Data Protection issue a 'dangerous landscape' 

We are entering a dangerous, dangerous landscape, warned Independent Senator Alice Mary Higgins as the Seanad discussed the Data Protection Bill. 

There are "hundreds of Cambridge Analyticas out there" she told the Seanad, warning of "fly by night" apps whose sole purpose is to collect data to be sold. 

The Seanad was discussing the Data Protection Bill 2018, which is now the subject of intense focus after allegations that a UK consultancy harvested Facebook data to influence the US presidential election. 

"The apps can disappear and fold. The companies can fold and reopen as new company. We are looking at a dangerous, dangerous landscape in which mercenary actors can seek to influence a political outcome," she said. 

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said there are "no grounds for fearing that this state can in any circumstances become a hub for the carrying out of electoral activities in respect of elections taking place outside the jurisdiction". 

Independent Senator Michael McDowell warned of the dangers of going too far, telling senators that processing data can also refer to something as simple "as converting a list of people who might vote for you into a list of people to whom you might write reminding them that polling day is the day after tomorrow".

Voting rights for 16-year-olds addressed

"It is quite sacrilegious of me to say this," Independent Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell said, as she told a public gallery full of teenagers to "stay away from politics". 

"I would suggest you continue to get on with your education, your travel, arts, romance, music expression and sport," she told the group in the public gallery.

However, Independent Senator Lynne Ruane sharply criticised the contribution as a "negative message" to send to young people. 

Both senators were on opposite sides of a private member's bill to reduce the voting age to 16 which was proposed by Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield in advance of the 2019 local and European elections.

"If you come from a background like mine where political decisions that you don't have access to, literally shape your environment without you being able to contribute to it, politics is very very important and I learned that at a very young age," Senator Ruane said. 

The bill was defeated after failing to get the support of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael members. 

Senator Ruane also told how she first got involved in politics at just 13, when a friend got knocked down.

She and her young friends barricaded a road until speed ramps were installed. 

Minister of State John Paul Phelan said while he disagreed with Senator Ruane on virtually everything in her economic outlook, he described her passionate argument for young people to get involved in politics as "one of the best speeches he had ever heard".

He said the government was in favour of reducing the voting age, but they were not supporting Senator Warfield's bill as there is a referendum planned on the issue in 2019. 

Norris says Pope Francis deserves a 'terrific welcome'

Independent Senator David Norris told the Seanad that the Pope is a "wonderful man" who should be given "a terrific welcome", despite not being "up to speed on gay rights and women priests". 

During Order of Business, he also said he very much regretted images of same sex couples were removed from a brochure on the World Day of Families event which the Pope will be attending in August. 

"If we are talking about the family, we should be talking about the full family," he said. 


O'Muircheartaigh says abolishing the house would be a 'sad day'

Broadcaster Mícheál O'Muircheartaigh addressed the Seanad this week as part of Bliain na Gaeilge, telling members that the Upper House carried out an important role in allowing all sides of the story to be heard. 

Recalling the referendum to abolish the Seanad, he said that would have been "a sad day". 

"Ná tabhair breith ar an chéad scéal ... don't pass judgement on a story until you've heard the other story," he told members.

The leader of the Seanad, Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer, paid tribute to Mr O’Muircheartiagh’s commentary over the decades which made the Irish language accessible. 

"He took his love of the Irish language from West Kerry and brought it to the four corners of the country," he said.