We will first hear expressions of sympathy on the death of Deputy Theresa Ahearn.
Death of Member and Former Members: Expressions of Sympathy.
It is a matter of extreme sadness to every Member of the House that we recently experienced the loss of a young mother who was also a Deputy of this House, Deputy Theresa Ahearn. Theresa Ahearn, with enormous courage, battled against an extremely serious illness over the past three years. She showed tremendous character in the way she faced this, the most severe challenge a person could face. Her courage was the greatest inspiration to everybody whose privilege it was to meet her during those three trying and difficult years.
It is fair to say that in many respects Theresa Ahearn was at her most effective, as a politician, in the past three years. The illness she suffered, the fear it engendered and the sense of her own mortality gave her a perspective as a politician which enabled her to be even more effective than she had been hitherto. She believed in life and lived life to the full. Her interest in politics was insatiable. I recall visiting her during the week or so before she died and her interest in what was happening in the Dáil, what was and was not being said in the newspapers, what was being said fairly and perhaps less fairly and even the gossip of Leinster House was insatiable. As I said at her graveside in Grange, on that occasion she was able to tell me a few things that I did not know were happening in the House.
Theresa Ahearn as a politician served at all levels of Government and was very proud to be a member of Clonmel Corporation. The ancient city of Clonmel was besieged by Cromwell but has not yet fallen and will not fall through any other attempts made to overcome it. She was proud of her membership of Tipperary South Riding County Council. I think it is fair to say she was intensely proud of her membership of the Fine Gael Party. She was someone who believed very much in the ethos which we as a party seek to uphold, an ethos of public service.
I feel the loss very deeply as I know all Members of the House feel it very deeply. However, probably the women Members of the House in all parties feel the death of Theresa Ahearn in a deeper way perhaps than anyone else, because she was a women who triumphed in politics without the aid of any previous family connection. She succeeded in politics in a rural setting where it is argued the election of a woman politician is not as easy as it might be in a more urban setting. Theresa Ahearn overcame all those obstacles to become a proud Member of this House.
I pay tribute to her work as a Member here. She was most recently the spokesperson for the Fine Gael Party on persons affected by disabilities. That she was suffering from the disability of a life-threatening illness during most of the time when she operated in that capacity helped her to do her work even more eloquently, effectively and inspiringly than would otherwise have been possible. She was also spokesperson for the Fine Gael Party on higher education. It may not be known to Members of the House that she promoted the idea of free third level education within the Fine Gael Party before any of the other parties who subsequently adopted it did so. Unfortunately for her and perhaps for Fine Gael, her ideas were not heard as effectively as perhaps they ought to have been. In that she was very much before her time.
Speaking about Theresa Ahearn as a politician is quite difficult for me because my memory of her is not so much as a politician but as a woman, a friend, someone who was a devoted mother to her four young men and a devoted wife to Liam. Our thoughts are very much with them at this time. I hope everyone who can be of assistance to them in coming to terms with their immense grief will be of assistance, which I know they will. Nothing we can say or do here will fill the gap in their lives caused by the death of Theresa Ahearn. However, it may be of some small help for them to know that she was beloved and held in high esteem on all sides of this House and that this is a very, very sad occasion for all 165 surviving Members of the Dáil.
I join Deputy Bruton in the expression of sympathy on the untimely death of Theresa Ahearn. Deputy Bruton is correct in say ing that she fought her illness so bravely. I had an opportunity in this House a year ago to welcome her back following illness. I recall talking to her that day when she thought things were looking up for her and that was the case for a while. I know from talking to members of my party, particularly the women Members of the House, that she shared her ups and downs with them.
It is with profound regret that we meet today on our first day back following the summer recess. This is a sad event for the entire House. Theresa was always well capable of arguing her case and testing our positions. As spokesperson on many issues, she was always well briefed on her subjects. Having attended University College Dublin, Saint Patrick's College, Maynooth, the Presentation Convent, Cashel and having been a teacher of mathematics, she was very eloquent in putting across her views. It is always sad to lose a Member of the House but in circumstances where one fights so hard and puts up such a battle, a person so young, a young mother, a person who is enjoying her job so much, it is even sadder. To her husband, Liam, and her four sons, Patrick, Liam, Garret and Scott, I extend the sympathy of the Government and the Fianna Fáil Party.
Looking back at Members of the House one can see the huge public service they have given. It is extraordinary to look back at all the positions Theresa held. She was a member of many groups and bodies, including Clonmel Corporation for many years. She gave much time and effort to these organisations and while they may not be world shattering organisations, they are very important to local areas. These are bodies dealing with agriculture, youth, vocational education committees and health committees. These services would not function properly if people like Theresa Ahearn did not put a great deal of time and energy into them.
On my behalf and on behalf of the Government, I offer my deepest condolences to Liam, her boys, the Fine Gael Party, the leader of the Fine Gael Party and all her colleagues. To lose a colleague during the lifetime of a Government is extremely difficult. We share the loss of our Fine Gael colleagues who are suffering more on this occasion and extend our deepest sympathies.
On behalf of the Labour Party, I extend our sympathies to the family of Theresa Ahearn, to her husband, Liam, her four sons who are here today and her political family, Fine Gael, whom she served so eloquently and passionately and with such tenacity and commitment in the various responsibilities allocated to her.
It is poignant that I am on my feet again this year speaking on the sad occasion of the death of a Deputy for south Tipperary. It seems incredible to think that this constituency has suffered the loss in one calendar year of two outstanding public representatives. In the context of the by-election which took place earlier this year, Theresa Ahearn's presence, vibrancy, joie de vivre and commitment to the spirit of politics seemed to indicate to us all that she had won that hard, tough battle. So it was with extraordinary sadness and a sense of disbelief that we heard she had entered into a relapse of which she was aware and with which she dealt with the courage I do not think I could sum up, quite frankly. For that and for the courage she displayed as a public representative in this Republic, we will all be eternally grateful.
I join the Taoiseach and the leaders of Fine Gael and Labour in extending my sympathy and that of the Progressive Democrats Party to Theresa's husband, Liam, and her four sons. I also extend my sympathy to Deputy Bruton and the Fine Gael Party.
Theresa Ahearn was a very sensitive, hard working and committed person. She did not maintain the status quo too often. She was very forthright and had very strong views. It is fair to say that perhaps the women in this House know each other somewhat better than the men for a whole host of reasons. Although there are more women here now than there were when I first came into Leinster House in 1977, there are still relatively few. There was rarely an Order of Business in the past three years when Theresa Ahearn was not sitting opposite. Invariably, on the first day of a new session she would have a new outfit because Theresa adored clothes and was always smartly dressed.
I was amazed when I heard during the summer that she was ill again because just before we broke for the summer recess Theresa, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donnell, and I had a discussion for three or four hours one evening. I recall being inspired going home that evening because she spoke about her cancer and the manner in which she confronted it. Deputy O'Donnell and I, while having different issues on our minds, were very inspired by the courage she displayed. There is no doubt she showed remarkable courage and she is a great example to anybody confronted with serious illness.
If Theresa Ahearn was present now she probably would not want us to go on too long, but she made one of her most moving speeches when the late Michael Ferris died. I recall distinctly not so much what she said but the manner in which she spoke about him and I know how genuinely heartfelt that was and how upset, hurt and devastated she was when he died.
I do not know whether her speaking skills were honed in Macra na Feirme but she was an outstanding speaker. She always spoke eloquently in the House and did not just fill in time. She genuinely had something to say and she was a thoughtful politician. She was a woman of real substance. Everybody will miss her, particularly Liam and her four sons of whom she was so proud. She also spoke on many occasions about them. They will miss her most but her party and everybody in Leinster House will miss her. We will remember her for a long time to come. When people are confronted with serious illness we should remember the remarkable courage she showed, which will, I hope, be an inspiration to others in the future. That is something for which Theresa would have wished.
Thar cheann An Chomhaontais Ghlais ba mhaith liomsa a rá go mbraithfimid uainn go mór an Teachta Theresa Ahearne. Our sympathies go to her husband, Liam, her four sons and the Fine Gael Party, in particular, of which she was proud to be a member. She always spoke with conviction in this House and was always worth listening to. Given that she had such difficult times with her illness, what she did as well as what she said will continue to earn her memory the respect and love of both her family and her people in Tipperary.
I know she would not have minded me saying this but during her illness a number of us in the House prayed together with Theresa and I know she took real comfort from that. She was a deeply spiritual person and in turn her bearing, attitude and bravery will always be an inspiration to those of us who knew her. I thank her for that. Many people in the House will always remember her and be inspired by everything she did and said.
As the only surviving Member in the constituency from the 1997 election I reflect, as should all of us, on the fact that whatever we do in public life we are all mortals. Unfortunately, two colleagues have died in the past six months. I recall Theresa Ahearn as a young girl cycling four or five miles to secondary school in Cashel and also when she began teaching in the vocational school. She took a keen interest not just in the good students but also in those who were not as good and who needed a great deal of help. She did tremendous work in that area and that was highly respected throughout the area. That was reflected in the extraordinary feat of her election to the corporation even though she lived four miles outside the town. It was a tribute to her teaching abilities and the interest she took in the children of the school.
She was elected to the county council, on which I served with her. We did not always agree but she made me step up a gear or two on many occasions. While I could take things for granted with some people, I could not with her. I found her to be an extremely articulate colleague who was very honest and forthright when she spoke. We worked together for the constituency on those occasions and she was a tremendous worker on behalf of the constituency.
The last time I spoke to her was before the House broke for the summer recess. We discussed some constituency matters, normal housekeeping, a Cheann Comhairle, as you would understand, and she was so looking forward to coming back with other things to be done in the constituency and plans she had for it and for her self. Unfortunately that was not to be, but the bravery and strength she displayed during her illness will be an inspiration to all.
Deputy Bruton mentioned her love of politics. It was only following a car accident, in which she and Mary Banotti were involved, that she first discovered her illness and we all thought she was okay as was evident in her conviction and willingness to come back to the House – other things would be on my mind if I was faced with such an illness.
I pay tribute to her husband, Liam, who was not just her husband but her best friend, and her four children in whom she instilled strongly a respect for politics as well as a love for her party. It is vitally important that we leave here with that message regarding her respect for politics and politicians.
Tá brón orainn go léir tráthnóna as ucht bháis an Teachta Theresa Ahearn, Ba mhaith liom mo chomhbhrón a chur in iúl dá fear céile Liam, do na buachaillí agus d'Fhine Gael.
I join with previous speakers in expressing my sympathy and sadness on the death of Theresa Ahearn. I was a colleague of Theresa's on Clonmel Corporation, south Tipperary County Council and, for all too brief a period, in Dáil Éireann. She was always friendly and helpful and when I arrived in the House at the end of June she was the first to greet me and give me good advice and information on the House and its workings.
I found Theresa Ahearn over the years to be particularly supportive of families throughout south Tipperary who had their own health difficulties. I thank her, Liam and the family for the support they gave me and my wife over the past period. She was always a powerful advocate of her views and those of her party. We were of different political persuasions but we always got on and she was a very honest and powerful advocate of her point of view and that of her party.
She is a huge loss to Liam and the boys, the wider Ahearn and Scott families and the people of south Tipperary. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam uasal.
Most Members will remember John Boland – if one ever met John Boland one would never forget him. In my estimation he was among the most, if not the most, intelligent and imaginative politicians ever elected to this House. He could look at a problem from a wide range of angles and see a wider range of possible solutions than any conventional thinker in political life. He had immense courage and had no fear of confrontation with anybody or anything, if he felt that confrontation was necessary to achieve an objective in the public interest.
John Boland was single-handedly responsible for the abolition of corporal punishment in our schools, something for which generations of young people have reason to thank him. When we hear so many frightening stories of things that might have happened in institutions in the past, the prescience of John Boland in abolishing corporal punishment seems all the more important and significant with every day that passes.
John Boland was also responsible for producing a major blueprint for the reform of the public service. He produced a White Paper on the public service which was responsible subsequently for restructuring the way the service works, making it more open and unified. It created a sense in which, for example, Department of Education officials were not just working for that Department but also for the overall objectives of the State. That was achieved by virtue of the fact that John Boland introduced a top level appointments commission which created the possibility of people moving from one Department to another. He created a sense of a wider esprit de corps in the public service, of working for a common objective, and thus achieved a diminution of that demon of “departmentalitis”, thinking only of the interests of one's own Department. That was achieved directly as a result of a well chosen initiative of John Boland's in establishing the top level appointments commission.
John Boland also had a vision of what Dublin might become for its citizens; a sense of a beautiful and proud city. These were ideas of a future for Dublin that were at least 15 years before their time. It is interesting that somebody whose training was in commerce – as I recall he did his degree in commerce – and who had a parallel training in journalism, also had the capacity to be a spatial planner envisaging what Dublin might look like. Most unusually, he was able to combine commercial, political and oratorical skills with architectural and engineering skills which are so rarely found combined in one person. That is why I say, with some reason, that John Boland was one of the most accomplished politicians ever to have served as a Minister in this House.
It is a tragedy that his political and ministerial career did not last longer. At the same time it is a great tribute to John that he was able to move, although certainly not effortlessly, successfully through a number of professions in his life. He went from being a politician and a political junkie – there was nobody plugged into the adrenaline of politics more than John Boland – to withdrawing from that completely and reinventing himself as a barrister. He was a very successful advocate who won the confidence not only of his legal colleagues but also of his clients.
John Boland had three careers while most of us have only one. He had a successful career as a journalist in various capacities. Starting as a student journalist, he was editor of the magazine Awake which was a very important student publication in the minds of those of us who were in college at that time. Some might say that he brought tabloid journalism to Ireland, particularly those who were at the receiving end of any criticism in that magazine. He was successful as a journalist, a politician and a barrister. Few people could do all that in a short life.
I know that Kay Boland, who is here, and Grace and John, who are also here, miss John senior very much. It will be some consolation to them, however, to know that he is admired so much by so many people for what he achieved. It has been said by many that John did not suffer fools gladly. He spoke directly and if he believed someone had done something he or she should not have done, he would not be behind the door in saying so. Equally, he was totally loyal to anyone to whom he had pledged his loyalty. One had the sense that he would literally go through fire if he believed it was deserved and was morally right.
He will be greatly missed. I thank the House for giving me the opportunity of paying this tribute to his memory. I thank the Taoiseach and others for facilitating that. It is sad for us in Fine Gael that on this occasion we are expressing our grief on the loss of one Member of the House, a former Member of the House, and a former member of our party.
I join Deputy Bruton in extending our deepest condolences to the late John Boland's family, Kay, John and Grace. I remember John Boland very well as I was spokesperson for public service matters during his period as Minister. It was a mixture of fun and grief. On some days, a person would get on well with him, while on others the same person could be the subject of his wrath. I remember the White Paper on the public service reforms very well and I knew the difficulties involved in what he was trying to achieve. My great enjoyment was going on and on about the delays, as one does in Opposition. However, public servants would literally lift me out of it afterwards because when I had a go at John they were criticised subsequently. Therefore, they would appeal to me to stop. He got the White Paper published, however, and I agree with Deputy Bruton that it was a very fine document for reform. I know how hard he worked on it, quite apart from the parliamentary tactics.
At that stage he was trying to reform a very old system, dating from before the foundation of the State. He enthusiastically took over that brief and set about establishing a strong, efficient and innovative public service. He removed the anonymity from officials dealing with the public and humanised the face of the Civil Service. It was not an easy task. He reformed the appointment of higher civil servants and introduced greater mobility in the higher levels through a promotional system. Although it may not be considered so now, the big change at the time was setting up the Office of the Ombudsman. The debate on that Bill kept us here for long hours. I feel happy with the contribution I made in Opposition but I know that John Boland did far more than I could have in introducing that reforming legislation.
People who are new to the House might think that all these matters were easily achieved but they were not. They were major elements of reform. For example, when I started to work in the public service back in the late 1960s, and was later elected to the House, most people who reached senior positions in the public service were in line for retirement on grounds of age. That changed forever after John Boland's reforms. I should probably argue now that they are too far away from the line when they finally retire, but it changed the system. The seven year rule for which he was responsible is now accepted in all areas, but it was an enormous change.
It would be wrong to forget that Deputy Barrett and I were Whips almost 20 years ago and worked with John Boland in changing the system of remuneration for Members of the House. It was a change from the situation where whenever Members got an increase, it was announced ten times. The public used to think we had received ten increases in a row. John Boland changed the legislation and that was difficult at the time. However, we are all reaping the benefits despite the significant arguments at the time. While John Boland might have been a very tough person, he thought about many important matters.
When people talk about whether young people can get on in public life, it should be remembered that he held many records in that regard and was an example. He began his life in the public service in 1967 when he was elected to Dublin County Council. He was chairman of the council in 1971 at the age of 26. He was the youngest councillor ever to become chairman. He chaired the council again from 1973 to 1974 and from 1976 to 1977. He was a Senator from 1969 to 1977 and was first elected at the age of 24. He was the youngest ever Member of the Upper House at the time, although that record was later defeated by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney. He was also a young and energetic man when he entered the Dáil.
I acknowledge Deputy Bruton's point that John Boland abolished corporal punishment in the education system. He had many achievements. I used to have good arguments in the House with him because of the respective positions we held. I and Deputy Barrett as Government and Opposition Whips spent many long nights working – it was often a very long night – but we enjoyed the company and had some good fun. We used to listen to horrendous abuse about many things, including myself occasionally, but it was all in good spirit.
John Boland made a huge contribution to his constituency of Dublin North and in terms of his work in the city. I particularly remember the four years I worked opposite him before he took charge of the Department of the Environment. I will remember him for all those good reasons. He will be very sadly missed and we can only extend our sympathies to Kay, his son, John, and his daughter, Grace. We understand their loss.
For the second time today, I extend our sympathies to his colleagues in the Fine Gael Party. He was the life and soul of the party when he was a Member of the House and I am sure he remained a committed member and interested person outside the House. We extend our sympathies.
I was elected to Dáil Éireann on the same day as John Boland. We were a rare breed in that we entered the House against the avalanche that brought in a 22 seat majority for the Fianna Fáil Party. They were difficult and strange circumstances.
It is just over 11 years since John Boland ceased to be a Member of the House. Some Deputies did not serve with him, but the comments made by the Taoiseach and the leader of the Fine Gael Party are an indication to those who did not work at first hand with him of the extraordinary impact he had. He was somebody one would never forget meeting in whatever capacity. He left an image, an impression, a soundbite – sometimes it was a bite in terms of the ferocity with which he would argue his point of view.
He believed passionately in what is now called civic society. He believed passionately in service to the community. He held very strong views, some of which I disagreed with and others which I fully supported. He never failed in his determination to articulate his point of view or to try to persuade one of its validity. Regarding the Civil Service where, uniquely, he was the only ever Minister for the Public Service, he saw his task as the historic task for which the position was created. The Cabinet post was created to lay the foundations for a modern, open, outwardly serving Civil Service. He knew the difficulties involved in change. For example, he got rid of Buggin's turn. This move met with extraordinary resistance among so many different parts of the Civil Service. It broke down the loyalty to a particular Department rather than the Civil Service and opened up new career opportunities for people who brought skills, experience and work practices from one Department to another. If there is a better Civil Service today – I believe it is better – it is undoubtedly due to the work of John Boland during that time.
I succeeded him in the Department of Public Service when it was relinked to the Department of Labour and I served with him in Cabinet for just under four years. The Custom House Docks project as a physical architectural project would not exist today but for the leadership of the late Deputies John Boland and Fergus O'Brien. Its financial manifestation came later, but its physical manifestation was due to the fortitude and determination those Deputies brought to bear on the project.
The rejuvenation of the quays of Dublin city and the introduction of urban renewal schemes resulted, as Deputy Bruton said, from John Bol and's foresight, that extraordinary combination of a commercial sense of what could be done and a passionate commitment to ensuring that urban renewal would take place. When one looks at the cities and towns of Ireland now, one sees the transformation in places such as Limerick, Galway, Dublin and many other areas. Sowing the seeds of tax incentives for urban renewal in Upper Merrion Street was on occasion a very barren task. Sowing the seeds in 1986 and 1987 was almost an impossible task. It took the tenacity of somebody like John Boland to argue the case and see it through.
He was also a superb member of Dublin County Council. My colleagues on that council, of which I was not a member because I was in the city, often testify to his knowledge and skill. Many city officials who shared offices with the county council because of the structure of the county council and the corporation at that time said he knew more about local government law than the law agent on many occasions. They frequently consulted the chairman rather than the law agent in relation to an arcane point of local government law.
On behalf of the Labour Party, I extend our sincere sympathies to Kay, Grace and John, who are present this afternoon, and to the Fine Gael Party, which has lost a hero in terms of the values for which that party is recognised and to which he was so completely committed.
I also wish to express my sympathy and that of the Progressive Democrats to Kay, John and Grace Boland on the sad death of John Boland. I share Deputy Bruton's view that he was one of the brightest people ever elected to this House. John Boland was not interested in the trappings of ministerial office. It is fair to say, as other Members said, that he approached all his ministerial responsibilities with a real determination to deliver change.
The vigour with which he pursued public service reform in particular will always stand to his memory. It is incredible to think that less than 20 years ago public servants were not supposed to give their names or numbers when they were engaging with the public. It was a simple reform at one level but that and many other things he did in the public service were enormously important.
When I was appointed to the Seanad in 1977, as the Taoiseach said, I took the record from John Boland for being the youngest Member of the Seanad. However, he was elected to the Seanad and that clearly was more difficult at the age of 24 than being nominated. It stands to the type of skill he had that, at that young age, he was elected by the Fine Gael members of local authorities around the country. He became chairman of Dublin County Council at the age of 26. He performed his duties in that role with great distinction. He is still spoken about in county council circles, not so much with great love as great admiration. People admired the manner in which he chaired the council.
He was a person who wanted to get things done. I said earlier that Theresa Ahearn was not happy with the status quo. John Boland was a challenger. He was fearless, as Deputy John Bruton said. He showed remarkable courage. Populism was alien to John Boland. Perhaps the type of courage he showed was seen more as a quality in the 1970s than it is today. He would take on any group if, as Deputy John Bruton said, he believed the cause was right and he did it skilfully and successfully.
I extend my sympathy to the Fine Gael Party on the loss of someone at a young age. I was away on holidays when John Boland died but on my return I saw a programme which had been recorded with him a number of years ago. He spoke on that programme about how important it was to move on and to do other things in life and not to necessarily always stay in the one career. He did that successfully.
I remember in the early 1990s before he began his Bar career, probably while he was studying for the Bar, he was a journalist and a panellist on many programmes. He showed great incisiveness. What struck me above all else was how fair he was in the manner in which he commented on politics. Notwithstanding his own political persuasion and the fact that he adored the party to which he belonged, I remember remarking to others at the time about how fair he was in the manner in which he commented about the political activities of the day. That speaks volumes for the type of person he was.
I extend my sympathy to Kay and their two children, John and Grace. They will miss him enormously. I know he had a difficult death. He had an illness which he also fought with great courage but, unfortunately, it took him away from us all at such a young age.
Is mór an cailliúint é bás John Boland domsa mar Theachta Dála Baile Átha Cliath Thuaidh.
On behalf of the Green Party I extend sincere sympathy to Kay, Grace and John, their families and friends, John's brother, Cathal, who continues the political tradition in the area, and the Fine Gael Party in general.
During the early 1980s and my teaching days in Balbriggan John Boland was the political giant in the area. He was not only known and spoken of wherever one went but he was also known as a pioneering reformer. The ban on corporal punishment has already been mentioned. He was also appreciated for the home improvement grants and, more controversially, for the car registration system which he also pioneered. He championed many issues and he firmly put his stamp on them.
He can best be described as an intellectual ambassador for Dublin North. He was known for his intellectual capacity as much as for where he came from and the people he represented. That is a rare and wonderful reputation to earn. His ability to do an excellent job, whether in journalism or as a Minister or barrister, is something few people can say they have achieved in their lives, although John Boland's life was short.
The sense of loss was palpable at his funeral, particularly among those present, but also in the town he made his own where he enjoyed his leisure time as well as his work. The town of Skerries is a sadder place for his passing. That time will be remembered but not repeated. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.
I join with other Members in expressing my deepest sympathy to Kay, Grace and John on the death of John Boland.
I first came to this House at John's invitation when I was being considered as a candidate for the local council elections in 1979. A relationship in any constituency where a party manages to win and hold two seats always has two sides. John Boland could not have been a better example for a new person who was elected both to the county council and Dáil Éireann. He had a commitment to public service and he was always willing to share. As others have said, he would sometimes let a person know if he or she was making the wrong decision but he did so in the hope that he or she understood there was a better way to do it.
He was a man of the sharpest intellect. I watched him at meetings in Dublin North and elsewhere take the germ of an idea put forward by someone who could not advance it and make it a policy issue. Those of us who were lucky enough to share our time with him on Dublin County Council – there are quite a few members still in this House – will know that in 1979 when the council became larger and many of us were novices John Boland's leadership made it one of the most dynamic councils in the country.
Many people will have forgotten that it was John Boland's initiative which set up the first parks department in any council, an example which many councils have still not emulated. He was the instigator of the council's purchase of Malahide Castle, Ardgillan Castle and Newbridge House. These parks and facilities are now available to everyone and they are a living memorial to him.
I regret that John moved from politics into another career. He associated with lawyers, many of whom I have met and who said he was a remarkable advocate. They could not believe that someone who had taken up law at a late stage in his career could do so with such vibrancy and intelligence and be able to make it his own. I often heard people say they would like to have John Boland on their side if they were in court because they knew he could make a good case for them.
Dublin North is a sadder place without John Boland. It has lost a good representative and someone who will be remembered for the many things he did for the constituency, the many innovative ideas he brought to that constituency and the thousands of people he helped as a public representative about which most of us do not know. Every so often I meet one of them who reminds me that John Boland helped them or their son or daughter to get a house or helped to get a road built which improved the area.
I am sad that his death has been so untimely. Both John and Theresa Ahearn died long before their time. I hope John will be remembered for the many fine things he did but also for the great man he was at home and in Skerries. I extend my sympathy to Kay, John and Grace.
I pay tribute to John Boland whom I got to know through politics and social and sporting events in the Dublin North constituency. John left politics at an age when most people are commencing their careers. He dedicated 22 years of his life to public service. It has already been stated that he spent 12 years in this House, eight years in the Upper House and 15 years in Dublin County Council, of which he was chairman. It was also mentioned that the parks department of the council, which is the success story of all councils, is a tribute to his time, dedication and efforts. He was also involved in the purchase of Malahide Castle and other regional parks which are enjoyed by thousands of people on a weekly basis.
He was a member and chairman of the VEC. He was involved in formulating the policy which set up community colleges and which brought together the archdiocese, teachers and parents. That is a tribute to him.
I know of his organisational ability and his analytical skills that brought about successes in political terms in Dublin North. On three occasions he brought about two-seat successes for Fine Gael in Dublin North. Today's children are benefiting from his policy on corporal punishment as a Minister. Many other policy decisions that will stand the test of time were made in his other ministries. The constituency of Dublin North has benefited from his time on the local authority, as a Dáil Deputy and as a Minister. The quality of life we currently enjoy in Dublin North is a testament to John Boland.
John Boland enjoyed life – sailing, having a pint, attending every sporting event and especially a day at the races where I got to know him and Kay very well. He was a person who cut through the difficulties that came before him. He was gifted with a sharp mind and, at times, a sharper tongue. John Boland packed into 55 years what it would take most of us 100 years to do. Our constituency is at the loss of all the work he carried out. I was reminded yesterday by his colleague and friend, Sean Barrett, of a quote he used on many occasions: "It's nice to be important; it is more important to be nice". I extend my sympathies to Kay, Grace and John.
The House will now hear expressions of sympathy on the death of former Deputy Joe Sheridan. I call on the Taoiseach.
Deputies will have learned with sadness of the death of Joe Sheridan, a former Member of the House. May he rest in peace. The late Deputy and Senator Joe Sheridan was a distinguished and respected representative of the people of Westmeath for many years. Originally from the parish of Colmcille in Longford, he later moved to Kilbeggan in Westmeath. It was in County Westmeath that he entered public life and was so successful, first as a county councillor, then a Senator and finally as a Dáil Deputy for 20 years, from 1961 to 1981. Before entering politics I understand Joe was a very successful livestock dealer and would have been well known in the marts of the midlands in the 1940s and 1950s, and I know he was well known in the Dublin cattle mart and in the Smithfield area.
He entered politics as a Fine Gael Member and was a representative on the Westmeath County Council and Seanad Éireann, but as an Independent he entered this House in 1961, supported the minority Sean Lemass Government to 1965 and continued his service in the Dáil uninterrupted until 1981. Throughout his time in politics Joe was a tireless representative of his constituents and the concerns of rural Ireland in general. He is acknowledged as an authority on farming and the interests of rural families were always dear to his heart.
It was only in the last period of his time here that I knew him, and the time he stayed in my area when he was out of the House, but from those experiences I know he always considered that the time he managed to survive in public life so successfully was an enormous achievement. He strongly represented rural issues.
Joe's wife Sarah passed away some years ago so today I extend our sympathies to his children Farrell, Bridget, Pat, Mary T, Kathleen, Joseph, John V, Anne and Mel. This is the second loss for the Sheridan family because his brother, Fr. Pat, died a short time ago. On behalf of the Government and the Fianna Fáil Party I offer our deepest condolences to his sons and daughters. The Deputy Leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Mary O'Rourke, knew Joe extremely well and she asked me to offer her condolences as she is attending the Transport Council today. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I join in the expressions of sympathy to the Sheridan family on the death of Joe. I have known Joe Sheridan for many years. He was first elected to the Seanad as a Fine Gael Senator. He was a member of the Fine Gael Party for many years prior to that. He was not successful at a convention in 1961 and he decided to take politics into his own hands and see if the people of Longford-Westmeath would have more wisdom than the people of Fine Gael. It would appear that they did because Joe was elected, and he held his seat time and again. Joe Sheridan may have been assisted in his political success by the fact that he was born in Longford but lived in Westmeath. He lived in several different parts of Westmeath, which assisted the extension of his political base.
As some Members of the House know, I am connected by marriage with Joe. I remember attending the marriage in question and it showed his fine political judgment that he had invited representatives of all three main political parties to the wedding. I happened to be the groomsman at the wedding so it was obviously important that I should be marked but he had prominent members of the Fianna Fáil Party and the Labour Party at the wedding to make sure that there was no question of any political lack of balance being displayed. Furthermore, he had some say, although my cousin possibly had to be consulted, in the fact that the church ceremony took place in County Westmeath but the wedding reception took place in Longford, so both parts of the constituency were properly covered. That was part of the success of Joe Sheridan. Joe Sheridan was a man who would enjoy the joke. He would see the humour in all of this. He would do what was necessary to cover all the political bases but he would not mind people pulling his leg about it.
It was interesting that at the removal in Mullingar cathedral last night three former Taoisigh were present to pay tribute to his memory, which is quite significant in itself. I do not know whether Deputy Albert Reynolds would agree with this, but it is probably fair to say that Deputy Albert Reynolds was a political apprentice at Joe Sheridan's knee because Deputy Reynolds emerged into political life from the Independent political organisation of Westmeath and Longford which had been created to sustain the political career of Joe Sheridan. Deputy Albert Reynolds, in a sense, occupied subsequently the seat of Joe Sheridan in the Dáil. He inherited, to some degree at least, the political mantle of Joe Sheridan and it could be said that it took a Taoiseach to replace Joe Sheridan. He was somebody quite significant.
As the Taoiseach has mentioned, Joe's brother, Fr. Pat, died earlier and I know his family are living all over the world. Monsignor Sheridan is in California and other members live in different parts of the world. The Sheridan family have given great service in different areas, in the church and in public life. Joe had a very large family; the Taoiseach named them all. They are people who are very much involved in the public and business life of several counties. One of his daughters is very successful in journalism, Kathy Sheridan. Another is very successful at the Bar as a barrister. I will not go on any further because I would make invidious comments. Joe and his wife reared a very talented family with a strong sense of values, a sense of belief in themselves but also a belief in the needs of others. Members of the House who know members of Joe's family as well as I do will agree that he and his wife passed on something very radical to their children, something that is a privilege which all of us who know them well appreciate.
As the Taoiseach said, Joe Sheridan was a cattle dealer who became a politician. I come from a family with a similar heritage. The ethics and ethos of that profession puts a higher premium on deeds than on words. Joe Sheridan was a man of many deeds but few words. The ethos of that profession was also one that believes that if one wants to get value, one must give value. Joe Sheridan had a reputation for giving value. People were prepared to do business with him again because they knew he was a fair dealer, someone who dealt fairly with people. He earned that reputation. In a sense it is a profession in which one's reputation is put to the test every time one does business. Joe Sheridan's reputation was enhanced through his professional career in the cattle business.
He will be greatly missed. He led a full life. It would be fair to say he did not die at a young age, unlike the other Members we have been mourning, but he lived his life to the full. He enjoyed his life. He had a very positive attitude and Members who spoke to him recently told me he was looking forward to the long promised pay increase and the consequences that might have for his pension and perhaps was a little disappointed that his good friend had not yet delivered on it. His good friend knows about whom I am talking.
Those of us who knew Joe Sheridan enjoyed his company and we can, with sadness, but not with the same poignancy of sadness we have regarding the two people to whom Members have just referred, celebrate a good life well lived.
On behalf of the Labour Party I wish to express our deep sympathy to the Sheridan family and the extended family on the death of Joe. As the Leader of the Fine Gael Party, Deputy Bruton, said, that while Joe originally came from Longford he lived in various parts of Westmeath, which was a way of ensuring he was in contact with the local people. He garnered a significant level of electoral support because of the diversity of places in which he lived, and he used to crack a joke about that.
He liked to portray himself as a simple man. That was his motto.
The Deputy does that too.
I am moving on to that. As a young lad supporting the late Jimmy Benneton and the late Jack Coleman in the 1969 general election – Deputy McGrath will also remember this – we were steamrolled by Joe's great independent electoral machine. Joe sent out one message only, "Vote for Joe the man you know". He did not use any other paraphenalia. I am sure Deputy Belton would remember that famous time.
Behind that simplicity there was a tremendous rustic wisdom and intellect. As the Taoiseach and Deputy Bruton said, he was a man who learned and hued his experience at the fairs and cattle marts throughout Ireland. He was as well known as anyone could be in the old Dublin mart and as a result was well known in agricultural circles.
As Deputy Bruton said, he stood for Fine Gael, but in 1961 when he stood for election there was a long election count and that was his first lesson in garnering preferences, which he got from all quarters, to edge out his great friend, Gerry L'Estrange. They were great friends even though they fought for the same votes. It was amazing how they kept up such a great friendship despite the usual rivalry that exists when one is trying to get elected. Joe headed the poll in 1969, which is a tribute to the massive electoral machine he mobilised throughout Counties Longford and Westmeath, but particularly in Westmeath. One met people one thought were Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Labour supporters, but on the day of the election they were in Joe's camp. The people Joe mobilised into his great electoral machine fought for every vote and I know some of them well. They were worth 200 or 300 votes. He was last elected in 1977.
During one period he held the balance of power and no shrewder Independent held the balance of power. If I was an independent, I would like to have learned from Joe how he managed to be in that position because his constituents benefited a good deal and there were no formalised deals at that time. Joe did not believe in long speeches or long contributions in the House. When I was elected to the House he said to me, "Young Penrose, you'll talk yourself out of that place quicker than you'll talk yourself into it". It was a salient piece of advice. Some Ministers, including the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, might remember he spoke directly and cornered Ministers when he had to on behalf of those he represented. The balance of power he held gave him major clout. He had a common touch. That is the way he would like to be remembered, a man of the people, as they say down my way, a real rural midlander who never forgot his roots. As he told me one time, his simple motto was, "if you can't do a person a good turn, don't do him a bad turn". That is a great epitaph and tribute to him, and it is the way he would like to be remembered.
He was accessible to all in the vast constituency of Longford-Westmeath. The position is now easier for the three Deputies who represent Westmeath in that it is a specific geographical unit, but it was a vast area when the constituency included County Longford. On many a Sunday the avenue to his house in Carrick, near Dalystown, was lined with cars. When going off to play football we would wonder what politics is all about when an elected representative does not even get the time to have Sunday dinner. As Deputy McGrath will attest, the same applied to Joe's great colleague, the late Gerry L'Estrange from Killentown. There was great competition between representatives at that time and the people who supported representatives made sure they worked very hard.
His late wife Sarah and his family were a great political family. It made me, and I am sure many others involved in politics, realise that if one does not have the full backing of one's family, one will not succeed. I went to school with some of his sons and the minute an election was called and the flag was lowered, they were out on the streets and it was hell for leather. Every vote was garnered and every house had to be canvassed. That was the secret of his success. The greatest tribute that could be paid to Joe is that any person who could garner support from every quarter of his constituency election after election was a true Independent in every sense of the word.
There was always a floating vote in Westmeath, the "detached vote" as it was called. A significant element of that vote floated back to its roots, but some of it remained truly Independent. Following my election to the Dáil in 1992, he told me, with a twinkle in his eye, that I captured a fair portion of his vote in Westmeath and that I had better look after the constituents. I knew I got some of that famous vote and I was acutely conscious of the task of trying to fill the shoes of Joe Sheridan and trying to match his achievements for the constituents.
To his immediate family, Farell, Bridget, who was a very successful barrister like the late John Boland, whom I can attest were great opponents at the Bar – I think she was called to the Bar a year or two before John – Pat, Mary T., Kathleen, who is a journalist here, young Joe, John V , Anne and Mel, and to his extended family I offer our sincere sympathies.
On behalf of the Progressive Democrats I extend my sympathy to the family of the late Joe Sheridan. I did not know him, I do not believe I ever met him. I hope that wedding was before 1985 because I note there was nobody from the Progressive Democrats there.
I am so relieved. For anybody to be elected then for 20 years as an Independent—
Jim Gibbons was in Fianna Fáil when he was here.
To be elected consistently over 20 years as an Independent shows the remarkable political abilities of Joe Sheridan, which was not an easy task without a party machine. I know from what has been said that he was a very decent and compassionate person and a man of solid common sense. I extend my sympathies and those of the Progressive Democrats to his family.
Ar son An Comhaontas Glas ba mhaith liom chomh maith mo chomhbhrón a ghabháil do mhuintir Joe Sheridan.
Like the Tánaiste, I did not know Joe Sheridan, but it is sad that the achievements of someone like Joe Sheridan are more widely known to those who did not know him after his passing than when he was alive. It is certainly true that he has left us all a great legacy in terms of his political acumen, his achievements and his love for his people. His political longevity as a Deputy from 1961 to 1981 is something from which we could all learn a great deal.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.
I too want to extend my sympathy to the Sheridan family on the death of the late Joe Sheridan, who was a Member for almost 20 years. The manner of his departure from Fine Gael and his election has already been outlined by Deputy Bruton. At his funeral yesterday evening many stories were told about Joe Sheridan and a number of them could not be told in the House.
One interesting story related to the difficulties people had at the time in getting a telephone, which many Members will recall. One could not get a phone installed in one's house, but Joe Sheridan, as an Independent Deputy from a rural constituency, held the balance of power to a certain extent and everyone wanted to look after him in case things were not good after the next election. He was from north Longford and one of his great friends was Larry Cunningham, who had a song at the time called "Put Your Sweet Lips a Little Closer to the Phone". That was Joe's favourite song and he sang it at election rallies at the time. That got the message across that if one wanted a phone, Joe was the man who could get it.
We all like to think we are men of the people and Joe was close to his constituents. He knew what they were thinking about, their concerns, difficulties and worries. We all say we know that, but Joe Sheridan was able to empathise with his people. He could relate to them and understand what they were thinking. Not only that, he was able to do something for them. His personality and strength of character meant he could motivate people and get them to work for him. Many Members will recall that in rural elections of that time there was a tradition of painting slogans on the roads on election day. That is gone in our part of the country, but at the time Joe had the best machine for writing slogans on the road. I remember them still – as Deputy Penrose said, they said: "Vote for Joe, the man you know." That would be painted on hills everywhere and how successful it was.
On his first outing as an Independent in 1961 there was a famous long count and he got transfers from Sinn Féin which brought him over the line ahead of his great friend and colleague, Gerry L'Estrange. He did not have to worry too much about elections thereafter because he polled extremely well, topping the poll in 1969.
His method of work was not like ours now, speaking in the House on the Adjournment and issuing press releases. That was not for Joe Sheridan. He did not do radio interviews or issue press releases. He took the problem a person had and dealt with it. He would arrive in the House on a Tuesday or Wednesday with a pocketful of cigarette boxes and notes and would go to the office of the Minister responsible, saying: "There you are now, you must look after them and that's it." It was said yesterday that on some occasions he used some good language to ensure the Minister would deliver on what he wanted.
Joe Sheridan came from a very respectable family. He had three brothers who were priests and one sister who was a nun. Someone told me yesterday that he canvassed with Joe Sheridan in the convent in Ballymahon before an election and when talking to the nuns Joe mentioned his three brothers who were priests and his three sisters who were nuns. On the way out his colleague said he did not think Joe had three sisters who were nuns. Joe said that in the convent he was able to add on a couple to make sure he got the vote.
Joe Sheridan was a man who could read a situation and respond to it. He had nine children. I was privileged to go to school with a couple of them and they are fine people. I offer my sincere sympathy to his family. Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam dílis.
I too would like to pay tribute to the late Joe Sheridan. He was a well known cattle dealer in his early life before becoming a very successful politician. He represented the constituency of Longford-Westmeath for 20 years, being elected on five different occasions. He was a very generous man and a loyal friend. He was a true Christian in every sense of the word. Some stories told about Joe Sheridan may not be true, but they could have been – he was that sort of character. His great political machine was mentioned this afternoon and many of the members of that machine were ex-Fianna Fáil, ex-Fine Gael, ex-Labour, ex-what you like. Joe was once asked how he could keep them all from fighting, as they all came from different backgrounds. He said it was like carrying a basket of eggs, if one dropped it there was a disaster.
I know most members of his family and they have all been very successful. He will always be remembered as a unique personality. He was there before the time of the spin doctor, the soundbite or the e-mail, but he will always be remembered as "the man you know."
Members rose. Sitting suspended at 16.38 p.m. and resumed at 16.53 p.m.