Business of Seanad. - Deaths of Gardaí and Soldier: Expressions of Sympathy.

I take this opportunity as Leader of the House, on my own behalf and that of the Fianna Fáil Party, to offer our sincere condolences to the families and friends of the two brave gardaí, Garda Tony Tighe and Garda Michael Padden, and Private Peadar Ó Flaithearta, all of whom lost their lives while on duty serving the public interest. The whole country has been immensely moved by the tragic deaths of the two gardaí who died just half an hour after coming on duty in the early hours of Sunday morning last. The nation was just learning of the awful circumstances of this terrible tragedy when we were further shocked by the news of the death of Private Peadar Ó Flaithearta in the service of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor.

As a nation, we rightly take pride in the professionalism with which members of both the Garda Síochána and the Army carry out their duties in various jurisdictions where they have served. They have done much to bring honour to the country. This tragedy brings home to us all the true nature of public service and the sacrifices and risks undertaken for us on a daily basis by members of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. Garda Tighe and Garda Padden were the 40th and 41st members of the force to die on duty. Like so many before them, they knew they were exposing themselves to risks when they responded to the call for help on Sunday morning last, but they put the safety and defence of our community before their own.

In paying tribute to their courage and bravery, we also pay tribute to the force as a whole. Such events bring home to us all the nature of their job, the dangers they face on our behalf, the risks they regularly face and the injuries, including death, which they sometimes sustain. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party and on my own behalf as Leader of the House, I offer my wholehearted condolences to the families, relatives and friends of the three unfortunate men who have lost their lives in recent days. Go ndéana Dia trócaire orthu.

On behalf of my party, I join the Leader of the House in paying tribute to the three men who lost their lives in the public service during the last week. I express to the families of Garda Tighe and Garda Padden and Private Ó Flaithearta deepest personal sympathy at this very difficult time in their great loss. All of us feel their loss and send our deepest sympathy to them.

In the case of Garda Tighe and Garda Padden, they were simply doing their duty. They were acting in the best traditions of the Garda Síochána, a force that has served the country very well over the past 80 years. It is at a time like this that we realise that, whatever difficulties the Garda may have in certain areas, it has always been an honest, upright and public spirited police force and that in the Garda Síochána we have one of the best police forces in the world. When we see the simple devotion to duty which resulted in the two men concerned making the supreme sacrifice last Sunday we realise how often just how close doing their duty can be to serious injury or even, as in this case, death. In that and every other sense I send the sympathy of my party to their families and the police force.

In the case of Private Peadar Ó Flaithearta, he too represented one of the finest public traditions of this country, devotion to peacekeeping, which has been the characteristic of the Army for almost half a century. He died serving humanitarian causes and peace, among people who probably did not know or appreciate what he was doing. When we consider the intervention of the Irish forces in recent years we realise the major contribution they have made. To his family, the Chief of Staff and the Army, I send the sympathy of my party.

We, on the Independent benches, wish to be very much associated with the expressions of sympathy we have heard. Coming from a garda's family, I understand the shock waves that go through, not only the immediate family, but the Garda force on such occasions which, unfortunately, are becoming more and more regular. It was something about which we knew very little growing up. The death of a garda on duty was such a rare occurrence. However, we are now seeing more and more gardaí being injured and paying the ultimate price in such situations.

A death at any time is something with which it is very hard to come to terms, but especially so when it is sudden. It is even worse when it happens when somebody is going about the course of his or her work. The idea of somebody dying in his or her workplace or in the course of his or her work, as in this case, is utterly unacceptable. It becomes even more unacceptable in the situation about which we are talking. The two men concerned were protecting the community. It is the supreme irony that in that work they should be killed by the irresponsibility of a few in the community. This is something with which their families will have extraordinary difficulty in coming to terms.

It is important to say at this time that we have often been quick to raise questions and queries about the behaviour of gardaí in the course of their duties. It behoves us on this occasion to remind ourselves that the right balance should always be borne in mind, that the vast majority of gardaí go about their work quietly and efficiently on a daily basis. Thankfully, we do not hear of injuries to and accidents involving members of the force, but they take a risk on our behalf in parts of the community in various parts of the country. This is something we, as Members of the Oireachtas, should recognise. The gardaí concerned were quietly and efficiently going about their duties with a huge sense of commitment, a growing sense of responsibility and their only objective was to make our community and society safe for us, our children and other generations. Ar dheis Dé go siad.

In the case of Private Peadar Ó Flaithearta, we have always felt a closeness with those members of the Army who have gone abroad on duty. It is certainly the case that when somebody is killed by accident in the course of his or her duties it becomes more difficult to understand how situations of life could arise, but they do. We must also feel for the person who caused the accident. There is a huge double loss in this situation.

I feel a certain closeness to the events here because I spent every summer in Lettermore where my father was born. Private Ó Flaithearta came from a very small community and our hearts must go out to that small community and also to Garda Padden's community, family and extended family in Belmullet. That community will have been rocked as well by what happened. I have met the extended family of Garda Padden on many occasions and they are held in high regard. It is extraordinary to see young men lose their lives on our behalf. Ar dheis Dé go raibh siad.

On behalf of the Labour Party, I express my sympathy and condolences to the families of the deceased gardaí, Tony Tighe and Michael Padden, and the member of the Defence Forces, Private Peadar Flaherty, who died on service with the United Nations in East Timor. It was a terrible shock to hear of the three deaths and the circumstances in which they occurred made it even more shocking. We heard that the son of Tony Tighe, himself a garda, came upon his father following the collision when his father was dying. It must have been a horrible trauma and we can imagine the impact it has had on their families, friends and neighbours.

It brings home to us what it means to be in public service and at the cutting edge. The Garda Síochána daily face crime which is becoming more violent. Our Defence Forces are doing a wonderful job abroad on peacekeeping duties with the United Nations. Both forces, the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces, have, in many cases, suffered the ultimate sacrifice. Large numbers have died in the service of their country at home and abroad. We, as legislators and Members of Parliament, should be particularly appreciative of that and should, as we are doing today, offer our sincere sympathy and condolences to the families of those who have died and who are the real heroes on this island. We hear talk of other heroes but these are the real heroes – the people who give their lives, the ultimate sacrifice, in the service of their country. Ar dheis Dé go raibh siad.

On behalf of the Progressive Democrats and on my own behalf, I join in this expression of sympathy to the families of Garda Tony Tighe, Garda Michael Padden and Private Peadar Flaherty. It is perhaps only on these occasions we realise the great task the Defence Forces and the Garda undertake on behalf of the people. They are the custodians of our democracy and that is something to which we perhaps do not pay enough attention often enough. It is on occasions such as this that we pause and think about the jobs they do. The gardaí and the members of the Defence Forces know they are taking risks, but I do not think anybody could have imagined that two gardaí would be killed in such appalling circumstances. It was quite beyond belief. There are matters which arise from it. However, they are not matters for today but for another day when we consider some of the issues which surround these events. I do not think it could have been imagined when the two gardaí went on duty that they would have met their deaths in such a sudden and violent fashion.

In regard to Private Peadar Flaherty, the Cathaoirleach and the House will be aware that we have taken a very keen interest in East Timor over an extended period so we feel a certain affinity with events that take place there even though it is so far away. It was a matter of considerable satisfaction to us that Ireland was involved in the peacekeeping taking place there. It was an appalling and tragic accident and one feels for the private's colleagues serving in the area. In the cases of the two gardaí and of Private Flaherty, we feel for their colleagues throughout both services and, in particular, for the communities from which they came and for their families. We extend our deepest sympathy to them.

I wish to be associated with the tributes which have been paid to Garda Tighe, Garda Padden and Private Flaherty and I join in the expressions of sympathy to their families, relatives and comrades.

Members rose.