Seán Ó Fearghaíl is the 19th Ceann Comhairle (Chairman) of Dáil Éireann (lower House of the Irish Parliament), having been elected on 10th March 2016. His election was the first to be conducted by secret ballot of the members of Dáil Éireann. Representing the constituency of South Kildare, the Ceann Comhairle was a Senator from 2000 until his election as a TD (Teachta Dála) in 2002 and he has held his seat in each subsequent general election. In the 31st Dáil (2011-2016), the Ceann Comhairle was Party Whip for Fianna Fáil while also serving at his Party’s spokesman for Defence, Arts, Heritage and Culture, and Constitutional Affairs. He served as Chairman of the Oireachtas Health Committee from 2009 to 2011. Prior to his entry into national politics, the Ceann Comhairle served as a councillor on Kildare County Council, including Chairman of the Council, and has been involved in community, educational and housing organisations in his home county for many years. Talking to Liladhar Upadhyaya, Associate Editor of The Rising Nepal, at the sidelines of his busy schedule in Kathmandu, Ó Fearghaíl shared interesting ideas and thoughts about contemporary issues. "Ireland and Nepal are many, many kilometers apart, but we have long had deep bonds of friendship," he said in the interview. He held meetings with the senior government members and Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara before wrapping up of his week-long visit to Nepal. Excerpts:
How do you evaluate your visit to Nepal?
My visit to Nepal has been an enriching and valuable experience. I was immediately taken by the generous warmth of the Nepalese welcome and I deeply appreciate the many senior members of Government and Parliament, who took the time to meet with me during my stay in Nepal. I hope it is the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship between Ireland and Nepal, particularly at parliamentary level. What were the objectives of your visit? This visit has been planned for some years, since I was elected Ceann Comhairle (Speaker of the lower House of the Irish Parliament) over three years ago. The Nepalese community in Ireland numbers approximately 3,000 and that community has long been an integral part of Irish society, respected and admired for the important work the community plays in many diverse parts of Irish society. Having developed a strong relationship with the Ireland Nepal Society, I was anxious to see Nepal at first hand and learn of the challenges, hopes and aspirations of this beautiful county and welcoming people. Ireland and Nepal are many, many kilometers apart, but we have long had deep bonds of friendship. This delegation from the Irish Parliament served to strengthen those bonds further and to explore practical ways in which our two proud nations can continue to grow links in trade, education and tourism, among many other areas.
What is the evaluation of your delegation members?
I had the pleasure of being joined by two distinguished members of the Irish Parliament. Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan, an independent member, is vice-chair of the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and Convenor of the Parliament’s Friendship Group with Nepal. Maureen has had a deep and long-standing interest in Nepal and its people and has been a champion in the Irish Parliament for a range of issues, including human rights, education and partnerships with our global friends. Senator Catherine Noone is a leading member of the main Government party in the upper House, Seanad Eireann, and is particularly associated with social issues and women’s rights. Both my parliamentary colleagues and I were anxious to learn more of Nepal’s current concerns and hopes, particularly since the new Constitution was enacted in 2015. My colleagues and I will return to Ireland with an in-depth understanding of Nepal’s political and trade priorities for the coming years.
What are future prospects of Nepal-Ireland cooperation?
As Chair of the lower House of the Irish Parliament, I strongly believe in person to person contact and I hope that this parliamentary visit will be the start of far more contacts between our two parliaments. We have much to learn from each other. Ireland had become a world leader in tourism and in high-tech agricultural production, and I would be anxious to see our two countries’ tourist organisations working more closely to cooperate and learn best practices from each other. In that context, I think that the ambitious Nepal 2020 programme has the potential to see much increased travel from Ireland and Nepal. In my meeting with the Minister for Tourism, I expressed the hope that our parliaments and governments would work more closely and proactively in productive projects such as Nepal 2020 to showcase the huge tourist potential. I also think that we can see further cooperation in the areas of education and healthcare. My door is always open to the many new friends I have made on this short visit to Nepal.
In which areas, do you suggest, the Irish government and people should invest in Nepal?
Our distinguished, high level hosts in Government and Parliament informed us of the wide range of investment opportunities available in Nepal and the delegation returns to Ireland with a deeper knowledge of the diverse projects which could see closer trade and investment opportunities between us. As Speaker of the Parliament, I am not a member of the Irish Government, but I will certainly be urging the Irish Government and Irish companies to explore trade and investment opportunities between our two nations. I think in particular that Nepal has enormous potential to grow its tourism sector to global proportions and I think the Nepal 2020 project will prove a most exciting and economically beneficial undertaking for Nepal.
How do you evaluate Nepalese parliamentary system and newly introduced federalism?
I know that Nepal is in the relatively early days of its new, 2015 constitution and the Irish delegation was very interested to hear of the changes to government and political structure over the past few years. I informed our high-level hosts of the structure of Ireland’s national, regional and local government organisations, and I look forward to following the political evolution of Nepal’s new parliamentary system over the coming years.
Do you want to share more about global politics, existing parliamentary and governance systems?
Ireland has been a proud member of the European Union for almost half a century, and plays a major part on EU affairs despite being one of the smallest states of the EU. We also have long and distinguished service with the United Nations, where our peace keepers have worked closely with our Nepalese friends in many of the troubled areas of our globe. Ireland is seeking membership of the UN Security Council in 2021 which we discussed at a number of the high level meetings held over the past number of days.
Would you like to share experiences of the Irish parliamentary practices and governance system? Any examples, role models to share?
I was pleased to have an opportunity to learn a considerable amount about the Nepalese parliamentary system, which is quite similar to the Irish system. As part of our political engagement, I would like to encourage a sharing of experiences to include opportunities for public and civil servants here in Nepal to visit Ireland and see at firsthand how Ireland’s parliamentary and political affairs are conducted. This again would be a practical outcome of my visit.