On June 29th I was honored to be elected as the Cathaoirleach of the 26th Seanad by my fellow Senators. As the first person from Kerry and second youngest of the Cathaoirligh since the foundation of the State, this is a great privilege.
The honor is enhanced given the fact that my term as Cathaoirleach will coincide with the 100th anniversary of Seanad Éireann. The position, role and responsibilities of Cathaoirleach is one of the few of those in the State described in our Constitution. These responsibilities are wide and varied, and include being the sole judge of order in the Seanad.
The Cathaoirleach is also a member of the Council of State and part of the Presidential Commission. On the Presidential Commission I am joined by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann. In the absence of the President, the Commission takes over certain matters in relation to the exercise and performance by the President of his powers and functions. I will of course continue to work hard on behalf of all people on local and national issues.
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Last week An Cathaoirleach sent as special message to the people of Australia on Australia Day. As he states in the video, there are 30,000 Australian citizens living in Ireland and 5 million who have Irish heritage. Furthermore, there are 70,000 Irish men and women living down under.
Our two nations share a special bond, one fostered through a shared history and identity, forged through the prison ships sent from our ports under British rule to make the treacherous 15,000 mile journey, or those who chose to emigrate in pursuit of a brighter future in a land far away. However, this was not just a one way journey. In the late 1980s the Irish Government gifted a statute of Queen Victoria, which once stood outside Leinster House, to the people of Australia on a long-term loan. The Statue now stands in Sydney.
Another connection, and one of the most interesting figures in our shared history is Thomas F. Meagher. Meageher is the creator of our national flag and was transported for life to Van Diemens land after the failed rebellion of 1848. He would later find his way to America where he served as General in the Union Army during the US Civil War and as Governor of Montana.
2021 marks the 80th anniversary of the opening of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Australia. Since then five Australian Prime Ministers have visited Ireland and three have addressed our Parliament. These were Robert Menzies in 1941, Gough Whitlam in 1974, Bob Hawke in 1987, Paul Keating in 1993 and John Howard in 2006. In his address in 2006, Prime Minister Howard told the Dáil that; “It is important not just to see ours as a relationship nurtured by history and sentiment. It is a contemporary, people to people relationship and one of the wonderful aspects is how the young of Australia visit Ireland and the young of Ireland visit Australia in growing numbers”.
To that end, and following in Prime Minster Howard’s words, we look forward to continuing and strengthening the relationship between our two nations. In particular, we hope to further cooperation with Australian Ambassador Gary Gray and that we may celebrate Australia Day together in person next year.
In November, the Seanad held a moment of silence for the fourteen victims who were killed by British Army Black & Tan forces at Croke Park on the 21st of November 1920. The events of that day unfolded during a Gaelic Football match between Dublin and Tipperary. The victims were innocent bystanders simply enjoying a sporting event, and the youngest Jerome O’Leary was merely 10 years old.
The moment of silence coincided with the GAAs centenary commemoration of the massacre. It was an honour to read aloud the names of each victim in the Seanad and give them the recognition they deserve. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha.
2021 will be a year of further centenary commemorations and I hope to mark these events in a similar manner.
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On December 15th I was delighted to welcome Minister Anne Rabbitte to the Seanad to take part in the Commencement Debate on the Irish Sign Language Act 2017. The Act represents many years of tough campaigning from the ISL community, and I was happy take up their fight in the Seanad .
The ISL Act awards rights to the 50,000 ISL users in Ireland and was only the 6th Bill passed by an opposition Senator. I look forward to continuing my work with Minister Rabbitte and others to promote the rights of ISL users and those of the Irish Deaf Community. I hope to see continued, and improved, use of the Irish Sign Language in both Houses of Government in the coming years.
Recently the Seanad Special Committee on Brexit was honoured to have an address from Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass), who is also Chairman on the Ways and Means Committee. Chairman Neal has long been a friend of the Irish people and used his position in the US Senate to promote Irish interests, including the pursuit of peace with the Good Friday Agreement. Over the last number of years I have been lucky to develop a relationship with Chairman Neal and I hope to remain in contact with him in the coming years.
Support from our allies in the US and Europe was crucial in negotiating a Brexit deal which represented Irish interests and ensured continued peace on our island. I would like to thank Chairman Neal and his colleagues in the US Senate for playing their part in making such a deal possible. Brexit has brought challenges to our island but with co-operation in Europe, Northern Ireland and the UK we can endeavour to overcome those challenges.
The Ceann Comhairle and I have recently come to the decision that the UN flag will fly outside Leinster House for the duration of Irelands two year membership on the UN Security Council. Ireland has served as a member of the UN Security Council three times previously in our nations history: 1962, 1981-1982 and 2001-2002.
In an increasingly polarised world the UN represents an opportunity to work with nations around the world and endeavour to bring us closer together. Our themes for the campaign of Partnership, Empathy and Independence represent who we are and what we will aspire to achieve while members of the Security Council. I would like to wish our representative on the Security Council, Ms. Geraldine Byrne Nason, and her team the very best of luck in their work.
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