In the days since the House last sat a blow has fallen, not merely upon a particular political party, not merely upon a particular Governmental group, but I take leave to say, Sir, upon this Assembly and through it upon the nation—a blow too recent to be fully realised in all its grievousness.
It has been the fate of this country, perhaps more than others, to see torn from her ruthlessly devoted sons of great achievement and greater promise while the flowers of their service were yet hardly unfolded.
Kevin O'Higgins had in the dawn and morning of his manhood brought to his motherland such great and generous offerings of labour, of ability, above all of character, that his life in full maturity must have been among the greatest devoted to her service. The hands that struck him down struck at our common country.
We in this House are so familiar, many of us so intimately bound up with the course of that brief but crowded life, that I am spared the task which my personal associations would make too poignant, of recounting its story as if it were already in part faded from public memory, for Mr. O'Higgins's public career began hardly ten years ago. From its beginning to its tragic end it was consistent in devotion to liberty, consistent in sacrifice of self, consistent in tireless industry, consistent in sincerity of purpose, consistent in abhorrence of shams and hypocrisy, consistent in seeking and clinging to realities, consistent in the great intelligence that illuminated and the faith that supported every endeavour, consistent, above all, in devotion to the Irish people, whose humble servant it was Ills proudest ambition to be.
The same unflinching vision carried him through the dismal hours when he made a weary pilgrimage through the country hunted, turned from many a door where he sought refuge, to return triumphant from his lonely and dangerous mission with an amazing contribution towards the sinews of war at the height of the Anglo-lrish struggle: bore him again through the time of invaluable co-operation in capturing the then foreign stronghold of local government: guided him through the disheartening days of the Treaty debates and after enabled him to see through and beyond the agony of the civil war, and led him at last to the opportunity of constructive statesmanship when he laid foundations which will endure while the State endures. As he stood out in fearlessness and inflexible determination in every step and measure which appeared necessary for the establishment of peace and ordered liberty, his clear purpose found expression in every branch of the administrative work which was his special charge as Minister for Justice. If it be true, as has been said, that the prestige and credit of a country depend more upon its administration of justice than upon any other single test, then what does not this country owe to the Minister for Justice, with its courts enjoying the confidence of all the citizens, its unarmed Gardai respected throughout the land, the whole administration of law functioning without reproach?
With all that he had accomplished, and for all the cold determination and iron will which seemed to the public to be his principal characteristics, Kevin O'Higgins was essentially modest because essentially sincere. He had in a high degree that self-command which he showed so wonderfully in those last-terrible moments. But to those of us who were privileged to be admitted to a more intimate acquaintance with the man there was revealed a softness, a charm, and a kindness which made him the more dear to us, as we knew what he must have suffered in mastering himself to give what was required of him by his lofty ideal of public duty.
The crime which has been committed is grievous beyond words. We are bereft of a colleague loyal, steadfast, of rare ability; the nation is robbed of a statesman invaluable in council, of unswerving purpose, who knew not fear or weakness, a very exemplar of public virtue.
This crime has not been committed by private individuals against Kevin O'Higgins. It is the political assassination of a pillar of the State. It is the fruit of the steady, persistent attack against the State and its fundamental institutions. On the heads of those who have devoted their energies to the direction of that attack lies the blood-guilt.
This crime will fail in its object. We will meet this form of terrorism as we met other forms of terrorism, and we shall not falter until every vestige of it is wiped out from the land.
What shall I say of the crime against the home, the wife, the infant children, the mother and brothers and sisters of our murdered colleague? There are some things too sacred for debate in a public assembly, and I dare not intrude upon that sorrow and drag it into the public view. Indeed, it is not within the compass of ordinary speech. I can only, Sir, pray that you will convey from this Dáil a humble and reverent message of our heartfelt, deep sympathy in an overwhelming grief.