Múinteoir, polaiteoir agus Aire den scoth ab ea Pádraig Faulkner. Fear mór clainne a bhí ann chomh maith. Déanaim comhbhrón ar dtús lena bhean Kitty, lena chlann Tom, Bartle, Pat agus Mary agus lena chlann clainne go léir. D'oibrigh sé go dian dícheallach ar son mhuintir a dháilcheantair féin agus ar son mhuintir na tíre seo. Fear mór oideachais a bhí ann. Bhí áthas an domhain air nuair a d'ainmnigh Seán Ó Loingsigh é mar Aire Oideachais sa bhliain 1969. Is léir go raibh sé cumasach sa phost sin. Tá a thionchar fós le feiceáil sa chóras oideachais atá againn sa lá atá inniu ann.
Amidst the hectic debates we have in this House, I am conscious that we sometimes get into very heated arguments and forget that behind every Deputy there is an individual story. Political life can be a bear pit of rivalries and animosity at times, and sometimes the vocation seems to slide into rancour and pettiness. Behind this, however, lies a deeper commitment that binds public representatives of all political shades. We all believe that at the end of the day, through collective effort we can make a contribution to our community, county and country. This is particularly true about our late colleague, Pádraig Faulkner, who was a dedicated politician who served in this House for over 30 years. Before I recount the enormous achievements of his career, I again pass on my sincere sympathy to Pádraig's wife, Kitty; his three sons, Tom, Bartle and Pat; his daughter Mary; and all the grandchildren. The Faulkner family have lost a beloved husband and father, and this is a difficult and emotional time for them. We hope the memory of a life well lived, great moments shared, a great contribution to his country and of a loving and generous person will help sustain them in the weeks and months ahead.
Pádraig was born in Dundalk and, like many people in Irish families, he came from a mixed marriage, as his father was a Fine Gael supporter while his mother was staunchly Fianna Fáil. Thankfully for Fianna Fáil, Pádraig followed his mother's political outlook. Before being elected, Pádraig was a national school teacher and education was clearly one of the passions of his life. He would later manifest that during his term as Minister for Education. His commitment to public service was clear from a young age and it was that commitment to public service that brought Pádraig into Dáil Éireann.
He was first elected to the Dáil for Louth in 1957 the same year that his beloved Louth beat Cork in the All-Ireland final. That year is indelible in the mind of all Louth people and it is equally indelible in the minds of any Cork footballing family; I knew more about the 1957 All-Ireland final from my late father when I was growing up than any other final. It was the one that got away.
Pádraig had first run during a by-election in 1954 when Éamon de Valera was still Taoiseach. He shared the very competitive four-seater constituency of Louth with the great Civil War veteran Frank Aiken. He represented the people of Louth with great energy, vigour and diligence and he held an incredible array of portfolios over many Governments in his long career.
As a Border county, Louth would have been very close to the Troubles and the extraordinary stresses and challenges that the people faced. He was remarkably steadfast and loyal, providing much guidance to the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, during those very turbulent years and particularly during the very difficult time of the arms crisis. He firmly and passionately believed in a peaceful approach to resolving those challenges on the island of Ireland, and we are all glad he lived to see the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and the transformation in the sets of relationships between communities within Northern Ireland, people North and South and people in the UK and Ireland. He worked very hard for that throughout his political career.
Pádraig’s talents were wide-ranging and he was first appointed to a ministerial post when former Taoiseach Seán Lemass appointed him to the new post of Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Gaeltacht in 1965. In this role Pádraig prioritised bringing industry and employment to Gaeltacht areas across the State. After this portfolio he was appointed as Minister for Lands and would have been instrumental in commencing the work on the DART, which is an integral part of the region's infrastructure. In 1969, former Taoiseach Jack Lynch appointed Pádraig as Minister for Education, where he served with distinction until 1973. In his memoirs he wrote about that period and, looking at the speeches he made about education, nobody could question his passion about this portfolio. He also spoke about the independence of church and State, as well as other lobby groups, in making key decisions.
He had the foresight in 1970 to allocate funds to educate more physical education teachers and he allocated money to send students to Strawberry Hill in London, as Ireland did not have a training facility then. That act was long before its time. Many of the early batch of physical education trainers in this country emanated from Strawberry Hill. He also announced, "a site has been acquired for the new institute of higher education in Limerick", and out of that came the University of Limerick, one of Ireland’s most successful newer and modern universities. Sometimes the leadership of these universities fails to trace the origins of their greatness to key decisions like that, which enabled them to develop.
He also started investment in recreational and sporting facilities around the country and he was one of the first Ministers to invite the youth and sporting clubs around the country to contact his Department to seek funding. They answered questionnaires, etc., so that money could be allocated to the neediest and most disadvantaged communities. That was the priority for a modest scheme at the time, and irrespective of political or electoral considerations, the allocation would be given to disadvantaged communities and those which needed it most.
Perhaps one of his greatest legacies was his belief in and development of regional colleges of education.
When one looks back at the history of Irish education, one of the great democratisers of participation in third level education was our regional colleges of education. Many people without the means to get to third level education accessed it via the regional technical education model. That brought about an extraordinary binary system in our third level sector which has served the country very well in terms of the attraction of inward investment and industry through the years. That was one of the great legacies to which he contributed in the evolution of our education system.
In many ways, he was left with the task of developing the free education initiative of Donogh O'Malley when he took up the portfolio. That meant the introduction of many more teachers and the development of our school transport system to accommodate the large extra number of students coming on stream to second level education.
When he was appointed as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in 1977, he met the challenge of bringing the telephone into rural Ireland. It is hard to picture the scene back then. Perhaps the Taoiseach can picture it. We look at the revolution that has occurred in communications today, such as social media, but the basic telephone was not something that everybody had back in the 1970s. He was very involved in that and also in establishing An Post and Telecom Éireann on a statutory basis via legislation. He also served as Minister for Defence.
He contributed hugely to the social and economic development of our country in the second half of the 20th century. He served all of his years in Dáil Éireann with distinction and, as a result, was a very popular Ceann Comhairle when he was appointed in 1980. He served in a very even-handed and distinguished manner. He was always honest, honourable and true to himself, his family and his values and it is fair to say he was liked by Members on all sides of the House. The former Taoiseach, Garrett FitzGerald, praised "the calmness, coolness and judgments which Deputy Faulkner has applied in office... always with dignity and courtesy". After his retirement from the House, Pádraig continued to work tirelessly for his community and did tremendous work of collating a history of Dunleer with his son, Tom. This work will last for generations to come. Not satisfied with that, he also wrote and launched his memoirs entitled As I Saw It in 2005. It is a must-read and enlightening for any person interested in history, current affairs and politics. Clearly, he did not waste any of his precious time. He was a very proud Louth man and a genuine gentleman of Irish politics. In his time, he made a huge contribution to his county and country. He was a man of decency and good humour who delighted in the achievements of his family.
All of his family can be tremendously proud of those achievements and his contribution to Irish life. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.