If it seems all wrong to find ourselves here, in the first days of spring, paying tribute to an absent friend, colleague, Deputy and Minister, Shane McEntee, that is because it is all wrong. It is fair to say that Shane not only brought great joy in life to Fine Gael, he also brought it to this House. It is a measure of the affection in which he was held that he is mourned so deeply and so widely.
Shane McEntee did wonderful work for Ireland, for Government and indeed for the party that he loved. From the time he was elected to the Dáil in 2005, his belief was always in Ireland and its people first. I remember on being appointed to office, when I had the privilege of nominating him as a Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, his sense of how things would at last change now that he had the opportunity to get things done. He was impatient and anxious to get going and get doing. The personnel in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine are reeling not just from his absence but from his presence, his ideas, his energy and unstoppable enthusiasm for his work.
Before his death, I was constantly hearing from people all over the country about their grá for such a grámhar man, about his great work for forestry, dealing most recently with the ash dieback risk, and about his work with the greyhound industry, small farmers and householders and families affected by pyrite. Since his death the same people have spoken of their shock and sense of loss. He was their Minister of State for a relatively short time but they knew and trusted him and had come to respect and admire him greatly. In many ways, he epitomised the word "great" in his physical presence, his energy, his resolve, his capacity, his enthusiasm, his zeal for his work and, above all, his great sincerity, his compassion and his gentleness, qualities that are perhaps devalued in today's world.
Everyone who knew him would agree that Shane McEntee was a solid man, always ready with common sense, a kind word and sound advice. He was, as we always expected him to be, always himself and always there. In being himself, he spoke and acted from the most powerful place of all, his heart. To speak from there not only reveals us but it exposes us. Shane McEntee gave effortlessly and extravagantly in the love of his family, of his community and of his county. He gave his life to people. I remember sitting with him in houses in Ashbourne dealing with pyrite. He did not just listen to people's stories, he lived them as they were told because he knew and they knew that what was at stake were not houses but homes and their futures - the everyday dream of places where couples could settle, raise children and pass on traditions to another generation. His family, this House and this country are all the better for having known and understood the presence of Shane McEntee, the sheer force of the authenticity that we feel now acutely in his absence, which has created a void for so many.
As a Minister and a politician, he believed in his country, in Ireland, and that our best days are still ahead. We grieve his loss and know that it is nothing compared with the loss for Kathleen, Vincent, Sally, Helen and Aoife, to his mother Madge and his many brothers. I was deeply privileged to work with Shane for a long time and at such a crucial time for our country. I was always touched by his sincerity, his kindness to others and I speak for the House and the Oireachtas when I say we share many warm and happy memories of Shane McEntee, political and personal. Every time he went to work, every time he helped a constituent, a farmer, someone in the food industry or someone he met on the road, he gave politics a good name, and for that we thank him.
The Fine Gael family feels Shane's loss acutely and grievously and we honour and remember him. In life often the greatest battles are the ones we fight with ourselves. Shane fought and lost and won those battles through his 57 years. It speaks eloquently of his shining qualities as a politician, as a Minister, as a Meath man and as a friend that this House is united in its still new grief at his tragic passing. As a Minister, he had an ambitious and urgent agenda. We will see to it that it is fulfilled.
As Taoiseach and as leader of Fine Gael, I am proud to pay tribute to our friend and colleague, Shane McEntee. I am honoured to have called him my friend over many years and I believe I speak for us all when I say the privilege was entirely ours. Go ndéana Dia trócaire air.