Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy

As Taoiseach and as leader of Fine Gael, I wish to offer my condolences to the family and friends of Monica Barnes, a woman I met many times and greatly admired for her courage, integrity and determination. In a fitting description, Monica was once described as the woman who saved the conscience of Fine Gael. In her championing of women's rights and in the care and compassion she showed for people in difficult situations, she inspired many people around the country. She was a particular inspiration for young women and young men in my party and beyond.

When Monica was first elected to Dáil Éireann in November 1982 she was one of only 14 women Deputies, and at the time that was a record number. Her courageous example helped to change that for the better, and encouraged many others to enter politics. Over the following 15 years, Monica served the people of Dún Laoghaire with great ability, and spoke for people across the country who had been marginalised and excluded. At a time when it was easier to stay silent, she always spoke her mind and was a fearless campaigner for change. I think a profile in The Irish Times once captured her best with a headline that read "Propelled by principle". Monica's principles helped to propel this country to a better place. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.

Ar mo shon féin agus ar son mo pháirtí déanaim comhbhrón le clann Monica Barnes as ucht a bás. Is léir gur pholaiteoir den chéad scoth í a bhí dílis dá muintir agus do mhuintir na tíre seo go ginearálta. Bhí dea-thionchar aici ar pholasaithe éagsúla agus chuir sí carn na bpolasaithe sin i bhfeidhm.

I want to sympathise on my own behalf and on behalf of my party with Monica's family, her husband Bob and daughters Sarah and Joanne, her extended family and friends. She was a very warm and sociable person who easily crossed the partisan party-political divide in this House. She had many friends across that political divide. She is an enormous loss to Irish politics and of course a huge loss to the Fine Gael Party. She was courageous, she was outspoken, she was kind and she was considerate. She was a progressive voice at a time when that was not always welcome. She in many respects was ahead of her time, thought outside the box, and always spoke her mind. I admired her warmth, her passion and her commitment to the causes that she cared so deeply about. We hope that her family will draw some consolation from the rich legacy she has left the political world and the world in general. She was close to her community and she was one of the outstanding members of this House down through the generations. We were very saddened to hear of her loss last week. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis.

I join the Taoiseach and every other Member in extending sympathy to the family and friends of the late Monica Barnes and to her colleagues in Fine Gael. She was one of the political women I used to look at as a child with some considerable admiration. The Taoiseach will forgive me for saying the following, which I want to put in the right way. She did not really come across like a Fine Gaeler, at least not to me. I mean that as the highest compliment to her, not that some of the Members opposite are not also lovely. She was a committed feminist in every respect, a woman's woman and a courageous voice. Is it not something that just weeks before we go to the polls hoping to remove the eighth amendment, we recall that she was one of very few who stood against it when it was first proposed? She was one of the few who had the foresight, compassion and vision for women to take a very courageous stance at the time.

I never met Monica Barnes and I am sorry that I did not know her. She represents a huge loss to her family. She had a considerable political career at a time when women were even rarer than we are now in the places of legislation and decision-making. Ireland and the world more generally are better for having had her and I am sure her family and friends are bereft at her loss. I am happy on my behalf and on behalf of Sinn Féin to pay our respects to her memory and to offer our condolences on the death of a very great woman.

I was truly shocked to hear of Monica's passing. We often give people titles, but "champion of women's rights" is one she earned absolutely by her deeds and actions. I worked with Monica on many campaigns and had the pleasure on one occasion to travel abroad with her and Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, a formidable pair of women. It was an enlightening experience for me. Monica was, of course, on the social democratic wing of Fine Gael and there was a time when that was an important force behind Fine Gael policy. It was shaping and forming Ireland at the time. I remember the period of the debate on the eighth amendment and how strong Monica was on that. I remember holding a joint meeting with Monica on another social issue in Dublin on a Saturday. I was very concerned about leaving Wexford on a Saturday and missing my clinics. I noted how terrible it was that we were missing out on our clinics. She said "Clinics on a Saturday? I meet my constituents for coffee on a Tuesday". I told her it was a very civilised way of doing politics. Everything about Monica was civilised. She had deep compassion and when she dealt with social injustices she felt them in her heart and one knew that. She made that crystal clear to all. She will be deeply missed, most of all by her family, friends and colleagues in Fine Gael, but also by all of us who were blessed to know her.

I extend sympathies on behalf of the Rural Independent Group on the sad passing of former Deputy, Monica Barnes, to her husband, Bob, and her daughters, Sarah and Joanne. She had a vibrant political career. I do not know what age Deputy McDonald is but I must be a bit older as I remember many robust debates on radio, television and at a number Ard-Fheiseanna when I belonged to a different organisation and used to attend those.

We heard on many radio programmes over the weekend, especially from Gemma Hussey and others, about Monica's activities during those heaves and debates within Fine Gael and about her spontaneous and gregarious engagement with former taoisigh and senior members of Fine Gael. I would like to have been a fly on the wall for that. She had a very distinguished political career and we thank her for her service. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis.

I too wish to express the sympathies of the Social Democrats to the family of Monica Barnes. I only met her on a few occasions and would have known her from a distance. As Deputy McDonald said, it was difficult to make sense of Fine Gael in the early 1980s when it had a group of very progressive women and, at the same time, some very conservative men. Certainly, a broad church is an apt description. However, I always felt a warmth about Monica Barnes, as people have mentioned, and I was aware of her forthrightness. At this time, with the referendum coming up, had she been well and able, I know she would have been involved in the campaign. I do not believe politics is something that would have left her. Our sympathies go to her family.

Members rose.