Ar dtús báire, ba mhaith liom comhbhrón a dhéanamh le clann Richie Ryan agus le clann John Browne as ucht a chaillteanas agus ba mhaith liom a rá gur pribhléid an-mhór domsa í a bheith i láthair anseo mar uachtarán Fhianna Fáil chun ómós do Richie Ryan agus do John Browne a chur in iúl agus chun comhbhrón a dhéanamh. Níl aon amhras ach go raibh clú agus cáil ar Richie Ryan, go háirithe i rith na 1970dí nuair a bhí sé ina Aire Airgeadais. Tírghráthóir a bhí ann gan dabht agus duine a thuig tábhacht an seirbhís poiblí agus an dlúthbhaint idir todhchaí na tíre seo agus todhchaí na hEorpa a bhí ann. Tá cás na tíre seo agus cás na hEorpa mar an céanna. Sin an tuairim a bhí aige agus sin an fealsúnacht a bhí aige. Duine cumasach, láidir a bhí ann ag an am.
Richie Ryan had a long and illustrious life with a very distinguished record of public office. He was first elected to the Dáil in a by-election in 1959 and was elected at every election he ever contested, though he had a close call in Dublin South-East in 1981, when he had just one fifth of the quota after the first count but made it through, showing his appeal across the divide. I always marvel at such escapades and the ability to make it through after a low total in the first count. He was a very robust political personality, a trait that was, no doubt, nurtured at Synge Street and in UCD, where he graduated with a first-class degree in politics and legal science. He was also an award-winning orator and auditor at the Literary and Historical Society in UCD. He had his own solicitor's practice on Dame Street and was an active partner until he was appointed Minister for Finance in 1973. It was an unexpected appointment at the time, given that he had been foreign affairs spokesperson in opposition, while Garret FitzGerald had held the finance brief.
It is probably difficult for people who did not live through the 1970s to realise the extent of Richie Ryan's prominence during that decade. I was a second level student at the time and I can recall the political heat he was under during the decade. As Minister for Finance in the 1973-1977 Fine Gael-Labour coalition, he had the task of steering the economy through the difficulties of the oil shock of 1973 and its consequences. It is difficult for people to comprehend how fundamental the shock was to our economic course at the time. I remember being in Denmark some years ago, where the 1973 oil shock was a catalyst for fundamental change in energy policy which has lasted until the present. It is quite interesting that we did not take the same long-term approach as Denmark did in respect of climate and energy issues but that was how deep, fundamental and profound the oil shock was at that time. He was not fazed by those turbulent times, notwithstanding inflation soaring above 20% in the mid-1970s as a consequence of these events.
Less prominent, but just as important to him, was his service in Europe. He was fully committed to the European ideal and was one of the first Irish Members of the European Parliament, where he returned after ceasing to be Minister for Finance in 1977. We owe a great debt to the politicians of the 1970s, including Richie Ryan, who understood the centrality of Europe to the future of Ireland. They had no hesitation in recommending membership of the European Union, which was the European Economic Community at the time, for this country, and they have been vindicated. He contested the first direct elections to the Parliament in 1979, topping the poll, and he did it again in 1984. He became a member of the European Court of Auditors in 1986 and was, interestingly, reappointed to that position by Charles Haughey in 1988. Clearly, the latter held him in high esteem.
He showed huge courage in his personal life and met and overcame many challenges, showing great resilience in countering them. He was predeceased by his wife Mairead so I offer my sympathies to his children Declan, Cillian, Ultan, Aoife and Bláthnaid; his brothers Jim, Mark and Mícheál; and his grandchildren, great-grandchildren and wider family.
Fear lách agus ceanúil a bhí i John Browne chomh maith, fear a bhí dílis dá mhuintir féin agus do mhuintir a dúiche féin. Níl aon amhras ach gur oibrigh John go dian dícheallach Domhnach is dálach ar son muintir a dúiche. Fear eile a thuig an tábhacht a bhaineann le seirbhís poiblí a bhí ann gan dabht agus fear a thuig an tábhacht a bhaineann leis an gcóras polaitíochta atá ann i saol na tíre, go háirithe ó thaobh an saoránach de a bhí ann chomh maith. Deirtear gur múinteoir den scoth a bhí ann agus bhí sé soiléir sa Teach seo go raibh meoin an múinteoir le feiceáil laistigh den Teach anois is arís. Mar a dúirt an Taoiseach, bhí grá faoi leith aige ó thaobh cúrsaí Gaeilge de. John Browne was first elected to the Dáil in 1989, the same year as my good self, and we had a very good and enjoyable relationship. He had previously contested general elections in 1981 and 1987 but, once elected, he retained his seat at the 1992 and 1997 general elections before retiring at the 2002 election. He had turned 65 at that time and had recently undergone major heart surgery. Remarkably, given his long career as a public representative in Carlow, he was a native of County Clare. That speaks to the unique DNA of Clare people when it comes to politics, something we in Fianna Fáil know only too well and which we hope will flourish not so much in future elections.
He was a lovely family man and a very decent individual. He had a great sense of community and was very involved in the Gaelic Athletic Association. He told me of one weekend when he had been in west Cork and met my late father, who was on holiday there. They had a great conversation, though he did not realise it was my father he was speaking to, and they discussed non-political matters from the GAA to other issues. It showed that he had a basic sense that there was life outside politics. He was well rounded and had great breadth in his philosophy towards life. His political life stemmed from his active community involvement. He liked to help other people and he believed in making a positive contribution. He made serious contributions to debates in this House and he was a man of wit and culture, as one would expect from a former teacher. When Charles Haughey was in the process of standing down in 1992, Deputy Browne rose to quote Hamlet, telling him: "Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels see thee to thy rest!" After retiring from politics, he stayed actively involved in the community, especially in the GAA, where he chaired the county juvenile committee, and he rejoined us earlier this year in the Mansion House to mark the 100th anniversary of Dáil Éireann. He was well appreciated as the quality public servant he truly was. I offer my sympathies to his wife Nancy, to whom he was married for 53 years, their four children Carmel, Deirdre, Geraldine and Fergal, the last of whom was a colleague of ours in the Seanad from 2002 to 2007, and his 11 grandchildren. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.