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 had my usual team around me, including financial advisers, auditors and special advisers, trying to put together the theory of a budget we could sell to the farming and agricultural community while at the same time making the sums add up for the Ministers, Deputies Brendan Howlin and Michael Noonan. I stopped Shane in the corridor and asked him to join us for a budget meeting as we were beginning to get on top of the detail. He told me he trusted me on the detail and that when I had the budget together to go to him and he would farmer-proof it for me. I did and he did and we made changes accordingly.
To his family I say not to feel any pressure about political decisions which need to be made in the coming months and focus instead on what is important for the family. Everybody will understand this. Take solace and support from the extraordinary outpouring of grief, support, sadness and genuine warmth in the House towards Shane as a person and as a politician who contributed a huge amount in a short time as Minister of State and an enormous amount as a local public representative and Deputy. I hope we as a House collectively and those who cover the work we do will think about what happened and the circumstances which drove Shane to this tragedy for him and his family and that we will learn some lessons from him, his personality and his decency, which is something we have lost in public life in the past four to five years in particular as times have become more difficult and tougher. Shane felt this and unfortunately it contributed to something which should never have happened in a moment of madness. May he rest in peace.