Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy

In accordance with the order of the House of yesterday, we will hear expressions of sympathy on the death of Mr. Peter Kelly, a former Fianna Fáil Deputy for the constituency of Longford-Westmeath. To that end, it is important to extend a warm welcome to Maura Kelly, Peter's wife, his daughter, Emily, his son, Peter Jnr., and his brother, Vincent, who are with us for these tributes. I ask Members to keep their remarks to approximately two minutes.

It was a great honour and privilege to have served in the House with Peter. I got to know him on a mission to Brussels many years before either of us came to serve here. It became very clear very early that Peter had three outstanding characteristics. First was devotion to family. Maura was rarely far from his side and she was mentioned in every conversation one had with him. His devotion to his children and his extended family was obvious. The second characteristic was commitment. He had total commitment to the service of the people of Longford and of the country as a whole. Third was loyalty to the Fianna Fáil Party, of which he was a lifelong member. He was a man of integrity and he had vision. He was hard-working and, I can tell the House, he was really great company.

I gcás Peter Kelly, ceiliúraimid dea-bheatha duine a d’oibrigh ar mhaithe leis an saol. Bhí grá mór aige do phobal a cheantair féin. Bhí grá aige do dhaoine i gcoitinne agus bhí sé an-tugtha don pholaitíocht. Bhí clú agus cáil air ar fheabhas a dhúthrachta agus de bharr gur oibrigh sé go dian dícheallach ar son mhuintir Longfoirt thar na blianta fada. Fear mór teaglaigh ab ea é, a raibh pearsantacht bheoga, mheanmnach aige. D’fhág a bhás easnamh orainn.

I am grateful for this opportunity to pay tribute to a member of the Fianna Fáil political family who gave a lifetime of service to our country, Peter Kelly. With Peter Kelly, we celebrate a life well lived. He loved his community, he loved people, and he loved politics. Famous for his commitment and hard work, he served the people of Longford with distinction over many years.

Peter Kelly had three great passions in life: his family and friends, Fianna Fáil, and Longford. To those who met him, he was "Peter Kelly, Longford". I recall him introducing himself to me as that many times, even at a point when we knew each other, because that was how he always introduced himself. A great storyteller, he told the story of the county and the community he loved so much with wit, eloquence and ability.

A funeral director as well as a publican, Peter’s favourite job was undoubtedly being a Deputy. In 2011, after nine years in this House, he decided to stand in the general election, even though he knew he would probably lose his seat. When others bowed out, he stayed the course, because he believed the people should have their say, even if it meant they were choosing someone else. That is an admirable characteristic. However, his defining characteristic was loyalty. He was loyal to his party, his family, and his county. I am also told Peter was a great singer and loved a good singsong at the bar. I may have gone home at that stage. When he got going, it was said that even Elvis Presley would not hold a candle to him.

Peter was slow to embrace new technology, and I am told he was the last remaining Member to use a fax machine. A few years ago he was making a representation to the HSE and asked for the fax number in their office. When told they did not have a fax machine, he asked "Where are you?" to which the official replied: "Well, I don’t know where you are, but I’m in 2016". It is a measure of Peter’s graciousness and good humour that he loved to tell that story at his own expense. In later years his wife, Maura, who I believe he always called "The Rose of Castlerea", looked after newfangled innovations like email for him. I offer my condolences and that of the Fine Gael party to his loving wife, Maura, and to their three children, Emily, Peter and Joseph, their grandchildren, and to all their family and friends.

People who knew Peter tell me that his defining characteristic was that he always put people first. He wanted to spend time with people - a valuable attribute in today's very busy times - he wanted to work with people and, above all, he wanted to help people. The words used to describe him capture the man: decent, honourable, old school. Longford will always remember Peter Kelly, their political colossus who did so much for the county he loved.

Is pribhléid dom é, ar mo shon féin agus ar son Pháirtí Fhianna Fáil, a shoiléiriú don Dáil agus don chlann an t-ardmheas a bhí againn ar Peter Kelly, agus comhbhrón a dhéanamh le Máire, Emily, Peter agus Joseph agus a dheartháir Vincent as ucht bás Peter. Duine faoi leith ab ea Peter Kelly. Bhí sé dílis dá chlann, do mhuintir a dhúiche féin agus go háirithe dá chontae féin. Polaiteoir den scoth a bhí ann a thuig tábhacht an chórais polaitíochta agus an dlúthbhaint idir an córas sin agus cosmhuintir na tíre. Fear cneasta, lách a bhí ann agus duine greannmhar ab ea é. Duine a rinne sult, súchas agus spórt le gach éinne a bhí ann. Fear mór teaghlaigh a bhí ann agus fuair sé a neart ón gcaidreamh teaghlaigh. Bhí an caidreamh sin soiléir ag a thórramh, go háirithe idir é féin agus Máire.

Peter Kelly was an outstanding public servant, a man deeply rooted in his own community and a truly great character in the best sense of that word. His family background, growing up and working in his family business, gave him a unique insight into the lives of Longford people. He lived their lives with them. He shared their highs and lows, trials and tribulations. He had the personal touch and was a firm believer in Tip O’Neill’s adage that all politics is local and personal. He was committed to making life easier for families during the most difficult of times.

Peter fought tenaciously for Longford town and he was intensely proud of its traditions, culture, music and political contributions. He was first elected to public life in 1985 to Longford County Council – a breakthrough election at the time for Fianna Fáil in that it ushered in a new generation of public representatives who later graduated to the national stage.

He was particularly inspired by and proud of his friendship with the late, former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds and of Albert’s achievement, with others, of securing the Downing Street Declaration paving the way for peace on the island of Ireland. He had a genuine affection and admiration for Albert.

Peter was also a man who championed enterprise and the self-employed, a voice that needs to be heard in this forum. He understood through experience the concerns and needs of those who create jobs.

He was elected to Dáil Éireann in 2002 upon the retirement of Albert Reynolds and he quickly became known around its corridors and canteens, endearing himself to staff and colleagues and political opponents alike.

He had extraordinary wit and humour. He was a great conversationalist, a great storyteller and a great mimic. The Taoiseach spoke of his difficulty in catching up with technology, but he always believed that his tie was far better than the microphone when he was doing impersonations of Elvis Presley. If one ever went into the canteen or restaurant and saw Peter at a table, one would join him immediately, guaranteed to be entertained by his charm, humour and the latest story. Peter loved company.

By his side at Leinster House and at party functions was his beloved wife, Maura. They were a beautiful couple, relaxed in each other’s company and philosophical about life itself and political life, in particular.

Peter, it is fair to say, was different politically, in that, anyone wandering around Leinster House will find a lot of stressed people with worried, grim faces, particularly at election time or in advance of election time, but in the midst of all of this, Peter’s space was an oasis of calm contemplation and good humour. He conducted politics with an easy grace, understanding how it all worked, and never allowing it to suppress his enduring qualities of kindness, courtesy and good humour. He understood life better than most around Leinster House.

He had, of course, an enduring love of Longford. No matter where he travelled, who he met, he always introduced himself simply as “Peter Kelly, Longford, Ireland”. This was clearly illustrated when he met Justin Timberlake, who was enjoying a quiet pint in that favoured Longford watering hole in Dublin, O'Donoghue's, when Peter introduced himself in typical fashion. They chatted and laughed for a good 20 minutes until the young superstar had to leave and afterwards Peter told the barman. “That was a lovely young fella”. The barman was somewhat perplexed that Peter had no concept of who he had been talking to, and he simply told the barman, “I have no idea who he was but I tell you, he knows all about Longford now.”

Peter loved sport and especially the GAA. He followed Longford at every opportunity and enjoyed enduring friendships with the Longford stars from the 1960s. Peter was a lifetime member of Longford rugby club and, of course, the closest sports arena to the family home was Longford tennis club. He was involved in its endeavours for most of his adult life.

Peter was happiest out among local communities. Whether it was Ardagh winning the national Tidy Towns competition or the Longford minors winning the Leinster championship, nobody beamed a broader smile than Peter. It was that same sense of community that helped ensure that Peter forced steadfast links with the Longford diaspora. He was a staunch and enthusiastic supporter of the Longford associations in London, New York, Dublin and Manchester. He rarely missed their functions and greatly valued their counsel. Peter once said three words could sum him up: “Longford, Longford, Longford”.

Peter Kelly’s was a life well lived - a proud Longford man who understood the concept of serving the public good; a representative who used public office to look after the well-being of those most in need; a clear voice for enterprise.

He was a great father, husband and friend and colleague of ours who, with great commitment, built further on a proud republican tradition.

The loss of Peter is a loss to us all but that loss will of course be particularly felt by Maura, Emily, Peter and Joseph, his brother Vincent and his family and friends, whom he loved so dearly and spoke so often about. They will be consoled by the beautiful memories they have and the many happy times they shared together, as well as the rich legacy of public service that Peter has left behind. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

On my behalf and that of Sinn Féin, I extend sincere sympathy to the family and friends of former Teachta Peter Kelly, who passed away in January this year. Peter was an elected Member of this House until 2011 but unfortunately I never had the honour of meeting him as I only entered the House in that year. Having listened to the stories of the Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Micheál Martin and the Taoiseach, I am sure if I had met him, he would have passed on great wisdom to young Deputies like me at the time coming into the Chamber. Deputy Martin is correct as we see many stressed faces, and not just at times of election. I have probably aged approximately 20 years since coming here despite being a Member for less than half that time. An old school politician who was able to balance family and political life, as well as his personal time for interests and hobbies, is somebody from whom we could all probably learn. We could all probably learn to take ourselves a little less seriously, particularly in this Chamber, as life can be very short. I again express sympathy on my behalf and that of my party to Peter's family, his wife, Maura, his children and grandchildren. May he rest in peace.

On my behalf and that of the Labour Party I tender deepest sympathies to the Kelly family, particularly Maura and the children, Emily, Peter Jnr. and Joseph, as well as his brother, Vincent, and the wider Kelly family on their sad loss with the death of Peter in January 2019. I am the last constituency colleague left standing who served with him here.

Peter was a politician of the old school and all the better for it. He was dedicated to public service and the community he served. He was a man with sharp business acumen and a very good business brain, so one would underestimate him at one's peril. He was well known in the publican circles and he was an undertaker throughout his life. He developed the iconic Kelly's lounge bar, which was something of a local institution and it wrote a large chapter in Longford's social history until it was finally sold. His DNA was certainly Fianna Fáil and his loyalty to the party was second only to that to his family. He followed in his father's footsteps in politics and became chairman of Longford town council, as well as the county council. He served as party leader there, as Deputy Martin mentioned, from 1985 to 2003.

He was first elected to the Dáil in 2002 from the Longford-Roscommon constituency. He succeeded the late Taoiseach, Mr. Albert Reynolds, serving the people of Longford with great distinction for the next decade. As Deputy Martin said, Peter always had a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye and it would inform people that he had arrived at the pinnacle of his achievement, a seat in the Dáil. He was a great friend of the late Albert Reynolds and the later Mickey Doherty, whose stories are legendary. He had a great laugh at the time Mickey inadvertently sparked turmoil in the European money markets when discussing Albert. I was here at the time. I do not believe German Chancellor Kohl was too happy as there was trouble with the European Monetary System and there was a market frenzy that took several pfennigs off the Deutsche mark at the time. Mickey and Peter would have had a great laugh at that.

I asked him once how he managed to be voted political rookie of the year at the sprightly age of 58. He always had a self-deprecating sense of humour, which was great. We all know of his pride in Longford; the savage loves his native shore and nobody loved the shore of Longford more than Peter.

I remember a story from his first term and the Fianna Fáil Party leader might know of it. Several Fianna Fáil backbenchers were smarting at the lack of promotions and Peter told colleagues how he met the then party leader in the corridor and addressed the promotion matter head-on. I asked him what he said and he told me that he informed the leader he did not want a junior Ministry, and under no circumstances should he be part of the Cabinet. An impatient colleague, now probably gone, was irked by the mocking tone and quickly accused him of lacking ambition. Peter said he had a deep ambition and wanted to be a Deputy for Longford. He did that and continued to work for the people in Longford. That highlights his love for his native Longford and he remains the last Deputy from Longford to have represented that constituency here in Dublin.

He will be long remembered as a great character, a people person and somebody who both loved and was loved by the people of Longford. As a constituency colleague he had something we should all value, although perhaps it is not as prevalent today as it was in his time. His word was his bond and that is very important to me. There have been famous battles in Longford and Westmeath over borders. Peter knew his borders in Abbeyshrule, Lisryan and Edgeworthstown. He never went beyond Tang bridge, which separates Ballymahon from Tang, so he did not cause another battle of Tang bridge, which happened in olden times. He was a man of his word and a loyal person, even to colleagues of different parties. We all enjoyed his company and his tie was a great asset; it replaced a microphone when the Elvis impersonation was required.

On my behalf and that of the Independents 4 Change technical group, I extend sympathy to Maura and the family of our former colleague, Peter Kelly. As everybody has said, Peter was a wonderful colleague. I served with him on the communications and energy committee and he certainly brightened every room he entered. As colleagues have said, he had a tremendous knowledge of politics and political lore as Albert Reynolds's chief lieutenant and in his career as a councillor and Deputy. One of his mantras was that, as politicians, we all need the odd mention in a newspaper, both locally and nationally, but it is really important not to become the story. He used to give chapter and verse of unfortunate colleagues who had become the story.

He used to do a famous canvass on Christmas Eve down the main street in Longford with carol singers to raise funds. He would always give us an interesting account of the people he met. It is interesting as this year we will all probably be canvassing to some extent over the Christmas holidays. We can appreciate Peter's achievements in that regard. He was a fantastic colleague and a highly valued Member of the Oireachtas. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

On behalf of the Rural Independents I will briefly say a few words on the life, times and sad passing of Peter Kelly. He was first elected to Dáil Éireann from Longford-Roscommon in the 2002 general election. When I came here in 2007 I gained no greater friend than Peter. I also gained his advice and counsel, as well as his laughter and fun. He regaled us with many stories about his trips to London and New York in dealing with Longford Irish associations. He loved his family but his native Longford was also a great love. I was present in the parliamentary party room on the evening he mentioned the story about promotion that Deputy Penrose described and people fell around with laughter. He could turn the most tense occasions into something funny or joyous. He was a true character.

He was a dedicated businessman as a publican and undertaker. He was an astute politician and I served with him on the communications committee as well. He was always in good form. I had the benefit of his hospitality in Dublin once or twice when we could not get accommodation. Peter looked after many of us. I express our deepest sympathies to his wife, Maura, and the family here today. I know how much they will miss him. We all miss his wit and enthusiasm. He demonstrated great political prowess, having been the late Albert Reynolds's right-hand man. He had many stories about that as well. He was a true Gael and Longford man, a true family man and a great politician. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

I do not know what more I can add to what has been said about Peter Kelly and Longford. Politics is a noble profession when practised morally and ethically. Those of us who practise the profession can make a positive contribution to society. Peter Kelly loved being a politician, not for the honour and glory but because he loved working for his community. He loved working for his beloved Longford and for her people. Throughout his career, whether at local or national level, he made a major and positive contribution to the town of Longford and the county of Longford and to so many people who live in the constituency.

Politics can be an emotive and competitive profession. I got to know Peter as part of a three-candidate strategy in the 2011 general election. Let us just say we were not at our best. There was a real fear that we might not get a seat at all in Longford-Westmeath. I have to say that throughout that election he ran such a fair and honest campaign. On not being re-elected he held no ill feeling towards me. On the day I came to sign in to Leinster House, Peter Kelly was in the Clerk of the Dáil's office thanking the staff for the courtesy they had shown him for the previous nine years. He offered to stand in for a photograph with me. On the wall was an outbox and an inbox for the post. Peter suggested that he should point to the outbox and that I should point to the inbox.

His loyalty to the party was evident in that general election and subsequently because he offered me his constituency office to hold my clinics. Even on days when I could not hold my clinics in Longford, he would offer to sit in and meet constituents on my behalf. He would frequently ring me about what was going on in Longford. As previous speakers said, he loved Longford, in particular, Longford GAA, Longford Town Football Club, Longford Rugby Club, and the Longford associations. He would be immensely proud of the large turnout of people from Longford who are in the Gallery today. In particular, I see Pauline, his secretary, who was so loyal to him throughout the years. I have no doubt that if Peter was around today, he would be out canvassing for Joe Flaherty, who is in the Gallery, because he saw in Joe some of himself, someone who, like him, had a real passion for Longford.

He was a very popular man. He was highly respected and loved by many. He had an enviable way with people because he would always stop and listen. He always had an interest in what the person he was with was saying. Regardless of whether he was dealing with the Taoiseach or some constituent who was down on his luck, Peter Kelly was the same. He was great company. Wherever I go, whether to the Council of Europe or any part of Ireland, and say that I represent Longford-Westmeath, I am asked whether I knew Peter Kelly. People always say he was great company, warm and engaging. They say he always made people feel good about themselves.

While Longford, public service and Fianna Fáil were all dear to Peter Kelly's heart, he was immensely proud of his family. When he dropped me a note with a constituent representation he would always finish off by saying that Maura sent her regards. When I was in the office with him meeting constituents, he was always immensely proud of how well his three children were doing in their respective fields. Today, we are joined by Maura, Emily, Peter - I know Joseph cannot be with us - and some of his siblings. To them I offer a heartfelt sympathy. He was a man of great faith and a man who believed in the next world. I have no doubt he is in the next world entertaining and engaging. When we meet him again, he will have many a good story to tell us. May he rest in peace.

I thank Deputy Troy. I have been asked by his constituency colleague, Deputy Peter Burke, who is chairing the Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach to pass on a message. If people hear the bells ringing, it is because that committee is having votes. Deputy Burke wishes to pay tribute to Maura and her family and friends here today. He commented that Peter was always very friendly and had a kind word for everyone he met. That was displayed by the extraordinary crowd that turned out for Peter's funeral in St. Mel's.

Finally, I call Deputy Kate O'Connell to say a few words. It is not because she is contemplating a move of constituency but because she is a close family friend.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I welcome the Kelly family here today. I wish to pay tribute to Peter Kelly, Longford, Ireland, as he introduced himself to me back in the day. I got to know him through Emily and Peter, as they studied pharmacy with me in the early noughties. The issue that emerged was how we would get home to vote so that I could cancel out a Fianna Fáil vote. The UK examinations did not fall in with the electoral cycle here.

Peter Kelly, as everyone has said, loved Longford and his family. He was so proud of his children and always so respectful of Maura Kelly. In the Kelly home, I always felt that I was welcome and that I was being listened to. As Deputy Troy said, he had the skill of being equally engaged with whomever he met, whether young or old, rich or poor, man or woman. To Peter it was all research and development.

Over the years we sat and talked politics at gatherings. He told me stories that were essentially framed to teach me a few lessons. Peter knew there was no converting me to Fianna Fáil but he did hold a deep respect for anyone who wanted to serve the public.

Peter Kelly was perhaps one of the funniest people I have ever met. The stories are infamous. He handed out undertaker business cards during a period of turbulence on a flight. He managed to dampen people's fears while getting his name out there. Each story was the stuff of urban myth but was actually carried out by Peter Kelly. He made us laugh more than his quota and when we thought we could not laugh anymore, he landed a supplementary punchline. His children learned early to be resilient on account of some of the stuff he did. On one occasion a body needed to be removed from the airport mortuary. Emily needed to get to the airport to get back to Brighton. Peter saw this as killing two birds with the one stone, so Emily was placed in the passenger seat with her rucksack behind in the empty hearse. They went up to Dublin Airport and he deposited Emily with great grace at the front door. He opened the boot with drama, took out the rucksack and openly wondered what all the drama was about and why she would be embarrassed since she was lucky to get a lift to Dublin rather than have to get the bus.

Peter was a real politician, a man who spent time with the people and who relayed their messages. He loved people and engaging with people. He loved life and lived it to the hilt. He got to meet all of his beautiful grandchildren and share in family events that he treasured so much in his final years. He had beside him, or, if not beside him, then not too far away, the woman who is Maura Kelly or "The Oracle", as we all referred to her back in the day. Maura kept the show on the road. She knew when enough was enough after a late night. She held everything together at home while Peter did what Peter was best at. No one will ever forget Peter Kelly and he forgot no one he met. We will never see the like of him again in Ireland.

Can we all stand for a minute's prayer or reflection, please?

Members rose.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.