Close run thing as Cathaoirleach saves the day

Despite the serious topic, there was a feeling of summer in the Upper House

The inaugural session of the Seanad Summer School opened in Kildare Street yesterday.

This year’s theme: Whither the Upper House?

They’ll know the answer to that question after the referendum in October, but there’s no harm in keeping up their profile in the interim.

A stimulating day was in prospect, promising plenty of talk from a panel of highly opinionated opinion formers with opinions on tap.


A full entertainment programme was arranged to complement the highbrow fare on offer. There was something for everyone, including synchronised back-patting, a statutory instrument recital, some comedy turns and an organised excursion to the Wailing Wall of McDowell for those who turned on their radios in the afternoon.

The event was organised by Senator Mark Daly (FF). He won the admiration of attendees from all shades of the political spectrum for his sterling efforts in raising awareness of his existence in Leinster House.

Daly's successful attempt to recall the House during the news wilderness of summer moved Fine Gael's Martin Conway to comment that his party colleagues must be jealous at all the publicity he managed to get for himself.

The issue the Kerry Senator deployed to engineer this special sitting was the very serious subject of organ donation – he put forward a motion seeking to annul legislation passed last year to implement an EU directive on the issue.

However, early in the session, it became clear that all the speakers were in favour of regulation. It seemed that the manner of its implementation was the sticking point.

Fine Gael's leader in the Seanad, Maurice Cummins, branded the whole thing a "stunt" and bravely stayed for as long as he could before leaving for Scotland.

Fianna Fáil protested the absence of the Minister for Health. In their outrage, they failed to notice their Seanad spokesman on health, Marc MacSharry, was so concerned that he had to leave for a holiday in Portugal.

“For God’s sake, let us sit for the rest of the month!” pleaded Brian Ó Domhnaill to his ashen-faced fellow Fianna Fáilers. “I’m prepared to do it.” The ushers should have shackled him to a radiator and left him there.

Independent Jillian van Turnhout, who has turned out to be a rock of sense, deftly punctured Daly's lofty protestations that this was the only way he could kick-start a debate on organ donation by pointing out the many opportunities he had to address the issue in the Oireachtas in recent months.

She said she had contributed to a number of debates.

Where's JR?
It was as if Daly was trying to "invoke the memory of Bobby Ewing and forgetting the last year had happened". And speaking of Dallas, where's JR? asked John Crown, referring to the absent Reilly.

"It is an amazing event here today," declared Mary White, lambasting the Opposition for being "pathetic" and "weak".

“But you’re the Opposition,” shouted the other side.

Jim D’arcy (FG) discussed the particular reason why the Seanad was reconvened with a man at the Fleadh Ceoil in Derry and they both agreed Mark Daly was “talking through his derrière”.

A lesson there for David Norris in how to be saucy without causing offence.

But Jim was fully supportive of any measures which might lead to further discussion of the need for organ donation, and for that, he was grateful to Daly and his party. “The good ideas only come in Opposition because in government the Fianna Fáil party is like a hippopotamus with a violin.”

That noted jurist from Castlecoote Terry Leyden (FF) decided to "take issue with the learned Attorney General". That drew a big laugh.

Status quo
The Summer School attendees grappled with their weighty welcome for themselves, but the question remained: should the Upper House be abolished or kept for the good of democracy with a reconstituted status quo and a reformed Terry Leyden?

The motion was defeated on the casting vote of the Cathaoirleach, Paddy Burke.

Fianna Fáil were pleased with their work. “It has lit a fire under the senior Minister,” said Darragh O’Brien.

So it wasn’t only James Reilly’s ears that were burning yesterday.