I am very privileged to have been an Independent Senator from 2011 to 2016 and believe I have made my time in the Oireachtas as meaningful as possible. I was able to influence and/or initiate legislation in a number of different areas, of which the below is only a sample:
- “The Children and Family Relationships Bill” represents the most important reform of child and family law for a generation. The legislation put children at the heart of family law, provide legal clarity around various family types and address discrimination faced by children in non-marital families.
- Exemption for venues owned by children and youth organisations from the Property Tax.
- Extending the workplace ban on smoking to all vehicles where children are present.
- Ban on corporal punishment of children.
- Co-sponsored legislation to recognise the right to identity of adopted children (still in process).
Core Policy Areas
What I did in the Seanad
The Seanad normally sits every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday during the Oireachtas terms. When the Seanad was not in session, I was kept busy preparing speeches, researching topical issues, scrutinising legislation, meeting with civil society and NGO representatives, and chairing meetings and forums.
Independent Group of Senators
During my term I was the leader of the Independent Group of Senators. You can read more about this group here: Independent Group of Senators
I participated in weekly Seanad debates with different Government Ministers on a variety of issues and legislation before the House. I used these opportunities to voice my support or raise my concerns and propose amendments to Bills where appropriate.
Private Members’ Business
Under Seanad Private Members Business, which rotates among the Parties/Groups in the Seanad, the Independent Group (Nominees) as a whole or in our individual capacities can put forward Motions and initiate Bills (other than money Bills) which call on the Government to take some form of action.
Commencement Matters (formerly known as Adjournment Motions)
Seanad procedures allow Senators to ask for a debate at the commencement of the Seanad each sitting day to discuss a specific and important matter of public interest. I found this mechanism very useful for raising important issues, often brought to my attention by civil society and NGOs that arose at short notice. I actively encouraged groups and organisations to contact my office if they had issues that might be suitable for seeking direct answers from Ministers in the Seanad Chamber via a Commencement debate
Order of Business
Under Seanad Order of Business and Seanad Commencement debates, I raised matters that required immediate attention and I requested the Cathaoirleach (Leader of the House) to call the relevant Government Ministers into the Chamber to address my concerns. To ensure that appropriate weight was given to the issues I raised I used the Order of Business mechanism selectively and strategically
Joint Committee on Health and Children
As a member of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, I actively participated in weekly Committee meetings and quarterly meetings with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Minister for Health and HSE. In advance of the latter meetings, I submitted questions to be addressed by the relevant Minister and again I invited groups and organisations to contact my office if they had issues that might be suitable for such dialogue.
Informal groupings of TDs and Senators
I was also a member of a number of informal groupings with like-minded TDs and Senators:
- Seanad Cross Party Group on Direct Provision
- All Party Interest Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Development
- Victims of Symphysiotomy Oireachtas All-Party Group
- Children’s Future Health Cross-Party Group
- Parliamentarian group to link with Comhairle na nOg
I have participated in a new Seanad activity, whereby guest speakers were invited into the House to share their experience and ideas with Senators. We have been addressed by Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament; Dr Maurice Manning, former Senator and President of the Irish Human Rights Commission; Dr Mary Robinson, former Senator and President of Ireland; and Drew Nelson, Orange Order Grand Secretary.
I participated in many public campaigns, such as the successful campaign for marriage equality:
Transparency and Accountability
I firmly believe that all Members of the Oireachtas should have a statutory duty to provide detailed accounts of donations and public funding on an annual basis. You are invited to view my statements for 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, which have been endorsed by Transparency International Ireland, here: Transparency and Accountability