Ceann Comhairle on the mend after surgery for prostate cancer

Seán Ó Fearghaíl urges men in their early 60s and younger to ‘go and have a routine blood test periodically’

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl is recovering in a Dublin hospital after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer on Thursday.

It was business as usual for Mr Ó Fearghaíl in the Dáil at Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday. At one point he threatened to suspend the House if TDs didn’t stop interrupting each other during heated post-budget exchanges.

He left the chamber at 1.15pm and by 2pm had checked himself into Blackrock Clinic for an operation the following day.

“I discovered I had prostate cancer during the summer after a routine blood test. I was found to have a high PSA [Prostate Specific Antigen] level and would have to undergo surgery,” he said earlier this week. “I’m lucky that it doesn’t appear to have spread. They are telling me the prognosis is good.”


The Ceann Comhairle was in theatre for more than three hours on Thursday and the operation went well. He is now recovering in hospital and while it is early days yet, he hopes to be back in Leinster House in about four weeks’ time.

The 62-year-old TD for Kildare South told very few people outside his immediate family and office about his diagnosis and said nothing in the House about his impending absence. But now he wants to urge men, particularly men in his own age group, to get themselves tested.

The former Fianna Fáil chief whip was shocked to discover he had cancer as he didn’t notice any symptoms, which is not uncommon. He hopes that sharing his experience might encourage people to go for a simple blood test.

“Look, I don’t want a bloody fuss at all about it, but then I just thought, you know, if you have to go through this goddamn thing — and I do — then maybe there is some benefit to be got out of it if I can say to fellas of my age and younger: ‘go and have a routine blood test periodically’. Check your PSA levels so that you don’t find that this thing creeps up on you and is suddenly too far advanced before it is discovered.

“Guys of my age, their symptoms would generally be around difficulty passing urine and frequency of urination and stuff like that, but the older they are the more likely they are to say nothing. It’s no big deal, it takes no time and you wouldn’t even have to see the GP, the practice nurse would do the test,” he said.

“You get the results back and if it’s low you’ve nothing to worry about and if it’s elevated they’ll send you for further investigation, which is what happened to me.”

The robot-assisted surgery was performed by Prof Stephen Connolly. “I’ve been told I could be gone for a month. I’m hoping it won’t be any longer than that. It depends on your recovery and whether there are any complications during the operation or after it.”

Second term

While he is away from Dáil duties, Leas Cheann Comhairle Catherine Connolly will take over.

Mr Ó Fearghaíl, who is now into his second term, says he intends to get back to work as soon as possible. “I’ve arranged with the office that while I’m off, as soon as I’m able I want to get back to doing the parliamentary questions, promised legislation and all the other behind-the-scenes paperwork that we have to do.”

Projects in the pipeline include the formal launch of a parliamentary friendship group between Ireland and India. He has a special Indian Night in the Oireachtas restaurant lined up to mark the occasion. A trip to Isreal and Palestine is on the cards for the new year.

However, the Ceann Comhairle’s main goal is to finally secure an agreement for the establishment of a second chamber in Dáil Éireann, similar to the one in Westminster but with more heft. The auxiliary chamber would run simultaneously to regular sittings, dealing with non-voteable aspects of Dáil business. It would double up the volume of work done by parliament and free up more time for proper consideration of legislation while allowing TDs to finish their work at a more reasonable hour.

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord is a colour writer and columnist with The Irish Times. She writes the Dáil Sketch, and her review of political happenings, Miriam Lord’s Week, appears every Saturday