Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy.

On my own behalf and that of my party, I wish to express sympathy on the death of a former Cathaoirleach of the House, Mr. Seán Doherty. Our thoughts are with his widow, Maura, and his daughters Rachel, Leah, Evelyn and Cara.

We are all aware of the strong and sometimes turbulent career of Seán Doherty. I was aware of it, in particular, because he was from the neighbouring constituency. I knew him very well from an early age and I followed his career with great interest. Over the past week, there has been widespread comment and coverage of all matters relating to what I might call the turbulent period of his life, although I do not intend to dwell on that. There has been a lot of useless twittering in the newspapers by people who are not full journalists but have chosen to act out with high drama various episodes of that period. They have their own reasons for doing that and it is quite apparent why they are doing so.

I know Maura Doherty very well and regret that, due to parliamentary business abroad, I was unable either to attend the funeral, the removal or the family home. I hope to rectify that, however, next weekend. Maura Doherty is a very intelligent and clever woman. She and Seán had a good married life together. They have four lovely daughters, one of whom is a member of Roscommon County Council. They are fine young women — fiery, spirited and intelligent. Seán and Maura did a great job in rearing their family.

I would prefer to dwell on the latter period of Seán's life from 1997 to 2002 when he chaired the Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport, which dealt with matters relating to my Department when I was Minister for Public Enterprise. He was outstanding in that position, although he has not been given credit for that work. He was also a member of the Committee of Public Accounts. He devoted much time to the Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport, which dealt with a large volume of legislation covering the electricity, gas and railway sectors. He was always well briefed and carried out his duties as chairman in an excellent manner.

In addition, he chaired the sub-committee on the mini-CTC inquiry through which he made great strides in his investigations. It was a source of great regret to him that just as the sub-committee was about to unfold it all, the courts pulled it, judging that the sub-committee did not have the right to proceed with what it was doing. I happen to know that, in that period, he had uncovered quite a lot of information. He acted with the greatest of decorum and probity in that respect. In undertaking that kind of work he gave full expression to public service by employing highly intelligent skills and a fine brain. I remember him with great affection from that period. I wish to put that on the record because so many other periods of his turbulent life have been highlighted, yet his public service record — particularly in committee work — has not.

I have a great knowledge of his work for his constituency and his community. People responded after his death with a sense of community pride in the man they regarded as their own, a man who had served them with great diligence and devotion. We will not see his likes again because, for whatever reason, such people are not entering public life or remaining in it. Seán was a remarkable man because his sheer intelligence was often not obvious to all commentators. That is why we currently have so much useless twittering by people with a vested interest in making such remarks. That story is for another day.

I offer the sincere sympathy of the House to the family of this former Cathaoirleach of the Seanad. He was a very fine Cathaoirleach, as is clear from the legislation he oversaw in the House during his time here. He took great pride in his job, as does the current Cathaoirleach, and brought great acumen to it. The world will sorely miss the likes of Seán Doherty. We offer our sympathy to his wife, Maura, to his four daughters, to his wider family of brothers, sisters and cousins and to the communities of Cootehall and Roscommon.

On behalf of my Fine Gael colleagues in this House, I express my sincere sympathy to the Fianna Fáil Party throughout the country and particularly to Seán Doherty's wife, Maura, and their four daughters. Last week I visited Cootehall, a stunning part of the country which I had never previously visited. I saw there the affection in which Seán Doherty was held and witnessed the respect shown to him by his local community of north Roscommon and of large parts of Leitrim — I understand that the Dohertys originally came from County Leitrim. Seán's death is a terrible tragedy for the Doherty family.

One of the great qualities of a politician is knowing when to get out of politics, when to pick one's own time of departure rather than have other people choose it. Seán Doherty had that quality. It reflects well on him that after 25 years between both Houses, he realised he had done his service and chose his own time of departure. It is difficult therefore to come to terms with the fact that so few years later, he has tragically died at the very young age of 60, after a very short retirement. Having spoken to some of his family members last week, I know that his latter years were the happiest of his life, and that he was enjoying life as never before with his family and all the people of his area. His passing is so much more tragic when one considers the age at which he died.

Seán Doherty was clearly a controversial figure in Irish politics, particularly in the early 1980s. I discovered last week that he was only 38 when he became Minister for Justice, and was probably one of the youngest Ministers of the time. Much of the comment about his political activity has been critical. I will not dwell on that, but the Government at that time was out of control, so it is unfair to only blame Seán Doherty. He did the State a great service some years later when he decided to tell the country what had happened, and refused to continue carrying the can, as he had to do for so long. As Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, he understood the controversy that was brewing. A short time later he resigned his office, refusing to allow the position of Cathaoirleach to be embroiled in the controversy. That was the right action to take. Seán understood that the Cathaoirleach of this House holds an important constitutional office.

In recent years, Seán Doherty was, in a sense, rehabilitated in politics. All sides of the House held him in great esteem and affection. He was rightly proud of his work on the DIRT inquiry with people like Deputy Rabbitte and the late Deputy Jim Mitchell. As the Leader said, his superb intellect was recognised and he made a significant contribution to that committee. We should not forget that the DIRT inquiry was important in terms of showing the people that parliamentarians can get to the root of problems and sort them out rather than hiving them off to tribunals or the courts.

Seán Doherty will be remembered as a great raconteur, storyteller and character. I got to know him in recent years. He will be sorely missed, not just within the Fianna Fáil Party, his community and family, but within politics in general. We offer our sympathy to his wife, his daughters and his wider family. We should remember his passing.

Like everybody else, I was greatly shocked when I heard of the illness and subsequent death of Seán Doherty. He was a remarkable man and a great storyteller. I have heard some of those stories. I understand that immediately prior to his death he was on holiday with his family in Donegal, in tremendous form and telling stories. He was at the heart of the party, as always.

I am grateful to my colleagues for giving me the opportunity, on behalf of all the Independent Senators, to express our sympathy to the family of Seán Doherty. He was clever, witty, sophisticated and had a touch of the seanchaí about him — a description he would enjoy. He had an interesting way of talking, used rather oblique language and sometimes even referred to himself in the third person.

There has been some mention of the controversial periods in his life. I was involved at one stage in the Seanad when there was a row and we took lumps out of each other. I felt Mr. Doherty was part of a gombeen culture so I took certain actions and we fought it out. In that instance I was successful, but there was no rancour or ill-feeling between us, which was remarkable. Within 24 hours he would make the issue into a wonderful story.

I think I repaid him in part because when the empire of newspapers of Mr. Rupert Murdoch — not somebody I admire — got involved in a legal case against him, it tried to get me to be a witness. I refused and ignored their letters. Then one day when I was taking a tutorial in Trinity there was a bang on the door. Somebody stood there with papers in his hand and said: "David Norris?" I said: "How dare you make such a vile accusation. I am a respectable man," and I slammed the door. I told Seán Doherty about it afterwards and he rather enjoyed it.

After this troubled period, Seán Doherty entered what was probably the most distinguished part of his career, in particular, on the Committee of Public Accounts, where his fine intellect was brought to bear on the difficulties faced by society. This was combined with a renewed interest in religious matters which gave him a strong faith that sustained him at the end. I hope it also sustains his family, his wife and daughters, to whom, on behalf of the Independent Senators, I am honoured to express our genuine sympathy on the loss of this colourful character we enjoyed in this House and with whom we sometimes fought. That is the nature of human affairs, particularly in politics.

On behalf of the Labour Party group in the Seanad I sincerely extend our condolences and deepest sympathy to the Fianna Fáil Party and the family of Seán Doherty on his sudden and tragic passing. The extent to which he was loved by his community was clear from the moment of the news of his death. I received telephone calls from friends of mine from that part of the country. They told me about the sense of loss they felt as a result of his sudden passing.

I do not doubt that Seán Doherty left a mark on Irish politics. I have been astonished by the number of newspaper column inches devoted in recent days to discussions of his career. Many people have spoken about Seán Doherty's turbulent career, which contained some very controversial moments. I did not know Seán Doherty, other than to say hello to him in Leinster House during his last term as a Deputy. I never had a conversation with him. Like other Senators, I acknowledge that he made a very significant contribution in Oireachtas committees during his last term. It is clear he was an intelligent and able politician.

As a former employee of RTE, who was active in the NUJ, I have reason to remember the events of February 1992. Seán Doherty spoke at a now-famous press conference in the Montrose Hotel about the tapping of journalists' telephones, which had taken place when Mr. Charles Haughey was Taoiseach. As we were on strike, we were in Liberty Hall when it emerged that Seán Doherty was speaking at the press conference in question. Very few people were working in RTE at the time because the vast majority of its employees were on strike. It was possible for RTE to broadcast the entire press conference live as part of the skeleton service that was being provided. I suspect the conference was broadcast live and in its entirety because so few journalists and technicians were working in RTE at the time. The contents of the press conference were of very significant interest to any journalist.

I take this opportunity to extend sympathy to Seán Doherty's wife, Maura, his four very able daughters, the wider community and the Fianna Fáil Party, which has suffered such a loss at this time. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

On behalf of the Progressive Democrats, I join other Senators in extending sympathy to Mrs. Maura Doherty and her daughters, as well as Seán Doherty's brothers and sisters, on the recent death of Seán Doherty at a very untimely age.

Seán Doherty was certainly a very colourful character — there is no question about that. Controversy seemed to follow him about. I agree with Senator Norris that Seán Doherty was very courteous and polite during the battle and when it was over. I was a Member of this House when Seán Doherty was Cathaoirleach. He conducted the affairs of the House in an even-handed and fair manner. He was always mindful of the need to defend the rights of Senators. I refer, for example, to the famous incident when remarks made by Senator Norris were considered by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. As a new and callow Senator, it was a substantial political education for me to attend the meetings of the committee, which had to take a fairly firm stance. The Progressive Democrats Senators abstained in the original vote, when Seán Doherty became Cathaoirleach. We voted with the Opposition during the subsequent vote of no confidence in Seán Doherty as Cathaoirleach.

It was a measure of Seán Doherty that he immediately tendered his resignation from the position of Cathaoirleach on 21 January 1992, after he landed the missile that ultimately led to the fall of the then Taoiseach. He was the epitome of the man to whom Kipling referred when he wrote:

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same...

Seán Doherty could certainly do that. He had an equitable approach to such matters.

Many people were surprised when Seán Doherty died to learn that he was just 60 years of age, because he seemed to have been around forever. He served as a member of the Garda Síochána before he started his very successful 25-year career in politics by returning to County Roscommon to take a local authority seat following the death of his father. I reiterate the Leader's comment that Seán Doherty was always extremely mindful of the needs of his constituents. One encounters a great deal of pomposity in the national newspapers about people who do that. I would like to know how people get elected if they do not look after the needs of their constituents, which was something Seán Doherty did to a supreme extent.

Seán Doherty put Cootehall on the map. Many people might not have heard of Cootehall but for Seán Doherty. He was a Minister for Justice, Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and held many important offices. After unsuccessfully contesting the European and Dáil elections in 1989, he became a Member of the Seanad. He successfully defended his Dáil seat before he retired. As others have mentioned, he was also involved in the DIRT inquiry.

I was very taken by something Fr. BrianConlon said at the reception of the remains which, more than anything else, sums up what Seán Doherty was like. Fr. Conlon said that whether a person slapped him on the back or stabbed him in it, Seán understood the rules of the people's game and, in his magnanimous way, was sportsmanlike. This summed him up pretty accurately. I was very taken by it when I heard it on the nine o'clock television news. In recognition of all his achievements, I join with other Members in extending our sympathy to the Fianna Fáil Party and Seán's family.

I thank the Leader for giving us an opportunity to express our sympathy to the Doherty family on the death of Seán. I want to extend my deep sympathy to his wife, Maura and their daughters, Rachel, Cara, Leah and Evelyn; his grandchildren, Kate, Seán Luke, James and JJ; his brothers, Kevin and Colm, sisters Ann, Maria and Philomena and the extended Doherty family. It is a tragedy for the family to lose Seán at this stage when he was enjoying his retirement from politics. He was particularly delighted when his daughter, Rachel, became a member of Roscommon County Council in June 2004. For Maura and himself, it was lovely to see that continuity. People may not realise that his grandfather, Councillor Hogg, was a member of Roscommon County Council, as was his father, Jim. Seán was a member since 1973 and now Rachel is a member the council, which shows great service from the Doherty and Hogg family to the people of the region.

Many stories are told about Seán and me because both of us were elected to Roscommon County Council in 1974. We turned that county council into the mini Dáil Éireann it should be. We concentrated for three years on national issues as opposed to local issues, with which we also dealt very effectively. We regarded all national issues as relevant to our work, particularly during the glorious period when the Fianna Fáil Party was in Opposition. We turned that into our challenge to the Government. We had wonderful debates in that forum on many occasions. Every week we worked out the maximum notices and motions to get the maximum results and, with respect, the maximum publicity as neither of us was too shy in that regard at the time. Both of us were nominated in St. Mary's Hall, Carrick-on-Shannon, in May 1977. Deputy John Ellis was the other candidate at that stage and we took two of the three seats in the Roscommon-South Leitrim constituency. We won back the seat which, unfortunately, was lost in 1973. My good friend and mentor, the late Brian Lenihan, Seán and I were elected with many others to Dáil Éireann in 1977. He was made Minister of State at the Department of Justice and subsequently Minister for Justice and he gave total commitment to his constituents. I attended the funeral of Seán's mother on 20 May. He invited me to join him at the family table in The Bush Hotel. We spent two hours talking about the past, present and future, debating many stories which are now in the public domain and adding the details which both of us have from different sides. It was not always a one-way ticket as far as I was concerned.

In 1977, after we were both elected, we were invited to lunch at the Royal Hibernian Hotel by the Minister for Health, Charles J. Haughey. We discussed primarily Roscommon County Hospital, but we also realistically discussed the future leadership of Fianna Fáil.

We were looking down onLeinster House. It was a beautiful lunch and CJ suggested that one of us should choose the wine. As he was a connoisseur, we decided we would give in to his superior knowledge of these issues.

During my last discussion with Seán a number of weeks ago, he commented on how happy he was with what he had achieved in life, how settled he was and the many plans he had for the development of Cootehall, including a marina and so forth. He also had a great interest in the political career of his daughter, Rachel. Somebody will write the book and I hope when things settle down, Maura may have an opportunity to put together the true facts about Seán Doherty. He was bright, intelligent, articulate, fun loving, serious and committed.

At the end of the day, the people of Roscommon and south Leitrim received a wonderful service from both myself and Seán. If either of us failed, the other achieved. If it failed us, it failed everyone because we made sure no one else would succeed if we failed. I was in Jerusalem, Palestine, when I heard of his illness and I was glad to make it back for his funeral. Seán would enjoy this levity because that was his style.

I offer my deepest sympathy to his family and, please God, he will be remembered fondly by all who knew him, particularly in Roscommon, south Leitrim, Longford and east Galway. He was a dear friend, a great constituency worker, a great person with a great personality and a great church man. He was chairman of the parish council and he had many other involvements. He is a loss to all those groups. It is regrettable that he did not survive for many more years.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute. Although mentioned by Senator Brian Hayes, it is probably not widely known that the Doherty family is originally from my home town, Drumshanbo, County Leitrim. Cootehall is only five miles away. All that separates us is the River Shannon and the parishes are almost on top of each other. All Seán's aunts, uncles and cousins still live there. The Doherty family was part and parcel of my upbringing because of the contribution its members made to the economic and political life of the area.

Only those of us who come from that part of the country will understand the close relationship between Senator Leyden and Seán Doherty. Many of the stories to which Members have referred centred on their relationship and I also await that book. Senator Leyden said he was in Palestine when he got the news and I could not help but reflect that it would not have been beyond the capacity of Seán Doherty to have arranged for him to be there so he would not be around as he passed away, such was Seán's humour. Long before Senator Leyden became a Member of the House, Seán often referred to him as a Senator in anticipation of him being in this House while he was in the other House. That was the relationship they had. It was as much Senator Leyden's good humour that allowed him to rise to the occasion as anything else. Others would have taken umbrage at what went on but such was the personality of both men that they complemented each other.

Senator Leyden is correct that they provided a superb and outstanding service to the constituents of Roscommon-South Leitrim. It is ironic that we are in the throes of a return to that constituency 30 years after its creation, which had permitted Seán and Senator Leyden to be elected by the people in that area.

I send my deepest sympathy to Maura, Rachel, Cara, Leah and Evelyn; Kevin, Seán's brother, who is the county registrar for Leitrim; and Colm, Ann, Maria and Mena. The Dohertys are a closely knit family and we always admired the closeness of the extended family. The cousins were more like brothers. Seán had extensive property interests in the Drumshanbo area and it is sad that he will not witness their fruition.

The Leader was correct to refer to the latter part of Seán's political career and she also referred to the coverage generated by his death. Senator O'Meara said that, as someone who did not know Seán that well, she was surprised by the amount of press coverage. His family, with whom I spent some time at the weekend, was also surprised to the point of being overwhelmed by the level of publicity surrounding his death, which continued in the following days.

I personally endorse what our esteemed Leader said about people in general acknowledging the public contribution Seán made to the State with one honourable or dishonourable exception. Despite the passing of the years, some people could not find it in their hearts to take the Bible's message about those without sin casting the first stone, which caused considerable anger among Seán's constituents.

His family has come together. I am interested in the contributions here and those in newspapers, as the members of his family have said it was not the Seán Doherty they knew. That Seán Doherty was a stranger to the family. To them, he was first and foremost a husband and a father. Like the Leader, I was unable to attend the funeral due to parliamentary business. Those Senators who attended the funeral will testify to the closeness evident there, both in the floral bouquets and in people's comments.

The contributions that have been made have rightly gone on the record. Of them all, Seán's greatest single achievement politically in terms of the Roscommon-Leitrim area was the creation of the Shannon tax-free incentive area. He was the person who conceived that thought originally. He was the person who doggedly pursued it through various Administrations and was finally able to convince the Taoiseach and the then Minister for Finance, former Deputy Charlie McCreevy, to put it on the Statute Book. This is Seán Doherty's permanent monument and legacy to local and national life, to the families of those who have not had to see their sons and daughters emigrate and to the small towns and villages of north County Roscommon and south County Leitrim where I live that have seen an expansion of their built environments, which has led to more jobs, services and tourism and an era of prosperity unprecedented in our lifetimes. I say unequivocally and unambiguously that all this resulted from Seán Doherty's intelligence and far-sightedness. He saw that the only way that part of the country would be able to get on its feet would be by giving it an extra little bit of a lift. The lift, which will terminate in 2006, has proven to be an outstanding success. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam; ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.

As Cathaoirleach, I join with the fine tributes paid to former Cathaoirleach, Seán Doherty, which are most deserving. He died unexpectedly at a reasonably young age and his death shocked us all. Seán Doherty and I first became Members of the Oireachtas in 1977. He was elected to the Dáil and I to the Seanad. I remember meeting him at our first parliamentary party meeting, from which time we developed a friendship. I always enjoyed his company as he was both intelligent and entertaining. I had occasion to visit his home, especially during Seanad campaigns, and there was always great welcome and encouragement from Seán. I was most grateful for that welcome and the hospitality extended to me by Seán, Maura and their family.

As has been said, he was an efficient, capable and effective Cathaoirleach who would defuse many a situation with his witty interventions. Like the Leader and Senator Mooney, I was away on parliamentary business and regretted that, as Cathaoirleach of this House, I could not attend his funeral. I extend my sympathy to his wife, Maura, his daughters, Evelyn, Leah, Cara and Rachel, and to his extended family.

Members rose.