I pay tribute, on the passing of former President of Ireland, Dr. Patrick Hillery, who as we all know was a great patriot, a dedicated public servant and a man who never looked for any kind of recognition but without doubt deserved it all. He is undoubtedly assured a place in Ireland's history for his massive contribution to the progress of our country. His career sums up what is best about politics and public service and his principled defence of standards in public life should not be forgotten.
Dr. Paddy Hillery, as he was more commonly known, was born in Spanish Point, County Clare, in 1923. His father, Dr. Michael Hillery, was medical officer to the mid-Clare brigade of the old IRA during the War of Independence. He served a nine months term in Limerick prison for his role in the war and his house was burned down by the Black and Tans in that time.
Paddy Hillery was loyal to his party and to his country. He was persuaded to stand for the Dáil in 1951 by Seán Lemass as a running mate with the then leader of Fianna Fáil, Éamon de Valera, and was elected to represent the constituency of Clare which he served continuously until 1971.
During that time he served as Minister for Education, a position he took with enthusiasm, and was responsible for much innovative thinking in the Department that was close to the heart of Lemass's strategy of industrial development which was focused on attracting inward investment. He was responsible for initiating many reforms that were to be introduced over the next decade, including the establishment of comprehensive schools and the regional technical colleges. Even after he left the Department, the policy of reforming education was continued by his successors.
He then moved from education to the industry and commerce portfolio in 1965 and became the first Minister for Labour in 1966. In 1969, just as the troubles in Northern Ireland escalated, he was promoted as Minister for External Affairs in Jack Lynch's Government.
The deteriorating situation in Northern Ireland did not dominate completely his tenure in the Department. However, in 1972 he was one of the key negotiators during the talks ahead of Ireland's accession to what was then the European Economic Community, known today as the EU. Following Ireland's entry to the EEC in 1973, he was appointed as the country's first European Commissioner in Brussels, becoming vice-president of the Commission of the European Communities, with special responsibilities for social affairs. Perhaps his most famous achievement as Commissioner was his successful introduction of legislation forcing all EEC member states to give equal pay to women.
He served in this role until 1976, when he was appointed President of Ireland following the resignation of Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh. Three years into his presidency, Ireland received a formal visit from His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, in 1979. Patrick Hillery left office in 1990, having served the maximum of two terms, and he has been widely applauded for his honesty and devotion to duty.
For 40 years, he was at the cutting edge of Irish public life and set an unsurpassable standard of integrity and decency. He was a true and unassuming patriot, who in his time made a noble contribution to the well-being of our country.
As we all know, Paddy Hillery was an excellent golfer and at one time he was thought to be the head of state with the lowest handicap in the world. I know Lahinch golf club, one of the finest links courses in the world, was one of his favourite venues. As a proud Clare man, he always enjoyed playing there. As secretary of the Oireachtas golf society, he was our distinguished honorary president for the past 30 years.
He never forgot his roots and he spent much of his time in his native Clare. He told us one of his proudest days was in 1995, when the Clare hurlers won their second All-Ireland title. He was among his people on that day, basking in the county's glory.
From a Fianna Fáil perspective, Paddy was a long and dedicated servant of the party. He moved on to greater things, representing our country as its first European Commissioner before serving for 14 years as our President. We have much to thank Patrick Hillery for and we should be grateful that such a man served in public life and gave so willingly of himself.
He will be sadly missed and as Leader of Seanad Éireann and the Fianna Fáil group in this House, I offer my sincere condolences to his wife Maeve, son John, daughter-in-law Caroline, and his grandchildren and extended family. Go mbeannaí Dia trócaire ar a ainm.