Dáil debates

Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy.


4:00 pm

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)

"A Cheann Chomairle" — is iad sin na focail lena bhfuair chuile Theachta a bhí anseo sna 1980í cead labhairt sa Dáil. We are here today to pay tribute to the best of men, the late Tom Fitzpatrick. I know I speak for Deputies across the House when I say that Tom Fitzpatrick was one of Ireland's and nature's gentlemen. He was a gentleman of politics, a man of great honour, integrity and dignity. He was also a man of great purpose, principle and humanity, one who set, upheld and demanded the highest standards of public office.

Each time Members meet in the House to pay tribute to a former colleague I am always struck by the fact that while we claim them as our own in Dáil Éireann, there is always a group of people in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery who miss a much loved husband, father, wife, brother, grandfather, uncle or friend. Here today, while we can only offer them a few words in appreciation, I hope that in their hearts they will get some small comfort from what those words signify — our deep and abiding respect.

It was Tom Fitzpatrick who, as my director of elections in a by-election in 1975 after my father's death, oversaw my journey to the Dáil for the first time. On hearing the news of his death, it was not just deeply felt by his own family or the Fine Gael family but also by myself. A figurehead had departed.

When I first entered the Dáil, Tom Fitzpatrick was already a veteran TD who had represented the people of Cavan-Monaghan for ten years. He was not in undistinguished company. As some Members will recall, the constituency was established in 1977 and its first representatives to Dáil Éireann were John Wilson, Jimmy Leonard, the late John F. Conlon, the now late Tom Fitzpatrick and the current Ceann Comhairle, the last of a distinguished quintet to represent the people of Cavan-Monaghan.

Tom Fitzpatrick will be remembered as a hardworking and excellent Senator, a Minister for Lands and Minister for Transport under Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and an excellent Minister for Fisheries and Forestry under Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald in the first of his Administrations in 1981. He also made a distinguished contribution to the Council of State from 1982 to 1987. Ironically, or perhaps it is true to Tom's form, the Fianna Fáil Party, which was then in Opposition, has every cause to remember him very fondly in his role as Ceann Comhairle because he was utterly resolute and impartial to the extent that his innate and, dare I say, sometimes exasperating fairness was often the cause of very considerable frustration to the Fine Gael-Labour Government of the day

As Ceann Comhairle, Tom Fitzpatrick welcomed the late President Ronald Reagan to the House on 4 June 1984, when he spoke of the huge role the United States played in terms of the social, historical, political and economic connections and, indeed, the psychology of the Irish people. As he put it from the Chair: "For the Irish, it could with truth be said that America did, as the inscription for the Statue of Liberty proclaims, 'Lift her lamp beside the golden door'."

For all his kindness, humility and good humour, there were dark times too in Tom's personal life. He was well acquainted with grief, losing both his first wife, Betty, and daughter, Fidelma. All who knew him at that time were aware of the immense sadness he carried within him. He then met Carmel and his friends, colleagues and wider family were delighted that, with her, he should have found obvious and lasting happiness.

Today in Dáil Éireann, in remembering Tom Fitzpatrick, statesman, politician and Fine Gaeler, we, too, remember the friend and confidante that one would always want on one's side. We can truly say this, with hands on our hearts and in a more special way the plain people of Cavan who were everything to Tom Fitzpatrick, the men and women of Ballyjamesduff and Butler's Bridge, Cootehill and Clover Hill who knew they could count on him to fight their corner and fight the good fight on their behalf. Today, however, is largely about those who knew him best and miss him most, his family. On behalf of the Fine Gael Party, I offer my sincere sympathy to Carmel, to Tom's daughter, Geraldine Madigan, and his son and namesake, Tom, who are all with us here today. I do likewise to his brother, John Brendan, who cannot be here. In the little group in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery are Tom's extended family, Katie, his son Tom's wife, Geraldine's husband, Colm Madigan, and their children, Emma, Lucy, Edward and Susan. The children of the late Fidelma, Caroline and Denis Dwyer, are here too to hear these tributes to their grandfather. Today, you can be proud of him as you value him and miss him.

Paddy Kavanagh's, The Call, is a fitting tribute:

Did you call me

Or was it the wind

On my ill-carpentered window?

I am awake now

And all your prophecy

Is turned to dust.

Go ndéanfaidh Dia trócaire ar a anam dílis.


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