Duine agus polaiteoir den scoth ab ea Mark Killilea. Tírghráthóir a bhí ann. Duine a thuig tábhacht an ghnáthdhuine agus bhí Mark dílis dá mhuintir féin agus dá dhúiche féin. Bhí suim dháiríre faoi leith aige i gcúrsaí reatha na tíre. Feirmeoir cumasach a bhí ann agus d'oibrigh sé go dian dícheallach ar son fheirmeoirí agus mhuintir na tuaithe ar fud na tíre. Fear cineálta, cairdiúil, grámhar ab ea é. bhí sé páirteach in an-chuid rudaí agus go háirithe bhí grá faoi leith i gcúrsaí Chumann Lúthchleas Gael agus go háirithe Cumann Chora Finne, mar is eol dom féin. Bhí sé gnóthach in a lán rudaí agus bhí a lán cairde aige ach gan amhras bhí sé éifeachtach agus bhain sé an-chuid rudaí amach i rith a shaoil.
Mark Killilea was born in 1939, one of six children, in Ballinamore Bridge outside Ballygar. He was born into an intensely political family, a family that believed in developing an inclusive Ireland and a society that afforded opportunities to all, and he loved his country. He often spoke fondly of his late father who was also called Mark, who as the Leas-Cheann Comhairle said was first elected as a Deputy in the 1920s and served right up to the late 1960s, which was an extraordinary career in itself. Mark's father was an extraordinary man. He was a farmer and was an active member in the War of Independence and a founding member of Fianna Fáil. He was a person from that great generation that laid the foundations of the State.
It is not surprising then, given that public service ethos in the family and that commitment to country, that Mark himself would enter the political arena. Prior to politics, he too was a farmer, a beet grower, an auctioneer, an agricultural contractor and an extraordinarily multi-talented individual. I have listened to some of his interviews. He started out as a councillor, became a Senator in 1969 and a Deputy in 1977. He was a very effective Minister of State with responsibility for posts and telegraphs and he was a Member of the European Parliament from 1987 to 1999.
He too believed in public service and was a member of many organisations and had a particular love of the Gaelic Athletic Association and his beloved Corofin GAA club, which has achieved so much. Mark was a very gregarious and charismatic person and politician and drew people towards him. One of his great friends in politics, Ray MacSharry, summed up Mark very well when he said:
Markeen was friendly, humble, sharp, alert and confident. He was always a family man, a community man, a sportsman, and a great public servant.
As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle said, it was Mark who, when describing Fianna Fáil supporters, because the interviewer at the time had asked who were these people, said he represented the people who ate their dinner in the middle of the day. When one met Mark, one always remembered his relaxed witty and straight talking ways. When I became leader of Fianna Fáil, he was not slow to pick up the phone to give me advice on potential candidates, strategy and so on. He give it to one straight because he had a passion about renewing and recovering the party.
Over the last few days I listened to his interviews. In his early days, as a councillor, he chaired the health board.
He initially ran for the Dáil in 1973. In his own style, he said he was nicked of that seat when the Roscommon boxes came in. He lost by just 140 votes. In the great election victory of 1977, he won a seat. He was influential in the election of Charles J. Haughey as Taoiseach in 1979. He was then appointed as a Minister of State and worked brilliantly with his senior Minister, Albert Reynolds.
Many among our younger generations will find it difficult to comprehend how hard it was to get a phone into a house in the late 1970s. There were extraordinary delays of months. Between them, however, Mark Killilea and Albert Reynolds took the country by storm in terms of getting rid of the waiting times for telephones. That strategy transformed Ireland and prepared it for the subsequent economic development that took place. It was pivotal in attracting a great deal of inward investment. As Mark said, they went about it with energy and commitment. It came within budget as well. I will not mention broadband or anything like that but I suspect that if we had had Mark Killilea and Albert Reynolds around, we might not have been waiting so long.
The early 1980s, when I was a student in UCC, were a traumatic and difficult time for politicians. There were three elections in 1981 and 1982. It was a time of great instability and trauma for political families. Think about it - three general elections in 18 months. Mark was successful in two out of three of those, but alas not in the last one. He was subsequently re-elected to the Seanad. He was quite witty in his observations on the differences between a Seanad election and a Dáil election. He developed a great respect for councillors and their professionalism on the basis, he said, that they knew how to cod you. He said that, if one were to believe all those who said they would vote for one, one would end up with three quotas, but it never quite turned out that way.
In 1987, Ray MacSharry returned to Ireland from the European Parliament and Mark got his opportunity to become an MEP. He was returned to it in subsequent elections. It is fair to say that he saw his membership of the Europe Parliament as his favourite period of his political career. He was influential across the European Parliament, influencing much of the policy that emanated from it and elsewhere in the EU, particularly in the context of small and medium-sized farmers. He ensured that regional and technical colleges received EU social funding to commence research. At that time, universities were leading in that regard. He negotiated the western package, which allowed farmers from Donegal to Kerry to create vital farm infrastructure. He also helped to design the LEADER programme, which became a model for rural development.
I mentioned that he was a gregarious individual. He developed great friendships in politics across all parties. That is a trait of parliamentarians that we sometimes understate. It is important to be able to cross the floor and work alliances to get policies through. His friendship with former MEP Barry Desmond, for example, facilitated the socialist group supporting the Common Agricultural Policy reform deal when it was going through the European Parliament. He was particularly friendly with Ian Paisley. Interestingly, that was the experience of many of our MEPs. Mark would say that the image of Ian Paisley in the North, with all of his hardline rhetoric, did not quite materialise in the European Parliament context. He said that the late Ian Paisley often asked him for advice on the CAP reform package and was particularly praising of Ray MacSharry's lead in reforming CAP while a Commissioner. According to Mark, Ian Paisley would say that in Parliament only months after "he tried to run the Pope from [the same] Parliament". Mark was elected as a quaestor by his fellow MEPs. That was a significant election, as it showed the respect and esteem in which he was held across the Parliament. It illustrated the different perspectives from which Mark and Ian Paisley came. Mark organised a minor celebration in the bar with some colleagues. Notwithstanding the late Ian Paisley's puritanical attitude to alcohol-----