It is a great honour for me to be able to participate in this tribute to the late Maurice Hayes and to do so in particular in the presence of his family, including his wife, Joan, his daughters, Clodagh, Margaret and Dara, and his sons, Garrett and Ronan, as well as their extended families and connections who are in the House today.
Maurice Hayes was born in 1927 in Killough in County Down. The interesting thing is that in 1987 he retired because he reached the mandatory retiring age of 60 years. By 1995 he had written two volumes of autobiography. They are fascinating accounts of his life, growing up, his involvement in the GAA and his involvement in the Northern Ireland Civil Service, including his ascent through the Northern Ireland Civil Service to positions of great seniority. One point that came across to me and that was self-evident to everyone he met was that his ability brought him to the top of the administration in Northern Ireland at a time when people from his background could not expect to be treated fairly at a time of promotion. His ability, wisdom, likeability and commitment to serving his community guaranteed that his talents would be recognised, even in a society not prone to giving a fair crack at the whip to everyone at a time of promotion.
Apart from becoming permanent secretary of a department in Northern Ireland, he was to serve as the chairman of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Commission. When he retired 30 years ago he had many years of public service to perform, including terms as the Northern Ireland Ombudsman and playing a major role in 1998 as part of the peace process in Northern Ireland by participating in the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland. He was not simply another member in the Patten commission. He had intimate knowledge of the affairs of Northern Ireland as well as the fears and concerns of both communities. He played a major role in enabling Christopher Patten and his commission to come up with a formula that eventually gave rise to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which has been a dramatic success. The existence of that body and its success is a monument to Maurice Hayes.
At that time in 1998, Maurice Hayes was a Member of this House, having been appointed by the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. It is worthwhile reminding ourselves of his time here. It has been said that he did not always intervene, and that is true. The first occasion he spoke was in a debate on the Ombudsman report. He said:
I spent all my life in the public service. I feel like a barman who finds himself on the wrong side of the counter, and having seen what it has done to his customers in the past, is afraid of getting a taste for it. I am a non-affiliated Independent Member of the Seanad. It gives me great pleasure to be sitting in the seat occupied by my old friend, Gordon Wilson, and that I follow my fellow townsman, John Robb, into the Seanad. I am grateful to the Taoiseach for his nomination and I am even more grateful for the generosity with which he accommodated my wish to remain Independent. I wanted to remain Independent because, coming from Northern Ireland, I wanted to respect the bipartisan policy on Northern Ireland which has been maintained in the Oireachtas over the years... I wanted to follow the precedent set by that great public servant, Dr. Ken Whitaker, who accepted the nomination on an independent basis to underline the political neutrality of the Civil Service, North and South, and I hope I can do that. Given those constraints, I hope I can be useful to the House.
He was useful to the House. I was a Minister from 2002 to 2007. Many Members in the House now who were present in the years when he was a Member will note that he was not given to making speeches for their own sake. As has been commented on before, every time he spoke he was listened to with great attention. Those were his first words on coming into the House. I would like to remember what he said about his role in this House on the last occasion he spoke, on 4 July 2007. He said:
The Taoiseach has done me a great honour and being allowed to serve in this way is a privilege I do not take lightly. Not only has it been a privilege, it has been a pleasure and I thank Members on all sides for the general courtesy and welcome that has been extended to me during my time here.
I want to remind the House of what he did in those years. He chaired the National Forum on Europe. It has been commented on that we could perhaps do with a similar version of that body now. He chaired a body established by me, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, on the future management of An Garda Síochána. It reported in 2006. When there was a problem in Tallaght Hospital he chaired a committee of inquiry into the matter and reported to the Houses of the Oireachtas. In other words, in the 30 years of his retirement he spent his time constantly working for the good of Ireland in positions of notoriety and in other positions that were barely heard of.
Undoubtedly, those who met him felt they were in the presence of someone who had an aspect of greatness. It is difficult to put a finger precisely on the qualities he brought to the public debate when he entered it. First, he was wise. Second, he was serious when it was needed but rather witty when that was helpful too. Third, he gave the impression of knowing what he spoke about as well as being willing to listen to the other point of view. That is a major point because we can all think we know what we are speaking about but he had that extra quality.
Let us consider the circumstances that brought him to play such a central role in the affairs of Northern Ireland for many years, as well as in the North-South dimension thereafter. His extraordinary capacity to understand what the other community in Northern Ireland felt and feared about the circumstances with which he was dealing marked him out above nearly all other people at the time. He was someone who could, as has been said here today, build bridges. He came from a Catholic nationalist, GAA-playing background. He could have simply identified with his community and been feted as one of the heroes of his community - he would not have used the term too lightly about himself - but he was, by contrast, someone who understood that the real issue in Ireland was reconciliation. He understood the real issue was about partnership between the people of Northern Ireland, engagement between the two communities in Northern Ireland and the breaking down of barriers between them.
When the Patten commission came forward he said that it would only be of value if young Catholic men and women joined it. He constantly said – this is something we should bear in mind – that when looking back over the previous quarter century of violence whereas we should be truthful about it, we should never engage in glorifying that which was nasty about it.
When he came to this State and to this part of the country in the last third of his life, he played his part as a director of Independent News and Media.
He was important in steering that body in the way it went. He played his part in public discourse by attending all sorts of conferences and making speeches of major import to try to change Irish attitudes. He wrote brilliantly as a columnist in the newspaper with both wit and tersity of language. There was a Northern economy of verbiage in making his point.
This House has had as Members many people in it who have excelled and who have served the national interest and the interest of all facets of the people far beyond the norm. Dr. Maurice Hayes, in his multiple careers, has done not merely the people of County Down, Northern Ireland, the whole of Ireland or these whole islands huge service, he has done this House immense service. He was immensely proud of his membership of this House and it was one of the greatest achievements of his time. It was something on which he placed huge value. It is very appropriate, therefore, that on this occasion we mark in the strongest terms our gratitude to him through his family. He gave to Ireland such service, friendship and wisdom. It is with the smallest "p" but in the strongest meaning of the term he gave such sustained patriotism.