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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 18 Apr 2018

Vol. 967 No. 5

Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy

In accordance with the Order of the Dáil on Tuesday, 17 April, we will now hear expressions of sympathy on the death of Mr. Peter Mathews, former Fine Gael member and Independent Deputy for the Dublin South constituency. At the outset I want to welcome Mrs. Susan Mathews, widow of our late colleague, Deputy Mathews and their sons James, John and David, their daughter Maria who are in attendance today with their partners. They are all very welcome to Leinster House. As it is just over a year since the passing of Peter Mathews, it is appropriate that the House avails of this opportunity to pay tribute to him.

Over the course of his membership of the 31st Dáil, I enjoyed many conversations - very long conversations, very often - on a great deal of issues with Peter. In fact, the only thing longer than the conversations were the text messages that I got from him from time to time. In all of those communications, he always mentioned his wife Susan. In my mind, Peter was first and foremost, a family man. As we all know, he was by no means a conventional politician, though his membership of the 31st Dáil certainly enriched that assembly. In his contributions and in his actions, whether addressing the consequences of the financial meltdown, the critical matter of corporate responsibility or any of the other important issues he raised, he consistently demonstrated the fact that he was a man of deeply-held convictions. Decency, integrity and respect were hallmarks of the man. He was brave, could never be accused of groupthink and was someone I will remember with great fondness and genuine respect. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

I am grateful for this opportunity to pay tribute to our former colleague, Peter Mathews, who died a little over a year ago. I would also like to offer a very special welcome to Susan and his family members who are here today. Peter was a true gentleman, a colleague and a friend and we miss his company and his counsel. I first got to know Peter a few years before he entered this House as we were both regular panellists at that time on the "Tonight with Vincent Browne" show. I quickly came to admire him for his courage, analytical ability and his ability to argue the issues without ever making it personal. We often discussed things - everything from banking, the optimal design of swimming pools and, of course, medicine - in person and sometimes by phone. Peter was a man after my own heart and very often those discussions were through detailed, long and regular text messages. The Peter I remember is somebody who was very passionate, very determined and deeply caring about this country and its people. While we did not see eye to eye on many issues, I always enjoyed being able to exchange views with him. I have to say that I regretted that he had to leave Fine Gael over what was very much an issue of personal conscience for him. That experience helped to convince me that we should not impose a whip on such issues again. I believe that on issues on which people hold passionately differing views, debates can be conducted in a respectful way and in a way that is not personalised. That was Peter's way and it should be our way too.

He was fearless when it came to standing up for what he believed in. I remember very well a heated occasion about three years ago when he was expelled from this Chamber by the Ceann Comhairle's forbear after he challenged the Order of Business and attempted to raise some genuine concerns about the banks and the pressure that people were under.

As he left the Chamber, he was told to "get a copy of the Standing Orders on the way out and read them for the afternoon". He replied confidently that he knew them already. Peter was not grandstanding or playing to the Gallery on that occasion. He was genuinely heartbroken about what some people were going through at the time. He wanted to help. Today, I am proud to honour Peter Mathews as someone who reminded us that politics is a noble profession. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Ba mhaith liom i dtús báire mo chomhbhrón a dhéanamh arís le bean Peter Mathews, Susan, agus lena chlann as ucht a bháis. Duine cneasta, lách agus macánta ab ea Peter. D'oibrigh sé go dian dícheallach, Domhnach is dálach, ní hamháin ar son mhuintir a Dháilcheantar féin ach freisin ar son mhuintir na tíre seo go forleathan. Fear cumasach intleachtachúil ab ea é. Ó thaobh cúrsaí eacnamaíochta de, agus go háirithe maidir le fadhbanna na mbanc, bhí sé deacair é a shárú.

We were all deeply saddened to learn of the death of Peter Mathews following his battle with cancer. He was a considerate and compassionate gentleman and a very diligent worker. He was a man of great integrity and sincerity. He showed unfailing courtesy in everything he did. I often thought that Vincent Browne owed him a great debt. Between 2008 and 2010, before Peter came into politics, he was a regular guest on "Tonight with Vincent Browne". He became very well known due to his regular media appearances, during which he provided detailed and insightful analysis on economic and financial issues. He was very well respected in his field. He continued to play an analytical role during his time in politics.

Peter Mathews was fearless. He did not really worry what anybody thought of what he said or of his views. Unlike many politicians, he did not try to calculate how his views would be interpreted by his constituents or others. He had the intellectual self-confidence and capacity to take on anybody, even in the German Parliament or among the intelligentsia of the European elite. He had confidence in his intellectual capacity to argue the point and make the case.

When Peter was elected to the Dáil on his first attempt in 2011, his then party, Fine Gael, took three seats in the Dublin South constituency. I think it was the first time that had happened in a general election since 1982. He was clearly determined to make his mark on Irish politics. While he was honoured to represent the people of his constituency, he saw himself as a national representative at a time of crisis. He wanted to bring his abilities and insights to bear on the national scene.

We all know that for a time, Peter was quite the competitor during Taoiseach's Questions. There is no doubt that if the card system which now exists had been in place during his period as a Deputy, he would have been in early to secure a card and get his say. Peter's enthusiasm to participate was a source of challenge to your predecessor, a Cheann Chomhairle. It was a challenge to accommodate him from time to time. Indeed, there may have been a similar pattern at meetings of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party.

Peter Mathews was a principled man who was not afraid to stand up for what he believed in. It is interesting to note that he was ahead of his time on conscience issues. It is now becoming more acceptable to give people the freedom to pursue their personal positions, in accordance with their informed consciences, on issues like the termination of pregnancy. As the Taoiseach has outlined, that is a legacy of Peter's contribution to this House.

Peter was very sociable. Even though he was independent-minded, people enjoyed meeting him. He would occasionally visit the Fianna Fáil offices on the fourth floor. One Friday morning in 2014 - Deputies will be aware that there are very few parliamentarians around on a Friday morning - Peter engaged one of our researchers in a lengthy debate and discussion across a miasma of issues. He had great time for everybody in the House, irrespective of his or her status. I noticed his politeness and good manners to everyone in here, regardless of his or her position. He charmed the staff in the canteen, for example. He will be remembered as a very pleasant and kind man.

Unfortunately, Peter was sadly struck by illness just before the 2016 general election. His new independent status and the revision of the constituency boundaries in south Dublin would have made it a challenging election for him in any event. It was a real test of his mettle, courage and resilience to take to the hustings when he was afflicted by a serious condition. He met and easily passed that test. He was not successful in the election itself, given the challenges I have outlined. He was a unique politician who left his mark on Dáil Éireann and across the nation over his five-year term in this House.

Everyone in here shares fond memories of Peter. We experienced his great intellect, his great analysis and his great commitment to Ireland. I extend again my deepest sympathies to Peter's wife, Susan; to their four children, Maria, James, John and David; and to their extended family and friends. I have absolutely no doubt they will remember their late husband and father with great pride and affection.

Ar mo shon féin agus ar son Shinn Féin, ba mhaith liom comhbhrón a dhéanamh le clann agus le cairde an iar-Theachta Peter Mathews, a fuair bás an bhliain seo caite. On my own behalf and on behalf of Sinn Féin, I want to extend our heartfelt sympathies to the family and friends of Peter Mathews, who sadly passed away in February 2017. As has already been alluded to, Peter had a relatively short but eventful and colourful political career. Of course it all started on "Tonight with Vincent Browne". It is unquestionably the case that Vincent Browne met his match in Peter Mathews, and perhaps vice versa.

Peter Mathews had a colourful career in national politics. He served the people of the Dublin South constituency with honour and commitment. As we know, before Peter was elected to this House he had a long and distinguished career in business and finance. While there were many things that Peter and I would debate and disagree on, we also shared an enormous amount of common ground. He was not just a very learned and intellectually gifted man; he remained a very curious person and was always open to having a debate. Sometimes, a Cheann Comhairle, he was willing to have the debate at length.

Peter was always in good humour. I always enjoyed speaking to him. Above all, he was a very kind person. He would be the first to extend condolences, solidarity or good wishes to colleagues as the circumstances dictated. I was the recipient of such kindness from him. He regularly quoted Susan, who was like the oracle advising him from afar. He was not slow to tell us that she sometimes chastised him as well.

The last time I met Peter was the Christmas just before he died. He bore his illness with considerable dignity. Although he was unwell, he remained defiant, determined and unrepentant in his strongly held views on the need for reform in Irish politics and the need for people outside the sometimes claustrophobic political circle to have a say and an influence. It is with great sadness at the passing of Peter Mathews that I join everybody here in extending our sympathies and condolences to his family. For his wife, Susan; his sons, James, John and David; and his daughter, Maria, he was a person of whom they are quite rightly very proud. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

On behalf of the Labour Party and very strongly on my own behalf, I am delighted to have an opportunity to say a few words about the late Peter Mathews.

Peter was a principled and determined Member of this House. His views were fully and very carefully formed on every significant issue that we encountered in a most turbulent period during his membership of the House. He certainly was not shy in promulgating those formed views with Ministers, colleagues, his own electorate and the general public through the media. A chartered accountant by profession, he had plenty of advice to give, particularly during the period of the economic crisis.

Many times - I cannot recall the number because there were so many - during my period as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform I had the privilege of engaging with Peter on fiscal policy, the implications of our monetary strategy and what we should do differently and better. Not only did he engage me in that fashion but he also engaged with officials of the Department in which I worked, as well as the Minister for Finance and his officials. He brought those views to the Bundestag where he argued them trenchantly. On more than one occasion, with quite strong vigour, he sought access to the bilateral discussions between the Government and the troika because he felt he had a unique view to bring to bear in his analysis of what needed to be done, not only from an Irish but also from a European perspective. One had to be respectful of his views on all of these matters. I recall being here for the graveyard shift when we had sittings on a Friday and there were very few Members about. I was having a sandwich in the canteen and Peter felt he had a captive audience. It was a long luncheon and took some time to eat the sandwich, but I certainly left that encounter much better briefed on a range of issues than when it began.

At all times in all of those interactions he was a man of extreme courtesy. He was what used to be described as a gentleman. There are probably fewer people in these Houses about which such phrases can now be used, but they could be used with absolute certainty about Peter. He had innate respect and courtesy with which he promulgated very strong views and that always struck people. His views were made known with strength but never with rancour.

As others said, his illness ended his career and life prematurely. On behalf of my party and all those who were privileged to interact with Peter in his five years in this House, I extend my profound condolences to Susan, whom he loved passionately and deeply, as well as his family and friends. Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

I too am very glad to offer my condolences to Susan and all of Peter's family on his passing. I pay tribute to him as a public representative, a Deputy and somebody I got to know quite well in my time here. I had heard about Peter Mathews before I met him. I remember receiving a telephone call before either of us was elected when I was told there was a fellow called Peter Mathews who had some really good ideas that I would like about what was going on with the banks and the bailout. I was told that many of those ideas would chime with my own. I saw him once or twice on the Vincent Browne television show. I was surprised in a way when I saw him pop up as a candidate for Fine Gael, as he was certainly not somebody who was toeing the Fine Gael line. I say this without making a partisan or political point. He was absolutely committed to putting across things as he saw them and with a particular passion about the banking crisis, the bailout and the costs he saw being inflicted on the people of the country. That fed into a particular passion about the housing crisis and the impact he saw as directly connected to the policies on the bank bailout.

Despite the fact that he came from a very different part of the political spectrum, we had many discussions and conversations. We were on the finance committee together and, as Deputy Brendan Howlin mentioned, we travelled to the Bundestag. If I remember correctly, he certainly offered to pay to travel to the Bundestag because only a limited number could travel.

I do not know if he had to do so in the end, but he was absolutely determined to go. He was particularly incensed in his very pleasant way that the German budget committee got to see our budget before we did. He wanted to take up the issue and did so very passionately with the budget scrutiny and finance committee of the Bundestag.

As others mentioned, he was constantly referring to Susan. On one occasion I had a chat with him when Susan was in the car. He was travelling to the west and referred constantly to Susan beside him. His love and passion for her and the family were self-evident.

Peter was completely non-partisan in his desire to debate issues, regardless of where one was on the political spectrum. It was a regular occurrence for him to send a text message after a Member had made a speech stating "well done". He wanted to discuss it and analyse the ideas in it afterwards. That is an unusual type of politics and politician; he was somebody who did not feel constrained by party allegiance and was willing to debate and disagree with people on all sides, including in his own party. I radically disagreed with him on some matters, most notably on the issue that led him to leave Fine Gael - abortion. I have no doubt that we would now be debating very robustly our different views if he was here. As said by others, his views were always genuinely held. He was driven by conviction and a decent and honourable human being. He is a loss to this House but much more to his family. I again offer my deepest sympathy to Susan and his family. I am sure he will be long remembered in this House.

The Ceann Comhairle started by saying Peter was not a conventional politician.

He was in the same mould as the Deputy.

I would like to think it was to his credit that he was not deemed to be conventional.

He had a different dress code.

He was a bit fancy with the dress all right. We all agree that he was incredibly idealistic, but it came as a bit of a shock that he was so idealistic that he would go to Fianna Fáil and think he could change the way it looked at things. That was a new one on me. I am amused that the Taoiseach was receiving the long text messages along with the rest of us. I do not know how he found time to do so many things as the text messages were so long. It was mad, but they were always very interesting. We had many discussions about NAMA and both agreed that it was a horror scene. His experience in the banking world meant that much of the time he knew where the bodies were buried. It gave him great insight and he understood the gentlemen about whom we were talking better than most of us here.

There is a lot we could say about Peter. We miss him and were very close to him here in a strange way. In the 17th century a fellow by the name of Francis Bacon defined a gentleman as one who treated all others as he would like them to treat him. It goes without saying they are pretty rare, but for me Peter was a gentleman.

Cuirim fáilte roimh Susan agus roimh an chlann anseo inniu. I am delighted on behalf of the Rural Independent Group to be able to pay tribute to an t-iar-Theachta Peter Mathews, a man of principle above anything else. He was principled to his fingertips. He was quiet but determined. Above all, he was respectful of all sides and of all people. He died aged 65, unfortunately. He had fought a brave battle even during the election.

Peter was elected as a Fine Gael Deputy in the 2011 general election for the Dublin South constituency. His constituents meant so much to him. He met and listened to so many families who had been horribly affected by the banking collapse and he was deeply passionate about helping them make some headway. The number of times he stood up on the Order of Business has been mentioned and he was intent on raising it every other day with the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, because he was so disturbed by the banking situation. Indeed, the legacy remains today. I do not know how many times he went down to Ballyhay. I can say to my shame that I never went down but he travelled there on several Sunday mornings. He knew what the construct of National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, was and he did not like it. He knew there had to be other ways. He always maintained his dignity when he was meeting people about that issue.

I travelled to the United States with him and there was not be a finer person to be with. He was a qualified chartered accountant who worked for companies such as Coopers and Lybrand, now PwC, and the ICC Bank. He knew what we did not know. We were here talking about a monstrosity of a situation but Peter understood it. To be fair, very few people listened to him in here but he knew it. It was in his being. He was educated, smart, straight and above all honest.

He was deeply concerned with issues of conscience. It hurt him greatly to have been expelled from his party for voting with his conscience, having made up his mind on those issues.

He cared passionately about Susan and his four children. Any time we were in company with him, he always talked about them fondly and proudly. Some had gone to Australia and different places. He was passionate about and proud of them at all times.

He was always interested in doing good and would not countenance anything critical. He could have fun in banter. I remember I had an intern working for me who was from a foreign land. She invited us to her house and five or six of us agreed to go. She invited us for a meal and it took several hours. We had plenty of time to talk about her own traditions. Peter made a commitment to go and he honoured that. We had a wonderful night. To be in his company at any time was refreshing and inspiring. He is a huge loss to his family. It is nearly a year since he passed away. They miss his advice, his care and his wisdom.

I hate to bring this up but I was horrified when he succumbed to illness and awful things were said on Facebook and social media. We must deal with that because there is no place for that in any democracy. He was a decent man. I was horrified that the Minister, Deputy Madigan, was going to share a platform last week with one of the people who said those things. We have to think of our colleagues, of respect, of dignity and of the family, and be proud. If he was here today, he would be overwhelming in his campaign to retain the eighth amendment. Ar dheis Dé go raibh anam dílis Theachta Peter Mathews.

I knew Peter for some time. We had been to the same school and had done the same course in university. However, like many people here I got to know him during the financial crash. It feels like a bit of a therapy session. I refer to the numbers Peter had. When it came to the financial crash and managing it, he was passionate - there are no two ways to describe it. He would engage in conversation at length. We heard about this earlier on. I remember one particular occasion - I cannot remember what the issue was, but my wife was with me - when Peter's argument was along the following lines: Gonzaga boy to Gonzaga boy, I plead with you not to do some something or other. My wife looked at us and said it was a long time since either of us was a boy. He had that boyishness, uplifting, optimistic and engaged way. He was a relic of old decency and a gentleman. However, with it was passion.

I was beaten by Peter in Dublin South in the 2011 general election. In a number of different ways, it was not a bad experience. One of the ways was to see the Mathews family in action on the election trail. People do not really understand urban Ireland or South Dublin maybe as well as they should. They think it is different from rural Ireland but it is not. Just as they say down the country that they are waiting to open up the Mullinahone box to see what happens, it is pretty similar in Dublin Bay South in the sense that we vote in tribes. We are tribes. The Mathews's are a tribe. Mount Merrion is a tribe. That tribe swung to victory that time and it was good to see because there is a recognition in the closed community world that the Mathews tribe have that decency and the same boyishness and uplifting character. There would be the same enjoyable conversation and one would come away from it richer for the experience. It is a real loss that he is not involved in Irish public life and a far greater loss for his family. It is lovely that we remember him and them today.

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to talk about Peter Mathews. I only found out about a half hour ago that these statements were happening today and I am glad I am in a position to say something. I met Peter Mathews back in 2011 when I joined Fine Gael. He was at my first constituency meeting. I should say I saw him first at the count, which, if I remember correctly, was in the basketball arena in Tallaght. I have a visual memory of him standing and surveying all the count from the top of the hall. It is a memory I will always have. It was my second time meeting him. I could not believe that he pronounced my name correctly. He said "Hello, Josepha". I asked him, "How did you get my name right?". That was Peter. He had wonderful attention to detail and he was wonderfully personable. When we used to go to our constituency meetings, apart from talking about economic matters, which he did so well, he would also give us book lists because he was a bibliophile. I always took down the books that he recommended because he was so well read and so well briefed on current affairs and everything that was going on around him.

He was also very kind to me when both my sister and my father died from cancer. He sent me beautiful mass cards that he got in Jerusalem and he texted me and rang me. I went to Peter's funeral and met Susan and his family and it was such a fitting funeral for a man of such deep faith. I really respect that and his integrity. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a man of honour as a man who adheres to a high standard of conduct, and Peter did that. He was a hard worker. I loved his sartorial style, his elegance and his fizzling, engaging personality. I know his death is an absolutely devastating loss to Susan, Maria, James, John and David. I can only imagine what they are going through. They have my utmost sympathy. He was well loved, not just by the whole of Dublin Rathdown but also in Mount Merrion where I live and where Peter lived. He will never be forgotten, certainly by me. Other speakers talked about his kindness, which was absolutely the case. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

I appreciate the opportunity to remember Peter. I first met him outside the Mansion House in 2010 or early 2011 at the launch of the Fine Gael candidates. I remember it well because Peter, as many, including the Taoiseach, said, spent a lot of time on the "Vincent Browne Show". I had watched him and he gave me a few tips and pointers. I was seven years a councillor at that stage. Peter had no experience in public life but he nonetheless had his views and made them well known. I remember quite a lot of his advice, which turned out to be completely accurate. Like so many, he sent an awful lot of text messages. One of the things I remember fondly was the snippets from the Financial Times that he used to photocopy, or rather Colm from his office would photocopy, and he would hand them out to various people at parliamentary party meetings, on the corridor or wherever one might bump into him.

More often than not they were referencing the financial crisis and all the other issues that we were beset with at the time.

My fondest memory of Peter, one I want to put on the record, is from the Fine Gael parliamentary party think-in back in Mayo in 2012. We were set an unofficial challenge, which we all took up nonetheless. It was to go up Croagh Patrick at the end of our think-in. Off we set on what was a beautiful day. Peter was in khaki pants, a short-sleeved T-shirt and a summer hat. I remember it well because I have a photograph from the day in my office. Off he took up Croagh Patrick with the rest of us. Of course I was more sensibly dressed in jeans and desert boots. There was a big group of us. Peter paired off with the then Deputy and now Senator Joe O'Reilly. More illustrious members ran up and then ran down. They have no names but we all know Eoghan well. We got to the top. On our way down we met Peter and Joe. They were still on their way and still determined. The weather was closing in with mist, rain and all manner of different horrible weather that the Atlantic can throw at people. We got down to the car park. I think we might have had a beverage or two in the local pub. We were ferried back to Westport.

Then we were all sitting at dinner. I remember it distinctly. There was a little disquiet because Peter and Joe were still up the mountain. We were concerned, so much so that all of the Ministers and members stayed at the table. Deputy Patrick O'Donovan and I decided that we had better go back and check on them because they were not answering their telephones. I was concerned to think of Peter and Joe up the mountain on their own in the weather and the dark. Anyway, Patrick and I got to the car park at the foot of the reek. Off we went up to try to find them. Out in the distance we could hear voices. Lo and behold there was Peter and Joe coming down to the car park. I said to them that they had not answered their telephones and that we were getting worried. They said they were okay. At the time Peter would have been 60 years of age and Joe was 56 or 57. Peter turned to me and said he was getting a little worried about Joe because he was getting on a bit. Anyway, he survived and we all survived.

It is a great testament to the man he was that we remember him so well not only in these corridors or in Mount Merrion, as Deputy Ryan and the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, mentioned but everywhere. He was a great man and our memories are testament to that for his family. May he rest in peace.

Let us stand for a moment's reflection.

Members rose.