We pay tribute to our late colleague, the former Senator Tom Fitzgerald, from Corca Dhuibhne, Dingle. I welcome his wife and family and given the size of the contingent, it appears half of An Daingean is present for this auspicious occasion. I invite the Leader to commence the tributes to our late esteemed colleague, Tom Fitzgerald.
Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy
I am privileged to lead the tributes to the late Tom Fitzgerald, former Senator, who sadly passed away last year. I express my sincere sympathy to Tom's family, to his wife, Bridie, their children Michelle, Breandán and Tom who are present, and also to his brothers and sister and a wide circle of friends, many of whom are present.
Tom was an excellent public representative who was strongly committed to Kerry and, particularly, to Dingle and the Corca Dhuibhne Gaeltacht. He was also a custodian of the Irish language and a strong voice for the protection and development of the language. Tom had many interests but was a noteworthy advocate of rural and maritime affairs. This was very much reflected in the particular interest and commitment Tom took in the development of Dingle Harbour and the marina. He was a driving force behind these developments and was also a member of the sailing club where he was a major force in lobbying and fundraising for the marina centre.
In his later years, I understand Tom enjoyed sitting in the restaurant at the marina while admiring the sight of the marina and the sailing courses and other activities that have been developed as a result of his interest in the harbour. Tom was a regular companion at the side of former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, and was regularly recognised as his confidante. He often credited the former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, for putting Dingle on the map, due to the large amount of time he spent holidaying in Inishvickillane. Shortly before he death, Mr. Haughey returned with Tom to his much cherished holiday home in Inishvickillane and it must have been a poignant moment for both at that point in time. Tom was deeply committed to his family and family life and, as such, I again express my sincere sympathy to his family, who are present, and his colleagues in Fianna Fáil.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a ainm dílis.
Is cuimhin liom, nuair a tháinig mé go dtí an Teach seo don chéad uair mar Sheanadóir, níos óige ná mar atá mé i láthair na huaire, go raibh Tom Fitzgerald anseo romham. Bhí orainn an-chuid a fhoghlaim faoin gcóras anseo sa Seanad ag an am agus is cuimhin liom gur tháinig Tom chugam agus go ndúirt sé liom dá bhféadfadh sé aon chabhair in aon chor a thabhairt dom, go mbeadh sé ar fáil aon am. Ar ndóigh, ghlac mé leis an gcabhair sin agus le comhairle uaidh chomh maith. An rud is mó a chuaigh i bhfeidhm orm ná gur thuig sé go raibh cabhair den tsaghas sin ag teastáil ó Sheanadóir nua ag teacht isteach anseo. Chomh maith le sin, thuig sé dá mba rud é go raibh Seanadóir chun aon rud fiúntach a dhéanamh anseo, go gcaithfeadh sé tuiscint domhain a bheith aige ar an státchóras, an Seanad agus gach rud a bhaineann leis.
Ag féachaint siar anois ar bhóithrín na smaointe agus na rudaí a dhein Tom, i ngach a dhein sé bhí sé "díograiseach" agus "dílis" agus sin an dá fhocal a thagann chugam i gcónaí nuair a smaoiním ar Tom Fitzgerald. Bhí sé díograiseach mar thuig sé i gcónaí go raibh sé anseo toisc go raibh an pobal ag brath air chun rudaí áirithe a dhéanamh. Bhí sé i gcónaí oscailte ina thuairimí agus gach seans a bhí aige, bhí sé i gcónaí ar thaobh an duine a bhí thíos, dearcadh atá tábhachtach i gcónaí. Bhí tuiscint aige ar chonas is féidir rudaí a dhéanamh. Dar ndóigh, baineann sin linn uilig. Muna bhfuil muid in ann dul i ngleic le deacrachtaí a thagann chun tosaigh nuair a bhíonn muid anseo agus muna dtuigeann muid conas labhairt le na daoine cearta, ní bheidh aon torthaí ar ár gcuid oibre. Thuig Tom é sin go maith agus gach seans a bhí aige, sheas sé an fód, ní hamháin ar son an tSeanaid ná ar son an phobail, ach de bharr na tuisceana a bhí aige ar chad ba chóir a dhéanamh.
Bhí an-áthas orm go raibh an comhrá eadrainn beagnach i gcónaí trí Ghaeilge, mar bhí ard-mheas agus grá aige don dúchas as a tháinig sé agus dá chontae, Contae Chiarraí, agus do na Ciarraígh beannaithe ar fad a bhí thart timpeall ag an am sin. De bharr go raibh an grá sin aige do Chontae Chiarraí agus dá dhúchas, bhí dóchas aige don tír uilig. Dúradh cheana féin gur iascaire den scoth a bhí ann. Thuig sé go maith céard iad na dúshláin a bhí ag iascairí, ní hamháin i gCiarraí, ach in áiteanna eile chomh maith, mar bhí cultúr faoi leith ag baint le iascaireacht, faoi mar atá cultúr faoi leith ag baint le feirmeoireacht. Thuig sé an cultúr sin. Bhí iascairí a bhí ag brath ar mhaireachtáil a bhaint amach dóibh féin agus níl aon amhras ach go raibh Tom ann i gcónaí chun a gcás a chur chun tosaigh. Mar is eol dúinn, ní raibh sin ró-shimplí a dhéanamh.
Luaigh an Ceannaire níos luaithe gur dlúth cara é Tom le C.J. Haughey agus bhí sin fíor. Bhí Tom thar a bheith bródúil as an gcairdeas sin agus bhí sé oscailte faoin gcairdeas sin chomh maith. Gach uair a ndeachaigh an tUasal Ó hEochaidh go Ciarraí, ba é Tom a bhuail leis i dtosach, ní hamháin ar an oileán, ach i nDaingean Uí Chúis chomh maith. Ag aon searmanas nó ócáid, bhí Tom ag seasamh lena thaobh. Déarfainn gur thug sin an-mhisneach don Uasal Ó hEochaidh féin. Nuair a bhí deacrachtaí pearsanta aige, sheas Tom leis. Sin an díograis agus an dílseacht a bhí ann.
Tá aithne an-mhaith agam ar Bridie agus bhuaileamar le chéile Dé hAoine seo caite thíos i gCorcaigh ag ócáid Ghaelach a bhí thar a bheith suimiúil. Bhí an-áthas orm go raibh seans agam labhairt léi agus is trua nach raibh seans níos mó agam. Tuigim chomh maith an tslí inar oibrigh an bheirt acu, Tom agus Bridie, le chéile, mar ní bheadh Tom in ann an t-am a thug sé dá phost anseo a dhéanamh ach amháin go raibh an tacaíocht aige a thug Bridie agus an chlann dó.
Tá mise agus Fianna Fáil thar a bheith mórálach as Tom Fitzgerald mar chara agus mar chomhghleacaí. Tá a fhios maith agam, nuair a bhíonn agus nuair a bheidh daoine cosúil le Tom Fitzgerald in éineacht linn agus ar ár dtaobh, go dtugann sin misneach dúinn leanúint ar aghaidh. Tuigeann gach éinne nach saol bog é an saol polaitiúil ar aon bhealach. Bíonn an-chuid dúshlán romhainn agus an-chuid cruachás chomh maith, ach nuair a bhíonn comhghleacaithe againn atá ag obair as lámh a chéile agus nuair is féidir linn muinín a bheith againn astu, bíonn an obair i bhfad níos simplí.
Sin mar a bhí an scéal le Tom Fitzgerald. Ní dóigh liom go ndéanfar dearmad riamh ar an bhfear, ar na prionsabail a bhí aige ná ar an seasmhacht a bhain leis. An fhad agus a bheidh béaloideas ag baint leis an saol phoiblí, beidh ainm Tom Fitzgerald ag teacht ar aghaidh arís agus arís eile sna scéalta sin chomh maith.
Is mian liom comhbhrón ó chroí a dhéanamh le Bridie agus leis an gclann uilig. Is féidir leo a bheith thar a bheith mórálach as an laoch mór sin a sheas ní hamháin le Fianna Fáil agus an Seanad, ach leis an náisiún ar fad. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.
On behalf of the Labour Party group in the Seanad, I welcome to the Chamber the family of late Senator Tom Fitzgerald. I welcome, in particular, his wife Bridie, his children and other members of his family.
Senators Cummins and Ó Murchú spoke very eloquently about the career of former Senator Fitzgerald. He was a Senator, for Fianna Fáil, for a total of 13 years. He once served as the Government Chief Whip in the Seanad. We have a Government Chief Whip from Kerry at present so there is some continuity.
Tom Fitzgerald was strongly committed to his local area, particularly Dingle and the Gaeltacht, as Senator Cummins said. He had a passion for the Irish language. It was lovely to hear Senator Ó Murchú giving his tribute as Gaeilge. Tom had a passion for rural and maritime affairs and he worked hard to promote Dingle Harbour and its marina.
Others have referred to Tom's closeness to former Taoiseach Charles Haughey and his connection with Inishvickillane, the well-known holiday destination of the former Taoiseach. As Senator Ó Murchú said, Tom could not have fulfilled his political career without the immense support he received from his family. I pass on our very sincere sympathies and condolences to Tom's family, friends and community in Dingle.
I will contribute later if that is acceptable.
I suppose we must give priority to the green and gold today.
I am sure Tom would agree with the ruling from the Chair.
Having celebrated one legend last night, it is fitting that we celebrate another today. I am sure Tom would have enjoyed being at the event last night to celebrate Páidí Ó Sé. It is sad for an area such as Dingle to lose two such characters. They were famous in their lifetimes throughout the country and the world.
When I was elected to the Seanad, Tom Fitzgerald was good enough to give me some great advice, much of which one would never see written in any book. This is the best advice one could ever get. Tom had a long and prestigious career in Kerry County Council in addition to Seanad Éireann. When one walks down the corridors in the premises of Kerry County Council, as Tom did when representing his constituents and as I hope Breandán will do, one sees a picture on the wall of Tom smiling down on us, perhaps with knowledge of what needs to be done to get things done. As a politician, Tom got things done, including through his chairmanship of Dingle Harbour Commissioners. We have all seen the photograph of Dingle in the 1960s and comparisons between the pier then and now. The pier today is a world-class facility, thanks to the ability, guile and cunning of Tom Fitzgerald in ensuring his area would get the best of what was available.
It was Tom's ability to make friends, not only within his own party but across the House, that ensured he was much loved and respected in both this Chamber and his native County Kerry. He had a tough political career. When one gets elected to the Seanad, one assumes one's term will be five years. Famously in the 1980s, no sooner had one got over one gruelling election than one had to face another. This must have been tough for all concerned, not only Mr. Fitzgerald but also Bridie and the rest of the family. Tom survived this, however, and prevailed in the end, serving with distinction. As my colleague, Senator Ó Murchú, has pointed out, however, it was not the sum total of his entire contribution.
One phenomenon that put Dingle on the map, in addition to Tom and Páidí, was the famous film "Ryan's Daughter". There is a great documentary thereon in which Tom features. He talks about how the film-makers approached him when making the set and asked him whether he had plywood, which was an innovation at the time. Tom said he had and when asked how much he replied he had three sheets. He asked how many were needed and the film-makers said 300. He duly delivered, as he always did, and the set was made. Not only was the famous Oscar-winning film made but Tom became a stand-in for Robert Mitchum. The film put Dingle on the map and attracted visitors thereto from all over the world. Tom made sure there was hospitality and facilities for people to enjoy when they arrived.
Tom brought Charlie Haughey to Dingle and ensured that when he arrived, he had the greatest of friends. Tom and Charlie were genuine friends and there was great warmth between them. I am sure that when former Taoiseach Charles Haughey stepped down, it was a big blow to Tom. Tom, however, continued to serve his community throughout his political career. He always focused on Dingle and his native place, as did Páidí Ó Sé.
The loss of Tom is huge to his family but it is great to see his son Breandán continuing the tradition of public service by putting his name forward for the next election. I hope Charlie, Tom and Páidí are all smiling down on us today. Please God, they will all be present at the count and the celebrations when Breandán gets elected.
I can agree totally with Senator Daly today and with everything that has been said. It is all very true. Tom, as has been said, was a man of great wit and humour. He was a true friend and a man whose smile always led to a very good chat. He was pleasant and always very easy to get on with. I served with him here from 1997 until 2002. One of my greatest honours was being a member of the Dingle Harbour Commissioners from 1991 until 1997, when Tom was the chairman. He was a very fair chairman and was very good to me. We differed politically but I was the only Fine Gael man on the board. Tom was the greatest friend I could have had serving on it.
When talking about the loss of Tom, I obviously find it difficult to be humorous. Everything that has been said about him and the late Charlie Haughey is true. They were great friends. Tom was the official, or unofficial, caretaker of the island of Inishvickillaun. A great story, apocryphal or otherwise, that Senators have probably all heard is about when Charlie's house was being built on the island. Tom was the chief caretaker or supervisor. A bad storm like the one we are experiencing at present struck the island and the workmen were marooned. Apparently the basement had been constructed and the late Taoiseach had installed some very good wines from a famous French château. The workmen decided it would be a shame to see it go to waste and laid into it as they had nothing else to pass the time in the evenings when they were marooned. Eventually, the storm passed and the boys decided that, when in Dingle, they had better replace the stock. With this in mind, they purchased some very ordinary plonk in the local supermarket.
One can imagine what the Boss thought - I never heard.
As for the stories Tom used to tell and the advice he gave, as Senator Daly has noted, it was not recorded in any book but probably was the best advice we all received at different times. I remember the filming of "Ryan's Daughter" as a young fellow working in Killarney and I believe we bought some of the stuff, such as chairs and so on, at auction afterwards. However, as has been said, Tom was a stand-in for Robert Mitchum and no doubt he was suitable because he had the stature and so on. However, he did a great deal for the Dingle Peninsula. I can remember the special effects man, Eddie Fowlie, who was one of the guys I got to know on the shoot and the help they received from Tom was simply unbelievable throughout.
Tom made sure I was appointed to the harbour board. He led the successful campaign to have a harbourmaster appointed and put me on the interview board with the then Secretary General of the Department of the Marine and another harbourmaster. I believe Tom was pleased by the outcome and the person was appointed. Talking about being marooned, I used to love attending those meetings, which took place monthly on Saturdays. I got marooned myself a few times and was unable to get out of Dingle but that is another story. Tom was a great and true friend who never let anyone down in this House. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis. I also am delighted to welcome Bridie and the entire family to the House today and we will have a good chat afterwards.
I am both honoured and saddened to have the privilege of saying a few words in the presence of Tom Fitzgerald's family. Fitzgerald is a very distinguished name in that part of the country, as there is the Knight of Kerry, the White Knight and the Knight of Glin and in that illustrious panoply, Tom Fitzgerald added a great lustre. He had various passions, of which the language was one and the marina another. He was a man of vision who managed to bring that vision to pass. He was in this House when I was first elected because although he was elected repeatedly, there were gaps in his career when the turbulence of political life meant he was not a Member of this House. However, he was a Member in my very first term and as I told Tom a number of times, I heard him speak on my very first day. I did not know much about what the Senate was about and he made the most magnificent speech on a fisheries Bill. I approached him afterwards and told him his speech was absolutely fascinating, was one of the best I had ever heard and that, having heard his words, I was proud to be part of this Senate. His reply was to ask why would he not, as he had a trawler. However, it was of great importance that the House had such people who came from the coalface and who knew exactly what were the problems. Moreover, had people like Tom Fitzgerald or indeed the Leas-Chathaoirleach been listened to, we might be in a much better position now with regard to the fishing industry, which we betrayed and gave away at the time of Ireland's entry into the European Union.
However, I am glad to state I became a friend of Tom and always enjoyed a chat with him. He was one of the great storytellers and that may have something to do with the air, the minerals, the grass, the milk or the whiskey down in County Kerry. Other examples are Joe O'Toole - it is a pity he is not present because he was a great friend of Tom Fitzgerald and also is from Dingle - Senator Ned O'Sullivan, another great Kerry man, and Senator Paul Coghlan himself, who is a man who both tells and enjoys a great story.
There was always a great twinkle in Tom's eye and there never was anything nasty about Tom Fitzgerald. One of his greatest qualities was loyalty and I am glad his friendship with Mr. Haughey has been mentioned very courteously by Senator Cummins. He shared a friendship with Mr. Haughey that was based in part on a love of the sea and in part on an appreciation of the natural beauty of County Kerry, in particular, of Inishvickillane and so on. Unlike some others, however, when Mr. Haughey's career hit a patch of turbulence - and believe me, I had my two days with the same Mr. Haughey - he never turned against him. He never spoke a bitter or derogatory word and I greatly admired that about him because such loyalty and friendship is an admirable thing. Not so many people retained that kind of loyalty, another being another good friend of mine, Anthony Cronin.
It is difficult to believe we will not be in that genial presence any more and public life is greatly diminished by the death of our friend, Tom Fitzgerald. I believe he was a friend of everyone in this House and I extend my sympathy to his family, a family of which he was very proud and whose company he enjoyed thoroughly. While he enjoyed it here, he enjoyed even more going back home to Kerry, which was his real home.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the opportunity to speak today and I welcome Ms Fitzgerald and Tom's family and friends to the Gallery. I did not have the privilege of working in the Seanad with Senator Fitzgerald, who served before my time. However, I did have occasions to meet him when I worked with my former boss, the former Deputy Breeda Moynihan-Cronin in Kerry South. Tom's love for the Irish language and his dedication to serving the people of Dingle and further afield was well known by everyone in County Kerry and beyond. I am delighted to be present today to listen to the lovely tributes and to the stories of the time spent here with Senator Fitzgerald. I extend my sympathy to his wife, family and friends in the Gallery.
I join in the tributes that are being paid to Tom today in the Seanad Chamber. I welcome his wife, Bridie, his children and his many family members and friends who have gathered in the Gallery today. On behalf of the Sinn Féin group in the Seanad, I extend my sympathies to them. I am always conscious that on such occasions, it is a bittersweet event for the family and for those who would have known Tom personally. It obviously is a joyous occasion when Members take the opportunity and the time to remember the sacrifice made by Tom, as well as the huge level of service he gave to his party first and foremost, to his family and to the people of County Kerry, Dingle and this State. Members have heard from people who knew Tom very well and even in emotional terms from one Senator. He obviously was held in high regard and made a huge contribution to public life in County Kerry and to this State. However, I am sure this also is a sad occasion in many respects for the family and I hope they enjoy the occasion and the rest of the day here. Again, on behalf of the Sinn Féin Party, I extend my sympathies to the family and to all his friends. I am sure he will be sadly missed by the people of Dingle and the people of County Kerry.
I wish to join in the tributes from all sides of the House to a giant of a man. I had the pleasure of serving with Tom over a number of years.
I remember in particular his period as Government Chief Whip, as alluded to by Senator Bacik. The job of a Whip, as Senator Coghlan will know, is not the easiest job in the world, and one needs a particular type of temperament. Senator Coghlan follows in the proud tradition of Senator Fitzgerald in that regard. Temperament is all, and I can never remember a time when Tom would have been in any way insulting or critical of Members on all sides of the House, but particularly in his job as Chief Whip. He was very easy to get on with.
There was a certain star quality about Tom as well, and Senator Daly referred to his time in "Ryan's Daughter". All of us were very much aware of the central role he played in that regard and I could not help but reflect that it is ironic that in the week we are paying this tribute to former Senator Fitzgerald, one of the stars of that movie, Christopher Jones, whom Tom would have known during that period, passed away in America. I could not help but reflect also on the impact that film made in the Dingle Peninsula. Some figures indicate that over £1 million was injected into the local economy, which was an enormous sum of money at the time, particularly in an area that was severely economically disadvantaged, and it was from that background and that environment that Tom came. It was not surprising, therefore, that he fought tenaciously, and very successfully, to improve and update the facilities in his beloved native Dingle.
I agree with those who spoke about Tom's loyalty. It was not easy to be a supporter of Charles Haughey during a particular period of our development in the 1990s, but Tom had a friendship with Charlie Haughey that transcended politics. While people used to slag him a little about it, he always took it in good part but we all knew that Tom thought the world of Charlie Haughey and that he was a very close friend and confidant to him. He had great pride in the fact that he was able to have Mr. Haughey visit Dingle, particularly for the regatta, during that period.
The memories of Tom are happy ones, and I know the same is true for his family. He was a big loss to this House when he left due to ill-health. He had his political ups and downs. I recall the day he lost his seat here, not on the first occasion but in the latter years. It was a crushing blow to him because he loved this House and he loved being a parliamentarian. It was with great joy that we all welcomed, within a few weeks, the announcement by the then Taoiseach that he had appointed Tom to the Seanad, where he resumed his role with great efficiency. I have great affection for and great memories of a great man. To his wife Bridie and family, ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
I welcome all Tom's friends and relations who are in the Gallery. In the university Senators' offices we have a fantastic connection with the Kingdom. These insights into Tom Fitzgerald come from Seamus, Dónal, Joe, Aoife, Frank and Norah. They said his character was moulded by two very strong women - his mother, Nell Brien, and his wife, Bridie. He was a strong republican who was proud of coming from the same town as Tomás Ashe, Lispole. As we have heard, he was an expert on the marine, very popular and a man of great heart.
The story goes, and ní dóigh liom go bhfuil sé fíor, Bridie, that after he was appointed to the censorship board, somebody called to the house and asked, "An bhfuil Tom istigh?" to which Bridie replied, "Tá sé ag féachaint ar na salachaí." We will have to check whether that story is true. B'fhéidir go bhfuil sé fíor. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I would like to welcome Bridie and the family of Tom Fitzgerald to the House. It is a wonderful tribute to the late Senator Tom Fitzgerald that his family and friends are present in such great numbers. We have had many tributes in this House over the years but this is one of the biggest groups that has ever come before it. It shows the loss of Tom to his wife Bridie and his family. He was a wonderful man. I knew him on the basis of bringing legislation from the other House to this House. As Whip he was always courteous, helpful, supportive and a great parliamentarian.
Tom had a wonderful career. He was a councillor. He was very involved in "Ryan's Daughter". Being a stand-in for Robert Mitchum was a great achievement. They looked quite alike physically. I often spoke to him about that. It was a wonderful period in the life and times of Dingle and the entire peninsula. The contributions are true in regard to the development of Dingle, the marina, Tom's friendship with the late Charles J. Haughey, and his involvement with the Blasket Islands, the Blasket Islands Bill and Inishvickillane.
Tom had a wonderful career and he was a wonderful friend to everyone who served either in the Dáil or the Seanad. He had great knowledge of the marine, Irish life and politics.
When I was in the Department of Industry and Commerce, on one occasion I was in Jury's Hotel, where I believe Tom stayed at the time. I was attending an important function and coming from Roscommon, we did not have too many white shirts at that time. He literally took the shirt off his back and gave me a new white shirt with short sleeves, which I think I still have - it was very good quality. That was an indication of his generosity. That is a true story to show he was open, friendly and generous. I used to have great fun with him after that when I would say he would literally take the shirt off his back for someone. That is as good a tribute as one can pay to anyone. Go raibh maith agat.
As it lasted, it must have been a Charvet shirt.
No, it was not.
I am delighted to be here today because of what I am learning about Tom. When I was elected to the Seanad in 1993, I knew nothing about politics. I knew nothing about this House, but the very first person I met when I came in the door was Tom Fitzgerald, who introduced himself to me and said, "I'll show you around." He showed me around the entire House, which he knew back to front and inside out. Not only did he show me around, he was full of anecdotes, stories and humour. Having spent an hour or two with him I got to know the House, and I enjoyed his company.
A week or two later I got a phone call from Gordon Wilson, who had just accepted a nomination to become a Senator. He did not know anybody in the House except me, so I showed him around this House based on everything I had learned from Tom. Gordon had not met Tom at that stage, as it was his first visit to the House, and coming from Northern Ireland he did not have quite the same experience or knowledge. I was a fund of knowledge but credited that to Tom on every occasion during that visit. I introduced Tom to Gordon Wilson later, and they became good buddies.
I am glad to be here today because I have learned much more about Tom. I served here with him for a number of years. He was a wonderful speaker as Gaeilge but also as Bearla. He was also committed to particular issues. Rather like the Leas-Chathaoirleach, he had a commitment to the sea, to Kerry and to his family. I look forward to meeting Bridie and the family later. We have heard so much about Tom's family life and his commitment to his family. I have learned a great deal more today about the knowledge that he had.
The great American short story writer, O. Henry, wrote a lovely story about an invitation to the funeral of an old lady with whom most people had lost contact. They came to the funeral in her home, and she met them at the door. They told her they thought this was her funeral, but she said, "Yes, but I would not miss it for anything so I'm having it before I go. I want to hear what they say about me." It is a lovely story but it reminds me that Tom would have enjoyed being here today. Perhaps we should rethink these things in some way.
Quo Vadis, a book about what Jesus was wearing when he was crucified, made the headlines when it was written many years ago.
According to the story, one of the Romans said to a Christian that he was not sure he liked the idea of the Christian's God. The Romans had a variety of gods but the Christians only had one. The Roman argued that Jesus should have started as a student before going on to become a soldier, a hero and a senator. All of his friends would then have gathered around him while he ascended to Heaven. That did not happen, however. Perhaps we should think about how we can be reminded of those such as Tom who have done such a good job. I would love to think that he could have been here for these statements. However, Bridie and his family and friends are here in large numbers and all of us know Tom a lot better than we did before we came into the Chamber today. I hope this is a day that Bridie and Tom's family and friends will remember and that they take home with them the memory of how much we appreciated that great man.
As leader of the Fianna Fáil group in the Seanad it is an honour to say a few words about Tom. As Bridie, Michelle, Breandán, Tommy and the rest of the family will be aware, Tom's reputation spread far beyond the Dingle Peninsula and County Kerry. He was very well known in north County Dublin, where I live, and in the Malahide-Kinsealy area because of Mr. Haughey, who I had the pleasure of meeting. I see a good friend of mine, Siobhan O'Connor, in the Gallery, along with the O'Connor and Haughey families, who travelled to Kerry on a regular basis. I never served in this House with Tom but, from the heartfelt and personal tributes that have been paid by Members across the House, Bridie and her children will be aware of the esteem in which their late husband and father was held. I hope these tributes will go some way towards softening the loss they are feeling.
Tom was a loyal servant of Fianna Fáil and a proud representative of County Kerry both in the county council and during the 13 years he served in the Seanad. I am sure all of us would like to be flies on the wall in Heaven while he and Mr. Haughey discuss various events. This is a sad day but also a proud one for his family given the high esteem in which he was held by his colleagues on all sides of this House. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I join my colleagues in paying tribute to the former Senator and county councillor, Tom Fitzgerald, and welcoming his wife, Bridie, his sons and daughter, and our colleague from the Lower House, Deputy Calleary, to the Gallery. I first met Tom while I was actively involved in Ógra Fianna Fáil. He regularly attended our conferences and, like Deputy Coghlan, I was marooned with him on many occasions. I always enjoyed his stories about rural Ireland and his maritime activities, which he told with a twinkle in his eye. He was a loyal friend to Charlie Haughey and the more people attacked Charlie, the more Tom took pride in defending him. Tom was also a film censor, a job he greatly enjoyed. This role came about as a result of his active involvement in the filming of "Ryan's Daughter" in Dingle. I offer my sympathies to his wife, family and everybody else who knew him. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
It now falls to me to say a few words. If I go with the script I have before me I will lose the real thrust of what I knew about my late friend, Tom Fitzgerald. He was a friend, colleague and mentor to me for many years. The first thing he would say to me if he was here is "what in the name of God are you doing in that chair?" The Cathaoirleach and Senator O'Sullivan, who are currently abroad on Seanad business, would love to be here to pay tribute to Tom. Senator O'Sullivan rang me to ask whether we could reschedule our statements but, unfortunately, the plans had already been made.
I was appointed to the Seanad by the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, on 27 October 1989 but I knew Tom previously because he canvassed me for a vote in the Seanad election of 1985 while I was a member of Cork County Council. We got on well from the outset. He was a mentor to me and was Government Whip. Coming from Dingle, he had a great knowledge of fishing and, as all those who belonged to me were fishermen, we had a lot in common. We used to discuss the rising tides and tell seanchaí stories.
For my sins, I was in Gael Linn in the townland of Fahan, out beyond Ceann Trá, with the Long family. I was only a child then, in 1966 or 1967. I will not go into the story of how I got there. The address was Fahan, Tralee, County Kerry. A neighbour with a transit van picked up my late mother and father and I, along with another fellow, and we ventured off to find the Long family. We travelled first to Tralee, which is a roundabout way from Bantry, and we went over the Conor Pass and into Dingle at 10.30 p.m. on a Sunday evening. My father refused to leave Dingle without going into Paddy Bawn Brosnan's pub. He took down the four all-Ireland medals - I will never forget those memories. By the time we reached the Long household, the family had gone to bed. We were lucky that we did not have to return the way we came. I often regaled Tom with that story. There is a bit of Dingle blood in me still because I went to school in Chill Mac an Domhnaigh for three months. One of the girls of the Long family now runs a pub in Dingle.
To be a Whip in the Seanad, one must be not only stern and strong but also a mighty rogue. Tom was a bit of a card in that regard. Senator Coghlan is the finest rogue Kerry every produced and Senator Wilson is not far behind him. On one occasion nobody on the Government side was in the Chamber and all hell broke lose. I had been asked by the then Cathaoirleach, the late Seán Doherty, to travel in his stead to a three day meeting in Rome. I had never been out of the country as a Senator and my bags were all packed. The aforementioned incident caused huge embarrassment for the Government and the Taoiseach, Charlie Haughey, was irate. He called a special meeting of the Seanad group at 3 p.m. the following Sunday. As I was just about to travel to Dublin to take the flight, I rang Tom for advice. I was not happy at what he told me, which was that I would attend the meeting if I had an ounce of sense because it was a critical meeting.
He said to forget about the trip to Rome and the Pope or whoever else I was going to see. I took his advice and I was glad I attended the meeting. Changes were made and, as a result of that debacle, Tom was appointed as Whip in the Chamber. There are many more stories but because of the sensitivities of the House and Tom's position on the censorship board, the Clerk and the Seanad officials would not allow me to regale Members with them. Some of them are of a funny nature and some are set in hostelries outside this establishment.
We were very good friends. He was a great family man and he always spoke of his wife Bridie, his two sons, Breandán and Tomás, and his daughter, Michelle. I remember the affection and love for Dingle and Kerry. We would have a rumpus during the Munster final but when it was over we were the best of friends. He was a proud Kerry man and he had a great interest in rural Ireland and where he came from, Dingle, Kerry, and in the fishing industry. Many people in this House and in the Lower House believe there is not enough representation of rural communities such as the one I come from in the Sheep's Head peninsula or in Dingle. There is not enough being said for the support of rural Ireland in either Chamber but Tom was very strong on that issue.
I will not go through the various elections he stood for, which include standing in council elections in 1979. He was a Member of this House on many occasions and he stood unsuccessfully for the Dáil on one occasion. I wish I had only one unsuccessful attempt. I have fond memories of him. It was deemed that I am in charge of these proceedings as Leas-Chathaoirleach. I extend my sincere sympathy officially to Bridie, his sons Breandán and Tomás, his daughter, Michelle, and to his extended family. I am also proud to see that they have adopted a man from Cahirkeem Urhin in Corca Dhuibne and I am delighted to see him here. We will rise to say a prayer and I have no doubt Tom is looking down upon us.