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)
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"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.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party and on my own behalf, I extend our deepest sympathies to Deputy Kenny and the Fine Gael Party on the death of Tom Fitzpatrick. In particular, my party and I wish to join Deputy Kenny in extending our sympathy to Carmel and Geraldine, Tom's son, Tom, his brother, John, his extended family and all his friends back in his native home.

Tom was a very well respected and senior Member of this House. In recent years, I had the opportunity of meeting him when he came back for former Members' occasions. He was a good attender and whenever he could he would come back to those occasions, which was much appreciated by all our parliamentary colleagues from the past.

Tom was born in Scotshouse in Clones in February 1918 and educated in St. Macartan's College, the Incorporated Law Society and UCD. He was a very bright and talented individual and took second place in the country in his examinations as a solicitor. In his political activity, he was a member of Cavan UDC and Cavan VEC for a long, extended time and was elected to the Seanad and then the Dáil where he held his seat in every election until he retired at the end of the 1980s.

As Deputy Kenny said, Tom had a career in many ministerial posts, including lands, transport, fisheries and forestry and we all remember his period as Ceann Comhairle. He also showed his vast experience because if one adds in his portfolios in defence, health, social welfare, justice and the environment in his days in Opposition, he covered almost the full ambit of responsibilities a Member can have. That shows the depth of his intellect, parliamentary knowledge and experience and the service he was able to give to his constituency and the wider country.

The factual account of a long and distinguished career does not convey the regard in which he was held both as a wise and respected voice within his own party and as a very well regarded Ceann Comhairle of the whole House. Tom was a gentleman and very able man who was always easy to talk to and always prepared to give a view and advice. As Deputy Kenny wrote of him at the weekend, he possessed a sharp intelligence and steely determination in support of his cause. Like all good representatives in this House, he served the people of his constituency — Cavan-Monaghan — with diligence and integrity for almost 40 years, both locally and nationally. This is a huge commitment from one's life. He was personally and politically warmly regarded on all sides of the House and while he was of an opposing party, we on this side respected him highly.

I remember well when I entered the House as a Government backbencher with a large majority that Tom was a member of the Front Bench who always came into the House with a copy of Standing Orders and the decisions of the House. The Ceann Comhairle will recall, as he knew Tom very well, that he was absolutely determined that whatever happened, one could only follow what was in Standing Orders and the judgments of the House. He fought strongly in order that the laws and their interpretation were not there to be moved. He fought those in opposition for his party and when he became Ceann Comhairle, he scrupulously upheld them. His example should be followed by this generation of politicians.

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)
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Present company excepted.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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He held those faithfully and would lecture us on that from the benches opposite or the Ceann Comhairle's seat. He firmly held the view that precedents were important and that there should be respect for Parliament and positions. He fought for that and with his sharp legal mind he was able to use those standing orders eloquently.

As Whip for Government and Opposition I was lucky enough to go on a number of overseas visits which he led as Ceann Comhairle on behalf of this House. He always excelled on these occasions. I visited the United States and many other countries and parliaments with him and he always put the case for this country, for parliamentary democracy and our political process in a forthright way. With him I met George Bush Snr. to put forward how we deal with our business in this House and this democracy, and I held him in high regard for all that.

As Deputy Kenny said, while we remember him as a parliamentary colleague, we extend our sympathies to his close family and friends. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, I extend our sympathy to his wife Carmel, his daughter Geraldine, his son Tom, his brother John and all his extended family. I thank them for being here today. He was a great person, politician and friend, and it was an honour to serve in this House with him. I held him in great regard and respect and thanked him many times for the encouragement he gave me, some of which he offered in recent times.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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On behalf of the Labour Party, I join Deputy Kenny in commemorating the memory of Mr. Tom Fitzpatrick and extending our sympathy to the Fine Gael family and in particular to Tom Fitzpatrick's immediate family. He reached a venerable age, but that does not make one's passing easier. As the Taoiseach said, he had a long service as a public representative. He was regarded as a wise public representative dedicated to public service. I never heard anybody on either side of the House complain about his distinguished period in the chair, when he was regarded as fair and impartial. I met him recently at a former Members' function here and he was still able to offer his opinion, of some value, on current issues. His service is greatly appreciated in this House and his constituency. On behalf of the Labour Party I am pleased to join leaders of other parties in offering our sincere sympathy to his wife, daughter and son and his extended family on this sad occasion. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Tánaiste; Dublin South East, Progressive Democrats)
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Deputy Kenny has described Mr. Tom Fitzpatrick as one of nature's gentlemen and, from my first meetings with him when I was in Fine Gael and on every occasion since, I regarded him as belonging to that category. In his oratorical skills from the backs of lorries in places such as Bailieborough, there was a fierce and combative side to him, but in this House, where I first encountered him, I thought he was like a kindly uncle, always with a smile on his face and always decent to younger people in the political system.

When I was elected to this House in 1987 he was just finishing his career in the House. He was a senior Member of this House and always displayed charm, integrity and decency. I am glad he held so many ministerial offices and that of Ceann Comhairle. He discharged all his offices and his role as a representative for the people of Cavan and Monaghan with dignity, decency and compassion. When he entered this House he was a fierce champion of the causes he believed in but never with malice and always with honesty. We were privileged to know him, to be served and presided over by him. Today it is an honour to be able to pay tribute to him. For his family it is a sad occasion but also one of which they can be fiercely proud. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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On my own behalf and on behalf of the Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, I pay respect to the venerable memory of Mr. Tom Fitzpatrick. Tom Fitzpatrick will be remembered as a great Clones man, a great family man, a great legal man, a great statesman and a great Irishman. Ní raibh aithne rómhaith agam air, cé go raibh clú agus cáil air i gcónaí mar iar-Cheann Comhairle, chomh maith le polaiteoir le blianta fada. Ba mhaith liom mo chomhbhrón a chur in iúl dá bhean chéile uasal, Carmel, dá chlann, dá chairde go léir agus don Teachta Kenny, ceannaire Fhine Gael, agus don pháirtí. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

5:00 pm

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I join other Members in expressing sympathy to the Fitzpatrick family on the sad passing of Mr. Tom Fitzpatrick. It is interesting people speak of the Cavan-Monaghan constituency and of Tom's association with the area of Scotshouse in Clones, but I think in the minds of many people throughout the length and breadth of the country, his association primarily would have been with the county of Cavan, not the county of his birth, as he represented Cavan as a single stand-alone constituency before the coming together of Cavan and Monaghan some years into his service in political life.

A native of Scotshouse, County Monaghan, as the Taoiseach indicated, he had his second level education at St. Macartan's college in Monaghan town. For 24 years he was a Member of this House, having previously served in the Seanad for four years. He served on Cavan Town Council, County Cavan VEC and many other local authority and other bodies in the service of his community and adopted county.

I had the privilege to engage with Tom Fitzpatrick on a number of occasions. During the election contests of the 1980s I had the opportunity to meet and get to know him in a small and quiet way and he impressed me. As other speakers said, he was a gentleman not only in my eyes but, I believe, in the eyes of anybody who had the honour and privilege of engaging with him and getting to know him a little. That would have been enough to confirm that fact. While we held different views on many issues, I say without hesitation that his life was spent in service to his party, constituency and country. That can never be contested.

On my behalf and that of the Sinn Féin Deputies, I convey to his wife, Carmel, his son, Thomas, his daughter, Geraldine, his brother, John Brendan — who cannot be present and who I have also had the pleasure of meeting and knowing in the past — and the other members of the extended Fitzpatrick family our sincere sympathy on their very personal bereavement. I wish to adjoin to that my sympathy to the Fine Gael colleagues of the late Tom Fitzpatrick in the Dáil and Seanad — he served in both — and to those in the Fine Gael organisation in Cavan and Monaghan who have lost someone who was clearly an important and guiding influence over many years. Ar dheis láimh Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I join other Members in paying tribute to the memory of the late Tom Fitzpatrick. As stated by previous speakers, Tom Fitzpatrick served with great distinction as a member and chairman of Cavan Urban District Council and as a member and vice chairman of County Cavan VEC. As a member of the Seanad and the Dáil, he worked extremely hard and with great diligence on behalf of his constituents in Cavan-Monaghan and, for one Dáil period, part of north Meath.

Having served in government twice in a number of different Departments and as Ceann Comhairle, he rightly earned the respect of the entire membership of the House and the respect of the public. The clear evidence of the esteem in which Tom Fitzpatrick was held by his constituents was the excellent votes he secured at successive general elections during the period in which he served in the House, namely, 1965 to 1989. Tom Fitzpatrick was a committed member of many local voluntary organisations in the Cavan area. In latter years, it was always a pleasure for me to meet him and discuss issues of local and national importance.

To his wife, Carmel, his son, Tom, his daughter, Geraldine, his brother, John Brendan, and his extended family, I offer my sincere sympathy. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal dílis.

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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Tom Fitzpatrick was a decent, honourable man who was respected by all who had the privilege to know him. He served his people for many years as a solicitor in Cavan and then as Member of the Oireachtas from 1961 to 1989 with honesty and distinction. He never forgot those who helped and supported him along the way and right up to his death he always highlighted how much he appreciated their friendship and support. Tom was one of the people who encouraged me to become involved in politics and I appreciated his advice and support. He set a high standard from which all Members of the House could learn.

Tom was not only a good politician, he was a man of strong faith. We thank God for what he achieved as a Deputy, Minister, Ceann Comhairle and, above all, as a family man and servant of his people and his nation. Of all of this, he was very proud. As already stated, Tom was not just involved in politics. He had a great interest in the arts and in the community in general. He served at local level through his chairmanship of the then Cavan Urban District Council and Cavan VEC.

To his wife, Carmel, children, Geraldine and Tom, brother, John Brendan — who for many years was chairman of Monaghan County Council — grandchildren and extended family, I pass on my sympathy and that of the Fine Gael Party in Cavan-Monaghan and all his friends. I am sure he is smiling down on us because I have no doubt about where he now resides.

Paudge Connolly (Cavan-Monaghan, Independent)
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I wish to be associated with the remarks relating to Tom Fitzpatrick. Tom was a Monaghan man but he became an adopted Cavan man and represented the county with great distinction for 28 years. His impressive CV was well outlined by Deputy Kenny. As previous speakers indicated, Tom was a gentleman and always displayed kindness and respect. He had no political enemies and it says a great deal for someone who spent so long in politics that he was held in such high esteem.

I did not know Tom in earlier life and it was only when I became a Member of the House that it came to my attention that he and his wife, Carmel, visited the Oireachtas on many occasions. It was only six weeks prior to his death that he last visited the Houses and I saw him here on at least three occasions during the year.

On my behalf and that of my Independent colleagues, I offer my deepest sympathy to the members of the Fitzpatrick family, Carmel, Thomas, Geraldine and John Brendan, who is not present. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I also wish to be associated with the tributes being paid to my former constituency colleague and one of my illustrious predecessors as Ceann Comhairle, Tom Fitzpatrick. Tom held high office on many occasions and served this House and his country with distinction. On 7 April 1965, he took a seat in Dáil Éireann which he successfully retained until 1989 when he retired from national politics. Following the general election in November 1982, Tom was elected to the office of Ceann Comhairle. The task of being Ceann Comhairle is never easy. It calls for patience, skill and a thorough knowledge and understanding of parliamentary practice and procedure. All of these qualities Tom had in abundance. His wish to uphold the dignity and traditions of the House and to be fair and courteous to each Member was appreciated by all. Many of his wise rulings are still in use. Tom performed his duties as Ceann Comhairle in exemplary fashion and made an invaluable contribution to upholding the dignity and decorum of the House.

Tom served with distinction in both local and national politics and commanded wide respect not only in Fine Gael, but also in the wider political arena. He was an excellent parliamentarian and was one of the best orators of his time. He was also a distinguished member of the legal profession. Tom worked tirelessly for the people of Cavan and Monaghan and built up many friendships, both inside and outside politics. I had the honour of serving with him on behalf of the people of Cavan and Monaghan for many years.

I extend my sincere sympathy to his wife, Carmel, his children, Geraldine and Thomas, and his brother, John Brendan. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Members rose.