Dingle, which is noted for its culture of folklore, music and song. I know that is a special interest of his and I hope he will now have more time to enjoy it, together with his IT skills and his interest in boating and fishing. I thank him for his friendship and support and I hope he and his family will have many happy days together.
Mr. Cassidy: No. 1, Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2002, will be taken immediately, followed by No. 3, Solicitors (Amendment) Bill, 1998. No. 4, Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill, 2002, will not be taken before 12.30 p.m. and No. 2, Civil Defence Bill, 2002, will not be taken before 2.30 p.m, with the permission of the House.
On behalf of Senator Tom Fitzgerald, I know he would feel greatly honoured by the tributes paid to him in the House today by 22 Senators over 70 minutes. In my 20 years as a Member of the House, I cannot recall such tributes as have been expressed this morning on the major contribution of a Senator who is a very humble man, but very firm. He has played a major role in what has probably been the most successful term of Seanad Éireann, with some 61 Bills initiated in the House. The report of this morning's proceedings will be with him by the weekend and I know he will appreciate the spirit of the heartfelt tributes paid to him by Senators for the great work he has done in the national interest.
With regard to Senator Manning's point on the Order of Business, the Minister has accepted many amendments which were highlighted during the Second Stage debate on the Bill in question. I thank the Leaders and the Whips for their co-operation in the passage of this Bill.
Senator O'Toole is seeking a debate, before the general election, on the constitutional committee report, No. 7. I can confirm such a debate will take place on the next Seanad sitting day. Senator Quinn called for a review of the Government's achievements over the past five years and  a state of the nation statement. I will endeavour to have the Taoiseach come to this House to inform Members and the nation of the achievements of this, probably the most successful, Government.
Mr. Cassidy: I did not interrupt Senator Norris and I would prefer if he did not interrupt me on this second last sitting day of the Seanad. It is a wonderful idea and it was always my intention to provide for such a debate. I would like all Members to make a contribution on how better off people are, with the exception of a few, since the Government took office in 1997.
Senator Norris called for a debate on the Rowntree Trust report. I will endeavour to have such a debate, time permitting. Senator Henry asked when it is proposed to take the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill, 2001. I will endeavour to debate that issue also, time permitting. Senator Bonner called for a debate on the fishing industry. It is timely and fitting, given the many tributes paid to Senator Tom Fitzgerald on his retirement, that such a debate should be called for this morning. I will endeavour to have such a debate.
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