Tuesday morning, November 28th and I definitely wouldn’t want to be caught on camera as the day began.
It was a big day in Leinster House and I had the glad-rags on, but over the green (naturally) dress I had a man-sized fluffy jumper. I was also sporting a chunky, handmade stripy scarf. What can I say? It was a cold morning. The enormous walking boots I was wearing were probably the nail in the sartorial coffin, but I don’t like driving with heels and at this stage I’ve become master of the quick change in Leinster House car park!
The Seanad sits Tuesday to Thursday when it’s in session, which is not to say that my working week consists of three days. Being based in Tramore means a split week and lots of travel. In an ideal world I would travel up on Monday nights to get the final preparation done, but often constituency work and family demands have me hitting the road at the crack of dawn on Tuesdays.
With the week that was in it and the possibility of a snap election being called that day, I’d been at a meeting on the Monday evening in Lismore with some of the Waterford Greens and one of the party’s national advisors. That was followed by a public meeting in the St Vincent de Paul Centre there. It’s always a learning experience to hear from people on the ground. Monday’s meeting was no different and I went home loaded with suggestions and important local issues to follow up on.
I got to Leinster House early on Tuesday morning. The key to arriving there is to always remember to take off the driving shoes. There was one time, in the early days, I’d worn crocs for the drive up. I was in the office before I realised I’d forgotten to take them off.
Thankfully it was very early in the morning and I managed to dash back to the car unnoticed to change into more suitable footwear. Since that day I always keep a spare pair of smart shoes in the office! Clothes are certainly not a priority, I must add, but I feel more confident if I’m presentable.
Despite the maelstrom of a potential political crisis unfolding, work and progress on issues has to continue and there is never time to draw a breath; there are bills to be examined, legislation to be scrutinised, motions to be tabled.
I am a member of the Housing, Planning and Local Government and the new Community and Rural Affairs committees, which have taken up a lot of time and energy. At times it’s exhausting, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. After years of activism in my work with Greenpeace, the political arena feels like a natural fit, and on Tuesday the work had to continue whether there was going to be an election called or not.
Tuesday morning kicked off with the weekly Green Party core team meeting where there’s always lively debate and lots of decisions to be made. Naturally, we discussed the news of the day and considered our position.
The Department of Justice is clearly in need of a shake up and we talked about how disappointing it was that our earlier motion for it to be included in the terms of reference of the Charlton Tribunal, had been defeated. If we were to take something positive out of the events of last Tuesday, it would be the rise in public awareness of just how urgent reform is needed.
I’m also part of a grouping in the Seanad called the Civil Engagement Group (CEG) and our weekly meeting was next on the list.
The CEG is a gathering of myself and some inspiring, socially conscious independent Senators including Alice Mary Higgins, Frances Black and Lynn Ruane. We work together on common interest areas. Legislation around the support of business in areas of illegal settlements in Palestine was top of the agenda on Tuesday. Frances Black and her team had put a huge amount of work into preparing this bill, and I was happy to throw my support behind it.
Next it was back to the office to get working on the first of my upcoming speeches for the day. I was due to contribute to the week’s Order of Business in the Seanad, a sort of open forum where Senators may address a wide range of issues and raise questions in areas that should be addressed in the future.
As the day got swept up in prior commitments and the unfolding political drama, I realised that, yet again, I would be missing the house choir practice. The choir had seemed a nice idea when I joined, but was a bit aspirational. Every Christmas they give an informal performance on the plinth outside. I never seem to have time to get to practice and for another week, my singing would be confined to the shower. Probably a bit of a blessing.
At 2pm the Dáil bell started to ring. This is a repeated recording that plays through speakers throughout the building alerting all that the Dáil is about to go into session. I dashed from the office to be with my colleagues TDs Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin.
We listened respectfully while Leo Varadkar made the official announcement of Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald’s resignation. Then the floor was open to the house and as TDs from all parties and none made their comments and put questions to the Taoiseach, I slipped out to get back to finishing my speeches, with the help of Ed Davitt, my wise assistant and right-hand man. With a name like that you’d be right in thinking he comes with political pedigree. As the great-grandson of Michael Davitt, he has grown up steeped in politics and history. I am blessed to have him on my team.
At 3pm I was off to the Seanad Chamber for Order of Business. I used the opportunity to focus on some particularly pressing Waterford issues, including, of course, concerns about the lack of action on our urgent need for a second Cath Lab.
If people might sometimes have the impression that politics is all talk and no action, I have to say I have seen quiet, behind the scenes progress on many issues and I am guardedly optimistic on this incredibly important one.
I welcomed the opportunity to meet with Health Minister Simon Harris the next day, when he invited the Waterford Oireachtas members to a meeting which has been widely reported since.
There were lots of constituency-related calls to get through as the afternoon continued, and work to get back to with the Civil Engagement Group in preparation for the debate on the Domestic Violence Bill which was going before the Seanad that evening.
This is a Government bill and a fine example of how new politics can actually work. It was at committee stage which meant it was open for all-round input. The CEG were arguing to include ‘coercive control’ as a type of physchological abuse in the bill, which the government unexpectedly accepted when we went back to the Seanad Chamber at 6.45pm! Debate continued until late and I headed out the door. En route to the car I stopped to make a quick couple of calls before setting off and then I was homeward bound.
Usually I stay in Dublin on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, but last week I needed to go home overnight as I had been invited to open the annual Waterford Christmas Craft Fair in Garter Lane on the Wednesday morning.
I left Leinster House feeling quite exhilarated after the day. Driving home along the M9, as I reflected on the events of the past 24 hours, I felt a wave of emotion rushing over me, thinking about the Domestic Violence Bill and the sense of privilege and responsibility I feel in playing a part in the unfolding of real political change that would truly impact on the lives of many people, particularly women and children.
I looked out the car window. To my right, low in the western sky, there was a waxing moon growing and to my left, Sirius, the brightest star, twinkling. I started preparing a speech in my head for the craft fair. I knew Wednesday was going to be another hecitic day as usual.
After the fair I would be straight back up the M9 to Leinster House, where I would be preparing to debate the climate change issue with Ministers Shane Ross and Denis Naughten.
Finally I started to think ahead of the Waterford Oireachtas members meeting coming up with Minister Harris. It was good to know there is continued unified agreement amongst the Waterford Oireachtas members in our demand for a second Cath Lab. I parked in my driveway at 11:54 pm, leaving six minutes of free time before the new day arrived.