Death of Member: Expressions of Sympathy

We will now hear expressions of sympathy on the death of Deputy Shane McEntee, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Before taking these expressions of sympathy, I wish to formally welcome to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery Shane's wife, Kathleen, and children, Aoife, Vincent, Helen and Sally, and other members of the McEntee family. I would like to think we could welcome you in better circumstances but we are delighted you were able to come here this morning to listen to the expressions of sympathy.

If it is agreed by the House, the following order shall apply in calling speakers: the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the leader of Fianna Fáil, the leader of Sinn Féin, a representative of the Technical Group and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney. Present Members in the Meath East constituency, Deputy Regina Doherty and Deputy Dominic Hannigan, may offer, along with Members from Meath West, Deputy Damien English, Deputy Ray Butler and Deputy Peadar Tóibín. If people wish to express sympathy in that order, I will call upon them in that order. Is that agreed?

Is this to happen now?

I received no notification that this was happening.

Sorry, I did not know that.

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.

On my own behalf and on behalf of the Labour Party, I wish to express my sympathy to the family of Shane McEntee, to his many friends and to his colleagues in the Fine Gael Party.

Shane McEntee was a gentleman in every sense of the word. I first got to know Shane as a formidable candidate in the Meath by-election, which first saw him elected to the Dáil. Over the years he served in this House, and during his time in government, I came to know him better, to respect him, to admire his work and commitment, and to like him. He was a gentle man whose passion and commitment came through when he spoke in this Chamber and elsewhere about the causes that inspired him. He was a fervent advocate for his community, for his constituency and, more broadly, for farmers and rural people generally. Shane was a man deeply committed to serving those around him and to making a real difference to people's lives.

Ar son Pháirtí Fhianna Fáil agus ar mo shon phearsanta féin, déanaim comhbhrón le clann Shane McEntee, go háirithe le Kathleen, Aoife, Vincent, Helen, Sally agus a mháthair, Madge, agus déanaim comhbhrón le Páirtí Fhine Gael. Níl aon amhras ann gur duine den chéad scoth ab ea Shane McEntee. Polaiteoir den chéad scoth a bhí ann. Táimid go léir brónach as ucht a bháis. Ta a fhios againn go léir gur oibrigh sé go dian dícheallach, Domhnach is dálach, ar son muintir na tíre seo mar Theachta Dála agus Aire Stáit.

It was in the hectic days prior to the build-up of Christmas there came the sudden news of the tragic death of Shane McEntee. It was a truly shocking moment that caused all of us in this House to take stock, to stop and to pause. That dark news gave the entire nation a reminder of the frailties of life and those of us who knew him were left with a deep abiding sadness at the loss of a true gentleman of Irish politics. He had those qualities - a true gentleman whenever one met him.

There are no words that we can offer to Shane's family to console them in their loss. The irreplaceable space left at the heart of their home is a void that can never be filled. We offer his wife Kathleen, his children Aoife, Vincent, Helen and Sally, his brothers and sisters and his mother, Madge, our support and heartfelt sorry. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and will always be with them. I pray and hope that the memory of a life well lived, of a loving and generous soul, will not only ease their grief but will sustain them in the days, months and years ahead.

Since his election to the Dáil eight years ago, Shane impressed me with his generosity, his quiet dignity and his sense of humour and commitment to his work. His commitment to public service was a clear and defining feature of his life. From his father he inherited a deep appreciation of the land and worked tirelessly with the IFA for the vitality of the family farm. He brought those qualities to his role as Minister of State and those of us on this side of the House welcomed his openness, responsiveness and engagement and the energy he brought to his role.

It is fair to say that all who enter public life do so with a deep sense of commitment to improve the well-being of their community, county and country, and it was clear that was at the heart of Shane's commitment to and participation in politics. From the outset, he was deeply involved in many facets of his local community. We are all here to try to make a difference. Shane was here to make a difference to the quality of life of the people he represented, and he did that in so many ways.

His lifelong enthusiasm for the Gaelic Athletic Association, perhaps, was the earliest manifestation of that deep sense of community commitment. After his local playing career, his talent for coaching players shone through, both at local level and nationally for the royal county at minor level. As a Cork man, suffice it for me to say that the name McEntee struck terror in our hearts on many an occasion on the playing fields of Croke Park but there was also a deep respect for the McEntee commitment and contribution to Gaelic games, to sport and to Irish life. That deep underlying respect is still there. He gave up his oars to help ensure that players reached their potential and that the vibrancy of a community club was kept alive. His drive in the GAA is a testament to his generosity of spirit and it was that commitment to public service that he brought with him to the Dáil and politics in general.

He was Fine Gael from the backbone out. His family links to the party stretch back to the foundations of the State and he was very proud of that. He loved the Fine Gael Party and it is fair to say that Fine Gael loved Shane, as reflected in the Taoiseach's moving eulogy at the graveside some weeks ago. It was through Fine Gael that he pledged himself to public service. There is a deep sense of loss felt on all sides of the House, but particularly among all on the Fine Gael benches who worked with him for years as a Deputy and Minister and who were inspired by his commitment, loyalty and work. I hope all will be heartened that his spirit will be kept alive by his colleagues who continue the work to which he gave himself.

Political life can be a bear pit of rivalry, argument, debate and so forth and sometimes it can slide into rancour and pettiness, but fundamentally we are all bound together by a deeper commitment to improve the lot of citizens and society. Working together collectively in this House, we seek to make the life of citizens that bit better than we found it on coming into the House. That motivation is what inspired the late Shane McEntee to go into political life. It is that spirit, which he personified, that must be cherished and remembered. All Members of this House are bound together by that commitment. We share in its costs and we can reflect upon its triumphs.

It is his family we thank, in particular, for sharing Shane with us. Politics places an enormous burden on families. There is no question about that. We thank the family for their contribution in that regard, for the huge endeavour and support that they gave Shane throughout his life, and particularly his political life. As long as this work goes on, the patriotic spirit of the late Shane McEntee will endure and his commitment to public service will go on. I trust that Shane's family, friends and many colleagues can draw strengthen from that reality. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Cuirim failte roimh theaghlach Shane McEntee. Tá a fhios agam, mar adúírt an Ceann Comhairle, gur ócáid brónach é seo. Déanaim mo chomhbhrón leis an gclann agus le theaghlach iomlán Shane McEntee.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to say a few words about Shane. He might have been surprised to know that there were three women fighting at the Technical Group meeting yesterday over the right to have this slot. However, seeing that it was Shane, it was a fight that I was absolutely committed to winning. I know that Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan wanted to make points about Shane and his contribution to the debate on mental health when she initiated the discussion in Private Members' time almost a year ago. I know that Deputy Catherine Murphy, who was elected on the same day as Shane in a by-election recalls the time when they were expectantly waiting outside the door to come into this Chamber and how her family and Shane's intermingled. She recalled how emotional Shane was on that day - as we all know he was always someone who wore his heart on his sleeve, a straightforward man, a simple man. Members of his family said to members of Deputy Catherine Murphy's family: "Look, Shane is not much of a talker, but he is a doer." What an important day it was for him and they obviously kept a connection going throughout the years, being from similar constituencies.

I would never normally want to speak in a slot such as this because politics matters and it is hard to separate the political from the personal. One could look at it and say that Shane and I were polar opposites in terms of tradition and ideas. While that is true, I must say, hand on heart, there are few people about whom I would be more honoured to say words than Shane. That is not in disrespect to anyone else, but recognition of the very different and special type of person he was. For me the biggest compliment I could pay him was that he was not a politician. First and foremost for me Shane was an incredibly decent human being and that matters and counts for a huge amount.

The first time I met him was at the back gate of Agriculture House going across to our offices. I did not know who he was. As a vegetarian and an animal-rights campaigner, I had heard of him by reputation in terms of the stag hunt and all the rest of it. One would not think of us as being pals, but after that first encounter I left with his phone number - I did not even have to ask for it - and a commitment that his door was always open and that we could work together on the pyrite issue because he knew the work I had been doing in my constituency. An unlikely team was formed that day.

I have said this here previously and I am glad that I did. Nobody has done more for home owners affected by pyrite than Shane McEntee. He was the person who drove this issue. In the years in opposition when it was not popular, he was a lone voice. I told him that he was too complimentary to his Fine Gael colleagues because he fought that fight almost singlehandedly in opposition. When Fine Gael got into power and he got his ministerial position, he absolutely used it to try to deliver gains for home owners. I have no doubt that this issue would not have been progressed in the way in which it was without the work that Shane did. The residents who campaigned with us - and indeed myself - always viewed him as our man on the inside in terms of this issue. He was a very practical person who sat down and hammered out deals with developers and quarry-owners - he did not want to enrich solicitors. He worked quietly behind the scenes delivering results.

He was a really peculiar politician. Everybody knows most politicians talk themselves up and try to claim things they have not done. Shane was the exact opposite - he quietly did things behind the scenes, delivered results, changed people's lives and never claimed any credit for it. He was not a mad media follower or anything like that. I would certainly agree with him on that one. The Government must pick up on that legacy and deliver what Shane started in terms of the pyrite issue. Deputy Catherine Murphy and I had a meeting after Christmas with the residents who were involved in the pyrite action campaign. There were a few tears, a few laughs and a big empty space where Shane normally sat at those meetings. People talked about the constant phone calls, about him calling into their houses, putting on the kettle for a cup of tea and ringing them up to see if they were okay. About 20 or 30 of us would get a separate phone call, giving us a bit of information and telling us that we were to keep it to ourselves.

There are families up and down the commuter belt whose lives have been transformed by Shane's work in here. I do not say that lightly by any stretch. He was their advocate and their voice. We have a responsibility to carry on that battle. I remember the first meeting we had in the ALSAA where we brought together residents from the different counties affected by pyrite. We were trying to hammer out a strategy on the issue. In the middle of the meeting Shane got up and started talking about cows of his that had been poisoned. All these urban couples from the commuter belt, who had probably never even been on a farm, were looking around unsure where the story was going. The story involved how Shane tried to get justice over that issue and how he fought a long case to try to gather the evidence. However, the evidence was destroyed and he had to abandon the court case. The moral of the story he was telling the people was that the battle in which they were involved was a serious one and could be all-consuming for them.

Six weeks have passed since Shane's death. It is still difficult for many of us to grasp and accept what happened. This is a difficult day in this House for Shane's many colleagues and friends from all parties. It is a particularly difficult day for Shane's wife Kathleen and his children, Vincent, Helen, Sally and Aoife and other members of the McEntee family. I have some experience of what it is like to look down on a Chamber and listen to the Taoiseach, party leaders and colleagues speak about a loved one. It is not easy.

This is another difficult step for a family struggling to deal with an immense loss. I am sure they would rather not be in a political environment given all that has happened in that context. However, they are here. They are here because politics was fundamentally part of Shane's life and it is appropriate and necessary to pay tribute to him today in an honest manner, the way he would have spoken.

I got to know Shane long before we shared the running of the Department together. He was a larger than life character. One always felt better after meeting him than one felt before, particularly if struggling with an issue. He tended to bring clarity to things quickly, knowing the difference between right and wrong and not really understanding or caring for the kind of PR management on which many of us focus too much. He preferred instead to get to the root of a problem and spoke in a plain, decent and honest way about problems and how they should be solved, be it about pylons, pyrite, stag hunting, about which Shane was so passionate he could almost convince Deputy Clare Daly to support it, road safety, which he managed to link with stag hunting in a discussion with me on one occasion, greyhounds or horticulture in respect of which he had ministerial responsibility, the suckler cow welfare scheme about which we got some stick, solving the Chalara problem in ash plantations across Ireland or internal battles within Fine Gael when as a party it was making difficult choices, at which meetings he was a passionate advocate for the Taoiseach. Everybody respected Shane because of the way he spoke and how he spoke. He spoke to colleagues like he would speak to his brother, which is not too common these days, particularly in this House or among the people who report what happens here. This should cause us to reflect somewhat on how we behave and speak to each other, solve problems together, the often personalised nature of that engagement, how we engage with those who we need in the broader media to get our messages across and how they engage with us and the pressures this can put on individuals and families.

Given his straightforward nature, Shane was hugely popular. He was popular among his colleagues in Fine Gael and, as we have heard, in other parties. He was not really a party man. Fine Gael was the vehicle through which he conducted politics and he was proud to be a member of that party but party allegiance was not what drove him, which I learned through my work as Minister with him. Farmers loved Shane because of his straightforward nature. I noticed at meetings which we both attended, whether with the IFA, other farming organisations or the public, that the leadership engaged with me and the members engaged with him. I was the person outlining the theory of policy, the CAP negotiations and the figures of budgets but the farmers went to Shane to find out in plain English how this would impact on their lives. I suspect I will never be as close as he was to rural communities in terms of really understanding them but I learned a huge amount from him.

As a Minister of State, Shane McEntee, did a huge amount. He was underestimated by his colleagues and many people in this House but not in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The record will show that in the past two years there were no cuts to funding for forestry, an increase in expenditure for horticulture and no cuts in funding for the greyhound industry. There were also no food safety scandals, which was one of his areas of responsibility, until after he passed away. Were he here with me trying to solve the current challenges we face in the food industry his impatience and plain speak would be helpful through this difficult period. He would also be caught up in it personally, as was the case in respect of everything he was involved with, which affected him and often weighed him down even though he never showed it.

Most mornings when I arrived at work I would meet Shane bounding down the corridor. He was a big man in every sense. He would always say, "Everything all right Simon?" If ever I asked him to do anything, which I regularly did - I regularly tested his loyalty - the instant response was, "No bother, I'll make that happen". If I asked him at the last minute to give a speech or attend an appointment I could not make he changed his diary and made it happen. He was extraordinarily loyal at a personal and political level to me. He was an outstanding Minister of State in terms of his own portfolios and as a support to everyone in the Department.

The following sums up Shane in the Department. Last July, I was putting together a budget.

I now call on Shane's constituency colleagues beginning with Deputy Regina Doherty.

We are here to pay tribute to our friend and colleague Shane and, importantly, to support his family. I first met Shane in the run-up to the 2005 by-election. As we all do during such times he was canvassing seeking support for the upcoming convention. We all wanted somebody new and refreshing and on the night of the convention while all of the other candidates spoke very well Shane spoke of the Meath he loved, the party he loved and the job he really wanted to do. With much respect to all of the other candidates there was no contest that night and Shane was the winner. He went on to win the by-election. We called him the glorious by-election winner in Meath for years afterwards not only because he won but because he galvanised Fine Gael and gave us strength and reinvigorated us as a party which allowed us to move on.

Immediately he got stuck into his job. He made a mark on his new constituency of Meath East and rallied all of our members. He even convinced me to be the treasurer of the constituency. He gave energy, commitment and inspiration to all of his team, and particularly to the thousands of people he represented. At meetings he told every story in terms of football matches and he finished every meeting with a joke, most of which were rude. His career progressed and on the day he was appointed Minister of State he was so excited. We had a meeting to appoint somebody to replace me on the council and he could not wait to leave the meeting to go to his family so he could tell his Mam and Dad, who was in hospital, personally he had been appointed as Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. He could not have been more proud and I know his family could not have been more proud either.

He loved his job. He shared himself with absolutely everybody. His confidence grew and his stories changed from football to mushrooms and strawberries, and his commitment to the land he loved so much shone through. He worked with passion, integrity and endless energy. One would be knackered on a Thursday night having worked in here and Shane would bounce into a meeting still full of beans. Everybody who knew him will miss his care, commitment and big heart. He was a vibrant individual with a rare friendliness and a charm of personality. He was a genuinely warm and wonderful individual with a big heart. Albert Einstein, who was apparently a very clever man, said the value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not what he is able to receive. Shane gave and gave and gave and we, his friends, colleagues and fellow county men and women were the lucky beneficiaries. Shane was a man of his people, his place and his party. Rest easy Shane. Godspeed.

It is with sadness I stand today to mourn our late colleague, the Minister of State, Shane McEntee. I first met Shane during the Meath by-election in 2005 when I was also a candidate. That by-election saw him elected for the first time to the House. While the campaign was tough and intense, as all elections are, throughout it Shane was a gentleman and was pleasant on the campaign trail. In the following years I got to know Shane better. I was elected to the Seanad in 2007 when he was elected to this House for the second time. After my election Shane was very welcoming to me as a fellow Member of the Oireachtas from the royal county. He ensured I was invited along to meet all the various delegations and representations and to meetings with regard to the county of Meath.

On behalf of the Labour Party in Meath I can say that in all of our dealings with Shane we found him very easy to get on with. He was a straight-up honest man who was very fair. His goodness was evident to anybody who crossed his path. One always came away from a conversation with Shane knowing he would try his very best to help one out in any way he could. As political opponents we were only too well aware of the qualities Shane had. It was second nature to Shane to be able to connect with people. He could be speaking at a difficult public meeting or in the middle of a big argument on a radio show but he always managed to find the words to win the argument, often with a smile or an anecdote about a forthcoming football match or perhaps something to do with the farm on which he worked. I remember ringing Shane one morning to discuss a relevant issue of the day and I could hear noise in the background. I asked Shane what it was and he told me he was out in a field with some cows doing a bit of work. That was Shane; he managed to combine so much in his life.

Everybody is very well aware of the qualities he had and how he could connect with people and how one knew he was straight up every time one met him. We would all agree the place was much better when Shane was around. I know I speak for the people of Meath when I say Shane will be remembered as a fine man and a dedicated Deputy for the people. I have spoken to many people in recent weeks and wherever one goes in the county one meets people who were touched in some way by Shane. He gave his help and advice freely and people always knew Shane was there for them. He was respected by all and loved by many. We will all miss him in this House. To his wife Kathleen and his family I say I am very truly sorry for their loss.

I now call Deputy Damien English from the Meath West constituency.

Shane truly was a unique person, colleague and friend. He was a committed and passionate man whether for family, politics, football, community or, as Shane would say, parish. He was a gentle giant with a huge presence in Meath and the country. His passing is a huge loss to his family, our county and all of us here. I did not know Shane before the 2005 by-election. I knew of him, as everyone in Meath knew the McEntee family from football, sport and politics, and Shane's reputation had travelled even to my house when I was a young fellow well before 2005 when I got to know him.

I remember canvassing throughout the county and it did not matter whether one was in Donore near Drogheda or in Ballinabrackey, Enfield or Navan, Shane was known. Knocking on doors I assumed people would know Gerry, but no offence to Gerry it was always Shane they knew. They knew of Gerry but they knew Shane personally. Before he had even started his formal role in politics he was known. Getting to know Shane during the by-election was an honour as was working with him and his family.

I am grateful to have this opportunity to speak about a great friend and a valued colleague, the late Shane McEntee. He was a wonderful support to me throughout my election campaign. I feel honoured to be able to say that he subsequently became a true friend. So much has already been said about this man who showed such great dedication to his work. He was a man with a strong work ethic who tried so hard to deliver the very best outcome in all instances. He represented those who elected him in great earnest, dealing with every problem head on as best he could - be it from the man down the street or the many organisations he dealt with on a daily basis.

On any given occasion I called on Shane for advice he was always there and his good counsel could be relied upon every time. He made great sacrifices throughout his political career and as a consequence of that, so did his wife Kathleen and their family. As a man of great integrity, his untimely passing and loss will continue to be felt both in this House and far beyond.

It is said that a person's true wealth is the good that he or she does in the world. In Shane's case, I believe that no truer words could apply. Like Shane's beloved family, the people of Meath and his Fine Gael colleagues will continue to feel his loss for many years to come.

I would like to echo the Taoiseach's fine words at the graveside: "Please God, Shane, we'll meet you up the road some day again."

May he rest in peace.