Seanad Éireann - Volume 98 - 13 May, 1982

Election of Cathaoirleach.

[9] Clerk of Seanad: Is é an chéad ghnó eile ná Cathaoirleach a thoghadh.

The next business is the election of a Cathaoirleach.

Glacfaidh mé le tairiscintí anois.

I will now receive motions.

Mr. E. Ryan: I move:

That Senator Tras Honan be elected and do now take the Chair of the Seanad as Cathaoirleach.

I have much pleasure in proposing Senator Honan for election as Cathaoirleach. She has been a Member since 1977. She has shown herself to be an active, effective and dedicated Member of this House and I believe she has all the experience and qualities to fill this position with credit. If elected, she will be the first lady to fill this position, but I would like to point out that she and her family have a long association with this House. Her husband, Derry Honan, was a Senator for many years and before that Senator T. V. Honan was a Member of this House for almost 20 years. Therefore, there is an association and a tradition which I am sure will help her in the position if she is elected.

Before concluding I would like to pay tribute to the Cathaoirleach in the outgoing Seanad, Senator Charlie McDonald, who carried out his duties with dignity and impartiality and upheld the high standards of his predecessors. In this context I would like to express my regret that his immediate predecessor, the former Senator Séamus Dolan — who again upheld these traditions very well — is not amongst us today.

Accordingly, I move that Senator Tras Honan be elected and do now take the Chair of the Seanad as Cathaoirleach.

Séamus de Brún: Tá áthas ormsa, a Chléireach an tSeanaid, cuidiú leis an moladh sin. Is rud nua é bean a bheith mar Chathaoirleach ar Sheanad Éireann agus is ceart agus is cuí sin sa saol atá ann [10] inniu, agus mar sin tá áthas orm cuidiú leis an rún seo.

Professor Dooge: Níl mise chun aon ainm a mholadh mar Chathaoirleach ach ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá i dtaobh na ceiste. We have neither in Dáil Éireann nor in Seanad Éireann a firmly established custom with regard to the election of the Chairman of the House. We have over the years wavered between two approaches. We started off with — and at times have since followed — the practice of the United Kingdom parliament, from whom we derived many of our procedures, in first of all taking care in choosing the speaker and then not allowing this choice to be affected by change of Government. On the other hand, we have at times followed the Continental custom whereby the presiding officer in any House of Parliament is nominated by the largest party in that parliament. It is important above all that elections to the Chair of Seanad Éireann should not be matters of controversy. Accordingly, it is my personal opinion that we should attempt in the Seanad to follow a procedure under which there can be no real element of ambiguity. Therefore, it is appropriate that the nomination for the Chair should come from the largest party in the House and that it should not become a matter of controversy. This is not the only instance, I might remark in passing, in which we could in this House initiate the transition from some of our older methods of procedure to procedures which are common and indeed standard in Continental parliaments and which are more suitable to the situation we all face today.

I am certainly personally gratified that a woman has been put forward as the candidate of the largest party for the position of the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. I was happy indeed when perhaps the first move towards that position was made when Senator Evelyn Owens was appointed as Leas-Chathaoirleach in 1973. We had also in 1981 a further move towards women achieving office in this House, not just because they are women but because in their own right as being the persons thought best fitted, when the [11] former Senator Gemma Hussey became Leader of the House in 1981. I am also happy when I look to my right to find here on the Opposition front bench that both Fine Gael and Labour have thought fit to choose among the people to take their seats on the front bench are women in the persons of Senator Katharine Bulbulia and Senator Mary Robinson.

Accordingly, for all the reason I have given it is entirely appropriate that we should not enter a name for election and that we should not contest the nomination of Senator Tras Honan whom we are sure will be an excellent Chairman of this House and continue the good traditions which we have in this House whereby we have respect for the Chair. It does not guarantee that Senators will never go out of order. It does not guarantee even that they will immediately come back into order when the Cathaoirleach wags a finger at them. We have had in this House a tradition that even if we are occasionally disorderly it is always in a minor sense. I hope that that tradition will continue and I wish Senator Tras Honan well during her period as Cathaoirleach of the Seanad.

Mr. Ferris: I would like to join in the remarks of Senator Dooge on the nomination of Senator Tras Honan for Cathaoirleach and would agree totally with the remarks that he has passed both in trying to establish a precedent in this House and ignoring the precedents that are often broken in the other House. We have in this House in the past always tried to stick to relevance in ensuring that the business of this House is run in a fair and proper manner. I think Senators on all sides of the House have always established a principle among themselves of fair play. It is appropriate that the Government in this House should have the prerogative of nominating their Senator as Cathaoirleach. I certainly will go along with that precedent. I would like also to feel in establishing that precedent that the Government would agree that the Leas-Chathaoirleach should come from the Opposition side, but that is a matter for another day.

[12] It gives me great pleasure that the Government today have chosen Senator Tras Honan to fill this exalted position of Cathaoirleach of the Seanad. I have known Senator Honan for a number of years. She is a person of tremendous ideals, a very warm nature, tremendous character and great spirit. The fact that she is a woman is important, particularly as she is the first woman to be nominated for, and I hope will successfully fill, the Chair of this House. It is history in the making for our fair sex who have joined us in the political field and who have not alone held their fort in politics — which is to say the least a tough game — but have proved they are as good if not better than men at all stages in their performance in this House. Apart from that she has been nominated to be elected to this House by a most important organisation who cater for the mentally handicapped. They have chosen a stalwart to fight on their behalf. She has never flinched from this commitment down through the years in this field. For that organisation — many of us have had close associations with them — today must be a red-letter day. Finally, on a very parochial note, while extending to Senator Honan best wishes on my behalf and that of my party, I must remark that in the news this morning and last night when her name was mentioned the banner county claimed her as a Clare woman. She is from my own County — Tipperary. We are proud of her and she is the pride of Tipperary. She is not just “the darling girl from Clare”.

Professor Murphy: Is tábhachtach an ghnó é an post seo a líonadh. Cathaoirleach a cheapadh. Tá súil againn go mbeimid anseo ar feadh trí nó ceithre bliana ar a laghad agus san am sin beidh an-teangmháil againn leis an gCathaoirleach. Tá gradam agus cumhacht ag baint leis an bpost sa Bhunreacht agus leis an té a líonann an post. Tá mise sásta — agus lán sásta — go mbeidh Tras Bean Uí Honáin go hiontach don phost. Nach breá sásúil comónta an téarma “Cathaoirleach”. Ní bheidh aon ghá le Madame Chairperson ná aon tseafóid mar sin. Is bean tíriúil, cumasach í. Is tírgráthóir go [13] smior í agus thar aon rud eile is é an Seanad Teach a rogha. Tá sé seo antábhachtach. Is annsa léi an Seanad ná an Dáil. Ni fhéachann sí ar an Seanad mar chúlbóthar go dtí an Dáil. Glacaim leis chomh maith go bhfuil sí líofa sa teanga Ghaeilge. Chun an ghnó seo a stiúrú ba chóir go mbeadh Gaeilge ar a thoil ag gach Cathaoirleach i dtreo is go mbeadh ar a chumas an teanga a úsaid sa Tigh féin agus sna coistí éagsúla a bhaineann leis an Tigh, i gComhairle an Stáit agus i gcomhrá lena chomh Sheanadóiri. Is é a deir Riail 16 de Bhuan-orduithe an tSeanaid: Déanfar imeachtaí uile an tSeanaid trí Ghaeilge nó trí Bhéarla; agus dár ndoigh is é a deir Bunreacht na hÉireann féin, Alt 8.1: Ó is í an Ghaeilge an teanga náisiúnta, is í an phríomh theanga oifigiúil í. Tá stadas na Gaeilge sa tír seo an-lag i láthair na huaire, go mór mhór sa chóras oideachais agus sa saol poiblí trí chéile. Dá gceapfaí Béarlóir ina Chathaoirleach ag an bpointe seo, go mór mhór i gcomhthionól chultúrtha mar seo, céim síos millteannach a bheadh ann do chúis na Ghaeilge.

Seachas sin ar fad, dar ndóigh, tá Fianna Fáil, thar aon phairtí eile, díograiseach i gcúis na teanga — nó sin mar a éalaíonn siad. Ní bheadh de dhánaíocht nó de chur-i-gcéill iontu — tá mé cinnte — duine do ainmniú don ardphost seo a bheadh balbh ina theanga dhúchais.

As I have been saying, I welcome Senator Tras Honan's nomination as Cathaoirleach. I am a firm believer in the principle and practice of putting a woman on top for a change. She is a person of integrity, as has been said, possessing competence, honesty and patriotism. She has, moreover, a qualification for this office which is not necessarily shared by all her Senatorial colleagues in Fianna Fáil or indeed in the other two parties, and that is that Senator Honan is committed to Seanad Éireann as the Chamber of her choice. She has made it quite clear in public contribution and in private conversation that she does not sit in this House as someone who condescendingly puts up with inferior lodgings, but who is prepared to use its amenities in order to secure accommodation by and by in a [14] more de luxe establishment. Neither is she being put out to pasture for services rendered. To borrow a succinct phrase of my own, she is neither sharpening her teeth nor licking her gums in this House.

I want to draw attention to what I consider a very serious matter, that is the importance of having a knowledge of Irish for this exalted office. I take it for granted, of course, that Senator Honan is fluent in the first official language. Article 8.1 of the Constitution makes no bones about the primacy of the Irish language and Standing Order No. 16 of this House draws attention to the fact that the business of the House shall be done in both official languages. Remember that we are talking about the business of the Seanad in the House, in Committee, in the Council of State and in the whole network of contact between Senators that adds up to the whole experience of the Seanad. I am convinced that the Fianna Fáil Party, one of whose two national aims is to restore the Irish language, the spoken language of the people, the party who in the steps of their founder are so unflaggingly and unremittingly devoted to the Irish language, would never be so audaciously hypocritical as to nominate a candidate to this high office who is not equally fluent in the two official languages. Mar sin fáiltím go croíúil roimh ainmniúchán Tras Uí Honáin mar Chathaoirleach agus gura fada buan í i mbun a cuid dualgas.

Mr. Howard: Coming from the same county and the same town as Senator Tras Honan, I would like to say that once fate and circumstances decided or ordained that the next occupant of this Chair would come from the Fianna Fáil side of the House, I am glad that that honour has fallen on her shoulders. I believe that she will bring to the Chair the same measure of dedication and commitment that she has brought to the many positions that she has filled in Clare and elsewhere. I believe that she will also preserve the same measure of impartiality and fair play that we have had from her predecessors in that Chair. I wish her very well indeed. I expect that she will add a measure of colour and excitement [15] to the House which, in fact, might be a good thing. Because of that and because, as I said, I come from the same county and town, I indeed welcome her nomination for the position of Cathaoirleach.

I would like to join in the tributes that have been paid to her predecessor, Senator Charlie McDonald, for the fairness and impartiality that he extended to all of us during his occupancy of the Chair. I would like to pay a tribute also to former Senator Séamus Dolan who was always equally fair and impartial to all of us.

Question put and declared carried.

Whereupon Senators rose in their places and remained standing while the Cathaoirleach proceeded to the Dais.

An Cathaoirleach: A Sheanadóirí, go raibh míle maith agaibh. Is mór an onóir í domsa.

I find it very hard to put into words how I feel about the honour you have just conferred on me. I am, of course, sincerely and warmly grateful.

I thank the Leader of the House, my seconder and the Senators who spoke for their kind remarks about me, my husband and my late father-in-law.

As Senator Murphy has remarked, I cherish this House, its work and its traditions. I am delighted to see so many of my old friends back here today on all sides of the House. I welcome the new Senators, particularly the two Senators from across the Border. I hope that they will find their work here rewarding.

I ask for your co-operation so that I can carry out my duties as Cathaoirleach in the manner which those who went before me have done so well. My elevation by you to this honour makes me humble. I want you all to know that it doesn't change my character or the style in which I intend to continue to perform my duty. I will always be ready and available to give you any assistance I can. I know that I can look forward to getting the highest standard of advice and guidance from the Clerk of the Seanad and the very efficient Seanad staff.

I wish you all well and pray God's [16] blessing on our work together in this new Seanad.

Go raibh maith agaibh go léir arís.