Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 11 Oct 2000

Vol. 523 No. 5

Death of Scotland's First Minister: Expressions of Sympathy.

Before we take questions, the House will have heard that Donald Dewar, the First Minister of Scotland, has died. I extend the sympathy of the Government and that of my party as well as, I am sure, that of everyone else in the House to his family, relatives and friends in the British Cabinet and to all the people of Scotland. He was the first elected Minister of the Scottish Assembly who had been here on many occasions and was due to be here leading the Scottish delegation at the British-Irish Council meeting next Wednesday morning. This is a great tragedy for all his colleagues in the Labour Party and for the people he represented. He represented all Scotland in his position.

He had been ill and made a miraculous recovery during the summer following very extensive surgery. He was in the House with me and was here for a lecture last Friday week, which is 12 days ago. He was a fine person, very committed to public life and especially committed to Scotland. He wanted to see everything move ahead there. He had some difficulties in the beginning in getting the Assembly moving but felt very happy when I spoke to him 12 days ago that things were now going much better and he was glad to be going back to work. Unfortunately, following the accident yesterday which resulted in serious head injuries, he died a short time ago. I extend my sympathy on his death.

Everyone coming into the Chamber in the past few minutes will have been shocked to have heard that Donald Dewar has died. We heard this morning that he had suffered a fall in his official residence but few believed it would lead to the end of his life. He suffered some ill health in recent times which was probably not unrelated to the huge personal effort he made to ensure the arrangements for the governing of Scotland by its people independently of others would work as intended. Donald Dewar will be remembered for centuries to come as the first person to lead Scotland independently within a large area of freedom since the Act of Union of 1701. He achieved that independence for Scotland within the United Kingdom without the loss of a single life and without shedding a single drop of blood. There are lessons for all to learn from the career of Donald Dewar and other patriotic Scots who have been able to ensure that Scotland was able to have full political expression of its nationhood.

It is also important to reflect that Scotland has many similarities to Ulster. Scotland, 50, 60 or 70 years ago, was as divided on sectarian lines as Ulster is today. The traditional divide between the highlands and the lowlands goes back long before the Battle of Culloden and other events in Scottish history. This meant that the idea of a united Scottish nationhood was almost impossible to conceive of because of the depth of the divide on religious and political grounds and also in terms of what appeared to be almost unbridgeable allegiances to dynasties. However, the current generation of Scottish politicians have been able to forge a new and non-sectarian Scotland which has healed these divisions which still divide our island so much but no longer divide Scotland. It would not have been possible for Scotland to have achieved autonomy as a whole unit were it not for the fact that those sectarian divisions had been healed.

We have a great deal to learn from Scotland because we have not succeeded in Ireland in doing what Donald Dewar and others have in creating a consensus in Scotland and a form of autonomous Government which bridges those divides that go right back to the wars of Montrose, the massacre of Glencoe and the bloody fields of Culloden. Those divisions which were so deep in Scotland so recently and which are so graphically epitomised by the relics seen in the sectarian slogans shouted at Rangers-Celtic football matches have been swept aside as far as their political consequences are concerned by people like Donald Dewar. They have not been swept aside on this island. We have a great deal to learn from Scotland and from Donald Dewar. We have a great man to mourn in the person of Donald Dewar.

It is with great sadness that I rise on behalf of the Labour Party to express my deepest regret and sympathy on the sad, tragic and sudden death of Donald Dewar, a member of the Party of European Socialists and the British Labour Party. He was, first and foremost, a Scottish man devoted to his Scotland and to his Labour Party in Scotland who saw exactly the synthesis in both of those in the manner Deputy Bruton has just described.

He will go down in history as the father of modern Scotland. He fought long and hard in the early stages immediately after the election victory of the British Labour Party in 1997, had a spectacular feat in the referenda which were successfully brought forward and in the subsequent election, and introduced the first coalition Government within the British Isles since David Lloyd George in the early 1920s. It is fitting that we have, by coincidence, in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery official representatives of the citizens of the United Kingdom of which Scotland is a part.

I am glad they are here to listen to these words of tribute, sympathy and solidarity which are directed towards the British people who have suffered a tragic loss. Donald Dewar will be missed throughout the United Kingdom, not merely in Scotland which is an integral part of that entity.

I am also shocked to hear about the death of Donald Dewar. On behalf of the Green Party, I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to his family, first and foremost, and the people of Scotland, a country he led to such great effect through the process of devolution.

I visited the Scottish Parliament in the company of Robin Harper, the first member of the Green Party to be elected to a UK regional Parliament, who will be greatly saddened by the loss of Donald Dewar. He was a man who commanded respect from members of all parties represented in the Scottish Parliament. He will always be remembered as a father figure by new parliamentarians and those who continue to try to become used to the idea of devolution.

Donald Dewar was very understanding and displayed an air of authority which gave a sense of confidence to the Scottish Parliament in dealing with the tasks it faces. He inspired others and commanded respect and I hope people in this country take some comfort from the fact that he identified closely with the trials, tribulations and challenges which Ireland, as a Celtic country within these islands, faces. There will be continuing dialogue between Ireland and Scotland which will build on the foundations he has laid. No doubt his memory will be revered for many years to come, given the pivotal role he played in Scottish devolution. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Members rose.

On a point of order, will the Ceann Comhairle arrange to convey to the Scottish Assembly the fact that Members of all groups in the Dáil paid these tributes or joined with them?

That is always done in such circumstances. Deputies may rest assured that this occasion will be no different.