Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy

Before proceeding to Leaders' Questions, it would be appropriate, as the House will wish to join me, to express our sympathy to the family and many friends of the late Austin Currie who died yesterday. Austin was a long and distinguished Member of this House. He was one of the founding members of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, SDLP, and served in the Northern Ireland Assembly as Minister for Housing, Local Government and Planning. He became a Member of the Dáil in 1989, was a presidential candidate in 1990 and served as a Minister of State at the Departments of Education, Justice and Health from 1994 to 1997.

We will remember him as a pioneer of the civil rights movement and as somebody who selflessly dedicated his life to the peaceful and respectful solution of intractable problems, a man of outstanding courage who serves as a shining example to those who have followed him into a political career, north and south of the Border.

The Tánaiste, as a representative of Fine Gael, may have some remarks to make.

I apologise to the House in advance as I will have to leave before the conclusion of the expressions of sympathy. I will attend a meeting of the trade Council in Brussels later and I have to get to the airport.

I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Austin Currie. On behalf of the Government, the Fine Gael Party and the Dublin West constituency, I extend my sympathies to Austin's family and to my colleague and friend, Senator Emer Currie.

A pioneer of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, Austin was one of the outstanding politicians of his generation, exposing and highlighting discrimination against Catholics in Northern Ireland in issues like housing with the famous sit-in protest of Caledon. He helped organise one of the first civil rights marches in Northern Ireland and went on to cofound the Social Democratic and Labour Party with John Hume and Gerry Fitt.

Austin moved his political career and his family, who I got to know well, south of the Border in the 1980s when he became a Fine Gael Deputy in Dublin West, the constituency which I am currently honoured to represent. I knew Austin as my local Deputy, as a party colleague and as father to my good friend and colleague, Senator Emer Currie. I knew him as Minister of State with responsibility for children in the rainbow Government under then Taoiseach, John Bruton, and he was the first to hold that important office.

I knew Austin as a man of enormous bravery, real courage and principles. He was blessed with extensive political insight and boundless humanity. Austin fought for human rights, peace and unity on this island and he only ever did so through peaceful and democratic means. Above all, he cared about bringing peace, reconciliation and unity to this island, something he worked towards throughout his political career. He was vehemently opposed to political violence and while he and his family were subjected to it, they never contemplated resorting to it. For Austin, like John Hume, two wrongs could never make a right.

Austin is somebody who encouraged me in my early years in politics. He was somebody who I knew personally and, at the same time, he was somebody I read about in history. It was a strange experience, having a living icon as your colleague and local TD. He was somebody whom I looked up to and admired. My thoughts and those of the Fine Gael Party are with his wife, Anita, his family and his extensive circle of friends and acquaintances today. Farewell Austin. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Tá brón orainn go léir sa Teach de dheasca bhás Austin Currie. Ba chóir dúinn machnamh a dhéanamh ar an dlúthról a bhí aige i ngluaisteacht cearta sibhialta an Tuaiscirt. Fear agus polaiteoir den scoth a bhí ann. D'oibrigh sé go dícheallach, Domhnach is dálach, ar son mhuintir na tíre, sa Tuaisceart agus sa Deisceart araon. Bhí léargas leithleach agus faoi leith aige ar an oileán iomlán agus tuiscint faoi leith aige ar gach gné den pholaitíocht.

Yesterday, we learned of the passing of Austin Currie. He was a former colleague in this House for more than a decade and served the State with honour and integrity as Minister of State with responsibility for children, embracing the Departments of Education, Justice and Health at the time. On that basis alone, he would be deserving of national recognition and respect. However, Austin Currie's contribution to Irish politics was much more profound than his service here, for he was one of that extraordinary generation of Northern leaders. In the face of the appalling injustices and degradations of the Northern state at that time, they recognised the power of peaceful protest and understood that social and economic justice and progress would only be secured through the force of argument. His protest on housing rights in Caledon is widely seen as the beginning of the civil rights movement. Then, along with those other great names, Hume, Cooper, Fitt, Devlin, O'Hanlon and others, he founded the SDLP and developed the fundamental political philosophy that ultimately became the basis of peace and power-sharing across the board and underpins the institutions we have today.

Alongside this intellectual capacity, Austin Currie was also a man of great physical courage. More than 30 times his family home was attacked by elements within loyalism, so-called, and elements within republicanism, so-called, yet with his colleagues he persisted. Our country owes him a great debt for this persistence. Many people are alive today and raising families of their own because of this persistence. We have peace in our country because of this persistence.

Away from politics Austin Currie was deeply committed to his family. I know they will be feeling his loss very deeply at this moment but I also know they will take comfort and some pride from the fact that his was a life well lived and that he was one of those who truly made Ireland a better place. To his wife Anita, his children, including our colleague in the Oireachtas, Senator Emer Currie, his siblings and wider family circle, his friends in the SDLP and his Fine Gael colleagues in the Oireachtas, I offer my sincerest sympathy and gratitude. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

I was very sorry to learn of the death of Austin Currie, a man who, through his long and distinguished political career, was extremely influential on both sides of our divided island for many years. As a leading member of the early civil rights campaign, a co-founder of the SDLP, a Minister in the short-lived 1974 power-sharing executive in the North and a Fine Gael Minister of State, Austin had a long and commendable record of public service.

My thoughts and condolences are with Anita, our colleague, Senator Emer Currie, and the wider Currie family circle at this sad and very difficult time for them. I would like also to extend our sympathies and solidarity to colleagues in the SDLP and Fine Gael on what is a very sad and significant loss for them. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

I was so sorry to hear of the passing of Austin Currie. He dedicated his life to civil rights activism and has left behind a remarkable legacy. Always seeking peace and representing the people from Tyrone to Dublin, he was fearless, courageous and a political giant. I wish to extend my deepest sympathy to his family and friends. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

I was deeply sorry to learn of the death of Austin Currie late yesterday evening. He will be remembered, above all, as a politician of conviction and somebody who stood up and was counted and never, in a long career, allowed any form of intimidation to get in his way. He showed huge courage as he strived to bring peace to our island through his service to the people he represented, uniquely, both North and South on this island. As one of the founders of the Social and Democratic Labour Party alongside John Hume, Gerry Fitt, Seamus Mallon and others, he was central to the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, famously commencing with a housing campaign of which we are all well aware. He showed huge conviction and spirit in how he brought that to the attention of a global audience. He helped to chart a course of reconciliation on this island through his work.

A generation of giants has now passed who brought reconciliation and peace to our island. Their legacy lives on today in the peace we all share. On behalf of the Labour Party, I extend my condolences to Austin's beloved wife of 53 years, Anita, his children, Estelle, Caitríona, Dualta, Austin and our colleague, Emer, and the rest of his family, friends and former colleagues in the SDLP and, in particular, his colleagues in Fine Gael. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

I would like to extend my sincere condolences and those of the Social Democrats to the family, friends and Fine Gael colleagues of the late Austin Currie on his very sad passing. Mr. Currie was a pivotal figure in Irish politics, having played an instrumental role in the civil rights movement, been a founding member of the SDLP, and served as an MP for South Tyrone and, latterly, as a Fine Gael Deputy and distinguished Minister of State. His outward political affiliation may have changed, which was necessitated by his move to Dublin, but his core decency, integrity, bravery and tireless advocacy for peace, social justice and human rights never did. The kinds of richly deserved plaudits being paid to him now on both sides of the Border are an indication of the huge influence he had on the political life of this island and the warm esteem in which he was held by everyone. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

On behalf of the Rural Independent Group, I wish to express our deepest condolences. It was very sad to hear of Austin's passing yesterday. We express our condolences to Senator Emer Currie, the Currie family and the Fine Gael Party. As a nationalist, I also want to commend Austin on all he did in the North when it was very difficult to stand up for Catholic and nationalist families. In terms of housing, he did huge work. He will always be remembered for that great work, his courage and, mainly, the leadership he showed at a very difficult time.

On behalf of the Independent Group, I wish to offer our sincere sympathy to the family, friends and colleagues of the late Austin Currie and, in particular, to our colleague, Senator Emer Currie. I did not know Austin Currie personally, only by reputation, and he had a reputation of which any person would be proud. He was a man who had the strongest courage of his convictions and who took risks, both personal and political. He was a man of protest, a peacemaker, an activist and a politician. Many fine words have been written and said in the past day or two by those who knew him and served with him. If I were to choose only a few words from all that has been said, it would be the two words used by Mark Durkan, when he described Austin Currie as a man of "stubborn honour". May he rest in peace.

In memory of Austin and as an indication of our sympathy with his wife, Anita, and his five children, Estelle, Caitríona, Dualta, Austin and our colleague, Emer, I ask that we stand for a moment's reflection.

Members rose.