Death of Former Members: Expressions of Sympathy

Before calling on Members to offer their tributes to our distinguished former colleagues, Richie Ryan and John Browne, I would like to welcome their families and friends to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery this afternoon. We are joined by Richie Ryan's sons, Ultan, Cillian and Declan, his daughter, Aoife, his brother, Jim, and their partners; as well as by Richie's close friend, Carmel Feeney, and her daughter, Councillor Anne Feeney. John Browne's family and friends include Nancy, Carmel, Flan, Mark, Kate, Deirdre, Lisa, Niall, our former colleague, Fergal, Maeve and Maria. This is a poignant day for all of you. It is tinged with bittersweet memories as you join us in the Dáil Chamber, where both Richie and John spent many years at the service of their country and the people of their constituencies, which they served with honour and loyalty. As we gather to reflect on their lives, their contributions in life and their political legacies, I hope the memories shared here in the Chamber will serve to support you all at this sad time.

Although I did not know Richie Ryan personally, I knew of him as an erudite man who excelled in academia before enjoying a long career in local, national and European politics. He was a man of learning and culture. He lived a full political life, particularly in the difficult, challenging and often acrimonious days of the Dáil in the 1970s.

John Browne retired from this House in 2002, which was the year I was first elected to the Dáil. However, I served for two years in the Seanad prior to 2002. During my short time serving in the Houses with John Browne, I knew him to be a man of the utmost integrity. He represented his home county and his country assiduously and with fairness and honour. I had the pleasure of serving in the Oireachtas with his son, Fergal, who I am pleased to see here with other members of the Browne family today.

All of us are here to honour two deeply committed public representatives who served Fine Gael, their constituencies and their country with honour and dignity. As Ceann Comhairle, I pay tribute to them both for their long and distinguished service to this Chamber. I offer my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Richie and John at this difficult time.

I am grateful for this opportunity to pay tribute to two members of the Fine Gael family, Richie Ryan and John Browne, who served our country with distinction and who passed away recently. Ba pholaiteoir prionsapálta é Richie Ryan. Threoraigh sé cúrsaí airgeadais na tíre seo trí cheann de na tréimhsí is measa in Éirinn. Is cuimhin linn é mar dhuine neamheaglach a thug cúnamh do chách agus é ag fónamh d'ár dtír le gradam. Richie Ryan was very much a politician of principle. He guided our country's finances through some of the darkest times. Today we remember someone who was fearless in serving our country. During the 1970s oil crisis and the years that followed, Richie proved himself to be a capable and steady pair of hands at a very turbulent economic time. On television and radio, and even at the Christmas panto he attended with his grandchildren, Richie was satirised for his economic policies. He took it in good humour and he never wavered in his mission to save our economy and protect jobs and livelihoods. We should also remember that working alongside his colleagues in the Labour Party, he introduced legislation that ended the marriage bar in Ireland, extended the tax base and widened social welfare coverage considerably.

Having served as one of our first MEPs, Richie went on to top the poll at the first direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979 and again in 1984. His campaign slogan was simple - "Richie was Right" - and I believe time has vindicated the truth of that assertion. He served as chairman of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, and the World Bank and with distinction as a member of the European Court of Auditors. Following his retirement, he continued to serve the public in a number of voluntary roles. We all remember his work over many decades as a Commissioner of Irish Lights, a job he loved. Although I never had the privilege of serving alongside Richie, I met him on several occasions over the years. I believe his legacy of distinguished and selfless service remains a benchmark for those of us in public service today. His beloved wife, Mairéad, predeceased him. I offer my condolences to his children, Declan, Cillian, Ultan, Aoife and Bláthnaid, his brothers, his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren and his extended family and friends. Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Chaith John Browne a bheatha a tabhairt cúnaimh go díograiseach go dtí daoine eile. Seirbhíseach poiblí cróga agus lán d'ionracas ab ea é. Bhí grá mór aige don Ghaeilge, mar a chonaiceamar go minic san Oireachtas. Chuir sé go mór le cruthú beartas poiblí agus tá ár dtír níos fearr de bharr a éachtaí. John Browne was very much defined by his love of community. As a teacher, he encouraged and inspired his students to achieve great things and their respect for him was long-lasting. As a public servant, he made many contributions that shaped public policy and made our country a better place. I saw his political qualities at first hand. I have to say I admired his loyalty and hard work, his somewhat mischievous sense of humour and his insistence on always telling it as he saw it.

As a Deputy for the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency for almost 14 years, and for a time the only Member of this House from County Carlow, John Browne made valuable contributions on issues close to his heart such as European affairs, education, social welfare, the Irish language, criminal law and international development. As Fine Gael's spokesperson on justice and health in the early 1990s, he played a significant role in the development of our policies. John was a great lover of the Irish language and, as we often saw in this Oireachtas, he did much to encourage its use. Today we remember a man from Clare who became the heart of Carlow. He was much loved by everyone who came into contact with him. As we know, John's son Fergal has continued in his career of public service, serving in the Seanad and on Carlow County Council. Both men share the honour of being elected chair of Carlow County Council, 17 years apart.

I wish to offer my condolences to John's loving wife, Nancy, and their four children, Carmel, Deirdre, Geraldine and Fergal, their grandchildren and all their families and friends. John was somebody who dedicated his life to politics as a means of helping others and he will be much missed. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Ar dtús báire, ba mhaith liom comhbhrón a dhéanamh le clann Richie Ryan agus le clann John Browne as ucht a gcaillteanas agus ba mhaith liom a rá gur pribhléid an-mhór domsa í a bheith i láthair anseo mar uachtarán Fhianna Fáil chun ómós do Richie Ryan agus do John Browne a chur in iúl agus chun comhbhrón a dhéanamh. Níl aon amhras ach go raibh clú agus cáil ar Richie Ryan, go háirithe i rith na 1970dí nuair a bhí sé ina Aire Airgeadais. Tírghráthóir a bhí ann gan dabht agus duine a thuig tábhacht an seirbhís poiblí agus an dlúthbhaint idir todhchaí na tíre seo agus todhchaí na hEorpa a bhí ann. Tá cás na tíre seo agus cás na hEorpa mar an céanna. Sin an tuairim a bhí aige agus sin an fealsúnacht a bhí aige. Duine cumasach, láidir a bhí ann ag an am.

Richie Ryan had a long and illustrious life with a very distinguished record of public office. He was first elected to the Dáil in a by-election in 1959 and was elected at every election he ever contested, though he had a close call in Dublin South-East in 1981, when he had just one fifth of the quota after the first count but made it through, showing his appeal across the divide. I always marvel at such escapades and the ability to make it through after a low total in the first count. He was a very robust political personality, a trait that was, no doubt, nurtured at Synge Street and in UCD, where he graduated with a first-class degree in politics and legal science. He was also an award-winning orator and auditor at the Literary and Historical Society in UCD. He had his own solicitor's practice on Dame Street and was an active partner until he was appointed Minister for Finance in 1973. It was an unexpected appointment at the time, given that he had been foreign affairs spokesperson in opposition, while Garret FitzGerald had held the finance brief.

It is probably difficult for people who did not live through the 1970s to realise the extent of Richie Ryan's prominence during that decade. I was a second level student at the time and I can recall the political heat he was under during the decade. As Minister for Finance in the 1973-1977 Fine Gael-Labour coalition, he had the task of steering the economy through the difficulties of the oil shock of 1973 and its consequences. It is difficult for people to comprehend how fundamental the shock was to our economic course at the time. I remember being in Denmark some years ago, where the 1973 oil shock was a catalyst for fundamental change in energy policy which has lasted until the present. It is quite interesting that we did not take the same long-term approach as Denmark did in respect of climate and energy issues but that was how deep, fundamental and profound the oil shock was at that time. He was not fazed by those turbulent times, notwithstanding inflation soaring above 20% in the mid-1970s as a consequence of these events.

Less prominent, but just as important to him, was his service in Europe. He was fully committed to the European ideal and was one of the first Irish Members of the European Parliament, where he returned after ceasing to be Minister for Finance in 1977. We owe a great debt to the politicians of the 1970s, including Richie Ryan, who understood the centrality of Europe to the future of Ireland. They had no hesitation in recommending membership of the European Union, which was the European Economic Community at the time, for this country, and they have been vindicated. He contested the first direct elections to the Parliament in 1979, topping the poll, and he did it again in 1984. He became a member of the European Court of Auditors in 1986 and was, interestingly, reappointed to that position by Charles Haughey in 1988. Clearly, the latter held him in high esteem.

He showed huge courage in his personal life and met and overcame many challenges, showing great resilience in countering them. He was predeceased by his wife Mairead so I offer my sympathies to his children Declan, Cillian, Ultan, Aoife and Bláthnaid; his brothers Jim, Mark and Mícheál; and his grandchildren, great-grandchildren and wider family.

Fear lách agus ceanúil a bhí i John Browne chomh maith, fear a bhí dílis dá mhuintir féin agus do mhuintir a dhúiche féin. Níl aon amhras ach gur oibrigh John go dian dícheallach Domhnach is dálach ar son muintir a dhúiche. Fear eile a thuig an tábhacht a bhaineann le seirbhís poiblí a bhí ann gan dabht agus fear a thuig an tábhacht a bhaineann leis an gcóras polaitíochta atá ann i saol na tíre, go háirithe ó thaobh an saoránaigh de a bhí ann chomh maith. Deirtear gur múinteoir den scoth a bhí ann agus bhí sé soiléir sa Teach seo go raibh meoin an mhúinteora le feiceáil laistigh den Teach anois is arís. Mar a dúirt an Taoiseach, bhí grá faoi leith aige ó thaobh cúrsaí Gaeilge de. John Browne was first elected to the Dáil in 1989, the same year as my good self, and we had a very good and enjoyable relationship. He had previously contested general elections in 1981 and 1987 but, once elected, he retained his seat at the 1992 and 1997 general elections before retiring at the 2002 election. He had turned 65 at that time and had recently undergone major heart surgery. Remarkably, given his long career as a public representative in Carlow, he was a native of County Clare. That speaks to the unique DNA of Clare people when it comes to politics, something we in Fianna Fáil know only too well and which we hope will flourish not so much in future elections.

He was a lovely family man and a very decent individual. He had a great sense of community and was very involved in the Gaelic Athletic Association. He told me of one weekend when he had been in west Cork and met my late father, who was on holiday there. They had a great conversation, though he did not realise it was my father he was speaking to, and they discussed non-political matters from the GAA to other issues. It showed that he had a basic sense that there was life outside politics. He was well rounded and had great breadth in his philosophy towards life. His political life stemmed from his active community involvement. He liked to help other people and he believed in making a positive contribution. He made serious contributions to debates in this House and he was a man of wit and culture, as one would expect from a former teacher. When Charles Haughey was in the process of standing down in 1992, Deputy Browne rose to quote Hamlet, telling him: "Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels see thee to thy rest!" After retiring from politics, he stayed actively involved in the community, especially in the GAA, where he chaired the county juvenile committee, and he rejoined us earlier this year in the Mansion House to mark the 100th anniversary of Dáil Éireann. He was well appreciated as the quality public servant he truly was. I offer my sympathies to his wife Nancy, to whom he was married for 53 years, their four children Carmel, Deirdre, Geraldine and Fergal, the last of whom was a colleague of ours in the Seanad from 2002 to 2007, and his 11 grandchildren. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Ar mo shon féin agus ar son Shinn Féin, ba mhaith liom comhbhrón a dhéanamh le clanna na n-iarTheachtaí Richie Ryan agus John Browne. On my behalf and that of Sinn Féin, I extend sincere sympathies and condolences to the families and loved ones of former Deputies Richie Ryan and John Browne, both of whom passed away in March this year. I did not know Mr. Ryan but he had a lengthy career in public service, both domestically and internationally. He had the great privilege of serving as a Teachta Dála for over 20 years, representing the constituency and people of south Dublin from 1959 to 1982, as well as serving in the distinguished role of Minister for Finance from 1973 to 1977. He also served as a Member of the European Parliament.

He was part of our first team of representatives in 1973 and was directly elected on a number of occasions thereafter right up until he left in 1986 to become a member of the European Court of Auditors. He served in a number of public service roles following his retirement from front-line politics. His contribution is to be marked and welcomed. I am sure that his family and his party are rightly proud of his lengthy career in public service. I extend my sympathies to his children, Declan, Cillian, Ultan, Aoife and Bláthnaid, and to all his friends and family as well as his colleagues in Fine Gael.

Similarly, I did not know Mr. Browne. He served before my time in this House. He too had a lengthy career here in Leinster House, including in the Seanad, and in local politics. He spent three terms in the Dáil representing the people of Carlow-Kilkenny and served as a member of Carlow County Council. Níl dabht ar bith go raibh seirbhís fád-téarma aige ó thaobh polaitíochta de go háitiúil, sa Seanad agus sa Dáil. Bhí sé ábalta na tránna sin uile a fhreastal don phobal ag an am céanna agus é mar dhuine as Contae an Chláir. That he managed to do all of that - to serve on Carlow County Council repeatedly, to be elected to the Dáil, to serve in the Seanad, and to represent the people of Carlow and the constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny - despite being a Clare man is a mighty feat. I am sure that his family and his party colleagues are very proud of his long career in public service, a tradition carried on to this day by his son, Fergal, who is a councillor in County Carlow. Bhí gairm fhada aige in oifig phoiblí agus táim cinnte go bhfuil a mhuintir agus a pháirtí bródúil as gach aon rud a rinne sé ina sheal sa Seanad, ar an gcomhairle, agus anseo sa Dáil. I extend my deepest sympathies to his wife, Nancy, his daughters, Carmel, Deirdre and Geraldine, his son, Fergal, all his grandchildren, his friends, his extended family, and his colleagues in Fine Gael. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

On behalf of the Labour Party, I join all my colleagues in the House in expressing our appreciation for the honourable service of two very distinguished former Members and in offering our deepest condolences to the families, friends, and political party of both Richie Ryan and John Browne.

Richie Ryan was well known across Ireland for decades. My own political mentor, Brendan Corish, was Tánaiste in that famous Government that ran from 1973 to 1977 in which Richie Ryan was a distinguished Minister for Finance in the most difficult of times. I myself know something about trying to manage finances in difficult times. I know the sort of pressures that were on him. I recall conversations I had with Brendan Corish subsequently. He held Richie Ryan in enormously high regard and considered him to have courageously done right by the country regardless of the pressures on him. That is the sort of service that ultimately stands to a person. His family can be extraordinarily proud of him.

I am wryly amused at some of the titles Richie Ryan accrued in his life in politics, one of which was "Red Richie". From a Labour Party perspective he may not have earned that title but his Government did introduce a wealth tax. I believe it was "Hall's Pictorial Weekly" that determined he merited that title. I imagine he was quite amused by it himself.

Others have said that he was a pathfinder for Ireland in Europe. As a new member of what was then the European Community, Ireland needed people of his experience, calibre and vision to reach out within the European institutions, especially the European Parliament which was embryonic at that stage. He then served as a distinguished member of the European Court of Auditors because of his incredible experience.

One thing which has not been mentioned is his legal work. He took on, pro bono, some important legal cases that changed the course of history here. Some of his legal challenges helped to broaden the rights base of all our citizens, which gave rise to what are now known as unenumerated rights under the Constitution. In many ways these invited the courts to advance the rights base of all our citizens. He had many dimensions as a public servant. If any of us could look back on a career with that level of public service, we would do so with a great sense of pride. I send my deepest condolences and those of the Labour Party to Richie Ryan's family, friends, and party.

I knew John Browne. He and I came into the House by the same means at the same time. We were both Taoiseach's nominees to the Seanad way back in 1983. Getting a Taoiseach's nomination is a very easy route by which to get into politics. One just needs the vote of one individual.

Deputy Howlin was blessed.

It cuts down on the effort of canvassing. I had just contested my first election of any description in Wexford - I stood for the Dáil - when I was appointed to that Seanad. I got to know John Browne in that context. I did not realise until his passing that he was a Clare man. I always assumed he was a native son of Carlow. He never gave me any indication that he was not. He was not only a fluent Irish speaker but extraordinarily proud of an teanga Ghaelach. He used the Irish language to great effect and with great fluency whenever he could. He was also the health spokesman for Fine Gael in the difficult period of the 1990s. When we went into government, I became Minister for Health. I remember his views on matters at that time. I know of his involvement in the GAA. He brought a sense of calm and determination to, and adjudicated honourably on, most of the issues with which he dealt. To his wife, Nancy, his son, Fergal, who continues the tradition in politics, and his daughters, Carmel, Deirdre, and Geraldine, I send my deepest condolences and those of my party. All friends of both of the individuals we honour today can reflect with great honour and pride on their service to our country and to our parliamentary traditions.

I pay tribute to the former Deputy, John Browne. He was a native of my own parish of Kilmihil in County Clare. In fact, when I look out my breakfast room window in the morning, I see his home across the valley. I knew John very well and I particularly know his daughter, Carmel, who is the principal of the primary school in Kilmihil. I had the pleasure of meeting Carmel here in the company of her father two years ago when Kilmihil national school came to visit the Dáil. John Browne had a passion for education which he passed on to his family, including both Carmel and his son, Fergal, who is the principal of St. Joseph's national school in Carlow. I express my sympathy to Carmel, to all family members and, in particular, to Nancy Browne, who has been a frequent visitor to Kilmihil. It was my pleasure to look after the Browne family for many years in my former role as a GP. John died at the age of 82 and he still maintained the affection of the House. He came to the celebrations of the centenary of the Dáil last January and, as I have said, he was here two years ago in the company of the primary school in Kilmihil. In fact, he had the pleasure of meeting his grandchildren-in-law - I believe that is the proper way to describe them - who came as part of that delegation.

His first step into politics was when he was elected to Carlow County Council in 1979. He was nominated to the Senate by Garrett FitzGerald in 1983. He became party spokesperson on communications following his election to the Dáil in 1989 and remained here for 13 years until 2002.

He had a wide range of interests, including European affairs, education, health, rural affairs, social welfare, the Irish language, of course, criminal law and overseas aid. He was also a fluent Irish speaker and made many contributions to the Dáil in Irish and English. I offer my sympathies to the family.

I am privileged to say a few words on behalf of the Rural Independents on the passing of the late Richie Ryan. Mr. Ryan, who lived in Terenure, was predeceased by his wife, Mairéad, and his three brothers and one sister. He is survived by five children, whom I welcome here today, three brothers, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was also predeceased by his great granddaughter, Angela.

A solicitor by training, in 1973 the Taoiseach appointed him to the portfolio of Finance. He introduced a wealth tax as well as increases in VAT. Deputy Howlin took to Dáil privilege in reminding us of "Hall's Pictorial Weekly" and Red Richie. I also remember Richie Ruin; I say that in total jest. I have fond memories of him in "Hall's Pictorial Weekly" at the time. Those were difficult challenging times and he was an exemplary Minister.

Mr. Ryan later became an MEP as well as Ireland's representative on the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg. He had longevity and got re-elected many times to this House and then as an MEP. He had a distinguished career and gave sterling service to his community, his country and Europe. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

I add my voice of welcome to the Ryan and Browne families. I offer sincere sympathy to both families on the deaths of loved ones. This is a sad day for them to be here, but they can take a lot of solace from it in that we are paying tribute to two men from Carlow-Kilkenny and Dublin who distinguished themselves for many years in this House.

I am from the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency of the late John Browne. I knew him for many years. I did not serve with him here; he left in 2002 and I came in in 2007. However, I knew him through Carlow County Council as I had been on Kilkenny County Council for many years. His son, Fergal, is continuing that tradition in carrying the baton for the people of Carlow-Kilkenny and I welcome him here today. I offer my sincere sympathy to his wife, Nancy, and their four children.

He was a very likeable man and well loved by the people of Kilkenny and Carlow - in particular Carlow. He served his constituency with pride for many years. May both of them rest in peace.

It is appropriate that we hear a native Carlow man. I call Deputy Deering.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to pay my respects to the late John Browne. I welcome, in particular, his family to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery.

John was my immediate predecessor as a Fine Gael Member representing the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency and specifically County Carlow. He was first elected to the Dáil in 1989, almost 30 years ago on 15 June. As has been mentioned, he was a spokesperson on health and justice during that time. Prior to that he served a term in the Senate when appointed by the then Taoiseach, Garrett FitzGerald. He first entered politics when he was elected to Carlow County Council 40 years ago in 1979.

John arrived in Carlow in the 1950s from County Clare as a very enthusiastic teacher, who wanted to use his educational skills to ensure that every child had the opportunity to prosper in life. He spent 27 years as principal of Bennekerry national school. It was in this area that his roots in community activism started to come through. His involvement with the GAA and his love of the Irish language were an important part of this, and he made many contributions as Gaeilge in this Chamber.

At local level, John was considered a Palatine GAA man, but it was with his rival club, O'Hanrahan's, that he won a senior football championship medal in 1961. Once his playing career was over, he cemented himself in the Bennekerry area, in particular the GAA club's many community activities. In 2009, he wrote a history of the Palatine GAA club to honour its centenary. When John retired from politics in 2002, he re-immersed himself in GAA activities. At that time, I was the chairman of the county board in Carlow. He agreed to become the juvenile board chairman for a period of time.

John was an educator and a politician but a community activist by nature. He worked tirelessly all his life for the advancement of others. He was ever generous with his time, support and commitment to the community, country and county. He will be greatly missed by all.

To his wife Nancy, daughters Carmel, Deirdre and Geraldine and son Fergal, and his extended family, I express my sincere sympathies. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

I join those who have expressed sympathy to the Browne and Ryan families. I welcome them to the House today. As Deputy Aylward said, it is a sad day, but is also a fitting tribute to two men who in different ways represented their communities with distinctions as Members of the Oireachtas and members of other bodies further afield.

I particularly welcome Nancy Browne and her children, Carmel, Deirdre, Geraldine and Fergal. I congratulate Fergal on his re-election to Carlow County Council a couple of weeks ago, where he is continuing a tradition started by his father 40 years ago in 1979.

I got to know John Browne when I became actively involved in politics in 1994. I was a transition-year student and John was one of the Deputies for Carlow-Kilkenny. I got to know a man who, as others have said, was very witty and very capable. He had a bit of steel in the glove, which is a requirement for anybody who wants to be elected.

I voted for the first time in the 1997 general election on Friday, 6 June, which was the third day of my leaving certificate exams. I went to the polling station with my late father. There was an unusual arrangement in Carlow-Kilkenny between the two outgoing Fine Gael Deputies in that a significant chunk of Fine Gael voters in Kilkenny were asked to support John Browne from Carlow. He got one of his biggest votes in that election and was re-elected. I was delighted that the first vote I ever cast was for him.

John was someone who commanded genuine affection. We often hear horror stories about social media and the comments people make there in other senses. However, the comments made particularly by his former students on social media about a person whom I knew to be a likeable man showed he was obviously a much-respected teacher. He arrived in Carlow at the end of the 1950s and had made such an impact that by the end of the 1970s, he as a member of the county council.

He gave much of his life, interestingly his life after retiring from politics in 2002, to go back head, neck and heels into the GAA again, including chairing the juvenile board in Carlow. Not many people who have stepped back from public life would do that, but it was the mark of the man.

He was also well known for his poetry appearing in the pages of the Sunday Independent at one stage. Many of his witty contributions were published.

In his time here Oireachtas Members shared offices, with up to five or six people in an office. John Browne was a kind of father figure for many younger men who might have been new to Dublin and away from home. His advice was sought on many occasions. Even in the graveyard at his burial, some of his former colleagues recounted some stories, which are probably for another place.

I got to know Richie Ryan at the end of his life. There is an old phrase that one should never meet one's heroes. The flipside is also true. If one meets one's heroes and they turn out to be decent, lovely people, it is great. Richie Ryan was that in every sense of the word.

I extend sincere sympathy to both the Browne and Ryan families. They should be very proud of the contributions John Browne and Richie Ryan made to public life in Ireland.

That is a fitting contribution on which to conclude.

Members rose.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha dílis.