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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 4 Jul 1995

Vol. 455 No. 4

Death of Cathaoirleach of Seanad: Expression of Sympathy.

It is now our sad duty to reflect on the untimely passing of a dear parliamentary colleague, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, Senator Seán Fallon. I call on the Taoiseach to move the vote of condolence.

It is my sad responsibility to say a few words in memory of a friend of every Member of this House, the late Senator Seán Fallon, Cathaoirleach of the Seanad. I remember meeting him at Áras an Uachtaráin on the day before he fell ill with what was to be his final illness. He was a member of the presidential commission which acted for the first time in its history in appointing a Minister in the absence of the President. He was the same then as he always was — a man of great gentleness who had a great sense of humour but whose humour was never at anybody else's expense. He was held in deep affection by everybody who came into contact with him. He was a loyal member of the Fianna Fáil party to which he devoted his life. However, he never made a remark in my hearing that was anything but fair or charitable towards others of other political persuasions.

Seán Fallon loved sport. He followed football, but the sport I most identified him with was greyhound racing, a sport with which I have some association. He had a deep interest in that sport and in the interests of the greyhound industry. I would say it came second only to his loyalty to Fianna Fáil in terms of his priorities. He was a frequent visitor to Shelbourne Park, Harold's Cross, Mullingar and other tracks throughout the country. He was also interested in horse racing and was regularly seen in Kilbeggan. The race meeting at Kilbeggan will be a colder and emptier event this year because of his absence.

He was a serious politician as well. He was a man of deep conviction who spoke his mind only when he had to. He did much of his best work behind the scenes. He did not seek notoriety for what he did and some of his most important interventions were made in the privacy of the Fianna Fáil party rooms. Those of us who are not members of that party will be unable, therefore, to speak about his full contribution to public life.

It is tragic that he died at such an early age. He was only 58. However, he and his friends who mourn him can look back on a full political career during that short life. He was first elected to the Seanad in 1981. He was a good chairman of Westmeath County Council, an effective member of the vocational education committee in Westmeath and a truly brilliant Cathaoirleach of the Seanad. The way in which he chaired debates in that Forum was exemplary. Obviously he had a difficult task in recent times as a result of the changes there. Senator Fallon as Cathaoirleach is an example for all his successors, an example of a man who did his job exceptionally well.

On behalf of the Fine Gael party and on behalf of the Government parties — although others will speak on their behalf — I extend the deepest sympathy of the House to Senator Fallon's wife, Anne, and to his children, Pádraic, Morgan, John and Niamh.

Is le brón chroí a labhraim anseo inniú ar bhás an tSeanadóra Seán Ó Fallamhain, ball de Fhianna Fáil agus Cathaoirleach an tSeanaid. It is with profound regret I speak to this House on the death of Seán Fallon, a man of humility, forbearance and great kindness. Our sympathies go to his wife, Anne, and to his family in this time of sadness and pain. I thank the Taoiseach for his kind remarks.

Seán was very special, as the Taoiseach said, in the parliamentary party. He served with us for many years. As a councillor representing the people of Westmeath Seán was known far and wide for his devotion to the vital work that sums up the busy life of a local representative, always trying to serve the needs of the community. As Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, where he came to the fore on the national scene in recent years, he epitomised the style and graciousness that go with that distinguished position. It was always abundantly clear that he was a Cathaoirleach of great fairness and courtesy. That is not an easy position to achieve and maintain over a political lifetime. I have heard those comments from Senators on all sides during the recent weeks of Senator Fallon's illness.

From his first election to Westmeath County Council in 1967, Seán proceeded on the road of distinguished service. He became chairman of Westmeath County Council 21 years ago and was chairman of Athlone UDC three times. He was first elected to the Seanad in 1981 and in the intervening 14 years continued to maintain his senatorial position with great skill and expertise. The highlight of his career was his election as Cathaoirleach of the Seanad three and a half years ago, a position he held until his recent illness.

He was the very essence of what one deems to be a Senator in his respect for the House and its affairs as well as serving the network of councillors, which is central to the working of the Seanad. Seán was well known for his sporting affiliations, as the Taoiseach stated, he had an interest in all sports and was always up to date with what was happening. He also worked on behalf of the Arthritis Foundation of Ireland and many other good causes whose services he helped to develop.

He served with great distinction as Fianna Fáil spokesman on Health and Social Welfare in the Seanad from 1983 to 1987 and he articulated well the deep concerns of the poor and the needy in our society. Above all, apart from his professional expertise as a public representative and an eminent Senator, Seán Fallon will be remembered for his charming personality. He was always a pleasure to meet, to pass the time of day with and talk about whatever was in the news. He was a man of great gentleness and courtesy. He always displayed a great kindness and showed that to others.

He leaves to his family, friends and colleagues a legacy of style, distinction and great character. Whether as an athlete — he received national as well as regional fame of being a tremendous athlete in his younger days — a councillor, a Senator or a member of the Council of State, Seán was a quiet achiever, carrying out his work with great dignity and winning universal respect. He was a family man, and we extend our sympathies to his dear wife, Anne, his daughter, Niamh, and his sons, Pádraic, Morgan and John.

We have lost on this side of the House somebody who was very much part of our party for a long time. He played his part in many ways; helping others to get elected, being elected himself, playing a full part in party organisation and getting to the senior national position of representing a House of the Oireachtas. His passing is a big loss to us. We thank his family for allowing him to be with us for so long and for giving us so much in building up our party. Ar dheis láimh Dé go raibh a anam uasal agus go dtuga Dia sólás dá bhean agus dá chlann.

On behalf of the Labour Party, I extend our condolences to the Fallon family, who have lost a father and a husband, to the Fianna Fáil Party which has lost a most respected and senior member of that parliamentary party and to this House and the people who work in it. He had something that is frequently lost in the heat of battle. One can be a person of conviction and have immense loyalty to the traditions of the party to which one belongs and loves and at the same time, remain courteous, affectionate and decent in the pursuit of one's ideals. If anybody was capable of holding with passion the values of the republican ethos which Seán Fallon saw in the Fianna Fáil Party and at the same time, being open, considerate and attentive to the values with which he may not necessarily have agreed but which he respected in others, then he was the epitome of a democratic assembly.

It is fitting that as we gather today to welcome a new entrant to this House we say farewell to an old one. There is a kind of democratic continuity in the process. Seán Fallon's life is an example to all Members. I confirm our sense of loss in the Labour Party, both in the Seanad and the Dáil, and extend our sympathies to the Fianna Fáil Party which has lost a great member of its parliamentary party.

It is sad that we are here again within a week to mark the tragic death of another Member of the Seanad. Indeed, the words that we used to describe Gordon Wilson are appropriate to Seán Fallon. He was kind, gentle and caring. Although he endured a physical illness for many years, he bore it with great courage and fortitude. He was an example to us all and he had great dignity. Although the Government was in a minority in the Seanad, nobody in the Chair would have been as fair as Senator Fallon.

Seán Fallon was always anxious to ensure that every side and point of view had a fair hearing. He brought great dignity and authority to the office of Cathaoirleach. It is to his great credit that there was rarely an acrimonious debate in the Seanad. He bore his illness with great courage which cannot have been easy for a man who had been a champion athlete in his earlier years.

Seán Fallon always had a kind word for everybody. Despite the adversarial nature of politics, he did not have any critics in Leinster House, that is unique, particularly when one belongs to a political party. To his wife Anne, his four children and his colleagues in Fianna Fáil, I extend, on my own behalf and on behalf of the Progressive Democrats, my sympathy.

In Julius Caesar, the words spoken by Mark Antony of Brutus are appropriate when describing Seán Fallon: “His life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world that this indeed is a man.”

For the second time within a week, it is our sad task to mourn the death of a distinguished Member of Seanad Éireann and to offer our sympathy to his family and our colleagues in the Upper House. The Death of Seán Fallon is a loss not just to Seanad Éireann but to public life in general. He gave nearly 30 years of his life to public office and almost 15 years to the Seanad. He was an exceptionally able Cathaoirleach of the Seanad who showed not just skill but tact and integrity in carrying out the duties of his office.

Seán Fallon was, in the purest sense of the term, a gentleman. Despite his considerable health problems, which he bore with great fortitude, his love of life, his good humour and humanity shone out like a beacon of optimism. He had a kind word for everyone and a genuine interest in the welfare and well-being of others. Seán Fallon was one of those rare figures around Leinster House. He was a political activist, fiercely loyal to his party, who won high political office and yet was a man about whom his political opponents never said an unkind word. The warmth of the cross party tributes to him in the Dáil and the Seanad this morning is a genuine measure of the respect and affection in which he was held in this House.

On behalf of Democratic Left, I extend my deepest sympathy to his wife, Anne, his sons and daughter and his colleagues in the Seanad and the Fianna Fáil Party.

On behalf of the Green Party, I express our sympathy on the death of Senator Fallon to his wife, Anne, and family, the people of Westmeath and his fellow Senators. I did not know Senator Fallon well but I always found him courteous and I appreciated his style and ability in chairing the Seanad. He was always exemplary and I never heard an unkind word said by him or against him. To that extent, I hold his memory fondly. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

I am glad of the opportunity to sympathise with the Fallon family. Seán married Anne in Athlone in 1966. The following year, he entered Athlone Urban District Council and Westmeath County Council. In the real sense of the word, she was his partner in all the years he devoted to public service. Within six months of his marriage, he began his local authority career. He spent 28 years there, three of which he served as chairman of Athlone Urban District Council — I served with him on that council — and two as chairman of Westmeath County Council.

Seán Fallon's door was never closed to anybody. When anybody knocked on it, he, Anne or their children would answer and treat that person in the same way as the highest Senator or Minister of the land who may have called to his home. It was that sort of partnership. Many of our husbands, wives or partners who bear the burden of public office will know that was the way the Fallon household ran its life and conducted its business for those 27 years. They knew no other way. There were no early years for Seán to test the waters. He gave 28 years unbroken service to the citizens of his town and county and later, at a national level, served the country as Cathaoirleach of the Seanad. It is a rare person who can pay attention to the lesser difficulties of life as well as the challenges. The attention he gave to what was his greatest difficulty at that time was as acute and diligent as his attention to many of his national duties.

Seán and I were born and brought up within 100 yards of each other. We spent our childhood and early adulthood together. There is a three months difference in our ages. We joined Macra Fáil when we were 13 so that we could do our bit for the party. I remember the early and later years with great affection because we were both striving for the one thing. During those years harmony did not always exist in debates. We went into public life together in the election to the local authority and we joined the Seanad together in 1981. Seán got great fulfilment in the Seanad, of which he always spoke so highly, while I gained fulfilment in the Dáil. From then on our lives converged as the tension was removed.

He was everything which Members have said. He was a gentle person who gave sound advice during difficult times. He served his party to extraordinary lengths. He was also a great sportsman at provincial and national level. He was an athlete of great note and a basketball player of high repute and renown. It must have been difficult for him, as others have said, to cope with the physical disabilities from which he suffered in later life, especially having been so fleet of foot. However, he coped with grace, as he did with all the pressures of life. When the party met to enjoy itself, for example, after the election of a chairman, Seán would sing the Count John McCormack song, The Tumble-down Shack in Athlone, with a fine voice and spirit. I know he will be remembered in his beloved town of Athlone.

I want to be associated with the kind remarks made about the late Seán Fallon. I have known Senator Fallon for many years. I served with him on Westmeath County Council and as an Oireachtas representative. Seán was always a warm, friendly and kind man and no matter how busy he might be, he always found time for a chat, particularly about local issues. He was highly regarded by all who knew him.

An accomplished sportsman in his youth, he maintained a keen interest in sport, particularly dog and horse racing. He enjoyed his visits to Kilbeggan racecourse where he could always be relied upon to produce a tip.

Seán Fallon was an astute politician and I must confess that I turned to him regularly for advice about local and national issues. He will be a great loss to the Fianna Fáil party at local and national level. Any political party would have been proud to have had Seán Fallon as one of its members. He was one of nature's gentlemen, an honourable public representative and a fair minded man. He was so courteous that if he was a Member of this House your job, Sir, would probably be redundant. The Fallon family have lost a loyal husband and a devoted father. Westmeath has lost an honourable public representative and our country has lost an honourable statesman.

I extend my sympathy to his wife, Anne, and his family. Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam.

I want to be associated with the kind and deserved tributes paid to our colleague, Senator Seán Fallon. It was with deep regret and a huge sense of shock and loss that I heard this morning of the untimely death of our wonderful parliamentary colleague.

Seán was a man of the highest integrity and dignity and he had the unusual distinction of being a politician about whom an unkind word could not be said. He had friends across the political spectrum. He was a great colleague and a person in whom a young politician, such as myself in the early 1980s, could confide. His advice was sought by politicians of all affiliations, particularly at county council level. He was an excellent member of Westmeath County Council to which he was first elected in 1967. His impartiality and fairness was clearly demonstrated when he held the position of chairman of Westmeath County Council.

Senator Fallon was a sincere friend who served his party, Fianna Fáil, all his life with great loyalty. He was also an excellent listener to the views expressed by politicians of the other political parties. His popularity at local level was reflected in his return at each election to Westmeath County Council and Athlone Urban District Council since 1967.

He was a wily campaigner on the Seanad election trail which is the toughest political campaign trail of all. He always said his greatest honour was his unanimous election as Cathaoirleach of the Seanad which also made him a member of the Council of State. He was an extremely able and efficient Cathaoirleach and had great respect for all the Members of the House, as they had for him. This was eloquently expressed this morning in the tributes paid to him in the Seanad. He had unending courtesy and charm.

As a member of the Midland Health Board, Seán Fallon made excellent contributions to the development of the health schemes in the midland region and he subscribed to the importance of the principle that people are the most important. He had a wonderful sense of humour and exuded great personal warmth. As has already been stated, he was a brilliant sportsman who excelled at both athletics and Gaelic football. Like me, he was a great follower of Gaelic games in County Westmeath and he proudly captained the Westmeath minor football team. He was a frequent visitor to Shelbourne Park and Mullingar greyhound track. Recently, he gave me some invaluable advice on the purchase of a greyhound pup which I was contemplating. He had a wealth of information both at political and sporting level which he frequently proffered. As my colleagues said, we often met him at Kilbeggan races and the latest "hot" information would be exchanged about the likely winners. He would later tell us about the impact which the ground had on the certainty he had given us.

Fianna Fáil has lost a great ambassador and we have lost a valuable friend. As a member of the local authorities, Seanad Éireann, the Presidential Commission and the Council of State, he made a valuable contribution to the function of our political institutions. He was a true gentleman in every sense of the word and he carried the mantle of high office in a quiet and unassuming way. He represented the people of Athlone fearlessly for the past 28 years and they will miss him.

I extend my sincere and deepepst sympathy to his wife, Anne, his sons and daughter and his parliamentary colleagues in Fianna Fáil.

The death of Senator Seán Fallon is a terrible shock to the Members of this House and Seanad Éireann, but it is an even greater shock to his friends in Roscommon and Westmeath. As a young man Seán was a very fine athlete. He played minor football for Westmeath and later played basketball for Ireland. Though he excelled in sports his prowess in the political world was even greater. On behalf of the Independent Deputies, I extend my sincere sympathy to his widow and family. Go ndéanadh Dia trocaire ar a anam dílis.

I knew Seán Fallon for many years, for longer than most Members. I wish to extend my sympathy to his wife, family, friends and those he represented. He was a quiet and unassuming man but he had a steely disposition when matters of any real importance had to be decided. I appreciated Seán for what he was — a man of the highest integrity and honesty. We are all the poorer for his passing. May he rest in peace.

Members rose.