Tales from the Upper House

In what may be the last Seanad, Galway senator Fidelma Healy Eames writes a weekly blog on the happenings in Ireland’s Upper House.

We have been here before. We said never again would standards be so lax. And yet here we are. The Cloyne Report this week drew attention to how as a Republic we have yet to stamp the State’s supreme authority over the affairs of our citizens. But reaction to its publication – and in particular Government reaction – suggests that we are moving to a position where the State is flexing its muscle as primary carer of the Nation in matters regarding child welfare and our education system. Mandatory reporting is on the way.

The detail and behaviour of central figures in the Cloyne diocese have already been heavily reported. Reaction in the Seanad mirrored the increasing clamour of the week. On Tuesday Senator Fiach MacCongail, in requesting a future debate on Cloyne, said we “have been hearing for months about the state of our financial bankruptcy and this report is expected to continue to drive home our moral bankruptcy as well.”

I supported MacCongail’s call for a debate and asked for the Minister for Children to come before the House and provide an update on the implementation of the Ryan and previous Murphy report. “We debated those [abuse] reports during the last Seanad, but we do not yet know how many of the recommendations have been implemented. There is little point in reports . . . if we do not know that behaviour and practice is changing”. Good to hear that Minister Frances Fitzgerald is giving us a progress report within the week.

Hugh in Brian Friel’s Translations affirms: “It is not the literal past, the 'facts' of history, that shape us, but images of the past embodied in language." Is there anything more chilling than the words of a victim of sexual abuse. The honest, brave and bare words of victims and survivors this past week as they cut through diplomatic-speak and legalistic commentary should be applauded. It takes such courage to speak out on a matter so deeply private and personal, a matter shrouded in a history of shame and silence, the very cover needed for the continuance of the abuse itself. Judging by the emails coming in from Galway constituents; this - and issues such as the privilege of confession, compensation and patronage – will continue to be debated in the coming months.

And what a week for the Muppets! Finally exposed! Ming, Wallace and Ross that is. Milltown-born Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD reacted to the Ms Piggy jibe with good humour and class, taking the opportunity to simultaneously draw attention to the low female participation in the Oireachtas and the prevalence of a culture of latent sexism. As they say on Sesame Street: You gotta’ accentuate the positive, Eliminate the negative and latch onto the affirmative….and I remember Sesame Street!

Social Protection issues continue to mount on a weekly basis. Media reports of the startling discrepancy between the population and the number of PPS numbers issued were highlighted on Thursday. The population of Ireland is 4.58 million, yet there is a startling 7.2 million PPS numbers, a difference of 2.62 million! Try as I might, I can only conclude that the over-issuance of PPS numbers is ripe ground for abuse, fraud and criminality. Minister Joan Burton has appointed barrister Ita Mangan to oversee a Commission on Tax and Social Welfare and I called for the PPS number issue to be included in this Commission. I have submitted to Ms Mangan and the Minister a number of points, including the viability of a cap on the amount of social welfare pouring into any one household. In addition I have recommended an examination of whether child welfare could be paid to non-resident EU children at the rate of their home country, instead of at Irish rates. I look forward to working with the Minister and the Commission in ironing out anomalies that work against a socially just society.

The energy of Galway bookended my week. Monday got off to an artistic start with the Galway’s Arts Festival. Born in 1978, it continues to beat all expectations and has firmly become the key attraction not only to the city and region, but to the country for many visitors. Why? Because it pushes the boat out in terms of professionalism, quality acts and local flair. Be it theatre, visual arts, dance, comedy or street performances, Galwegians owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Festival organizers, supporting bodies, and of course, the volunteers.

Back to Galway for the end of the ‘official week’. Enda Kenny’s visit to the capital of culture on Friday was pacey and positive. Some people say I have great energy, but just how does Enda keep it going? His day in Galway started with the launch of a farm safety programme in Teagasc, Athenry, followed by a major announcement of 145 new jobs for C & F Tooling in the same parish. Hats off to the ingenuity and courage of entrepreneur Johnny Flaherty as he drives forth with his new wind energy turbines.

Straight over to NUIG to the official opening of the new engineering building. What an experience, people were dripping from all three levels of the magnificent foyer. As Enda said of the graduates who described their various engineering projects from regenerative medicine to remote care and digital enterprise ‘this is the future’. A showcase every senior cycle student should experience before they make up their minds. A veritable oasis of opportunity, when I came home I tried to describe some of the projects to my own senior cycle son. We then zipped down to the packed Chamber of Commerce lunch in the Meyrick Hotel . . ..and that was only half the day! I then had to depart the schedule to participate in the launch and success of young entrepreneur of the year and Turloughmore-native, Oisin Concannon’s Irish Organic Weedkiller.

Friday was testament to the fact that Galway has the entrepreneurs, business leaders and the educational space and expertise capable of leading a recovery. I’m delighted we have a Taoiseach to match the energy, positivity, and potential of those who want to get our country and county working again. Next week the Galway Races . . .


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