Business of Dáil. - Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy.

Ba mhaith liom an deis seo a ghlacadh chun mo chomhbhrón agus comhbhrón mhuintir uile Fhine Gael a dhéanamh le clann Godfrey Timmins a d'éag go hobann aréir.

I am grateful for the opportunity to mark the sudden and untimely death of Godfrey Timmins, a former member of Dáil Éireann, a life-long stalwart of the Fine Gael Party and a good friend and mentor of mine when I commenced service in this House in 1981. To Godfrey's wife Nora, his son Billy, who is a popular Member of the House, other members of his immediate family, his friends and his enormous circle of colleagues and supporters in Wicklow, I offer my personal condolences and those of the Fine Gael Party.

Godfrey was a lover of Gaelic football, a sport that is renowned among Wicklow men. However, it was more than that for Godfrey Timmins. It was one of two consuming passions that filled his waking hours. When those hours were not totally filled by a passion for politics, he allowed his passion for football to take full expression. Tragic and untimely as his death was, it was fitting at least that it took place at a Gaelic football game in Dunlavin where Godfrey had gone to watch one of his grandchildren play in a minor match.

Godfrey had a long and distinguished parliamentary career as a Member of this House. He represented the people of his native Wicklow from 1968 to 1997, with only a two year break in that service from 1987 to 1989. Godfrey's service to the people of Wicklow spanned almost half a century. He served as a member of Wicklow County Council continuously from 1950 to 1999, a span of 49 years. During this time he served on the council's committee of agriculture, Wicklow VEC and the Eastern Health Board.

His long and distinguished career in national politics began with his victory in a by-election in March 1968 following the death of Labour Party Deputy James Everett. He was re-elected in the following year's general election and in every election until he lost his seat narrowly in 1987. Godfrey surprised many of his colleagues in the Fine Gael Party by deciding not to contest the subsequent Seanad election in which he would have been assured of a seat. Instead, he chose to wait and duly regained his seat in the Dáil in 1989. He held this seat until his retirement from national politics in 1997. During his time here, he served as the Fine Gael Party's Chief Whip, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts and a member of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

While Godfrey was a distinguished parliamentarian, he will, I believe, be best remembered by Members of this House on all sides as the epitome of a gentleman – he was a gentleman and a gentle man. This is how his friends and colleagues will like to remember him. In his distinctive west Wicklow lilt, Godfrey generously dispensed many words of wisdom to young and inexperienced new Members of this House as they tried to find their feet in the Dáil.

A verse in a very evocative Seamus Heaney poem, The Diviner, comes to mind.

The bystanders would ask to have a try.

He handed them the rod without a word.

It lay dead in their grasp till nonchalantly

He gripped expectant wrists. The hazel stirred.

For many of us who first entered this House in 1981, Godfrey was our diviner. The well spring of this gentle, unassuming, wonderful man's life may now have run dry, but his great gift has been passed to others to continue the quest for a better life for all our people. Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

All of us were shocked to hear last night of the sudden death of Godfrey Timmins. As the leader of his party said, Godfrey was a true gentleman. He earned the admiration of his peers in Leinster House as an earnest and hardworking constituency politician. He was always concerned about how education, health and other issues that arise in the course of a Deputy's work would affect Wicklow and how he could get the most for his people. Since he was first elected to public office as a councillor in the 1950s, his gentle nature, good humour and, above all, dedication to the cause of the people of Wicklow ensured he enjoyed a lengthy career in local and national politics until his retirement from the Dáil in 1997 when he was proud to witness his son, Billy, succeed him as the Fine Gael TD for the constituency.

It is difficult to believe that someone would give such long service of 50 years to public administration and politics, but he did that for those five decades. His many duties during his time in the Dáil included periods as party Chief Whip and Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts where he had the respect of people on all sides of the House. He was a member of Wicklow County Council as whose chairman he served on a number of occasions. He had 50 years' unbroken service and that is a record I am sure has been equalled by very few.

Godfrey was also dedicated to the cause of Gaelic football. He will be sadly missed by his enormous range of friends in the Gaelic football association in Wicklow, especially in Baltinglass Gaelic football club as whose chairman and president he served for many years. I recall his great joy and satisfaction when Baltinglass won the All-Ireland club championship in 1990. As far as Godfrey was concerned, that was better than any All-Ireland. With the club being the heart of the organisation, he was right in that.

I offer my sympathy and that of the Government to his wife, Nora, his sons and daughters and Deputy Noonan and his colleagues in the Fine Gael Party which Godfrey Timmins served so well as a dedicated Member of the House. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

On behalf of the parliamentary Labour Party and the broader Labour Party, I join with the leader of the Fine Gael Party and the Taoiseach in expressing shock and extending sincere sympathy to the family of the late Godfrey Timmins. His death was a sudden shock. His son, Billy, was in the House until late last night dealing with the Private Members' motion, and this untimely event was certainly very far from his thoughts.

As a representative of the neighbouring county of Wexford, I knew for many years of the reputation of Godfrey Timmins. He did not often create national headlines but was a different characters in terms of public representation, namely, one who looked after the needs of his people assiduously, the people of Wicklow in general and especially those of west Wicklow. His reputation went beyond the confines of the constituency he served so well.

We extend our sympathy to his wife, Nora, and his five sons and three daughters. We remember his very long and distinguished record of service outlined by previous speakers which began with his by-election victory and entry to the House in 1968. He was elected nine times to the House. Anyone who manages that is doing something right. The legacy he left was the ability to have such a good name and reputation that his son, Billy, was able to follow in that fine tradition. It is a tradition represented by many families in the House. In a time when public service is often under threat, it is appropriate and proper we salute the fine, distinguished and honourable service of the Timmins family.

I would like the views of the parliamentary Labour Party and our deepest sympathy to be conveyed to the Timmins family and all Godfrey Timmins's colleagues in the broad Fine Gael Party and movement who have obviously suffered a grievous loss.

Is cúis an-bhrónach nuair a chailltear seanchomráidí a bhí le na blianta fada sa Teach. Thar ceann an Pháirtí Daonlathaigh, déanaim cóbhrón le bean Godfrey Timmins, Nora, lena mhac, Liam, atá ina Theachta, agus leis an gcuid eile den chlann. Is mór an chailliúint dóibh é agus do Pháirtí Fhine Gael. Bhí Godfrey Timmins an-dúthrachtach ar feadh a shaol don pháirtí a rinne sé an-obair ar a shon.

Is cuimhin liom go maith nuair a toghadh é in 1968 gurb é sin ceann de na chéad thoghcháin a raibh tionchar ag an teilifís air. Bhí ar na h-iarrthóirí bheith cleachtach as úsáid a bhaint as an teilifís. Bhí sé anseo chomh fada sin. Tháinig sé isteach beagáinín i ndiaidh mé fhéin agus bhíomar cáirdiúil ar feadh na mblianta.

Fear an-lách ab ea é agus bhí sé an-dúthrachtach agus rinne sé an-obair ar son mhuintir a Dháilcheantar féin i gCill Mhantáin. Is mór an chailliúint a bhás don Dáilcheantar sin, do Pháirtí Fhine Gael agus don tír. Is maith an rud go raibh, go bhfuil agus go mbeidh le cúnamh Dé, daoine mar é atá sásta seirbhís phoiblí a thabhairt ar son a mhuintir. Neartaíonn sé sin an daonlathas sa tír. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to join the Taoiseach and other party leaders on this very sad occasion in paying tribute to a person who has been described by all speakers as a gentleman. That is the word that always trips off people's lips throughout the constituency of Wicklow and anywhere the name Godfrey Timmins has been mentioned.

I had the pleasure of knowing Godfrey for almost all my life and we were very dear friends. Then again, as we all know, it was very easy to be friendly with Godfrey. He was the most modest and unassuming human being and politician I have ever known and it worked for him over a lengthy career. In the adversarial game we play, Godfrey made an art form of being non-adversarial and that also worked for him.

Apart from Nora and his family, he had two passions. One was his politics and political life. He was a mere boy when he began what became 50 years of service in local government, apart from an illustrious career in national politics. His other passion was the GAA. I first got to know Godfrey through football activities. He played with his beloved Baltinglass. When it won the All-Ireland club championship, which is unusual for us in Wicklow, Godfrey was over the moon. That was a golden era for a fine club, as good a football club as ever represented any county. Baltinglass had a golden era in the 1980s and 1990s when it won eight championships. Godfrey was president of the club at that time and he derived great enjoyment and pleasure from that. It was fitting that his last moments were spent at a football match in Dunlavin last night. He was present to witness another generation of his family coming through on the football fields.

We all picture the quiet, reserved gentleman that was Godfrey Timmins, but he was no easy touch. One does not stay in this business as long as Godfrey did and not have some steel in the spine, and he had that. I often witnessed him at fora in which we served together clenching the fist and hitting the table on many occasions, but that would be momentary. In his last moments in Dunlavin last night, he had words with the referee. That proves my point.

Not unknown in Wicklow.

It is not unknown, but Godfrey was a pacifist in the main. It is a sad day for the House and for all of us in County Wicklow to lose such a wonderful man. On behalf of the people of Wicklow, I extend our sympathies to Nora and his sons and daughters, especially our colleague in the House, Deputy Billy Timmins, to whom it must be a great shock. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

As has been said, Godfrey Timmins was always described as a gentleman and as a gentle man. He was an extraordinary man who epitomised all that is good about public service. He had the uncanny knack of seeing everybody's side in an argument and was a man of quiet dignity. He was very bright when it came to examining issues of local governance and he served the people of County Wicklow with exceptional dedication, at local government level from 1955 right up to the turn of the Millennium, and in this House from 1958, with one small break, until his decision to step down in 1997. It was my great pleasure, privilege and honour to serve on Wicklow County Council and on the County Wicklow VEC with Godfrey and it was with the deepest sadness that I heard the news from Dunlavin last night. I had been speaking with Billy earlier about the issue he wished to raise on the Adjournment. We were to share time, and I simply could not believe that a man who has been like a great, noble redwood, standing above politics in County Wicklow all this time, had passed. On my behalf, on behalf of my family and of the Fianna Fáil organisation I express our deep personal regrets to Nora, to the sons and daughters, to the Fine Gael organisation in County Wicklow and to the wider Fine Gael family. He was a truly noble person and we were very lucky to have him for so long in this place, and Fine Gael were very lucky to have him for so long in that party. He will be deeply missed.

There is a great sense of loss and sadness right across County Wicklow at the news of the passing of Godfrey Timmins. He was, as people have said, a genuinely nice man, a kindly man, a man who was true to his principles, a modest man and a good friend. He made a lasting contribution to this House but we will remember him particularly for the work he has done, closely, with the people of County Wicklow, especially in west Wicklow. In a sense, he died as he lived. At local level, he made a strong and lasting contribution on behalf of people in his community. He had a quality that is rare in our profession, and is becoming even rarer, whereby he could be forceful and tough, but I do not think he even once denigrated any individual who took an opposing view to his. He was able to express his views in a way that was exemplary. He loved politics, he loved public service but was concerned at seeing a certain coarsening in political life and that is an expression of his outlook, of how he wanted to work with people rather than against them. His humanity is an inspiration, his integrity a shining example to all of us following in his footsteps and his loss is sorely felt in the community of County Wicklow. I express my sympathy to Nora and to his family, in particular to Billy who has shown in this House the same kind of dedication his father had and who, even last night, made a special effort to come to a meeting about a local issue despite having to make arrangements to do so prior to this event. Like father like son, there is a contribution that Godfrey Timmins made to this House, but more particularly to the people of County Wicklow, that will never be forgotten.

I too sympathise with the Timmins family, with Nora, with the children, grandchildren and the wider family. Godfrey Timmins was, above all else, a thorough gentleman. He was a quiet man and only spoke when he had something meaningful to say, but when he did speak, people listened. That being said, he was well capable of fighting his corner but whenever he fought he did so without theatrics. From personal experience, having witnessed a number of arguments at Wicklow County Council, I know that he preferred to argue with somebody in private, rather than in the council chamber, and he achieved much for people in that way. He was not interested in personal gain and simply wished to work for the people who placed him where he was. The amount of work he has done for Wicklow and its people will never be measured and probably never truly known to anyone but Godfrey. He was of great help to me when I came into the Dáil, as one of the inexperienced people with seemingly nowhere to turn, and my father too received great help from Godfrey in his time. Like many in Wicklow, I feel I have not only lost a fine representative but a friend. He will be long remembered.

Members rose.