Dáil debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Death of Professor Brian Hillery: Expressions of Sympathy


4:50 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We move to expressions of sympathy for our late and distinguished colleague, Professor Brian Hillery. Before I call the Taoiseach, I welcome to the House Mrs. Miriam Hillery, her sons, Conor and Eugene, and daughter Cliona, Brian Patrick Hillery, Gavin Hillery, Joan Hillery, Tommy Hillery, Aaron Hillery-Nolan, Naoise Hillery-Nolan, Cameron Hillery-Nolan, Hannah Hillery and Benjamin Hillery, Deirdre Hillery, Mark Nolan and James Hillery. It is fantastic to have so many members of such a distinguished family with us. I thank them for joining us.

5:00 pm

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Is léir gur cailliúnt ollmhór do theaghlach, do chairde agus a lucht aitheantais í Brian Ó hIrghile. Tírghráthóir le tiomantas agus paisean dá thír a bhí ann. Polaiteoir den chéad scoth ab ea é a thuig daoine timpeall air go rí-mhaith. Bhí sé uathúil, macánta agus ceannródaíoch ina smaointe. Fear gnó éifeachtach agus rathúil a bhí ann a thuig gnó ag leibhéal idirnáisiúnta agus mar ollamh acadúil ollscoile thug sé treoir iontach agus spreagadh dá mhic léinn.

It is an honour for me as Taoiseach to have the chance to reflect on the life of our late colleague Brian Hillery. Brian passed away surrounded by his family on 19 January 2021. When The Irish Timespublished his obituary, it did so under the headline "One of the great gentlemen of Irish politics". It was a brilliantly accurate description of the man. His particular mix of personal qualities brought him successful careers in academia, business and politics.

Brian and I were both elected to the Dáil for the first time in 1989 and were good friends. We were from different generations but we enjoyed our friendship nonetheless. By the time he was elected, he had already had more than a decade of national political experience as a Senator, had secured an MBA in the US, a PhD from UCD and had served as the first Professor of Industrial Relations at UCD and a visiting Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, to name a few of his achievements. However, he carried all of this very lightly and was always a very charming, warm and engaging colleague. During some turbulent times within the party, Brian was always a rock of sense. Never allowing the political battles to injure personal relationships, he was always someone who could see and understand the bigger picture. As a result, he was in much demand.

Appointed to the Seanad by the then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds in 1992, he left politics in 1994 to become a director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London. A series of important directorships and chairman roles followed that, including the Central Bank of Ireland, the National Pensions Reserve Fund Commission and Independent News and Media.

He was, in short, a very accomplished man but he was also, first and foremost, a committed family man. He was born and raised in County Clare and it was there that he first met Miriam. They married in 1970 and throughout their life together, she was his closest and most trusted adviser. They were true partners. They had five children together: daughter Cliona and sons Conor, Eugene, Brian and Gavin. I know that each of them are very proud of their father's successes but also and probably more importantly, I know they are proud of the enormous and genuine respect and affection that he inspired in everyone he worked with. Miriam, Cliona, Conor, Eugene, Brian and Gavin - your husband and father was indeed a great gentleman. I feel lucky to have known and worked with him and so do we all. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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Fáilte to all of the Hillery family. I will not attempt to name everybody. Professor Brian Hillery made a significant contribution to public life in Ireland. He did so not only in politics but also in the spheres of economics, business and academia. Following his passing in January 2021, President Higgins paid tribute to Professor Hillery saying, "those who served with him in the Oireachtas will remember Brian as always courteous, and as a warm and intelligent man." Indeed the common threads woven through Professor Hillery's life are the threads of integrity, thoughtfulness and a natural courtesy to people. He matched high achievement with admirable personal qualities that were recognised and appreciated by those of all political persuasions.

A native of Miltown Malbay in County Clare, Professor Hillery was born into a household of strong Fianna Fáil tradition. His cousin Patrick served as President of Ireland from 1976 until 1990.

Brian Hillery excelled as an academic graduating from UCD with a Bachelor of Commerce and later achieving an MA at the University of Georgia before returning to complete a doctorate in UCD. He would later be appointed to the staff at UCD where he went on to become the university's first professor of industrial relations. Following the general election of 1977, he was elected as a Fianna Fáil Senator to the Seanad on the Administrative Panel. He went to serve two subsequent terms in the Seanad as well as winning a seat in the Dáil in the constituency of Dún Laoghaire at the 1987 general election.

Professor Hillery was also known for his principled opposition to the leadership of Charles Haughey. However, his fair, polite and civil nature and indeed his desire to be a calming influence saw him navigate well the choppy waters of internal party strife. Despite his genuine sympathy for Des O'Malley following his expulsion from the party, Professor Hillery chose to stay within the ranks of Fianna Fáil rather than join Mr. O'Malley in the Progressive Democrats. It is a testament to his integrity and honour and his standing amongst his party colleagues that he did so while maintaining his position on the leadership.

Outside the world of politics, Professor Hillery made notable contributions in the areas of administration, finance and economic and industrial relations. He played a key role in trying to broker resolutions to significant industrial disputes during the 1970s where he was remembered for adopting a conciliatory, calm and pragmatic approach.

Professor Hillery also held several successful roles and positions in the private sector, including in the areas of media, finance and banking. Following his departure from national politics, Professor Hillery was appointed as an executive director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in 1994 and served until 1997. In a rapidly changing world, it was a role he took very seriously and one in which he commanded sincere respect for his diligent work. He also served on a number of bodies advising the Government in the areas of public sector pay, pensions and education and he later became a director of the Central Bank and of the Financial Regulator.

Those who knew Professor Hillery well repeatedly cite their admiration for his warmth, his decency, his intellect and the importance he placed on serving the public interest. It is right that the Dáil recognises his work, his achievements and his life. I express my sincere condolences on behalf of Sinn Féin to his wife Miriam and to his children Cliona, Conor, Eugene, Brian and Gavin; to his extended family and wide circle of friends; to his colleagues in the Fianna Fáil Party; and to all those who loved him. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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On behalf of Fine Gael in Dún Laoghaire, I offer my condolences to the family of Professor Brian Hillery. My colleague Deputy Durkan, who was a Member of the Oireachtas at the same time as Professor Hillery, will speak on behalf of Fine Gael.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Any accolade going his way is well deserved. He was a really nice man, which is the best thing that can be said about a politician in the modern era. He took his job seriously and generated respect. That was the hallmark of his membership of the Houses of the Oireachtas on which he left an indelible mark. He was able to speak frequently, well and strongly in support of the views he held but at the same time, he was able to listen to what the other side had to say and respond in an amicable fashion when so required. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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Ar son Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre, déanaim comhbhrón ó chroí le muintir an iar-Theachta Hillery. My sympathies and those of my Labour Party colleagues are with the family of former TD and Senator Brian Hillery, who died in January 2021.

From conversations with a Fianna Fáil Member of this House, I know that the news of his death brought much sadness to all those who knew him during his long years of public service. Professor Hillery began his political career in the Seanad. He served there for many years until he contested and won a seat in the Dún Laoghaire constituency. It is clear that those who served with Professor Hillery in the Oireachtas remember him as a courteous and intelligent man.

I understand that Eamon Gilmore, former Deputy and Labour Party leader, was elected to Dáil Éireann for the Dún Laoghaire constituency for the first time on the same day as Professor Hillery in the 1989 general election. In his words of commemoration, he described the late Professor Hillery as a gentleman. Accounts I have heard from those who knew him personally demonstrate this was an accurate descriptor. As well as serving as a Senator and Deputy, Professor Hillery was successful in several other fields. As an academic, he was the first professor of industrial relations at UCD. He also served as Ireland's representative on the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, EBRD, as a director of the Central Bank of Ireland and as a financial regulator. It was a career filled with accomplishments.

He will be missed very much by family, friends and former colleagues alike. I note that his death occurred during a challenging time for the State, as grieving families were asked to continue to comply with Covid-19 restrictions and to cope with their bereavement in a very different way. Following the opening of society last year, I hope that members of Professor Hillery's family have been able to mark his impressive life in a way that helps them to heal. I further hope that the many testimonies to his kind personal qualities and his career achievements will have been of comfort to them. I send the Labour Party's condolences to Professor Hillery's wife, Miriam, and his children, Cliona, Conor, Eugene, Brian and Gavin, and his wider family. To his grandchildren who are here listening to these statements, I hope they will never forget this day when they were in Leinster House and Dáil Éireann listening to Members of the Oireachtas speaking so kindly and warmly about their grandfather. He served this country to the best of his abilities and that is a great testament to him and to his family.

5:10 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom mo chomhbhrón a ghabháil freisin ar mo shon agus sr son Aontú agus an Ghrúpa Réigiúnaigh do chlann agus do chairde Brian Hillery. Ba chailliúint ollmhór é agus don chlann, go háirithe. I express my deepest sympathies, and those of my party and of the Regional Group to the family of Brian Hillery. People who knew him personally knew him as a gentleman. A gentleman recognised by all sides in this Chamber is an unusual thing. It is also important to state that Professor Hillery excelled in all aspects of his life, especially academically as a young man. He served as the first professor of industrial relations at UCD, as well as a Deputy and a Senator in these Houses. His expertise in industrial relations and as an academic guided him through his career. He proved to be a rock of sense and knowledge in the Seanad and Dáil.

Despite significant internal party political pressures in Fianna Fáil, Professor Hillery stood up for what he believed in. This too is an outstanding mark of his credibility as an elected representative. He worked with multiple public bodies, including the EBRD and as a director of the Central Bank, in a lifetime of national service. Such a variety of high-level roles and the ability to deal with so many areas shows a very impressive intellect. We have heard from the many friends of Professor Hillery in politics and other fields. They have reflected on the calm and stable voice that he was in those tumultuous times in politics. They showed him as a kind and decent man who served his constituency well.

Professor Hillery leaves an impressive legacy for his former party, his constituents and the country, but most of all for his family. When we lose a loved one to whom we are very close, we are left with the memories we have and the legacy left for us as we live our own lives. I extend our deepest sympathies to all the members of Professor Hillery's family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Brian Hillery was widely regarded as one of the great gentlemen of Irish politics. Those who served with him in the Oireachtas have remarked on how he was always extremely courteous and a warm and intelligent man. Those who spoke of his legacy after his passing referred as fondly to his personal qualities as much as his achievements. He served as a Senator from 1977 to 1982, 1983 to 1989 and 1992 to 1994. He was also a Deputy for the constituency of Dún Laoghaire from 1989 to 1992.

In signalling his strength of character, Professor Hillery opposed Charles Haughey during the three tempestuous heaves in the early 1980s, despite considerable pressure from constituency members to back the leader. Fianna Fáil was riven by dissension at the time and tempers were frequently frayed. Professor Hillery, however, managed to remain on good terms with the different strands of the party, while refusing to budge on his view that Charles Haughey should go.

Outside the Seanad Chamber, Professor Hillery's skills were in great demand, whether this involved helping to bring about peace at the height of the industrial conflict in the ESB the 1970s, bringing about agreement on Army pay in the 1990s or dealing with hostilities between the largest shareholders in Independent News and Media, INM, in the 2000s. His calm and steady approach was vital in resolving seemingly intractable disputes. After a career in politics, he was appointed as the representative of Ireland and Denmark on the board of the EBRD in London from 1994 to 1997. He was subsequently appointed chairman of INM and of Providence Resources. He is survived by his wife, Miriam, daughter, Cliona, and sons Conor, Eugene, Brian and Gavin. On my behalf, and that of my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group, I offer our heartfelt sympathies to them all today.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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From Professor Hillery's former constituency, I call Deputy Devlin.

Photo of Cormac DevlinCormac Devlin (Dún Laoghaire, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the members of the Hillery family, particularly Professor Hillery's wife, Miriam, to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. The late Professor Brian Hillery served, as the Ceann Comhairle pointed out, as a Deputy for the constituency of Dún Laoghaire between 1989 and 1992. It is wonderful to have so many of the Hillery family with us today. This is the 85th anniversary of Professor Hillery's birth. Brian James Hillery was born on 22 November 1937 at the family home in Miltown Malbay, County Clare, to a strong Fianna Fáil family. He attended school locally before going to St. Flannan’s College in Ennis for his secondary education. He then took a bachelor of commerce degree from UCD. After graduation he worked with the Agricultural Credit Corporation, ACC, in Dublin, before winning a Rotary scholarship to the University of Georgia in 1965, where he earned his master of business administration, MBA. A distinguished academic, he joined the faculty in UCD in 1967, where he became the first professor of industrial relations in 1974. He was called upon several times during that time to help mediate several disputes, of which there were many. Widely published, he was visiting professor in industrial relations at the University of California, Berkeley, in spring 1977 and also a guest lecturer at the University of Warwick and the Wharton School.

Professor Hillery married Miriam Davy in 1970. She is the daughter of the distinguished Irish rugby player, Eugene Davy. Together, Brian and Miriam had five children, Conor, Eugene, Cliona, Brian Patrick and Gavin. I welcome them, along with his sister, Joan, his brother, Tommy, and all the extended Hillery family, to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. Brian and Miriam celebrated their golden 50th wedding anniversary on 18 July 2020. As the Taoiseach said, Miriam was a determined supporter and adviser to Brian who travelled the country with him and ensured his election to the Seanad in 1977 and 1983. With her support, he was elected to Dáil Éireann in 1987 to represent the Dún Laoghaire constituency, alongside former Deputy and Minister, David Andrews, in an exceptionally competitive and exciting campaign with former councillor and cathaoirleach of the county, Betty Coffey, which members still recall 35 years later. That tells us how exciting that was.

Professor Hillery was appointed by the Taoiseach to the Seanad in 1993, where he served until 1994 when he stepped down as a Senator to take up an appointment as executive director of the EBRD, representing Ireland and Denmark until 1997.

In later years he had a distinguished business career, serving as a director of many public and private entities while continuing his long history of public service as a director of the Central Bank and financial service regulator as well as chairman of the Independent News and Media, in which role, it has to be said, his mediation skills were called upon yet again.

Speaking to colleagues who served with Brian here in the Oireachtas, they always remember him as a warm, intelligent and courteous parliamentarian, great company and a man who made a distinguished contribution in his life. On behalf of all the members of Fianna Fáil in Dún Laoghaire, I extend our deepest sympathy to the Hillery family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

5:20 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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On my own behalf and on behalf of all the Members, I extend deepest sympathy to the Hillery family. I did not have the pleasure of serving with Professor Hillery but I knew him by reputation, and because my family has through my wife very strong connections with Miltown Malbay, I knew him through family connections. It was always a pleasure to meet him on his frequent visits here to Leinster House over the years.

It will have to be said, as encapsulated in the remarks of other Members, that he is someone the breadth and depth of whose service to this country can meet few parallels. Those of us who knew him were fortunate to know him. Those of us who enjoyed the benefits of his endeavours are fortunate to have had him working on our behalf.

Members rose.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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May the Lord rest his gentle soul.