Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy

We will now pay tribute to former Senator Trevor West who has passed away. I welcome his wife, Maura, and members of his family.

As Leader of the House, I am honoured to lead the tributes to the late Dr. Trevor West, a former Member of Seanad Éireann and a prestigious academic at Trinity College Dublin, who, sadly, passed away recently. I extend sincere sympathy to his family, especially his wife, Maura, and the other family members who have travelled here today.

Trevor West was an extraordinary person. He served in the 12th, 13th, 14th and 16th Seanaid, beginning in 1970 and ending in 1982, accumulating over a decade of public service. Throughout his career in public life, he remained an independent Trinity College Senator and his politics reflected this.

He was not a party political person; he was an achiever and a reformist. He devoted much of his time in Seanad Éireann to successfully initiating and supporting legislation which had not previously been considered by a predominantly Catholic body. He joined his then Seanad colleague, and later President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, in campaigning on social issues of great importance at the time, including the provision for contraception.
In a warm tribute to Trevor West's life, Ulick O'Connor wrote recently that Trevor had a significant effect in bringing members of the Northern Protestant community forward in relation to the political divide and that he played a significant part in creating a situation where the dominance of the bomb and the bullet has been replaced by a working parliament. As we are all too aware, the journey to a permanent peace on this island has been a long and most challenging one, but Trevor West contributed to it greatly. His contribution to his country went far beyond his time as a university Senator.
Trevor was and will remain one of the country's most respected mathematicians. After being schooled in Midleton, County Cork, he pursued mathematical studies in Trinity College Dublin, before pursuing his PhD at Peterhouse College in Cambridge. On completion of his PhD, he returned to Trinity College Dublin in 1966, where he was appointed as lecturer. Eleven years later he was made associate professor of mathematics. He was very much an intellectual and a beautiful master of the English language. His first book was a biography of Sir Horace Plunkett, a founding president and one of the pioneers of the co-operative movement established in the early 20th century.
Sport also dominated Trevor's life. While at Cambridge, he served as president of the cricket club between 1974 and 1980. His contribution to the Irish cricket scene was immense. Not only was he an outstanding player for TCD's first XI cricket time, he also had a significant part to play in developing an Irish universities' tournament. One of his most notable moments as a Senator was his successful campaign in overturning a proposal by authorities in Trinity College Dublin to replace the rugby pitch with a building. I am sure that is something close to Senator Barrett's heart also.

Trevor's sporting life also extended to soccer and rugby and he played for Munster, Phoenix and Cork County throughout his youth. For 40 years he was chairman of the Dublin University central athletic committee. His vast achievements in sport culminated in a book he later wrote in 1991, The Bold Collegians - The Development of Sport in Trinity College, Dublin.

Today, we celebrate the life not just of a former colleague of ours but of a distinguished academic, a sportsman and an intellectual whose extraordinary contribution will be long remembered. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

I am very honoured to have been asked by the Fianna Fáil group in Seanad Éireann to express our deepest sympathy on the loss of a former Member of this House, Professor Trevor West, and to extol his many virtues to which the Leader has referred. I will refer to a number of media comments made in the immediate aftermath of his death, notably by his friend and colleague, Ulick O'Connor. Reference was made to the fact that just some three days before his death, he sat on the steps of Midleton college reminiscing for almost an hour with the principal, Simon Thompson. Through his family and his father he had strong connections with Midleton college. It was said he was in reflective mode and that there was much to remember for a man whose passions covered sport, education, literature, history and politics.

In the context of the remarks of the Leader on Trevor West's early membership of the Seanad and his close association with Mary Robinson, he had been her election agent when she first ran for the Seanad. When he was elected to the Trinity College seat in the by-election caused by the death of Owen Sheehy Skeffington in 1970, he soon established a reputation as one of the few liberal voices in the Seanad. It is rather salutary to remember that when we talk about history and about the 1916-21 period, this is at only one remove from that time with the mention of Owen Sheehy Skeffington.

Former Senator, John Horgan, recalled that when he and Mary Robinson wanted to put forward a Bill on the issue of changing the law banning contraceptives in 1970, they could not get the required third signature from among the entire membership of the Seanad at the time, until Trevor West was elected and supported them. There has been quite a change in culture and attitudes since then. Just consider that if such a vote was to come before the House today, perhaps in the context of the Civil Partnership Bill, how the culture and attitudes have changed in the intervening time.

Another aspect of Trevor West's enormously colourful life full of so many tapestries was his somewhat less well known contribution to the peace process in Northern Ireland, resulting from the strong connections between his family and many of the loyalist leaders in Belfast. It was reported in the media after his death, that following a close association he had with the then UVF leader, Gusty Spence, who announced the loyalist ceasefire in 1994, Senator West was quietly influential in nudging forward the peace process. Almost 30 years before the Belfast agreement was signed, in a letter to the New York Review of Books, the then Senator West had cautioned that in order to isolate the extremists from moderate Nationalist support: "It is essential to set up a form of government in Northern Ireland in which both sections of the community have confidence." He then added, presciently, that American pressure on Britain was a crucial factor in the struggle for independence and that after the Easter Rising of 1916 it could well be crucial again. This is quite extraordinary in light of all that has happened since.

Away from the world of politics, Trevor West was a member of the Trinity College Dublin co-ordinating committee for sport, the Dublin University central athletic club for 40 years, serving as chairman for 30 years, and was heavily involved in the campaign to build the new sports hall at Trinity. When it came to lobbying, he could teach us a thing or two, because in that particular campaign, when an attempt was made to turn the TCD rugby pitch into a building area, his response was to send many thousands of letters on Seanad headed paper to former TCD graduates, which shortly put an end to the disgraceful plan. In light of the changes made by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform yesterday, he would find envelopes in short supply if he was to try that today. However, I have no doubt that his commitment and passion for the cause would not have prevented him from doing the same.

For 11 years, Trevor West was honorary secretary of the Irish universities rugby union. He was also a former president of the TCD cricket and soccer clubs and was a stalwart of the rugby club, where he encouraged many international players and household names, including, Dick Spring, Donal Spring, Hugo MacNeill and Philip Orr. He was quite an extraordinary man. Interestingly, Ulick O'Connor said about him that he had a magnetism that was not apparent under his almost boyish appearance and witty conservation. He went on to say that with just a slight move of the head, he would say what he was after and would then usually get his way and that when he failed to get into the Seanad, after eight years, in 1976, one could only feel ashamed of the Trinity electorate. However, following that he recovered favour and was re-elected.

Following the by-election mentioned, Trevor West was elected and was re-elected as an Independent in 1973 and 1977. He lost his seat in 1981, but regained it in the first election of 1982. Like many in that period of the troika of elections, he lost it again in 1983. What a tremendous loss he was to this House, particularly at a period when his voice and influence would have made such a difference. I agree to some extent with Ulick O'Connor, that one could feel somewhat ashamed of the Trinity electorate. However, I am sure they have made up for it since with some of the wonderful people elected by that constituency. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group in Seanad Éireann, I extend my deepest sympathy to his much loved wife, Maura Lee, and his brothers John and Brian, his sisters in law, Cecily and Lynda, his stepson Ian and his wife Susanna, nephews and nieces, Michael, Christine, Kerry, Katherine, Eoin and Aoife, his wide circle of friends in Trinity, Midleton college and the world of sport. He is a much loved and much missed figure. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

On behalf of the Labour Party group in the House, as Deputy Leader of Seanad Éireann and as a Trinity College Senator, I am honoured to pay tribute to the late and much missed Trevor West. I welcome his wife, Maura Lee, and his family, including friends of mine, who are in the Visitors Gallery.

I am pleased that we are paying tribute to Trevor West. I knew him personally. When I came to Trinity College Dublin as a student in the late 1980s, he was already a formidable, well known and legendary chair of the Dublin University central athletics committee. As others have said, he served in that role for 30 years. He was immensely well known and well loved on the TCD campus. Others have commented on his sporting prowess and his achievements in cricket and in sport more generally for TCD.

Trevor West's success in saving College Park from development was not only important for Trinity College Dublin and the campus but also for Dublin city centre in the sense that we continue to benefit from a wonderful green space in the middle of Dublin. It is a privilege to have it. Many people from outside the university use it every day in summer for lunches. It is a lovely place to remember Trevor West.

Other speakers have mentioned Trevor West's political career in the Seanad. He was Mary Robinson's election agent. She pays warm tribute to him in her memoir, Everybody Matters, and mentions that he was the famous third signatory of the Bill proposing the legalisation of contraceptives that she introduced in the early 1970s. It was also signed by the former Senator John Horgan.

It has been mentioned in the many obituaries and newspaper tributes that have been paid to Trevor that he made a quiet but significant contribution to reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Many of us were not aware of this remarkable achievement when he was alive. His association with Gusty Spence, in particular, allowed him to play an influential role in nudging the peace process forward.

We should also remember Trevor West's academic work. He was a noted mathematician and a popular lecturer in maths at Trinity College Dublin for many years. He remained popular while imposing discipline as junior dean, which was quite an achievement. His mathematical prowess had been noted at Midleton college and at the High School in Dublin, where he attended secondary school. He apparently got 100% in his intermediate certificate maths examination, which was another remarkable achievement.

It is fair to say he was a real Trinity man. He lived on campus. He was actively involved in the university at every level for many years. As students, we all knew of him and of his immense commitment to the college, his support for events like Trinity Week and the Trinity Ball, his real fondness for students and his commitment to working for them. The contribution Trevor West made to the development of sports on the campus was marked at a recent event in the exam hall at which Trinity Olympians were honoured.

I will always treasure my last memory of Trevor West, which was not too long ago. We exchanged a smile and said "Hello" as we walked through New Square in college. It sums up a man who was very much part of Trinity life. I know Senator Barrett will have many more warm memories to share. In his words, Trevor West was a "bold collegian". He was very much a part of Trinity College Dublin to which he made an immense contribution for many years. He contributed to Irish politics through his work in the Seanad, for which we remember him today. I will conclude by extending my sympathy and that of the Labour Party group to his wife, Maura, his family and many friends and associates in Trinity College Dublin and elsewhere.

Needless to say, I echo everything that has been said by Senator Bacik, by the Leader of the House and by Senator Mooney. We are paying tribute to a remarkable man today. The task endures, the work goes on. Earlier this morning, we sent our condolences to Stewart Dickson, MLA, of the Alliance Party, whose office in Carrickfergus was burnt last night. A representative of the Orange Order addressed this House not long ago. A joint meeting of the North-South Inter-Parliamentary Association took place in the Seanad Chamber some weeks ago. It was jointly chaired by Willie Hay and the Ceann Comhairle. We are working for the Ireland that Trevor worked so hard to achieve.

Trevor West came here over 30 years ago as Mary Robinson's election agent. Decades of service followed. Next Tuesday, we celebrate the 90th anniversary of this House. It arose from a meeting in London the previous month. Those representing the Irish Unionist side sought the establishment of a Senate with Arthur Griffith and President de Valera. They included the provost of Trinity College Dublin, Lord Midleton and Andrew Jameson, the well known distiller. They must have intended that Trevor would be a Senator because he was from Midleton, he was a fellow of Trinity College Dublin and his family was in the malting business supplying the vital ingredients to the Jameson family to make Irish whiskey. He was pre-destined to be a Member of the House that was so well designed by those people 90 years ago. One might say that Trevor was also geographically destined to have such a wonderful career. He came from near Cloyne, which is famous for Bishop Berkeley in an academic sense and for Christy Ring in a sporting sense. It was pre-planned that Trevor would distinguish himself on so many fields of endeavour.

Trevor's career brought him to Cambridge, UCLA, Glasgow and Trinity College Dublin, where he was most at home, as Senator Bacik said. That is where his heart was. His goal was that the minority communities in this state should play their full role in our political life. He was a wonderful example in that regard. He also believed that those communities should reach out to their separated brethren in Northern Ireland. That was accomplished by going to see Gusty Spence. He even persuaded him to take Irish lessons when he was in Long Kesh. Trevor was always thinking of this country as a united island in people's hearts and minds, rather than in terms of lines on maps. He is remembered here in a photograph of the Oireachtas football team, which took on England on 10 June 1978. Given that he is holding the football in the photograph, it is definite that West was the captain on the day. The other footballers in the photograph include Bertie Ahern and the current Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny. They can be seen rallying around the captain as they prepare to take on the Saxons.

Trevor West's notable work on Horace Plunkett was mentioned by Senator Mooney. Horace Plunkett, who was a Member of the First Seanad, founded the co-operative movement. That got him into trouble with many people in the Irish Parliamentary Party because the co-operative movement took business away from the merchant class which dominated that party. Horace Plunkett's Unionist friends did not like him much either because he participated in many events with Nationalists. Trevor West used to tell the story about someone who told Horace Plunkett that it was time to give it all up, and let sleeping dogs lie, because he was equally disliked by Nationalists and Unionists. Horace Plunkett replied by saying he would not let lying dogs sleep, which was a phrase that Trevor liked to use in his political career.

Trevor West's sporting endeavours were described so well by Senator Mooney that there is no need to add much to what has been said. I remember the great day in 1984 when the former Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, came to College Park to plant an ash tree in commemoration of the centenary of the GAA. We reminded him of famous Trinity hurlers like Edward Carson. They had different political careers but were both dedicated to the clash of the ash. Tony O'Reilly once said that Trevor West's contribution to sport was so great that he was the only man in Ireland to have two rugby stands named after him - the Upper West Stand and the Lower West Stand.

In the words of the hymn chosen by Trevor West's family and friends to commemorate him tomorrow, he was the "captain in the well-fought fight". He displayed his steel in his defence of College Park, which was mentioned by Senator Bacik. Some other bureaucrats - he regarded them as his enemies and called them the "forces of darkness" - wanted to amalgamate certain schools in the Cork area. As I recall it, Bandon Grammar School and Midleton College were to disappear into a large school in Cork. Given that Midleton College is still there, we can take it that Trevor fought the well fought fight in that instance. He maintained an interest in Midleton College right up until September this year, when the Minister, Deputy Quinn, went to see him when a new science and technology wing was being opened.

Trevor West's last visit to this Chamber was on 15 December 2011, when the Cathaoirleach most graciously welcomed him. He came back for a final farewell on 15 June last.

He hugely valued this House and all of the people in it. To him, it was a noble place and an enriching experience.

On a further sporting note, an amazing collection of people from Trinity College Dublin seemed almost every year to come back with the Sam Maguire. We would not be famous in that field but that was the case with Joe Brolly, Pat Gilroy last year, Tommy Drumm, Alan Kerins and Frank Foley. Those were wonderful occasions when Ireland's most famous trophy was brought into the dining hall and everybody enjoyed it so much.

Were he here today, Trevor West would have been helping the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Sherlock, on the reform of mathematics. He took, I believe, a dismissive view of the new maths and attempts to modernise the subject but he certainly would have assisted in that important national endeavour.

The tributes have been paid in a full St. Finbarr's Cathedral in Cork by Bishop Paul Colton, when the President and Taoiseach sent their aides-de-camp. The former Tánaiste, Mr. Peter Barry, was probably the most senior Member of the Oireachtas present. Tomorrow, his colleagues will say farewell to him in college chapel. Irish public life, education, sport and North-South relations have gained much from the dedication of a noble man. He has left us a very fine example and enriched the lives of many. He has earned his heavenly reward.

I am very pleased, proud and privileged on behalf of the Sinn Féin Party to pay tribute today to Trevor. I acknowledge the presence of and welcome his wife, Maura, and all of his family and friends who are here and the many who cannot be. I extend my sympathy to his family and friends at their loss.

I am a young Senator and it is my second year in the House. While I did not know Trevor personally, I am aware of his many achievements, which were very eloquently put by the previous speakers and the Leader of the House in regard to his achievements academically, socially, politically and, as I am sure his family would say, his achievements personally in terms of their own fond memories of Trevor.

I was also very honoured to be present in this Chamber earlier this year when the former President, Ms Mary Robinson, addressed the House. She spoke very fondly but also very honestly about her pioneering work on many social and liberal issues over the course of her lifetime and her work here in this House. She spoke about her relationship with Trevor and people like John Horgan, and the work they did on very important social and liberal issues. Many young people today might struggle to understand how difficult that was at the time. We lived in a different Ireland. Issues like contraception might be seen as uncontentious today but they were contentious at that time. We needed people to stand up and be counted, and Trevor, with Mary Robinson and many others, did exactly that, and they did the State some service in those areas.

I am also aware of the very important work he did in building North-South relationships and building up positive relationships with people like Gusty Spence, who is now deceased. It is very important we continue to build on that work and build those relationships. That work is being done. Senator Mooney eloquently pointed to Trevor's vision of what needed to happen to build a successful peace process and conflict resolution process on the island of Ireland.

I again welcome and acknowledge Trevor's many achievements in life. I am sure he will be missed not only by his family and friends but also by the Members of this House and people who truly understand the work people like him did and the service they gave to the State.

I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words of tribute to the late Trevor West. During my years as a Member of the other House and as Dáil Deputy for the constituency of Cork-East, I had occasional representation from the late Trevor West on the matters of both national and local concern to him. Many of his friends and colleagues in east Cork would have mentioned to me on numerous occasions the work, the record and the tradition of Trevor West.

These occasions are an opportunity to reflect. When we think back to the Ireland of the early 1970s - the social and economic conditions at the time of his election to Seanad Éireann for the first time - we can see the work and the progress which has occurred since. That is the real tribute to Trevor West and his colleagues at the time, namely, the transformation of our society economically, socially and politically. Mention has been made in the House, and in the many varied and interesting obituaries, of his record as a legislator and his work with the then Senator Mary Robinson. That will certainly be a lasting tribute.

When the public debate increases about the future or lack of a future of this House, and when we will be defending the institution by highlighting how Seanad Éireann has helped transform and modernise Ireland, the name of Trevor West will be high on the list of people we will present as the case for the defence. There are not many people one could associate with Dáil Éireann as having impacted and changed Irish society but, here in this House, with former Senator Mary Robinson and many people stretching back the decades, people such as Trevor West showed clearly how this House can be used as a political institution of change and a political institution for the common good. That is a legacy Trevor West will leave to us, as Members of the Seanad - the absolute proof of the importance of this House and how it can help and change Irish society.

If one were to sum up Trevor West's career and his qualities, in light of the touching tribute from his friend and colleague, Senator Sean Barrett, I think courage and conviction would have to be at the top of the chosen words. Again, the Ireland of the early, mid and even late 1970s was a difficult Ireland in which to argue for major social change but he not only had strong views, he expressed and advocated those views fearlessly and without favour. For that, we owe him a debt of gratitude.

Like most of the substantial and truly important work in regard to the broader peace process, his work on Northern Ireland was done without fanfare, without media, without cameras and without microphones. It was the painstaking work of building and maintaining friendships, of opening doors and of taking the very difficult decision to talk with, work with and travel with people one would possibly disagree with. We can all walk and chat, or wine and dine, with our friends; it is only when one meets, works with and befriends people from a different community and a different perspective that one truly makes progress. His part in the peace process is very much unwritten but is truly substantial. When the history books are written, the Aherns, the Fitzgeralds, the Barrys and the Springs may occupy the first pages, but very substantial paragraphs will have to be written about people such as Trevor West because they made a true difference in getting people together, in building friendships and in building real bridges to peace. That is a great tribute to him.

On a lighter note, Senator Barrett stole my lines in regard to the lovely picture in the Members' Bar. While we all leave this House and move on, people may quickly forget us. However, when Senator West passed away some weeks ago and many of our newer colleagues asked "Who was Trevor West?", they were told that if they went to the Dáil bar, he is there in the picture of the soccer team with Enda Kenny and Bertie Ahern and, suddenly, everybody remembered. However, even in regard to the bringing together of that parliamentary soccer team, which he organised, while in the Ireland of 2012 we would say "So what", in the Ireland of 1977 or 1978, when the picture was taken, it was a slightly more difficult and more sensitive task.

First, that the Oireachtas would have a soccer team and, second, that it would play against a Westminster soccer team. This is but one part of the jigsaw which made up the late Trevor West, and many others like him, who believed in reconciliation, being positively different and taking the extra stride for progress and peace. I extend my deepest sympathy to his wife, family and friends, all of whom can be assured that his substantial record of political, social, economic and, obviously, academic achievement will be long remembered. He was a person of whom we in this House, and all who wish to serve here, can be proud. I am proud that he was a Member of this House.

Some of the photographs in the Members' Bar often find their way into the national media. I presume the ban was over when the photograph concerned was taken. There are some notable all-Ireland winners in it.

I would like to be associated with the fine tributes to the late Trevor West, who was a Member of this House from 1969 to 1982, representing Trinity College, Dublin. While I did not serve in this House with the former Senator, I have welcomed him here on a number of occasions and met him from time to time. Based on what has been said here today and from what I have heard from colleagues who served with him over the years, he was a thorough gentleman.

The late Trevor West served in this House from 1969 to 1982, which is 13 years. The average length of time which Members serve in both Houses of the Oireachtas is 12 years. As such, he spent more than the average length of time as a Member of the Seanad. While that was not his main business, he was an astute and well respected politician. His main career was as an academic in Trinity College, Dublin, where he was a lecturer and associate professor of mathematics.

I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to his wife, Maura, and extended family, who are in the Visitors Gallery. They are very welcome.

Members rose.
Sitting suspended at 12.45 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.