Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy.

I pay tribute to Kit Ahern, a former member of this House and Dáil Éireann, who died recently at the age of 92. Although a native of Limerick, she spent her adult life in Ballybunion, County Kerry, following her marriage to Dan Ahern and went on to become an active member of Kerry County Council.

I had the pleasure of knowing Kit personally. She was a truly wonderful person, a formidable woman who worked tirelessly promoting the welfare of rural Ireland and, in particular, the quality of life for Irish women. Kit was passionate about the Irish language, our culture and the arts and used every opportunity to promote all things Irish. She first came to prominence as president of the Irish Countrywomen's Association, ICA, between 1961 and 1964. Kit and her ICA colleagues travelled the length and breadth of Ireland recruiting new members and instilling a sense of optimism for the future of rural Ireland. The ICA was involved in many battles to bring running water and electricity to rural Ireland, the basic essentials of day-to-day living.

Kit was appointed to Seanad Éireann by the then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, in 1964 and subsequently retained her seat on the cultural and educational panel in 1965. She contested the general elections in north Kerry in 1965, 1969 and 1973 and secured a seat in the Dáil in 1977 under the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch. It was the first time two Fianna Fáil Deputies were elected to the north Kerry constituency, the other being the late Tom McEllistrim, also a Member of this House and whose family continues to be represented in Dáil Éireann. She served one term in the Dáil as a Deputy and, on losing her seat in 1981, subsequently retired from national politics. However, despite all her achievements, Kit never lost sight of her humble roots and once described herself as "the first pleb to be elected president of the Irish Countrywomen's Association".

She was a wonderful woman and a great person to know. She worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of north Kerry and rural Ireland. She will be sadly missed by all who knew her. We on this side of the House will remember her as a great friend who served in both Houses of the Oireachtas. The people of Kerry have lost a loyal and true person. Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam.

On behalf of the Fine Gael group, I pay tribute to the former councillor, Senator and Deputy, the late Kit Ahern. She was a pioneering woman, one of the few women in Irish politics when she was first elected. She had a passionate commitment to rural Ireland, to the quality of life for women and a strong commitment to arts, culture and language. Her influence in many ways transcended party political lines. She was a president of the Irish Countrywomen's Association, which is a marvellous organisation. She played a key role in building up that organisation in the 1940s and 1950s. As she said, she did not come into it a ready-made organisation; she helped to form and build it. It played a key role for many years, particularly at that time in rural life, and it continues to play a role today.

She was also a member of the Bord Fáilte. She was an avid promoter of the Irish language and president of the Kerry Historical and Archaeological Society. She had broad interests. I did not know her personally but people speak warmly of her. She was first female cathaoirleach of Kerry County Council when appointed in 1977. She was also elected, as the Leader said, to the Seanad and Dáil on a number of occasions and retired in 1981.

While I did not know her personally, what I have heard about her shows what a positive, constructive and innovative contribution she made to public life in Ireland and in the Oireachtas. I note Senator O'Sullivan was quoted in the Irish Examiner as saying she had huge integrity. That is a wonderful tribute to be paid to anyone. To her family, friends and her colleagues, I extend my deepest sympathies and those of the Fine Gael Party. May she rest in peace.

I extend condolences from the Independent benches to the former Senator Kit Ahern's family and party. I never served with her but knew her quite well. She was a pleasant woman and a great conversationalist. She never visited the House without going out of her way to speak to any of us with Kerry connections or from Kerry. I used to always tell her, like I tell all people from that part of west Limerick, that they know they are really Kerry people even though their address might be west Limerick.

She spread her wings quite well and her bloodline has had a significant impact on Kerry's status. Her great nephew "Bomber" Liston brought great silverware to Kerry and her cousin, Senator O'Sullivan, is continuing the name and operation of Kit's family in politics.

She was born in Athea but we always associate her with Kerry. We pay tribute and recognise the work she has done in this building, be it the Dáil or Seanad. Anybody who puts himself or herself forward for public representation is engaged in the highest area of activism in a democracy. Regardless of his or her party or views, I always recognise and salute that, and we should do that.

More importantly in the case of this woman, she was a role model as a community activist. She was involved in everything in her community and in the development of the ICA, in particular, in which she reached high office. She made her contribution at local level, including in the ICA, but also in every local association, organisation and club. She was a member of a county council and had a commitment to local community. She also served in Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann. It is people like her who become role models for young people. It is to people like her we should refer as teachers in terms of people's responsibilities in a democracy. Their responsibilities are not only to receive but to give. While we might agree or disagree with some of the measures she proposed along the way, her commitment is the requirement and responsibility or being a citizen in a democracy and must be much prized and supported. As a teacher she made her contribution, which I recognise.

I recognise, salute, and pay tribute to a woman who made a contribution as a teacher, in her local community, county, Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann. We can ask no more of a citizen. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

I would like to add my voice and that of the Labour Party to the tributes that have been paid to the former Senator and Deputy Kit Ahern.

I was struck by a point made by Senator Harris, with which I strongly agree, that there is a tendency in our public debate and discourse to almost to write off people at a relatively young age or increasingly at a younger age. In particular in political life, it is important to recall and pay tribute to the enormous contribution of somebody like the former Senator Ahern who joined a new political party at the age of 70. In an age when it is often suggested that politics is an ephemeral entity or is purely characterised by media spin, it is vital that we recall and pay tribute to the enormous contribution of somebody like the former Senator Ahern over many years, not only directly in political life but through the ICA, an extraordinary organisation with huge history and record of public service, as referred to by Senator Fitzgerald and others.

I pass on our condolences to the late Mrs. Ahern's family and her political colleagues in the Progressive Democrats. I noticed that in one interview when the former Senator Ahern was asked about her nomination for election to the Seanad she said, with a mixture of idealism and true practical thinking, that she accepted the nomination that had been given to her to the Seanad for three reasons. She said it was first, as a tribute to the women of Ireland, secondly, as a tribute to herself and, thirdly, to try to create a base for a new north Kerry Fianna Fáil Deputy.

She was a woman who made a huge contribution and it is sad that we are noting her passing today, but her's was a life full of commitment and real, genuine public service. In those circumstances, I am pleased to add my voice to what has been said.

On behalf of the Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, I express sympathy on the passing of the former Senator and Deputy Kit Ahern. I was struck by two factors from reading media notices of her passing. The first one is the reputation she — having lived to the age of 92 — seemed to have maintained in the Kerry area well after she had exited public life. The second factor is a personal one. She finished elected public office at the election I first participated in as a voter; there is probably close to 50 years between us. For her to have maintained such a reputation among the people she served is a recommendation in its own right and anyone involved in public life should strive to attain that. Some people look for baubles from their activities in pubic life but her example is a better one to live by. On finishing elected public office, she maintained her involvement in public life. By her actions and words she made herself known in terms of her views on the nature of politics and how she believed she could contribute as an individual, despite not holding public office.

Another area should be further acknowledged before we conclude these expressions of sympathy. In a political system where women continue to be under-represented, she was active at a time when female Members in this and the other House numbered no more than single figures. To have operated in such an environment and to have ploughed a furrow for the slow and steady progress that has since been achieved should serve as an indicator of how much remains to be done in this area. Particular tribute must be paid to a parliamentarian who played a role in advocating the need for women to be more actively involved in public life. Her passing presents us with a challenge to ensure the level of female participation in politics is improved as quickly as possible.

I pay tribute to Ms Kit Ahern and the contribution she made to political life. Although small in stature and fragile in appearance, she was certainly tough in spirit. As a woman in politics, and traditional politics in Kerry at that, she was a pioneer. She was a courageous woman who stood up for what she believed in and represented her community, country and gender proudly. She was something of a trail-blazer and I am proud that she was born in Limerick. It is typical of Kerry people that they try to take credit for every good that comes out of Limerick.

Kit Ahern was a modest woman in many ways and I was delighted to get to know her in the course of the emergence of the political party of which I am a member. At the tender age of 70, as Senator Alex White observed, she decided to join another political organisation to which she remained fiercely loyal until her death. As Senator Boyle said, when she left public life and the front line of politics, she continued to work loyally and tirelessly behind the scenes on behalf of her local community and her political party. She was an impressive individual and a person I am proud to have associated with my political party. It is a pleasure to pay tribute to her as a person who paved the way for the involvement of women in politics. I am proud to follow in her footsteps.

Kit Ahern was a cousin of mine. She was a person I greatly admired and whom I was proud to support during her long and successful political career. She was an individual of great vision and with a strong sense of duty to serve her country and community. She was driven primarily by a desire to ensure women received political equality at a time when that principle was not universally acknowledged. She was president of the ICA prior to her involvement in politics and she worked hard to develop home industry for housewives at a time when there were few opportunities for women outside the home.

Kit was honoured to receive a nomination to the Seanad from the then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, on two occasions, in 1964 and 1965. As Senator Alex White observed, she accepted the nomination to the Seanad as a tribute to mná na hÉireann. She was subsequently elected to the Seanad in 1969 and 1973 on the cultural and educational panel before finally being elected to Dáil Éireann in 1977, on the fourth attempt, after coming close on two occasions prior to that. Just before her death she joked to me that the new configuration of north Kerry and west Limerick gave her reason to think of coming out of retirement at the age of 92. Her political battles in north Kerry, not all of them with members of other political parties, are part of the folklore of political life in the county. Kit used to say it is not a question of the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog. She always displayed great courage in adversity.

She was a great supporter of all things Gaelic. Bhí fíor-ghrá ag Kit dár gcultúr dhúchais. Bhí sí dílis don teanga Gaeilge i rith a saol. She was a loyal and dependable individual. Her integrity was important to her and there could be no compromise on matters of principle. This was the reason for her decision to join the Progressive Democrats Party under the leadership of her close friend, Des O'Malley, a man she admired greatly and who is admired by many of us in north Kerry. This decision was respected by her former colleagues in Fianna Fáil and although she made many new friends, she never lost her old ones. However, her decision gave me many sleepless nights at the time.

Her late husband, Dan, and her brother, Eoin, were her greatest supporters. She was proud of all her family, with a special pride in the achievements of her nephew, Eoin "The Bomber" Liston. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue her work in the Seanad and to pay tribute to her in this Chamber. I thank the Leader for arranging this tribute to Kit. On behalf of her family, I thank all those who have spoken so kindly of her.

I wish to be associated with the warm and well deserved tributes that have been paid to the late Kit Ahern. I did not know Kit well but she struck me as a kind and most pleasant lady on every occasion I met her. She was a great conversationalist and a wonderful contributor to everything in which she was involved. It is good and fitting that her cousin, Senator O'Sullivan, should be here to pay tribute to her.

She was a great national president of the ICA. As county president for some of that period, my mother worked well with her. Kit had a tremendous record of dedicated and distinguished service, both locally and nationally. She was a wonderful leader of the county council — the first female chairman — in 1977. She was a great representative and promoter of Kerry and a wonderful director of Bord Fáilte. She served well in this and the other House. Her contribution to everything she did speaks for itself. Kit led a full life. I extend my deepest sympathy to her family.

I did not have the pleasure of being in the House when Ms Ahern was a Member and subsequently Cathaoirleach, but I met her on three occasions, widely separated by years. The first was when, as Cathaoirleach, she chaired a debate organised by one of the major debating societies in Trinity College. At this debate, one of my friends who had not only a double but a triple personality, being variously a strong republican from the midlands, an Orangeman from the shipyards of Belfast or a relic of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy, decided to make lurid comments and vulgarly abusive remarks about the appointment of a Roman Catholic clergyman as chaplain to Trinity College. Ms Ahern took these comments seriously and remarked that this person must be a Protestant guttersnipe from Ballymena. She was terribly entertained when the joke was explained to her.

I met her subsequently at Listowel writers' week where I discovered she had a grip almost as good her successor, Tras Honan. Ms Ahern was devoted to Kerry, knew its literature intimately and had that wonderful way with words that Kerry people have. The final time I met her was some two years ago when I spoke at the Brendan Kennelly summer school in Kerry. She was as vigorous as ever even though a woman of considerable age. I listened with great interest to what she had to say. Senator O'Sullivan said she liked to remark that the important thing is not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog. This accurately reflects my occasional experiences of the late Senator Ahern.

I wish to be associated with the tributes which have been paid to the late Kit Ahern who, as has been said already, was nominated to this House on two occasions by the former Taoiseach, Seán Lemass. Kit served on the cultural and educational panel from 1969 to 1977 and made many worthwhile contributions to the debates in this House. She then successfully contested a Dáil election and served in that House from 1977 to 1981. On a personal note, her late brother Paddy was a neighbour of mine in Banagher for many years. In keeping with the Ahern tradition, he was a very industrious and respected member of the community as a tailor and publican in the town. I extend my sincerest sympathies to the extended family of Kit Ahern on their sad loss.

Members rose.