Dáil debates

Wednesday, 7 February 2024

Death of Former Taoiseach: Expressions of Sympathy


2:00 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I propose on hearing from the Taoiseach and the leaders of the party groups that we then hear the constituency Deputies. I then have a list of speakers, including members of the Government and others, if that is in order.

Before I call the Taoiseach I want to say it is profoundly sad the occasion has arisen whereby we must meet here today to express our sympathies to Finola Bruton, her children, Matthew, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, to our colleague and friend, Deputy Richard Bruton, and to his sister, Mary, on the passing of our former esteemed Taoiseach and colleague, John Bruton. John Bruton gave this country decades, indeed a lifetime, of sterling service. He was in every respect a modern Irish patriot. His commitment to the European Union was demonstrated and he strode the international stage with purpose and confidence.

He was a conviction politician, devoted to his family, tireless in the service of the Irish people and yet always warm, friendly, approachable and totally unassuming. A man of high intellect, he was also someone of absolute integrity and we are, colleagues, all the poorer today for his passing.

Taoiseach, will you lead us, please?

2:05 pm

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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A Cheann Comhairle, mar Thaoiseach agus mar Cheannaire Fhine Gael, déanaim comhbhrón ó chroí le teaghlach, cairde agus comhghleacaithe John Bruton. Molaim tírghráthóir a chaith saol seirbhíse poiblí iontach. Chuir sé go buan lenár dtír agus d'fhág sé oidhreacht shuntasach. As Taoiseach and as leader of Fine Gael, I extend my deepest sympathy to the family, friends and colleagues of John Bruton. I pay tribute to a modern patriot who led a life of extraordinary public service. He made lasting contributions to our country and leaves a remarkable legacy.

John Bruton was somebody who inspired me to enter politics and to join Fine Gael. I was struck by his incredible belief in young people and his unshakeable faith that they could make a difference. He never forgot what it was like to enter this House as a young man, only 22 years old at the time, full of hope and idealism. He was still hopeful and idealistic 35 years later when he left Irish political life so he could make a vital contribution on the world stage as EU ambassador to the United States.

In the years in between, he helped to make this country a better place. He had a vision of how to fix problems and he brought a long-term plan for the nation perspective to his work as a TD, a Parliamentary Secretary, a Minister in some of the toughest Departments and especially as Taoiseach. As Minister for Finance in the 1980s, he started the difficult job of repairing our public finances. As Minister for Industry and Energy, he overhauled Irish company law and provided the means for economic growth by enacting new industrial development legislation. As Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism, he created new opportunities for Irish business and helped to open our country and economy to the world.

But as Taoiseach, John Bruton changed our country forever and for the better. His knowledge, understanding and deep love of history shone through and helped to guide him as he worked to create a fairer, more peaceful and more prosperous future for us all. As Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, John Bruton led a partnership Government – a rainbow coalition with Labour and Democratic Left – that set our country on a path to peace and prosperity. Before he took office, economic growth was slow and stuttered. Thanks to the policies of the rainbow Government, it took off spectacularly in a strong and sustainable way. I believe he helped to lay the foundations for much of the economic prosperity we enjoy today.

It is probably no surprise to those of us who knew him well that he called his collections of essays and articles Faith in Politics. John believed in democracy and believed passionately that politics was a noble pursuit that could change lives for the better. In the framework document that he negotiated with John Major as Prime Minister, we see elements of what later became the Good Friday Agreement – an assembly of 90 members elected by proportional representation, weighted majorities for decision making and North-South bodies, all to be endorsed in a referendum to ensure democratic legitimacy. He detested all forms of violence against other people and worked tirelessly to bring a lasting peace to our island. He reached out to the unionist community – the British minority on our island – because he genuinely believed that this should be a shared island in which all identities would be respected, and he stood up to those who taunted him for believing in the power of constitutional and democratic means rather than coercion or force. He advocated a new patriotism and opposed narrow nationalism. While these perspectives are now held by the majority of people, that was not always the case, and he was willing to lead, even when it meant going against the grain and being unpopular – principles not populism, policy solutions, never performative politics.

He met with then Prince Charles, now King Charles III, in Dublin, the first official visit of a member of the British royal family since independence. Some people mocked that and others boycotted it. In later years that followed, they followed his lead. It was an important act of reconciliation and helped pave the way for the official visit of Queen Elizabeth some 16 years later.

John Bruton had faith in politics and faith in people and was a man of deep personal faith and conviction. He made a crucial radio address to the Irish people in the days leading up to the divorce referendum in 1995 calling for a "Yes" vote. I remember it well. He spoke from the heart as he reminded listeners that "the essence of Christianity ... is the virtue of charity". It was precisely because of his faith that he understood the power of forgiveness and the importance of compassion, and that shone through. I believe it convinced many people who were wavering to vote "Yes", and I think the country might not be the modern society it is today had that referendum been lost. I genuinely believe that the sincerity of his appeal, from someone whose sincerity could never be doubted, was crucial that week.

In September 1996, John Bruton was invited to speak before a joint session of the US Congress, a rare honour for European Heads of Government. He made a powerful plea for peace and reconciliation on our island. "Never again", he said, a sentiment which continues to inspire all of us today. The solution to the Troubles and so many other problems on our island, he believed, was learning to live with difference. John Bruton helped teach us the importance of living with difference, whether it was with those who had a different religion or political viewpoint or those with different personal circumstances and beliefs. He was a Christian Democrat in the European tradition, who led with compassion and, in doing so, helped to make Ireland a better and fairer place.

I believe the rainbow coalition of 1994 to 1997 was one of our finest governments, but, as we know, it was not returned in the general election. Fine Gael increased its number of seats by nine but it was not enough to form a coalition. John remained on as leader of the party for another four years but he was never Taoiseach again. Despite the way things ended, however, he never lost his faith in politics. While his public persona was often intellectual and serious, as a person he was always good company, funny, witty, gregarious, sociable, self-deprecating, and with a distinctive and infectious laugh.

He continued to radiate optimism and confidence and continued to inspire those around him as he worked to improve the lives of others. As vice-president of the European People's Party, he spoke around the world on European and Irish economic and political developments. He also helped draft the proposed European constitution which was signed in Rome in October 2004. I remember well meeting him when I was a youth delegate to that convention. He was a respected voice on the world stage and was asked later that year to leave politics in Ireland to become the European Union's ambassador to the United States. He accepted because he knew he could make a difference and he always had more to offer. He helped explain to everyone, from the President, to Congress, to local school groups and students, the importance of free trade, free enterprise and multilateralism for all our countries, as well as the Euro-Atlantic partnership. I will never forget having dinner with him and Finola in his residence in Washington DC, nor the fact that he found time to do so with two young councillors who happened to be visiting town. Always persuasive, he showed how the EU benefited the US economy and security and was good for American jobs, and it was a hugely successful five-year term.

When he came back to Ireland, he continued to be an influential and courageous voice on subjects that meant the most to him, whether that was historical commemorations or the threat posed by Brexit. He put people before politics and principle before party. A few months after the Brexit referendum, he joined with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and spoke before the House of Lords committee in Britain about the impact Brexit could have on Ireland and how dangerous it was that Northern Ireland had not been considered properly when the matter was being voted on. He was active to the end, a patriot who was guided by a love of country, not fear or hatred of others. He wanted the best for Ireland and he did so much to make this a better country.

My condolences to his beloved wife, Finola, their children, Juliana, Emily, Mary-Elizabeth and Matthew, their grandchildren and all their family and friends.

Special mention must be made of his brother, Richard, and sister, Mary. For a family to contribute one remarkable politician to Irish politics is impressive, but to contribute two is extraordinary. In many ways, the Bruton family exemplify all that is best about Irish politics. Their belief in public service and ideas in making a difference is as great a legacy as all they contributed in terms of policy and legislation.

John Bruton will always be remembered for his service to our country. He had faith in politics to make a difference, and he was right. Today we let his family know that his faith was not misplaced. All of us, on all political sides, will continue to fight for what we believe is just and right, even if we do not always agree. We will work to make Ireland a better, more prosperous and fairer place, seek to advance the cause of peace and reconciliation on our island and keep Ireland's place at the heart of Europe. That is the legacy of John Bruton, and we will make it ours, too. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal agus dílis. Slán agus beannacht, a sheanchara.

2:20 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Before calling the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael McGrath, on behalf of Fianna Fáil, I acknowledge the presence in the Gallery of two great friends of Ireland from the diplomatic corps: British ambassador Paul Johnston and the recently elevated Sir Trevor Mallard.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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On behalf of the Tánaiste and my Fianna Fáil Party colleagues, I extend our deepest condolences on the passing of former Taoiseach, John Bruton, to his wife, Finola, his son, Matthew, his daughters Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, his grandchildren, our parliamentary colleague Richard, John's sister, Mary, and indeed the Fine Gael Party.

John Bruton was, by any measure, a towering figure in the development of modern Ireland. He was deeply involved in issues that have been fundamental to the advancing of peace and prosperity on our island and for all people across Europe. His time serving as a Minister in various Departments, including Finance and Industry and Commerce, coincided with a period of considerable economic upheaval. Despite this, he was steadfast in his efforts to stimulate economic growth and deal with the scourge of unemployment which had beset our country. He was a patriot in the truest sense of the word because he believed in serving all the people of the nation and dedicated his life to the idea that a democratic society must respect diversity of traditions and opinions. Within this, he powerfully rejected the idea that there is only one tradition within Irish nationalism and challenged us all to look beyond the limits of our own narratives. In these days of increasing verbal aggression and partisanship, particularly in online discourse, we would do well to remember the approach he followed, that of respecting those you disagree with. He was first and foremost profoundly committed to democratic principles, having served as a Member of Dáil Éireann for some 35 years and having been returned by the people of Meath in 11 general elections.

When first elected to this House, as a recent graduate and still only 22, he and his colleagues had little idea about how tumultuous the following decades would be. The threats to Irish democracy were undeniable, something which he felt very personally because of the sectarian murder of his friend, Senator Billy Fox, from Monaghan. No one could in any way question the goodwill and resilience of John Bruton’s lifelong commitment to both ending political violence and promoting reconciliation on our island. When he was elected as Taoiseach, he said he was anxious to build on the work of his predecessor, Albert Reynolds. The formula he designed with the then British Prime Minister, John Major, to allow peace talks to get under way and securing the first involvement of George Mitchell in the peace process helped to lay the foundations of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. He would surely take great pride in the restoration in recent days of the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland.

As Taoiseach, through his integrity and ability to listen to other points of view and to compromise, he proved that three-party governments can work effectively. It is a mark of the man that when he finished his public role in 2009, he became chairperson of Co-operation Ireland. He proceeded to actively raise money for reconciliation projects on both sides of the Border.

The other great cause of his life was European peace and prosperity. He first joined the board of what is now European Movement Ireland in 1972. As a Deputy, party leader and member of Government, he always rejected the idea that the way to show you were promoting Ireland's interests was to talk about standing up to Brussels and finding ways to exaggerate disagreements for the benefit of media coverage. He believed Ireland's interests lay with a strong and effective Europe and never wavered in his support for the treaties and agreements which have delivered so much for Ireland and for Europe as a whole. He is remembered fondly throughout Europe, particularly by member parties of the European People's Party which saw him as an important and always constructive leader in times when radical reforms were being debated and implemented.

To be chosen as the EU's ambassador to the United States was a great honour and a mark of the esteem in which he was held by governments around Europe and by the European Commission. He had a highly productive and effective five years in Washington and is remembered for the hard work he undertook to overcome many difficult disputes, particularly in relation to trade negotiations. When he finished his term in 2009 he again continued to work for the cause of Europe. He was a clear and effective voice during various referendums, challenging the negative view of Irish sovereignty put forward by opponents of Europe's development. John Bruton was never afraid to speak up for his views and causes, even when he knew he would face loud attacks from opponents. He chose to serve Irish democracy by being a sincere and active participant in debates about all the great causes of the past 50 years.

There are countless stories of his personal kindness to colleagues and opponents alike. He was a welcome visitor in Leinster House long after he stepped down from the Oireachtas. Listening to media vox pops of people out and about in Dunboyne since the news of his passing broke, you could not but get a sense of the genuine warmth and affection for John among those he represented in the past. He was a man of sincere personal faith, which will have been of great comfort to him during his final illness.

As a politician of substance and a diplomat, John Bruton has left a rich legacy. He spent much of his life working for economic progress, changes in social policy, peace on our island and promoting Ireland's role in Europe and on the world stage. John Bruton's contribution to progress in all of these causes is undeniable. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

2:25 pm

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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I will start by extending deepest sympathies on behalf of the Green Party to Finola and John's children, Juliana, Emily, Mary-Elizabeth and Matthew and especially to his brother, Richard, and sister, Mary, who are good friends of everyone in this House. It is a real loss for your family, more than anyone else. We remember, think about and pray for you today.

I first met John Bruton when I joined this Chamber in 2002. I was sitting exactly where Deputy Seán Crowe is sitting at the moment on one of those early dazed days when you come into this House. John Bruton was roughly where Deputy Shanahan is. I think he was in a white suit. He stood out. He was a big man and he spoke with the authority of a former Taoiseach. It was stunning to watch. I would look down and God almighty he was impressive.

John Gormley told me an interesting story yesterday that reflects another side of John. He said that in 1997 when John was coming out of government, there was an appointment of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Dinny McGinley was up from Fine Gael for Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Supposedly, a deal had been done with Trevor and John that we would vote for Dinny. Whatever happened at the last minute, an abstain button was hit, rather than the vote for Dinny. JohnBruton shot across the Chamber and up to whisper to Trevor, "there's nothing for nothing in politics". It was good lesson. It is true.

My memory of John Bruton when I think of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s is that he went through that incredible period of the heaves. I imagine smoke-filled rooms, emergency elections, emergency budgets, emergency everything and he was central to that. Critically, even though he left this House in 2004, like a lot of the Fine Gael politicians of that time, you only have to give their first names and everyone would know who I was talking about: Garret, Alan, Gay, Nora, Gemma.

They all kept with politics, even after they had retired from the House as it were, to be engaged and involved and to share their thinking. They were public figures in the best sense. He spoke that day in the white suit; he could have been a senator in a toga. It was that same sense of big thinking, of patriotism. As Deputy Michael McGrath and the Taoiseach have said, and I think Deputy Howlin will probably know this better than anyone else, that Government he led probably wrote the rule book on how to run a three-party coalition.

2:35 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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That's right.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Three is not a bad number. It works well. I am giving advice, maybe.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Getting all three re-elected is the thing.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin Bay South, Green Party)
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Three is the magic number, but we will see at the election. When John stepped down from here for the absolutely appropriate appointment as ambassador for the European Union to the US - what an appropriate position - there were statements in the House that day, everyone congratulating the Taoiseach at the time, Bertie Ahern, congratulating John and wishing him well. Trevor Sargent complimented him wholeheartedly that day and described him as an ideas man. I think that is exactly right. He was a man with lots of ideas. I want to share two or three short reflections as to those ideas and where they centred around. As the Taoiseach said, he was a Christian democrat. I heard Dermot Farrell, his previous parish priest in Dunboyne who is now archbishop of Dublin, speaking about him very accurately on the radio this morning. A Dominican friar, Timothy Radcliffe, spoke at the start of the synod on synodality back before Christmas in Rome. He was referring to an Anglican philosopher who was talking about the Catholic church. He says there is always the "and". It is orthodox and creative, establishment and radical, rigorous and merciful. That might sound a bit high-brow but this comes from a Christian democrat root tradition in my mind. I think John Bruton embodied that in the sense that he was conservative and compassionate. He was conviction-driven and collaborative. He was national, patriotic and international. And I think history will look at this ideas man and give real important attention to those last two "ands," national, patriotic and international.

His relationship with John Major was critical in setting us on the path towards peace in the North. I was talking to John Gormley, my former colleague, yesterday. He shared a place with him on the Convention for Europe back in 2002 or 2003. He said it was incredible that when it came to making a decision, all the national leaders of the time wanted to know what John Bruton thought. He was so well regarded. He was seen as such a strong and good European. Going back to what I said at the start about how he continued to play this role, even when he left this House, any of us involved over the past ten or 15 years since he left know that he continued to provide such good advice. When it came to real moments of contention, as someone who was so experienced in periods of crisis, when it came to the financial crisis you would listen with attention to advice John Bruton would give. When it came to Brexit you would listen. He was engaged right up through this period over the past ten or 15 years. He is a huge loss to our country. He leaves a huge record as a statesman and, I am sure, to his family, who miss him most.

2:40 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I was very sorry to hear of the passing of former Taoiseach John Bruton yesterday. Through his long career, he had a significant impact on politics and life in this State, and 'though we held very clear and very important political differences, I want to express my respect for John Bruton's commitment to public service and to representing people.

It speaks to his dedication and resilience that he was a Teachta Dála for 35 years. It is to his great credit that he gained and maintained the trust and support of the people of Meath for more than three decades, having been first elected to the Dáil in 1969 at the age of just 22. His considerable abilities and work ethic saw him appointed to a range of important ministerial offices over the course of those 35 years. He cut his teeth as Parliamentary Secretary or junior Minister in the areas of industry and education from 1973 to 1977. In 1981, at the age of 34, he was appointed as Minister for Finance by Garret FitzGerald - an office that he held twice. He also served as Minister for Industry and Energy, Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Industry, Trade Commerce and Tourism in those Fine Gael-led Governments of the 1980s.

John Bruton was devoted to Fine Gael and took his responsibilities to the party and to his colleagues very seriously. In opposition, he worked hard as a front bench spokesperson and later as deputy leader of the party. That work and perseverance was rewarded in November 1990 when he succeeded Alan Dukes as leader of Fine Gael. In 1994, following the collapse of Albert Reynolds's Government, John Bruton seized the moment and demonstrated notable skill in negotiating the formation of a new three-party coalition Government, and at the age of 47, became the youngest ever Taoiseach at that time. It was, of course, the first time in the history of the State that a government was formed without a general election. He is credited by many colleagues, as we have heard, and commentators for his effective chairmanship and leadership of that coalition.

As you know, a Cheann Comhairle, John Bruton and my own party had deep and very serious disagreements during what was a very fraught period of the peace process. That is no secret. However, a notable achievement of his Government was its success in passing the divorce referendum in November 1995. Following defeat in the 1997 general election, John Bruton again served as Leader of the Opposition for another four years. Having survived three leadership challenges, his time as Fine Gael leader came to an end in 2001, after a decade at the helm. He held his Dáil seat until 2004 and then he became, as we know, the EU ambassador to the United States.

Throughout his career, John Bruton was a politician of deeply held beliefs. He was a conservative, an advocate of market-driven economics and a very strong proponent of the European Union. These were beliefs about which he thought deeply and which he articulated with notable passion. I profoundly disagreed with his viewpoint and positions on many issues, not least our revolutionary history and the Easter Rising, in particular. However, I know that his perspective was sincerely held. John Bruton was a proponent of the Redmondite political tradition and he proudly displayed a photo of John Redmond on the wall of the Taoiseach's office. Although it was not a view I shared, I recognise it was his sincere view of history and he relished defending it, always honestly, in open debate.

Ba fhear dea-mhúinte, uasal agus cruthanta i gcónaí é John Bruton. Rinne sé an-seirbhís ar son an Stáit seo agus mhuintir na Mí. John Bruton was always courteous. He was a true gentleman and he did this State and the people of Meath some considerable service. He was Taoiseach, Minister, TD and a statesman.

However, to his beloved Finola, who unwaveringly stood by his side, he was a dear husband. To Matthew, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, he was a devoted dad, and to their children, he was a doting grandfather. To Mary, his sister, and to our Dáil colleague Richard, he was a loving brother. In life, we are all shaped by those who love us most; in death, our memory is sustained by those who miss us most. My thoughts and prayers today are with those who loved and who will miss John Bruton most, his family, his friends and his colleagues in Fine Gael. On behalf of myself and Sinn Féin, I offer today our most sincere condolences. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

2:45 pm

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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If I may, I will share time with former Labour Party leader and my colleague Deputy Brendan Howlin, who, of course, served with the former Taoiseach John Bruton in government.

On behalf of the Labour Party, I wish to extend our sincere sympathies to the family of John Bruton: to his wife, Finola, to their four children, Juliana, Emily, Mary-Elizabeth and Matthew, to his sister, Mary, and, of course, to his brother and our colleague, Deputy Richard Bruton. We are so sorry for your loss. I extend our sympathies also to the extended family, friends and colleagues of John Bruton in Fine Gael and to his former constituents and supporters in Meath, the constituency he represented for over three decades, an extraordinary legacy of public service. Indeed, John Bruton leaves a significant legacy of public service not just in Meath but nationally and at European level too.

Many stories have been told about him over the past day since the sad news of his death, and any independent observer of Irish coalition Governments throughout the 1980s and 1990s would fairly say that on many economic and social issues, John Bruton and the Labour Party did not agree. Indeed, there were fundamental disagreements, and I think John Bruton would have been the first to acknowledge that, probably with his famous big, booming laugh. Like many others, I have heard so many stories about that famous laugh and I heard it myself on a number of occasions. Many others have spoken about his courtesy and good humour and I think that is also a very fair and genuine observation.

He was a conservative, as has been said, and a very principled public representative of the Christian democratic tradition. This created many difficulties for the Labour Party at the time and for the Labour Party now, which comes from a very different, social democratic and trade union tradition. Both sides, however, as we know, did work together and John Bruton, working with Dick Spring and others in the Labour Party and Democratic Left, made the rainbow coalition a very effective coalition Government. Others have spoken, notably the Minister, Deputy Ryan, about how that rainbow coalition set a model and precedent for three-party coalition governments or, indeed, for coalition governments.

The politics and policies of the rainbow Government undoubtedly went on to fundamentally change Ireland economically and socially and generations have benefited from the policies of that relatively short-lived Government in so many ways, including through the peace process, which others have mentioned. The return of power-sharing at Stormont over the weekend really puts into perspective the work John Bruton, Dick Spring and others in that Government pursued to reinvigorate the peace process with the Anglo-Irish framework documents and how they had to pick up the pieces, as we might recall, after the IRA returned to violence with the bombing of Canary Wharf and the awful murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. These were enormous challenges they were able to address and overcome.

Over 25 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, I think we can acknowledge that John Bruton and that Government played a key role in laying the groundwork for the peace and stability that we now have across this island. Indeed, more recently, John Bruton, as we know, was very aware of the destabilising impact of Brexit and was a vocal critic of the negative impact any return to a hard border would have on the island. Apart from the peace process, the rainbow Government left an important economic legacy in laying the groundwork for prosperity and ending the scourge of large deficits, of unemployment and of mass emigration that had plagued the island throughout the 1980s.

During the rainbow coalition years, there was also important social change, and others have spoken about the divorce referendum.

For many years, the Labour Party had sought to introduce the right to remarry. As Taoiseach, John Bruton played a pivotal role in securing what was really the first great constitutional liberalisation, when the second divorce referendum was finally passed by a narrow majority in 1995.

John Bruton served as EU ambassador to the US from 2004 to 2009. He used his political skills to build and grow relationships with members of the US Congress. Of course, he did not really retire even following that because he remained active in public life, particularly when it came to Irish-British relationships and EU affairs.

To his colleagues in Fine Gael, I extend our sympathy. For us in the Labour Party and for many others, we will always wonder what the great counterfactual of modern Irish history would have been, namely, how things might have been different if that pioneering, Rainbow Government had been re-elected in 1997. I have heard others say that one of John Bruton's biggest political regrets was that that tripartite coalition Government was not re-elected in 1997. Despite that of course, he leaves an enduring legacy. Again, on behalf of the Labour Party, I extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues.

2:50 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I am deeply privileged to have the opportunity to say a few words in memory of a very distinguished Member of this House and a fine statesman, John Bruton. I was privileged to serve in the rainbow Government from 1994 to 1997 as Minister for the Environment under the leadership of John Bruton. That Government, as others will recall, had an unusual, if not unique, genesis. It was the only Irish Government that was formed mid-Dáil term, had a short lifetime of three years and changed its composition. The three parties, Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left came together to form the rainbow coalition. Many believed that it could not survive and that the tensions which had marked the discussions between the parties in 1992 and the history of how the 1983-1987 Government had fallen would make matters extremely difficult. It did survive, however, and did so amid many difficult challenges. A critical component of that Government's cohesion was the character of John Bruton. His approach to Cabinet and his respect not only for the parties which made up that Government but also for each member of it led to its cohesion and survival. He expected every Minister to present his or her proposals with clarity and supporting evidence. He encouraged robust critique and testing of any ideas or any policy proposals.

It has been said already that John was fundamentally an ideas person, brimming with his own but also attentive to those of others. I have said publicly that not all of his ideas were either wise or practical, but many of them were. People listened and stress-tested his ideas. The latter is a very good thing in the political system because nothing is ruled out but everything is considered and stress-tested.

In politics it is easy to be labelled or pigeonholed. Many saw John Bruton as a fiscal conservative. He was, but he was capable of responding positively to economic and political requirements, to operate outside his own personal economic comfort zone. Many saw him as pro-unionist, with too great an empathy for the unionist position. In truth, that turned out to be an enormous asset. John understood that no lasting peace could be founded on coercion or bullying. Lasting peace required a deep understanding of the thought processes and values of those whose national position you did not share. He had an abiding hatred of political violence and made no secret of his determination that violence could not be regarded as merely another form of politics.

I disagreed with John on many issues, both economic and social, but I always respected his viewpoints, knowing that they came about after his own most careful consideration and research.

On social policy, John's views evolved, although not as fast as some of us would have liked. In a specific instance, his reasoned middle-ground advocacy may well have been the pivotal intervention that gave the referendum to allow for divorce a wafer-thin majority. That campaign was led for the Government by the late and much respected Mervyn Taylor but it needed the support of a known conservative to bring it over the line.

I have many happy memories of John Bruton, a person who was great company and was passionate about his politics and his country. He had a vision of an economically strong Ireland with deep roots in Irish tradition and culture, and a firm and impactive role in the new and evolving Europe. He served this nation well and has earned an important place in our history. His family, his county and his party can be justly proud of his great achievements.

I join with others in sending my condolences in particular to his wife Finola; his children Matthew, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth; his much-regarded and highly respected brother Richard, who is present here; his sister Mary; and all his extended family. Ar dheis lámh Dé do raibh a anam.

2:55 pm

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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On behalf of the Social Democrats, I extend our sympathies to the family and friends of John Bruton on his passing. Our thoughts are with his wife Finola; his son Matthew and daughters Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth; our colleague Richard; his sister Mary; and all his extended family. We also offer our condolences to his many colleagues in Fine Gael and to those who served with him in a variety of roles in public life and in government.

John Bruton dedicated his life to public service. He played a key role in working with so many others in helping to bring peace to this island. His support, as others have said, for the divorce referendum in 1995 was critical, a vote which passed by the narrowest of margins and represented a key turning point in the history of this country.

As Taoiseach of the rainbow government, he formed the first three-party coalition in several years. The very strong working relationships he had across the coalition were of note, particularly the relationship he formed with Proinsias De Rossa, the then leader of Democratic Left. It was a measure of the man that John Bruton forged such a good relationship and rapport with another leader who came from a political tradition, and indeed a personal background, which was worlds apart from John. They had a particularly close and good working relationship within that coalition. He worked very hard to ensure the coalition government was cohesive.

People who met John Bruton throughout his life were very impressed by his integrity, his commitment and his good humour, which are qualities of huge importance in public life. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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As we do not appear to have anybody from Solidarity-People Before Profit, I call Deputy Denis Naughten from the Regional Group.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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Quite a number of Members in the House served with John Bruton. Our colleagues Richard, John's brother, Brendan Howlin, who has just spoken, and Michael Lowry who is unavoidably abroad at the moment, have a unique insight into John because they served with him in Cabinet when he was Taoiseach. I served on John's last Front Bench and what springs to mind for me when I think of John Bruton is a phrase we use in rural Ireland, which is that he was the salt of the earth.

I say that for a number of reasons. First, for John, politics was about people and how it could make a real difference to their lives and make things better for them. I remember him telling a story - many of my former colleagues in Fine Gael will recall it - of driving from Meath to Leinster House. Driving towards Dublin on the M50 early in the morning, he saw in the lane beside him a woman in her car with her children in the back seat eating their breakfast. Those children, as John said, had probably got up an hour previously and would probably not arrive at their crèche in Dublin for another hour because they were still were sitting in traffic. Incidents like that had a profound effect on John. He was determined to see issues such as that addressed for the individuals involved but also for society as a whole.

John did not talk to people, he talked with people. I recall visiting Roscommon Hospital with him in 1997 when he was Taoiseach. We met a man in one of the hospital beds, Paddy Walsh from Antogher Road. At the time, Paddy was receiving a blood transfusion. Paddy had been very sick but he was really animated and wanted to talk to the Taoiseach about the impact the hospital had on his life and on the community in Roscommon. John took the time to listen to Paddy. That was the one thing about him - he actively listened to people. He had a notebook that he took with him everywhere. He was never in a rush to disengage from a conversation. Everyone who has commented on John has said he was a man brimming with ideas, but he was also quite willing to adapt and alter those ideas based on the feedback he heard from colleagues and from the individuals he spoke with.

Second, John was a principled man. He was never the politician of the sound bite. He was someone of substance - policy substance and ideas to reform Ireland for the better. He wore these principles on his sleeve and expressed and defended them even when he sacrificed political support as a result of doing so. On many occasions, he had to confront the ire of the parliamentary party as a result.

Third, John was the salt of the earth too because he had a strong love of the land and rural Ireland. John Bruton was a statesman who could debate economics with the best. He could also debate constitutional issues and European politics, but his eyes lit up when he talked about farming. He was a grounded man who understood rural Ireland. This understanding was instrumental when his Government established the Western Development Commission to stimulate economic development in a part of the country that was at that time faced with economic stagnation, providing regional economic balance before its time.

On my behalf, on behalf of my family and on behalf of the Regional Group of Independents, I offer sincere sympathy to Finola, Matthew, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, to our colleague Richard and John's sister Mary, to the extended Bruton family and to the Fine Gael Party throughout the country. John's legacy as a statesman and a sincere, compassionate individual will undoubtedly endure. He was the salt of the earth. Ar dheis de go raibh a anam.

3:05 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I rise on behalf of the Rural Independent Group to express our deepest sympathy to iar-Thaoiseach and iar-Teachta Dála John Bruton. It was with a great sense of sadness that I learned of the passing of John Bruton yesterday morning. I take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt condolences and prayers to his wife Finola, son Matthew, daughters Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, brother Richard, who is a serving Member and who is with us today, and sister Mary. Richard's bean chéile is a Clonmel woman, Ms Meehan, daughter of the late Dr. Meehan of St. Luke's, and we acknowledge that as well.

As we gather here to pay tribute to John Bruton, a great and principled political leader who dedicated his life to public service and peace, we may also reflect on the kind of world he envisaged and hoped for and where we are now. John Bruton was a man of vision, courage and integrity who always sought to bridge the gaps and heal the wounds that divided our people. He was a champion of democracy, human rights and co-operation who played a vital role in the peace process and the development of our nation. He was also a man of culture who loved poetry and literature and found inspiration and solace in the words of our great poets.

John was a man of honour and integrity, as I said, which shone through his remarkable career in public life, including as Taoiseach from 1994 until 1997. He was also a man of faith who embraced the ideals of service and the common good in his work as well as the significance of faith and parish. John was a cherished and active member of his Dunboyne parish community. He was also a person of dignity and excellence, and the people of Meath, who were close to his heart, were rightly always honoured by John's leadership as both Taoiseach and European Union ambassador to the United States, roles he performed with distinction.

John Bruton's legacy to our society is that of a committed Christian, a patriot and a selfless public servant who inherently understood that sacrifice was a prerequisite to the common good. On this sorrowful day for John's family, his Fine Gael Party and his friends, who know him all over the world, we pray for the peaceful rest of his soul, mindful of the blessings from one of our rituals:

Blessed are those who have died in the Lord;

let them rest from their labours,

for their good deeds go with them.

He will be remembered fondly. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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John Bruton will always be the defining figure of the Fine Gael Party in County Meath. In his 35 years as a Meath TD, he provided leadership on every single issue. His impact will continue because Bruton values will always be at the heart of Fine Gael. He knew every inch of County Meath, and it seems he knew every family - or, indeed, every family knew him personally. He combined an appetite for his roles as a national legislator and a European statesman with a huge commitment to individual constituents, and canvassing with him was certainly an education. I never tired of seeing not only the surprise but also the delight on people's faces, more so in recent years, when they opened the door to see their former Taoiseach and for him to simply say, "Hi. My name is John Bruton. I am here canvassing this evening." Every turn on every road would bring to his mind an incident or a story from the past; he forgot nothing.

He had a wonderful sense of humour and, as many have said, a unique laugh. He came to County Meath one Friday night in January 2016 to officially launch a political campaign for that year's general election. The venue was the lounge of the Dee Local bar. The makeshift podium for the occasion was a pool table covered with a sheet of plywood. John began simply by saying that he had given speeches in some extraordinary places, including the US Congress on Washington's Capitol Hill and the European Parliament, but that that day he had finally hit the jackpot as he was standing on a pool table in Nobber, County Meath.

He was humble about his knowledge, his gifts and his achievements. I recall many emails and not so many texts but certainly phone calls and, indeed, letters, something he was renowned for, from him over the years setting out his political views of the day. The notes were always informed, brimming with energy and experience but never dogmatic. He was always courteous.

Often, it was just a simple note to say. "Well done" or "Keep up the good work", something which I know many of us have benefited from. He was devoted to his family. To Finola, Matthew, Juliana, Emily, Mary-Elizabeth, in particular our colleague Richard, Mary and all of his wider family I offer my deepest condolences. He was a faithful parishioner in Dunboyne and Kilbride. He was an honourable neighbour. He had many friends. Above all, he was a true gentleman and he will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace.

3:10 pm

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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Déanaim comhbhrón ó chroí le clann John Bruton, lena bhean chéile, Finola, le Matthew, le Juliana, le hEmily, le Mary-Elizabeth, lena dheirfiúr. Mary agus lenár gcomhghleacaí Richard freisin. I express my deepest sympathies on behalf of my party in Meath to John's family, his wife, Finola, Matthew, Juliana, Emily, Mary-Elizabeth, Mary and our esteemed colleague Richard.

John was a proud local Dunboyne man who served his community, country and the European Union as Taoiseach, Minister, EU ambassador and a local TD. As a local TD, as Helen has outlined, he was very much in touch with the local community in that big Meath constituency he represented. That constituency, at various times, included parts of Kildare, Westmeath, Cavan and Monaghan in different boundary reviews. His influence went far and wide.

His valuable contribution to the peace process is something that people speak about and we share gratitude for, but what is not spoken about as much is the backdrop to that. The year 1996 was a very violent one. There were disgraceful massive bombings in Canary Wharf and Manchester city centre, and a member of An Garda Síochána was murdered in cold blood. He showed a great deal of skill in dealing with those issues, while obviously completely revulsed by violence, as almost all of us at the time were, and keeping things going with international political leaders, including Bill Clinton in the White House in America and in what were difficult times in particular in the London political scene. He deserves our thanks for that.

He also showed a great deal of political skill in managing a three-party coalition which consisted of diverse political ideologies. All of his skills, huge experience and intellect over the years were later recognised not just by our country but all of the countries of the European Union when John was asked to serve in probably the most important ambassadorial position of the European Union, that is, ambassador of the European Union to the US. How important that was at that time.

In later life, as has been said, John continued to contribute to public life in various roles. His contributions to public and private debates and discussions were always considered, erudite and very worthwhile.

I am not of the same party as John Bruton, but I am very proud to serve as one of his successors for his home area of Dunboyne. He still has a huge legacy there. Recently, Helen and I were at a function in the tennis club and his apologies were given. Of course, he officially opened the tennis club before we were ever involved in politics. He was an international statesman at heart, but he was also a local man and is greatly missed by the local community. He served with distinction and honour and I once again express my sympathies to all of his family, friends and Fine Gael Party in Meath. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I offer sympathies to Finola, Emily, Matthew, Juliana, Mary-Elizabeth, our colleague Deputy Richard Bruton, and John's sister, Mary. Their loss is massive, but this is also a major loss for all of us. John was a big man in many ways and the impact he has had on all of us in the House is immense. For anybody who comes into politics, it is about making an impact and leaving a mark. John Bruton has left that in many parts of the world and Ireland, and certainly at home with his own family, a family he was so proud of. They are proud of him, but he often spoke about them too. His love and affection for Finola, which we saw in how he spoke about her, was immense.

As a young person growing up, it was important for all of us to see those family values John brought right throughout his work.

Like Helen, Thomas and others here, I speak today as a Meath person who had the honour of working with John, although, thankfully, not trying to follow in his footsteps because that is impossible. I was lucky to be elected with him along the way. I would have hated to have been coming in after him because that would have been very difficult. People here talked about his energy in debates in this House and his focus and contribution to the national agenda and European agenda. I can confirm without a doubt he brought the same energy to his local work and to the service he provided throughout the county of Meath and sometimes into counties Westmeath, Cavan, Monaghan and Kildare. It was immense and you could never, ever even try to match that service.

We still talk about Deputy Richard Bruton here and all the doors he covers on a weekly and daily basis. I think John probably tried to match him, or came close on many occasions, because John Bruton really believed that to be a representative and a TD for your county and constituency, you had to constantly engage with the people and meet with them, talk to them and hear them. Deputy Naughten was right when he said that John really wanted to listen to people. I recalled a story last night with a neighbour of someone whose door John knocked on in an estate many years ago. At the first house John knocked on in this estate, the person came out and told him about the issues for the estate and gave him a list of queries, and the list was long, with eight or nine items that had to be addressed. John went to every other house in that estate and did not say he had already got the list and everybody in every house repeated what the issues were. John spent hours in that one estate in the middle of an election, and we all know the pressure that is on, listening to and letting each person tell his or her story or their version of what had to be done. Needless to say, it was all followed up on and they got a letter as well. You could not compete with the service he would provide, through Deirdre in the office, through Kevin and many others. That little black book John would bring back, which was a reasonably sized black book, would be full of issues that had to be resolved and queries that would be dealt with, and they were always dealt with. They were always followed up on. I came along many years later and when I would try to solve something people would say, "Look, here is John Bruton's letter." They would bring it out and show it to me. This could happen in any part of the county from Oldcastle to Laytown to Dunboyne right over to Enfield. It did not matter where you went; John Bruton had been there before you. He had been there as a public representative trying and delivering and working for people and he would always do that.

I remember travelling in the car with him when he was leader of the party, and if there was a gap between meetings, he would hop out and say, "Let's do a few doors." We could be in the middle of nowhere and John would hop out and you would have to get out with him. It was a great way to learn from that. I see John Farrelly in the Public Gallery, who is also a former colleague of all of ours here. John would also have many fond stories, likewise probably chasing the other John down some of the roads and covering ground, knowing he was always there ahead of us. John Bruton believed in hopping out of the car, knocking on a door and saying hello and so on. A bit like Helen said, John had respect for everybody. He never assumed anybody knew who he was. At every door that was opened, he would start with, "Hi, I'm John Bruton." I found this out when I first started. I said, "John, everyone knows you" and he said, "No, you can never take that for granted." He really believed in presenting himself and representing people, and that is what he will be remembered for.

John had a massive influence on County Meath. I said yesterday we were lucky to have him in the county as a TD. The country was lucky to have him, but certainly, a growing county like Meath was, that changed a lot over his 35 years in politics and was an area he still represented even when he was not a TD. He still got involved in the local economic forum on behalf of the county council. He would still ring us very regularly with his view on issues. It was never a view he pushed on you. It was a supportive view. He would support our work. He would give you an idea or concept and give you his thoughts. He never expected you to take on board what he said or to implement his ideas, but he would offer them, and it was always in a very kind and supportive way.

I know I certainly would not be here as a TD if it was not for John Bruton. Many other colleagues in Fine Gael would have a similar story, that he is the reason they are in politics and he is the reason they joined Fine Gael. In many cases, it was his advice and guidance, like Richard here with us today, that helped to get all of us elected in the first place because John gave that advice.

I am not going to deny that when it came to elections, of course, he was competitive. John Bruton always believed in getting a big vote and, by God, he got a big vote, but he deserved it. He worked hard for it. It always made those campaigns very interesting. It was a pleasure and an honour, a Cheann Comhairle, to have served with him.

I recall many fond stories. Long before I was in politics, before I even knew I wanted to be a politician, I bumped into John Bruton when we students were doing a school magazine. He was Taoiseach at the time and I was around 14 or 15.

Our very blueshirt teacher PJ Nugent, who really believed in politics, said we had to go and interview the Taoiseach. John met us and gave us time. He answered a couple of questions and he took a picture with us. Sadly we lost some of his head in the picture but we had him in our magazine and it really meant a lot to us as young people. We were very young and none of us were involved in politics but he took time out as Taoiseach to talk to us and give us his advice.

On another note, we talked about John Bruton having that big laugh. You would always know if he was anywhere in the room because you would hear him with that laugh, no matter where he was. You would feel his presence. That is what he brought to politics, that presence, impact and desire for public service and to deliver.

During an údarás election - I was not long a councillor at the time - we stopped off in Colwells in Oberstown. Many here from Meath know it. It is a little pub. In the corner there was a pool table. I said I could not debate with John on European or international affairs but I would try to bring him down to my level and we would have a game of pool. I did not realise he had been on the pool table in Nobber. We had a game of pool and it was moving along nicely. I think I was a couple of shots ahead. At one stage John just looked up and said, "Damien, you do know I am still the party leader." I will leave it at that and you can tell who won that game.

It was an honour and we were lucky to have had him.

3:25 pm

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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I was very sorry to hear of the death of John Bruton and I send my condolences on behalf of myself and the Sinn Féin Party in Meath to John's wife Finola, his son Matthew, his daughters Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, his grandchildren, his sons-in-law, his brother Richard, his sister Mary and the extended family. We are of different generations but I can say as a TD for Meath, as a political activist and as a fellow Meath man that John Bruton was very widely respected in his community in Dunboyne and right across County Meath, not just by party supporters but by people who might not have agreed with him politically. That says something. He was a TD for 35 years and held very high office at a number of levels at significant times in our history. He was elected in 11 general elections and that does not happen easily. His commitment to public service, to his community and to his county were absolutely immense. He will be sadly missed. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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Gabhaim míle buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom mo chomhbhrón a ghabháil freisin do mo chomhghleacaithe inniu mar gheall ar bhás John Bruton. Is cailliúint ollmhór í dá chlann, do Pháirtí Fine Gael, agus do Chontae na Mí freisin. I give my deepest sympathies on behalf of my party and myself to the family of John Bruton on his passing. These days will be very tough days for John's wife Finola, his son Matthew and daughters Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, for his brother and our colleague Richard, and for his sister Mary. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this time. I know that John's death will be a big blow to many members of Fine Gael who are here opposite today and I extend my sincere sympathies to you also.

John Bruton was a giant of the Irish political system throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He did this while also being a thoroughly decent man. Anybody who knows anything about politics knows these are two things that are very hard to do and to sustain. John was a conviction politician who stood up for what he believed in and what he knew was right. He was a human rights advocate who stood up for the right to life for everybody. He was a deep thinker. He had a strong moral compass. He remained dedicated to his objectives even when he knew it would be going against the prevailing political winds of the time. Everybody always knew where they stood with John Bruton. His leadership of the rainbow Government also showed that he could be pragmatic and collaborative when that was needed. He brought an amazing cohesiveness to a coalition Government made up of political parties from diametrically opposing roots at that time.

He was a man who gave great service to his county, to his country and to one of his main political objectives which was the EU. There is no doubt that his service in these institutions has made a significant impact on the lives we all live today in Ireland. There was a selflessness to John's service. He competed politically not on personality but on ideas, values and service. He did great service for County Meath. He had a great pride in County Meath. No matter where he was, or what institution he was working in, he never forgot the pot that he was boiled in. In truth, the people of Meath also took great pride in his service. His work lifted the lives of thousands of people in our county and he will never be forgotten on the highways and byways of our county.

Photo of Johnny GuirkeJohnny Guirke (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
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I did not think I would be asked to speak. I offer my sympathies to Richard and to John's wife and family. I did not know John myself but from going around canvassing in north Meath I can say I am glad he has not been there these days because it has been a lot easier to get a vote. I offer my sympathies to Richard who I know and to John's wife and family. May he rest in peace.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I join the Taoiseach and many others in the House in paying tribute to an extraordinary man and a deeply impactful politician who, sadly, has died at the age of 76 after a long illness which he carried with extraordinary grace. Like others, I express my condolences to the Bruton family, to Finola his wife, to his son Matthew, to his daughters Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, to his grandchildren, in particular to his brother and colleague and friend of ours here, Richard, who has maintained this extraordinary standard in public service from the Bruton family, and to his sister Mary.

On a family note and on a lighter note I remember that in my early 20s, when John Bruton was Taoiseach, he came to Cork to canvass for the divorce referendum. He and my father, two conservatives, were campaigning for a "Yes" vote in the divorce referendum in a rural parish. He stayed that night in our home. I remember us as children lining up to welcome the Taoiseach into our house. He treated us all with generosity, including us in debate and discussion. Perhaps what I remember most about that night was that after we were sent to bed we were kept awake for two or three hours by John Bruton's laugh in the kitchen downstairs. I suspect the neighbours may also have been kept awake. As people have said, it was infectious and so much part of his personality. People often did not see the scale of his personality in political debate or see the softer and funnier side of John Bruton which many of us had the privilege of witnessing.

For the Fine Gael family this is a huge loss. There are Fine Gael councillors, TDs and Senators across the country for whom John Bruton was central to their careers in terms of encouragement and advice. People continued to look up to John Bruton long after he left these Houses. He was 35 years as a TD. He held multiple Ministries. He was party leader for 11 years and Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997. In truth, it is safe to say that John was a foundation stone in many ways for this party over the past half century, during the contribution he made in this House and outside it, during his time while elected and in the advice he gave not just to the leadership in the party but also to many others across the country. John was policy focused always. He did not believe there was a problem that did not have that solution; it was just a question of being determined enough to find a solution that would solve that problem.

He played an important role in building the economic model that Ireland enjoys and that is so successful today. Deputy Howlin referred to the time of the rainbow Government. I believe that Government was one of the most impactful and influential Governments of recent decades.

John was pro-European. He was vice-president of the European People’s Party. He had enormous respect across the European Union, and the response to his death from many European leaders is testament to that and to how they still remember him.

He was always pro-enterprise. He wanted Ireland to compete internationally and win. In many ways, he put the building blocks in place to make that happen.

He was in tune, as people have said, with rural as well as urban Ireland. He understood farming and farmers and had an appreciation for the land and why it is still so important to rural communities and Irish politics.

He was a team player, too, even though he held extraordinarily strong views himself. The rainbow Government and the compromise he was willing to show to make it work are testament to that.

He had absolutely no tolerance, though, for violence or intimidation as a means to achieve political ends. His approach to Northern Ireland was to reach out to all communities and to put in place conversations and building blocks to ensure a peace process was possible some day. He does not get enough recognition, in my view, for the work he put into achieving in 1995 an Anglo-Irish framework document with the British Prime Minister, John Major, that in many ways, from a content point of view, was much of what subsequently became a peace agreement that has sustained until today. John’s willingness to reach out, listen to and try to understand unionism was something he was sometimes ridiculed for and criticised for from various quarters, but he was right, and what he managed to do was to show unionism that there were people south of the Border who wanted to understand it, who wanted to include it and who wanted to ensure that it was part of plans for a future Ireland that was shared on this island. Political relations on the island of Ireland were enhanced because of the bravery of John Bruton in being willing to stand up to others who would try to ridicule him for that.

As Deputy English referenced, John Bruton was a fierce competitor in his own constituency but also outside it. He was a formidable debater and people, whether they agreed with him or not, always listened when John Bruton spoke. He challenged when he needed to. He worked with others when he needed to. His relationship with John Major in particular and the British Government was evidence of that. When he needed to speak up and criticise, he was not shy about doing it, but when there was an opportunity to work together, he grasped it. He challenged any justification for violence or, indeed, discrimination from whatever quarter they came.

John’s strong views could, of course, create divisions at times. During his leadership of the Fine Gael Party, there were many intense debates. I remember them well, and so do others in this House, but it was a time of vibrant clashes of ideas and personalities within the party. It was lively democracy. John Bruton would not have had it any other way. It was a time when the party attracted new members from all walks of life and from different parts of Ireland, including me. John Bruton was central to my decision to enter politics in 1998. I was 25 years old and weighing up the options as to whether I would enter public life. I think it is true to say that, without the encouragement and confidence of John Bruton at the time, I may not have made the decision I did. He subsequently fought a by-election as if it were his own, which proved to be successful both from my perspective and for the party. Of course, I had my differences with John at times, particularly during leadership challenges within the party, but I have to say that my respect for John Bruton was never diminished. In later years, when John was EU ambassador in Washington and I was an MEP visiting Washington, he took me in and we spent hours discussing transatlantic policy, which he revelled in. When I was making more political judgment calls during Brexit and the Covid years, John Bruton was quietly there, offering advice, making himself available to meet people and offering himself as a go-between with people who had very different perspectives, looking for nothing in return except wanting to discuss and be taken seriously. In 26 years in politics, in my view there is nobody whom I have respected more than John Bruton – a political thinker, a Christian democrat, a family man, a patriot to the end. Rest in peace.

3:35 pm

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I add my own on tribute to that of our former Taoiseach and party leader and to the deserved praise already given by my colleagues in the House today. I first of all extend my sympathies to John’s wife, Finola, his son, Matthew, and his daughters, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth. I note in particular the presence on the benches today of his brother, Richard, someone who is held in such high esteem by our party. I extend to you, Richard, your sister and the rest of the family my sincere sympathies.

While many words will have been written about John Bruton’s positive legacy, I want to particularly note comments made by the former British Prime Minister, Sir John Major, when he appeared before the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in January of last year. During the course of Sir John Major’s presentation, he noted his extraordinary luck in having John Bruton as his counterpart in bringing forward the framework agreement in 1995. It was a vital document, as already stated by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, in which both Governments set themselves the aim of fostering agreement and reconciliation, leading to a new political framework founded on consent. This was, of course, the precursor to the Good Friday Agreement. It dealt with, among other issues, North-South institutions and a framework for accountable government in Northern Ireland, including an assembly. It is somewhat timely to remind ourselves of that, given the recent restoration of the assembly in Northern Ireland.

I do not have time to list all of John Bruton’s work in advancing the peace process, work that has often been overlooked but should not be. He was a catalyst for change and an advocate for peace and for non-violence. In recent days, I have seen the hugely positive influence he has had on our shared island being recognised, and I hope that continues. Whatever else his achievements, and there were many, John Bruton helped to bring peace to this island. Not many can say that, and it is a legacy to be proud of.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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I join others in paying tribute to a former distinguished Member of this House, John Bruton. I first extend my sympathy to his wife, Finola, their children and our colleague Deputy Richard Bruton. Above all, this is a personal loss, and that is something I would like to acknowledge. It is always very difficult to lose a father, a husband and a brother, and John was a colossus in their lives. I know how close they were.

In the time I have, I want to reflect on the legacy of John Bruton. If you look at his career, it spans five decades from the sixties all the way up to the noughties. His career mirrored the transformation of Ireland into a modern country. When he was elected in 1969, we were still not members of the EEC. We joined it in 1973 and his career was very much in tandem with that. Longevity in politics is becoming a rarity, but apart from that, longevity with delivery and purpose has to be acknowledged. John Bruton stood the test of time.

He had a career. His former colleague, Deputy English, referred to it. Listening to "Morning Ireland" earlier, the affection people had for him in Dunboyne was evident. He was universally liked. We hear that politics should be more about being in Parliament than being on the ground. Politics is not like that. We learn what we need to do fully in this House by meeting people on the ground. There is no substitute for it. John Bruton was the epitome of that. He was the epitome of decency. He was a wise and simple man.

I remember meeting him in the Dáil bar not that long ago. I had a discussion with him for perhaps half an hour, and he covered everything in that time. I refer to his knowledge of everything. We did not agree about everything, but he stood by his convictions, and this must be fully acknowledged.

He has left a legacy in the context of his family, his constituency and his role as Taoiseach. As Deputy Howlin said, it was a unique time when he was Taoiseach. It had not happened before and has not happened since, but he put a government together in the middle of an electoral cycle. This was against a backdrop where people were saying it could not happen. Dick Spring, Proinsias De Rossa and John Bruton were the leaders of the parties involved, and that was a hugely successful coalition Government. We will never know how John Bruton would have done if it had been re-elected. He went on, however, to be the EU's ambassador to the US and he made a significant contribution in that role.

The other thing he very much was the champion of was that he believed our future was with Europe. There were many naysayers at the time but he has been proven correct. We are a modern, open economy. Our connection to Europe is greatly important in respect of all our interactions now, including even in Ukraine and Gaza. John Bruton operated on the national stage.

If I can be parochial, I turn to his leadership of Fine Gael. I refer to the number of texts I got from members of the party and councillors demonstrating the affection he was held in. Deputy Coveney also referred to this aspect. John Bruton was universally liked in our party. People enjoyed it when he came along because they knew it was going to be a robust discussion. He might not have agreed with them, but people knew it certainly was not going to be boring. His legacy, then, is one of continuing public service right up to the end and of always doing what he believed was right.

I will finish on the fact that the Northern Ireland Assembly was restored on the eve of his passing. The one thing that was certainly evident from that 1994 to 1997 coalition government is that people can work together. They may not have the same views, but if people work for the common good, then what comes out of that are synergies. The one thing John Bruton did was to lay the foundation for modern coalitions. They are what the public like. He was ahead of his time in this regard. The public are very comfortable with coalitions and rainbow governments. One of the reasons they are is because the coalition Government from 1994 to 1997, under the stewardship of John Bruton as Taoiseach, showed the concept could work. I believe this is his lasting legacy. With that, I bid a fond farewell to John. May he rest in peace. He has done the State some service and he was a true patriot.

3:45 pm

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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Is lá an-tábhachtach é seo chun óráid a thabhairt ar son ár iar-Thaoisigh agus tá moladh mór tuillte aige. Beidh cuimhne air go deo agus ní bheidh, i ndáiríre, a leithéidí arís ann agus níl aon dabht faoi sin, ach go háirithe. As a TD for the Louth and east Meath constituency, I obviously met John many times over many years. My political career started in the Seanad when I was elected under his leadership and when he appointed me as spokesperson on transport, as well as after that time. I was a proud supporter of John at all times. I had great respect for him, for his honesty, for his being a hard worker, for his humility, for his honour and for his vision. He was a person who inspired confidence in all who knew him. I am thinking back to what other speakers said before me. I can understand exactly what was said about the late John Bruton and farming because I think back to when my sister started going out with the late Paddy Hogan, a farmer from County Meath, who was John Bruton's number one supporter in Skryne. Every field that had a bit of a roadside alongside it had John Bruton's picture displayed. There was no doubt about this, as Deputy English knows.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I do.

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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Dare anyone say a bad word about John Bruton because the late Paddy Hogan would defend him to the end. Councillor Mary Sylver was also a great supporter of John Bruton, as was Councillor Brigid Hogan, whom I knew at that time. They were people who told me about John Bruton. I got to know him, learn about him and like him and to believe in what he did.

He was a man who held his ground. He believed firmly and with conviction. He did not budge and was not to be intimidated or moved. He stood his ground and he was a very powerful advocate for the changes he believed in. He contacted me many times about issues of concern during the period I have been the Chair of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. He was a really important influence on our national psyche. He made us think much more about the future of our island and about the place unionism must have in future successful relationships, North and South. The future shared island will include unionism. It is the strong views of John Bruton, somewhat vilified by some, but always respected by most people, that have taught us the way to go in this regard.

I thought about what I or anyone here could say about John Bruton that would honour the man and how he will be respected into the future. I came across a speech by President Theodore Roosevelt called "The Man in the Arena". I will read a few words from it. In that famous speech, President Theodore Roosevelt said:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done ... better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do [those] deeds; who knows ... great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

John Bruton was a political giant, with a powerful intellect and a searching and inquiring mind. He was never afraid to speak out and highlight uncomfortable truths. He will be sadly missed. I extend my deepest sympathies to his wife, Finola, his children, Emily, Matthew, Juliana and Mary-Elizabeth, his sister, Mary, and, of course, his always faithful brother who was by his side, at all times in this House and outside it, our dear respected colleague, Deputy Richard Bruton.

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I also join my colleagues in paying tribute to our former Taoiseach, John Bruton. I was listening to the radio yesterday morning when we heard the sad news of the death of John, and we were reminded by Tommie Gorman of perhaps one of the lesser-known relationships that John forged during his distinguished political career. John Bruton and Billy Fox were elected to the Dáil on the same day in 1969, and, indeed, they shared an office together here in Leinster House. Sadly, Billy Fox was shot and murdered by the IRA in March 1974. Next month, we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Senator Billy Fox. I will always remember how passionately John spoke when he paid tribute to Billy at the 40th anniversary of his death in Aughamullan in 2014. John Bruton was only 26 years old when Billy Fox was murdered, and he said his death was forever imprinted on his mind and on his heart and it instilled in him a complete and utter abhorrence of paramilitary violence throughout his life.

John Bruton was a very straight, decent and hard-working politician, who upheld strong moral values but was always the true democrat.

John always believed in the importance of building peace between neighbours and enjoyed a very good relationship with former British Prime Minister John Major. In fact, it is probably fair to say the two Johns are the forgotten men of the peace process. Although John left the office of Taoiseach in 1997, the year before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, there can be no doubt that the foundations and the spadework for that historic agreement were laid and well progressed under his leadership.

John's political skills and ability to be inclusive meant, against many odds, that he was able to form a Government with the Labour Party and the Democratic Left. Very few Governments are appreciated while still in office but it is fair to say, with the benefit of hindsight, that the Rainbow Government is widely considered to have done a good job, having led Ireland through a period of considerable social and economic progress.

I have no doubt that, over the coming days, John's family, friends and many colleagues will gain solace from hearing the stories and accounts of the legacy he has left behind. To his wife Finola, son Matthew, daughters Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, brother Richard and sister Mary, I want to say that it is a legacy of which they can be rightly proud. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

3:55 pm

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
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I express my sympathy to John Bruton's family and of course to the Fine Gael Party nationally, but also the Fine Gael Party in Meath. To my colleague on the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action, Richard Bruton, I formally extend the sympathies of the committee on the sad passing of his brother.

I recall a story from my youth some 30 years ago. I remember being intensely jealous of my brother when my father brought him to a Shannon-Garryowen rugby match in Limerick. I was doubly jealous when my brother, Morgan, came home and said he met the then Taoiseach, John Bruton. John was one of the first heavyweight political figures I remember from my childhood. When Morgan came home, I was really envious that he had got to meet a man who was so central to our lives growing up in the 1990s in Ireland. I remember Morgan describing the booming laugh that John Bruton had, which others have described today. It has stayed with me for 30 years. My father, a Fine Gael councillor in Limerick in the 1980s and 1990s, was a friend of John Bruton. He and John got on very well and knew each other well, and that is why they ended up going to the rugby match in Limerick on the day in question. I believe it was in 1995.

While that is a very fond personal memory, I should speak to John's legacy nationally and internationally. Most people in Ireland will know that an Irish kitchen shows so much about what matters to the family that resides there. In our kitchen at home, the house I grew up in and in which my mother still lives, there is a portrait of Michael Collins and a crucifix. There is also a photograph on the shelf of my parents attending the funerals of the Enniskillen bombing victims in 1987, when my dad was Mayor of Limerick. Also on the wall of the kitchen at home is a signed copy of the joint framework agreement from 1995. These items tell a story of what mattered in our family. The joint framework agreement mattered because it was so significant in bringing this country from a path of absolute devastation, death, destruction, horror and terror in the 1970s and 1980s to the peace we now know. John Bruton should forever be remembered for the role he played in bringing peace to this island. Of all the successes of the Rainbow Government, of which there were many, as rightly acknowledged here today, the most important was that peace was brought to this country. It led to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Our family was immensely proud when John travelled to Limerick in 1999 and attended my father's funeral. There was no political reason to attend. Both my father and John had retired from politics at that point. Fundamentally, John Bruton was a man of honour and that is why he travelled down to Limerick and attended. It is an immense source of pride that a man of honour like John Bruton recognised my father's contribution to political life in Limerick by travelling that day. Fundamentally, John Bruton was a man of honour, and that is how he will be remembered.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I extend my sympathy and that of my family to Finola and her family, to Richard and his family and to the Bruton family across north Kildare, of whom there are very many. Long may it be so.

I see John Farrelly sitting up in the Gallery. We go back a long way, to when we were both councillors and first had direct dealings with John Bruton. I was a councillor in Kildare, my area of north Kildare being part of the Meath constituency at the time, and John was a councillor in Meath, in the same constituency. It was a time of great learning. John taught us how to work hard, to keep our eyes on the targets, to stick with it and to be resolute in the pursuit of objectives that were noble. That sums up his attitude to public life at the time. He taught us well and we never lost the work ethic. I remember that, after the clinics at the weekend, we would get the letters from John, who was a Minister of State in the 1973–77 Government. His was an inimitable, flowing hand – it was all handwritten. You could have up to a dozen letters at the time, all making representations about people in my constituency, on the Kildare side. Those letters concerned people in dire straits and not in a good place. That showed his compassion. That was his way of teaching us to be alert to what was happening and to do something. He would never ask, “Why didn't you do it?”. We thought it as well to do it first.

John was a man of words, integrity and vision. He was all that we would want ourselves to be for the Meath constituency, this House, this country and the international community. He gave his all, all the time. His interest was never-ending. He was a good historian, a good European historian, and he knew where all the issues arose, where they had been pushed to one side and whether they had been resolved. He was a great believer in the spoken word as a means of achieving what the sword and bullet could never do. We learned all that from him. He was a familiar figure at every Fine Gael event up and down the country from the late 1960s and all through the 1970s, inimitably addressing the congregations without any notes whatsoever. He was able to speak for as long as he wished and sometimes for longer than the rest of us wished. He never lost it.

He was also a man of the unexpected. The unexpected is important in politics. I always remember that there was some kind of upheaval in our party at one particular time. There were many such instances, I hasten to add.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I wonder how you lost track of that.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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A number of brave delegates who were elevated in the party at the time decided to visit him in his office and ask him if he would be interested in changing his ways or considering his position.

He inquired as to where they were coming from and on what basis they were asking. They replied that it was as members of the front bench. He told them they did not represent the front bench anymore because he had sacked them the previous day. That was John Bruton. When we recalled it to him later, he laughed and enjoyed it as though it were the first time he was hearing it. He saw that something needed to be done. He was chastising someone, having a laugh about it at the same time and he moved on. He never held a bitter word for people, even those with whom he disagreed.

There was only a river between us, a couple of miles. He said "let it be always thus" about the river, that it would not be drained or something like that. Anyway, we enjoyed one another and enjoyed the adjoining constituencies. It was full of thrills and spills, the expected and the unexpected. He was great to be with. He made a huge contribution to this country. He made a huge contribution to the Continent of Europe and continued to do so right until his passing. He was a man of conviction, honour and integrity who he set about doing things by peaceful means that others had failed to do by other means.

4:05 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I am honoured and humbled to join my colleagues in paying tribute to and mourning the loss of John Bruton, our former Taoiseach, Minister for many Departments, a TD for more than three decades, the EU's ambassador to the United States and, of course, leader of our party, Fine Gael. On my behalf and that of the Wicklow Fine Gael organisation, I extend my sincere sympathy to the Bruton family: John's wife Finola, his children, his grandchildren, his wider family, his sister Mary and in particular our great colleague and good friend Richard. There are not many families in Ireland that produce one TD. The Bruton family produced two, and two of such incredible ability. I hope in the days and weeks ahead that Richard and his family will be able to take some solace and comfort from the warmth of the tributes that are rightly being paid to John across the House today.

John Bruton epitomised the ideals of public service. Any objective view of his time in office can only arrive at the conclusion that he was always motivated by the public interest. His incredible ability to form, nurture and continue with great success the diverse Government of the rainbow coalition speaks to his incredible political skill.

Much has rightly been said about his intellect, his work ethic and his decency and no doubt they will continue to be commented on. I heard from many members of our party yesterday and while I was out and about in my constituency this morning. I was struck by the many positive and warm comments by members of the public about John Bruton. I spoke last night to someone who knew him well and worked closely with him. That person thought the word that best summed up John Bruton was "loyalty". Loyalty is a word that can really be attached to John: loyalty to his country; loyalty to his constituents of many years; loyalty to his party, Fine Gael; loyalty to his beliefs, even when they may have been minority views; and loyalty at all times and above all else to his family.

As a newly elected TD in 2011, I remember his incredible leadership on the EU stability treaty. It was a dark time in the history of our country economically. I remember the incredible energy with which John threw himself into that campaign and his impassioned advocacy for and defence of European values and ideals. He was simply unrivalled in the fluidity and knowledge with which he was able to speak about the European project. I always enjoyed having the opportunity to listen to him. He remained generous with his time. That was evident to all of us in the Fine Gael Party. I remember him coming to our think-in two years ago, or thereabouts, in Trim and again he was generous and kind with his advice, views and time. He was a person of deep conviction. He was truly a conviction politician. When he did not agree with you, he would tell you - he would not shirk from that or from a policy debate. Nobody could doubt for a second the sincerity of the deeply held and considered view he brought to any issue. The island of Ireland, Europe, the European Union, Fine Gael and politics are all the better for John Bruton, his public service, his leadership, his smarts and his contribution. He was a man of depth, political and intellectual heft, decency, vision and loyalty. May we mourn his loss, but also celebrate his incredible life, incredible contribution and legacy to our great country. May he rest in peace.

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael)
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I am privileged and humbled to join colleagues in offering my condolences to Finola, to the Bruton family and especially to our dear friend and colleague, Richard, on the passing of his brother, John.

If I may, I will address a word to our colleague, Deputy Richard Bruton. I hope this afternoon that the affection, respect and deep understanding of your brother that has been expressed by many Members of this House, and in particular the affection expressed by Members of this House who worked with him closely but may not always have been from the same political tradition, are of some comfort to you as you deal with grief. I hope in time that the words offered here are of help to you in understanding the esteem and affection your brother enjoyed and received from so many, as of course you do too.

In thinking about what words I could offer at this moment, I thought there was no better place to begin than with the words of John in the lovely book he published after retirement, Faith in Politics. In a reflection he offered for Easter time, which reflected the faith he had that was not only based on a political outlook but also on his deep religious faith, he said:

Our faith tells us that there is a God, that we are not alone in the universe. We should not be arrogant. We should respect His creation. We should leave the earth in a better condition than we found it. There is something out there much bigger than us; we must keep our troubles in proportion.... Our faith tells us that there is a life after our death, we do not simply pass away into nothingness. We have to give an account of ourselves.

Those are the words of John. I thought about what his account of himself might be. Many colleagues have spoken about his qualities as a statesman. Many colleagues who worked closely with him have spoken about their great esteem for him and his great achievements as a holder of the highest office. I am not qualified to do so. I did not have that privilege, but I did have the privilege of getting to know him after those moments. I will briefly offer three memories that bring to light the qualities that so many have mentioned.

I remember vividly a local election campaign in 2003 when I was elated and somewhat scared to be joined on the canvass with John Bruton in Villa Park, a lovely estate off the Navan Road. He arrived with me on a bright afternoon. The clouds, thank God, were few, the sky was blue and he turned up in a lovely raincoat with a wide-brimmed hat. I saw what I initially thought was a masterclass in how to engage with people, but I quickly realised after an hour with him that it was just a reflection of the innate decency of the man and the deep respect he had for anyone he met on the doorstep. I remember a particular encounter in which someone I hoped would be a constituent of mine at some point in the future complained to John about the poor water pressure. It was like it was the first time John had ever heard about an issue in a constituency, such was the interest he showed in it and the command he had of what could be done to fix the issue as he extolled me to do it.

Second, I remember the referendum on the fiscal compact, as was touched on for a moment by the Minister, Deputy Harris. It was an existential moment in our country's fortunes.

I remember he and I speaking at a meeting on that topic. Afterwards, we were reflecting on where things stood. I was a young backbench TD reeling from the huge challenges we were facing, with an email inbox that I was at times afraid to look at and phone calls which I sometimes struggled to return. I remember speaking to John about this and he gave me this wonderful evocation, by the side of a bar somewhere in my constituency, about the value of solidarity, the value of empathy and the value of national effort. I remember after those words the phone calls were a little less daunting, the emails were a little less scary and the challenges just felt a little smaller. That was the spirit of the man.

That leads on to my final thought about his spirit and his very deep appreciation of culture. Others have spoken with great authority about his beliefs. I simply add that for all of his focus on safety in public finances and for all of the descriptions of him as an economic conservative, he never once saw an economy as the master of society. He saw an economy and how we look after ourselves as the way to create a better society and help the vulnerable. Economics was a tool to achieve greater aims. He had the same view about Europe. He saw the European Union as our best prospect, the greatest possible guarantor of peace and stability and of bringing the values he cared so deeply about to further life within our own country and across the Continent.

If I started with John's words, I think I will end with them also. During a public lecture that he gave in that moment of great crisis in our country, he said:

The values we need to survive the recession are ones that bring us out of ourselves, that help us to transcend our own problems, by interesting ourselves in other people, and by giving service to something greater than ourselves.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, can we imagine a life better lived in delivering on those values?

4:15 pm

Photo of Alan DillonAlan Dillon (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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On my behalf and on that of the people I represent in Mayo, I pay tribute to John Bruton, a giant of Irish politics whose passing is a great loss not only to Fine Gael but also to our nation as a whole. John's exceptional statesmanship, his unwavering dedication to public service and his honesty and integrity leave an enduring legacy. Reflecting on the tributes today, his love for Ireland and its people is apparent in all his actions, and especially to his Meath faithful. On a day like today, we recall his strong personality and leadership qualities. His contribution to our party and our nation will always be remembered. His legacy will continue to motivate future generations of leaders within Fine Gael and beyond. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to his family, to Finola, his children, his esteemed brother Richard, who is here with us, and his sister Mary. Our thoughts are with them all at this difficult time. John Bruton's dedication to public service continues to be an inspiration for all of us in the Fine Gael parliamentary party. May he rest in peace.

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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It is a privilege to be a Member of this House and to listen to the contributions of Members in honour of John Bruton. It is an even greater privilege to get to contribute.

I want to make three brief points. As somebody whose political career began when John had retired from his, I am struck on reflection by how many times I met with, listened to and engaged with John Bruton during my time as a public representative. At a time when others might be considering trying to get their golf handicap down or taking on other pursuits beyond politics, the sense of public service that John had throughout his career never diminished or wavered in his retirement. Whether it was canvassing for Helen McEntee in the by-election to retain that seat for Fine Gael, addressing the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly at the height of good relations between Ireland and Britain, addressing trade events, Fine Gael party conferences, think-ins or making numerous contributions on Brexit and other EU referendums at a time of critical importance, he knew the balance of public service and, as a former Taoiseach, the balance of having something to say, of it having a weight and a value, but saying it in the right way at the right time. That is a real sign of public service, when somebody's time is finished in politics, when they do not have to be in touch with elected representatives but do so because they still believe in that. That is quintessentially the public service that John Bruton had until the very end.

As Fine Gael's representative in the Department of agriculture, the second point I want to make is that John was a man of the land. Through all of the different portfolios he held in his time in Cabinet, while he never held one in the Department of agriculture, the Brutons are renowned for being great farmers both in Meath and in Kildare. John had a passion for and an understanding of agriculture. When we look at his passion for the European project, as has been said earlier, he could see the benefits for Ireland in being at the heart of Europe. Nowhere more so could he see those benefits than for our agricultural industry, to deliver the balanced regional development that we needed and for supporting rural communities the length and breadth of this country.

We all have families who take great pride in us having been elected and being Members of this House and in our role in public service. I cannot imagine the pride in the Bruton family for two sons - two brothers - to have served in that role with such distinction, not just their constituencies but their country and Cabinet through many different roles. To Richard, to Finola and to all of the family, you can take great pride in a life well lived in John, someone we are very proud of in Fine Gael. On behalf of the Fine Gael organisation in Kildare South we extend our deepest condolences to you all.

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I do not know where to start. I have had so many great experiences with John Bruton. I look today at Deputy Howlin, at John Farrelly and at Deputy English and I think about many stories. Some of them I will keep for the book. To be honest, I could not repeat some of the things that happened.

I will just go back to the beginning. Finola came from Westport, County Mayo. It was ironic today that we had a school visit from the Sacred Heart school in Westport. They just happened to be here today and that is the school that she went to in Westport. She was very proud of that town. I got to know John before I became a TD, and I will tell you about that in a moment. I was a town councillor and a county councillor. He made many visits to Westport and we had many nights. Deputy Durkan touched on this but I will not. When John was having difficulty in the Fine Gael party, he rang me and Phil Hogan came to see me. He came to my house on a Sunday, himself and Finola, and got a few people around Westport for me to stand in the by-election. I will not give the history of why I was not going to stand. I am keeping that for the book because it would not be right on some of my colleagues. I will some time put it into a book.

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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It could be a dangerous book.

Photo of Michael RingMichael Ring (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I have to say that he came down and I said "No, I am not standing. When there were Seanad nominations going, you forgot about Michael Ring, when the TDs themselves were picking the Senators who they could nominate." But anyway he came to my house on a Sunday afternoon on a miserable wet day and he begged me to go. Then I got the phone call from Phil Hogan and they got a few people from Westport - Patrick Durkan and people like that - to come to my house, and I agreed to go. I stood in the by-election in 1994 and John Bruton for two weeks before that was under tremendous pressure, and I mean pressure. We won that by-election against all the odds. I remember I said on RTÉ that night, Jim Fahy sent it on to me, and Leo, I want you to listen, this was in May, "Before the year is out, John Bruton will be Taoiseach, Enda Kenny will have a full car and I will have a half car". John Bruton became Taoiseach, Enda Kenny got the full car but I got no car. To be fair, in 1997, John Bruton sat where the Taoiseach is sitting now. At 12 noon, he adjourned the Dáil and we were having a general election. He whispered something in my ear. People will have to buy the book, however, because I am not going to tell you today what he said.

Two weeks ago - Richard knows this - I spoke to John. He was not that well. I used ring him on a regular basis. He was a wonderful politician, a wonderful Taoiseach, a wonderful statesman, a wonderful family man, a tremendous Fine Gael man and he understood how politics worked. I will just tell two quick stories. I will tell one about Deputy Howlin in a minute and I will tell one about John Farrelly.

That time, when we would be having elections, you would have a big night with all the candidates to launch the candidates but there was a problem in Meath because John Bruton was the leader and there were also Damien English and John Farrelly. They could not agree to anybody to launch the campaign for them. I was given the job. The next thing, I got a phone call from John Farrelly who said, "Make sure now you give me a good mention tonight". Then I got a phone call from Damien English who said, "Make sure you give me a good mention tonight". That evening, I got a phone call from the leader of Fine Gael who said, "Make sure you give a good mention tonight". So all politics is local.

The other story I am going to is about when I came into the Dáil in 1994. The rainbow coalition came to office soon after. Deputy Howlin will remember that we had many a battle about water. Two things happened, namely, the Government abolished the property tax and it abolished the water charges. However, it forgot about the group water schemes. We will not go into that now, but we had a big problem in Westport. I do not mind saying this even if some Fianna Fáilers are present. For 20 years, Fianna Fáil was in government and never did anything about it. All of a sudden, I won a by-election. Water was the biggest single issue in Mayo at the time. I went to Government Buildings and rang Mr. Roy Dooney, who said that the Taoiseach was going to Paris that night to attend a meeting. I said that I did not care where he was going and that if he did not see me, I would not vote on the Wednesday night. At that time, we only had a majority of one or two. In fairness, I got a phone call back to say that the Taoiseach would see me for ten minutes at 5.10 p.m. I went in and he started showing me around Government Buildings. I will not tell you what I said to him. I am going to put that in the book as well, because I would not like to put it on the record of the Dáil . In all fairness, he picked up the phone and rang my colleague, then Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin. He said: "Michael Ring is here with me. He has a problem and I want you to try to resolve that problem." Within two weeks, between the Taoiseach and Deputy Howlin, progress was made. Deputy Howlin got me coming up here to vote on a Wednesday night - I will tell you the full story on that one - and said, "I have a good letter here for you. We have signed off €5.5 million but we have no money". But by the end of the year, however, they were looking for Mayo County Council to spend that money. He said, "I am going to give it to my colleagues Jim Higgins and Enda Kenny in the morning.", and I said, "You will not because they did nothing about it for the last 20 years. The one who will be announcing it is me.", and I did. John Bruton fixed that for me. We were great friends.

As I said, I spoke to him a couple of Saturdays ago. I got a beautiful card at Christmas from John, and I wrote to him. I was really upset this week. He was a gentleman. He was a great politician. He understood what politics was about. He was a grassroots politician, he was a European politician and he was a world politician, but he never forgot where he came from. He never forgot the constituency of Meath because he knew the people there elected him. Even when he was Taoiseach, he used to hold clinics. I know some Members frown on clinics, but they were what kept us alive in 2002. In the bad days, that is what kept the ones who got elected alive. The ones who did not get elected did not do their clinics, and that was their business.

All I want to say to the Bruton family is: Richard, you were so lucky to have a wonderful brother, but then he was so lucky to have you. The Taoiseach alluded to the fact that there were two powerful politicians in the same family. The Brutons were always decent, they were always nice and they stood for what I stood for in Fine Gael. They believed that you had to stand by the people who elected you.

For Finola and the Bruton family, this is a sad day. It is also a sad day for Mayo and for the country.

All I want to say is I was honoured that, by winning the by-elections in 1994 with Eric Byrne of Democratic Left, we were able to formulate the Government. Sometimes Fine Gael writes that out of the history but it is there. Were it not for me and Eric Byrne, Fine Gael, Democratic Left and Labour would not have been able to go into government. That was the first time since the foundation of the State that we did not have a general election when a Government fell. I was glad to be part of that Government. We delivered a lot for the country and, in particular, to my county, Mayo. Today, I say to the Bruton family and to Ireland, we have lost a great man, a great leader and a great politician.

4:25 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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It sounds like there is going to be a lot more than one book.

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offaly, Independent)
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John Bruton was a man of faith who lived his Christian values in his personal and private life but he was also a committed and dedicated politician of principle. Today, we honour John Bruton's memory and legacy. I want to pay my deepest respects. I extend my condolences and offer solidarity to his wife Finola, to our Dáil colleague Richard, and to all of his family, his friends and the Fine Gael Party. We pray for their comfort and strength. John Bruton will be remembered as a formidable servant of this nation and of peace. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Photo of Brendan GriffinBrendan Griffin (Kerry, Fine Gael)
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On my behalf and on that of the people of Kerry and the members of Fine Gael in Kerry, I express my sympathy to Finola and her family, John's sister Mary and, in particular, to our friend and colleague Richard on John's sad passing.

When we consider the 35 years that John gave to this House and the almost 42 years that Richard has given, we can say that 77 years' service between two brothers is an enormous contribution that will probably never be repeated. That has to be mentioned today. To put it into perspective, when John was first elected to this House in June of 1969, the Beatles were at number one in the Irish charts with "Get Back". That is how long ago it was. What a distinguished career, and what a long career of 35 years' service to the State.

I can say that, as a kid growing up in the early 1990s, John Bruton was the first Fine Gael leader I was conscious of. He was someone I was influenced by and always very impressed by. He was a great orator, a great debater and a man of enormous principle. He was also someone who encouraged me to become involved in politics and to join the party and run as a candidate for it subsequently.

I only ever had two occasions to contact John Bruton's office. The first time was when I was 14 years old, in 1996, when John was Taoiseach. I am sure he was quite a busy man but I contacted his office to protest about Chinese nuclear testing at the time. In hindsight, I do not think there was a hell of a lot the man could have done about it but the matter was important to me at the time. He did write back.

The second was much later and I was still licking my wounds after losing my first council election in 2004. I got a phone call from the litter enforcement officer in Meath County Council to say that one of my election posters was up on a telephone pole on the road out of Trim towards Kinnegad and that I would be fined if I did not take it down immediately. Obviously, some smart Alec had been on holidays in Kerry the previous June and had borrowed one of my posters and had put it up on the pole in question. I did not know Helen or Damien at the time. The only person in Meath that I knew was the former Taoiseach. I contacted his office to kindly ask that they might take it down for me. I was driving an old 1991 Toyota Carina at the time and I did not trust it to make the trip up and down to Meath. I could not afford to put the diesel in it anyway. The poster was taken down, thankfully. Very shortly after that, John accepted the role of EU ambassador to the United States. I often think that it was that less-than-glamourous request that finally forced him out of domestic politics to take up that role in the US.

Years later, John addressed our parliamentary party think-in in Trim in 2021. Coincidentally, just a few days before that meeting, I met a woman in my constituency who was happily in her second marriage. She had spent many years in a very abusive relationship and was able to divorce her first husband and start again. She remarried and is enjoying a very happy and fulfilling life to this day.

I was glad to be able to tell John about that encounter I had coincidentally a few days before meeting him in Trim in 2021. That was just one of the legacies John Bruton left in his lifetime.

The last time I met him was just outside Leinster House in summer 2022. I was with my children, who were very young at the time and still are. I told them who John Bruton was and about his significance. I have no doubt that in future, they will read in the history books that John Bruton was, indeed, a great Irishman.

Finally, to Richard, our friend and colleague, I hope this sitting today, the equivalent of a parliamentary wake hearing all the stories and the kind words about your brother, will bring you some comfort. I offer you strength and comfort in the difficult time ahead.

4:35 pm

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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Ar dtús báire, ba mhaith liom mo chomhbhrón a dhéanamh le teaghlach John Bruton, lena bhean chéile Finola, lena triúr iníonacha agus lena mhac, lena dheartháir Richard, agus lena dheirfiúr Mary. Déanaim comhbhrón leis na daoine uilig ó Chontae na Mí. Fear díograiseach, cróga, ildánach agus ionraic ab ea John Bruton. John was an honest man and at the heart of everything he did was loyalty. I came across this level of loyalty in 1999. I have to be careful here because I have Frank Feighan to my right and Kieran O'Donnell to my left. When I was elected to the council in 1999, I was, like Frankie, in a bit of a hurry and I wanted to get up the road to Donegal, but John was against that idea straight away. He was honest about that, but he was also very supportive. He said to me that there was a future for me in politics but that we would figure it out along the way, so we did figure it out. In the Seanad election of 2002 - the truth always comes out and this is a very dangerous place to do it - he supported me, and it is very important that Kieran and Frankie know that at this stage. Frankie had too many votes anyway, he told me.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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Frankie did not need it.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Donegal, Fine Gael)
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He said Frankie would be all right.

That is my personal recollection of John. I remember his support in 1999 and his advice, his wise counsel and his wisdom at a very important time, when I was very much in a hurry in politics. When I think back to many of the stories my father-in-law, Tom Enright, has told me about what went on in this House in terms of the machinations and pressure votes that happened during very difficult times, maybe this is not the occasion to share them. John Bruton and my father-in-law, Tom Enright, came into this House in 1969, and I think only four Members from the class of '69 are still alive.

Today is an opportunity to reflect. It is an opportunity to acknowledge the fact time moves very fast, but it is also a good opportunity to take stock of a man who was a force of nature. He brought his whole persona to everything he did and I want to join with all colleagues across the House in offering my sympathy to all the members of the Bruton family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Colm BrophyColm Brophy (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
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It is for me a very special occasion to be standing here today and to have this opportunity to pay tribute to John. I would not be here if it were not for John Bruton. I was lucky enough to head up Young Fine Gael at the time. One thing that has not been mentioned much is the real credit John deserves for the enthusiasm he brought to younger people to get involved in politics, to not just sit it out or be there to complain but to get involved and take a stance to be involved. Particularly within our party, there is nearly a generation of people in this House who would not have come here without that encouragement.

I was thinking about the following when I heard some of the great things that have already been mentioned. If you had walked up to knock on a door and forgot to say your name, John would nearly give out to you. He would say you should never, ever start without saying who you are and introducing yourself. He did so many things for Ireland and many of them have been mentioned. To have anybody from a family enter politics is an amazing achievement; to have two brothers do it, Richard, is absolutely a credit to your family.

John did something, in which I played a small part, that I will always remember because, for me, it was one of the great changes in Ireland. I was involved in a group called the Right to Remarry and we came to campaign for that divorce referendum. A lot of people played a part, but nobody played a greater part than John Bruton. People knew when John spoke, particularly on that final weekend, that it came from the heart, from a position and from the courage to take a stand and ask for something that was for the greater good of the people and the country he represented. That intervention set up a change in Ireland that we all, as politicians, have benefited from in later years.

Another thing that will always be there for me about John is his role within Europe. He was probably one of our greatest European statesmen. He believed in the European project and fostered a belief in it. He was a proud Christian democrat but more than that, he was a proud believer in why the European Union had been established, what it could do and how Ireland would be transformed by its involvement in it. He worked tirelessly for that throughout not just his political life but his entire life.

In giving my sympathies to his immediate and extended family and to you, Richard, I want to take that moment to recognise that for so many young people of the 1990s, we owe him an incredible debt for what he did to encourage us to get involved, to make a contribution and to be part of his legacy.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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On behalf of the constituents and the members of Fine Gael in the constituency of Sligo-Leitrim, north Roscommon and south Donegal, I want to send my condolences and sympathies to Finola Bruton, the Bruton family and my colleague Richard Bruton. John Bruton was a man of principle, ideas, honour, integrity and passion. He was also a great man of honesty and fun.

I want to talk about my two meetings with John Bruton. The first was in 2002 during the famous Seanad campaign. Anybody who understands a Seanad campaign will know that a lot of politicians from your own party will ask you, "Why wouldn't I vote for you?", but John Bruton looked me in the eye and told me I would not be getting a No. 1, 2, 3 or 4 from him because they were going to someone else. I was disappointed, but afterwards I realised that in that Seanad campaign, he was one of maybe only five people who had actually told the truth.

As for my second meeting with John, I was walking down Grafton Street and met him for a coffee. He asked me what politics was like and I mentioned a funeral I had attended at a country house in County Sligo. I said two brothers from Donegal were there and I had been trying to determine where they were from, so I asked them if they knew my great colleague Joe McHugh from Carrickart. I said I had shared an office with Joe for five years. They said, "Ach, aye, we know Joe well. He's a good fella," so I said to myself, maybe they are Fine Gael. I then asked if they knew my other colleague Dinny McGinley, whose office was next door to mine, and they said, "Ach, we know Dinny well. He's a good fella." As I was going out the door, I asked if they knew my other colleague Pat The Cope Gallagher and they said, "We know Pat well. He's a great fella."

The howls of laughter that John gave in the restaurant off Grafton Street were such that I thought we would be barred for life.

On the rainbow coalition, John led that Government and changed our country economically and socially. He was a committed European. The joint framework document he signed with John Major, to me, brought peace to this country. He had a great understanding of unionism and unionist views which are now much more appreciated and necessary for peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland and the island of the UK. John Bruton, you made a difference. You were a man of great integrity and you will be missed. May he rest in peace.

4:45 pm

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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It is a privilege to give my sympathies to the Bruton family this afternoon, especially to his wife, Finola, to his son and three daughters, and to Richard, his brother, our long-standing friend here in the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party. I got to know John Bruton in the late nineties when I became involved in Fine Gael in County Wexford. I might not have been elected to this House only for John Bruton because when John ceased being leader of the Fine Gael Party, Ivan Yates stepped down from politics. That had not always been his plan. If John had remained as leader, he would have stood in the 2002 general election. I am not sure whether the country was lucky to have got Paul Kehoe or unlucky to have lost Ivan Yates.

I was an absolutely fantastic admirer of John Bruton, the statesman in every way. He gave his life to public service. I had the honour of visiting him while he was in Washington as ambassador. One thing I always remember about John was his genuine and meaningful interest in your career. That is not just a by-the-way comment. He inquired in a meaningful, genuine way about how we were getting on in the constituency and in the Dáil. I was privileged to have spent 2002 to 2004 here while he was a Member of this House.

More importantly, one area I think a huge number of the silent majority remember John for was his very strong Christian values. Throughout his entire public life he wore those values on his sleeve. He was not ashamed of them. One of the things people have mentioned to me since they heard of his passing has been his strong Christian values and how proud he was of those.

May John rest in peace. Finola and the family, Richard and Mary will be in our thoughts and prayers over the coming days because it is not easy losing a brother, a husband and a father. I have been through it. It is difficult but I know that everybody will be thinking of them and the family over the next few days and beyond.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I offer my sympathy to Finola and the family, and to Richard and Mary. I served with John from 1997 until he retired. I admired him greatly. He was a giant, as people have mentioned. He strode these corridors with purpose and conviction. In particular, he was very anti-violence and anti-war. Of late he was concerned about what is happening in Ukraine and around the world. We are all concerned about that but he wrote about it and I know he felt about it.

As colleagues have said, he was very much in touch with people. One woman in my constituency had a shrine to John Bruton in her house, with photographs and cards. Kathleen Woulfeis her name. She is a former councillor and wrote to him. She is now quite elderly. She rang me yesterday and was very upset as I am sure many people are. This is a sad time, but John's spirit lives on. May he rest in peace.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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On behalf of myself, my family and Fine Gael members in Carlow-Kilkenny, I extend my sympathy to Finola, a formidable woman in her own right, and John's children, his sister, our dear friend, Richard, and the wider Bruton family on their loss. The age of 76 is young nowadays. We would have hoped to have had John for much longer.

They say you should not meet your heroes. Just as that might be true, equally when you do meet your heroes and they turn out to be really nice people, it certainly gives a lift to the spirit of any young person. I was, believe it or not, a timid enough young fellow when Leo Varadkar and others used to dominate Young Fine Gael conferences and debates. I tended to be in the background. I remember meeting John Bruton for the first time and I remember the support, which I am glad Deputy Brophy mentioned, that John gave throughout his life to younger people in politics. It was something he kept up right to the end. I was honoured to serve with him in the Oireachtas when I was elected in that famous Seanad election in 2002. I do not know whether John voted for me. We did not get down to that. He was a man who did not at that stage speak a lot at parliamentary party meetings, but when he spoke, people listened and he had something to say.

He was the leader of Fine Gael in 1999 when I was elected to Kilkenny County Council. In advance of local elections he used to ring the candidates. Indeed, he used to ring them after the election, whether they won or lost, which is the more difficult call to make. I remember the call before the election. I must have been celebrating still after the election when he phoned and he spoke to my father. My late father was one of those silent majority people mentioned earlier, who did not join Fine Gael until I was elected but was a true Redmondite tradition member and supporter of Fine Gael. I can still remember coming home and into the kitchen that day. My father was shouting, "I was always a Bruton man", as he regaled my siblings about the chat he had with John Bruton expressing his congratulations on my election to the county council.

Others have mentioned his enthusiasm. As somebody who is often not that enthusiastic myself, I recognise enthusiasm when I see it, and John Bruton, to the end, over small things, had boundless energy and enthusiasm and was full of ideas. I rarely have met somebody in political life who, long after he had left political office, was still so engaged with what was going on. Others have mentioned the lack of bitterness. Sometimes I got a sense of innocence from John. He did not see the darker elements of the machinations that sometimes go on in politics. He might have been a good ground operator in County Meath. I remember the phone calls and his letters, even the last letter from him just before Christmas, in which he spoke briefly about his illness. Self-effacing to the end, he said at least he was not in any pain. It was then I realised the seriousness of the situation.

I will finish with two other recollections of John Bruton. The laugh has been mentioned. It was often heard and people would probably replay it in media clips, but experiencing it at first hand, it literally caused vibrations if you were the receiver or in the room. There was also the slap. That was a John Bruton thing, if he lost where he was in thought. I can remember being in a Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meeting, and he hit himself with such ferocity that I thought he would knock himself over, and just because he lost his train of thought during a discussion.

Finally, my father-in-law, John McTernan, was for many years a member of Leitrim County Council, having been elected in 1991, and he too was the recipient of a phone call afterwards which has gone down somewhat in family lore.

John was a mason with the OPW in Dromahair. Shortly after the election, his son, my late brother-in-law, Gary McTernan, answered the phone and had a long conversation with a very interesting man who, at the end of the chat, said he wanted to talk to his father to congratulate him and that he was John Bruton. Gary handed over the phone and John McTernan, assuming that the caller was some of the other masons in the OPW pulling his leg, immediately slammed down the receiver as it could not possibly be that John Bruton was going to ring him in Dromahair to congratulate him. John rang him back immediately assuming that the call had been just dropped and congratulated my father-in-law on his election.

That was the mark of the type person John Bruton was on a personal level. We often hear talk about the politics of it but he was really a lovable man. To his family and close friends, I extend my sympathy again.

4:55 pm

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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Briefly, I wish to add to the collective sympathies offered to the Bruton family, to Finola, her children, her grandchildren and, of course, my dear colleague Richard and his sister, on their profound loss. I did not overlap with John's term here from 1969 through to 2005. When I was first elected in 2004, there was another member of the class of the Government of 1994 through to 1997 and the deputy leader of Fine Gael at that time, Nora Owen. Most likely it was Nora shared my number with John because, not long after my election and perhaps in early July of 2004, I got a phone call and what followed was a lengthy conversation. I am very pleased to say that, from my own perspective, it was always very important to me to receive those calls on a semi-regular basis. Right up until 2021, perhaps, was the last conversation I had with John. I want to recognise the immense contribution he made to Ireland, to political life and discourse on social issues and, equally, to the important issues within the Fine Gael family. His contribution will not be forgotten.

I echo some of the points made by a number of Members on his role in the peace process. Somebody referred to him earlier as one of the unsung heroes or as one of the Members who were less spoken of on their achievements in what led to the Good Friday Agreement. Deputy Leddin referred to a copy of the treaty in his kitchen when he was growing up. That, in and of itself, speaks volumes as to his importance and the contribution he made in the removal of violence from the island of Ireland as a political tool.

His cross-aisle conversations clearly have a legacy which last today, and I take this opportunity to note that we are three hours into this discussion of the contributions and expressions of sympathy on John Bruton's passing. There are still more than 40 Members present and members of all parties and none are represented. That speaks to the legacy which John has left behind, not just to those who had the privilege of working with him in this House but also those who recognised his legacy. On behalf of the constituency organisation within Dublin Fingal East and the former Dublin Fingal constituency, on behalf of my own family and the members within my own constituency, I extend my deepest and most heartfelt condolences to Finola, her children, her grandchildren and, most especially, to my dear colleague Richard, who has sat and listened to this debate for the past three hours. It shows incredible strength to be able to do that. There are, between Richard and his brother, John, some 77 years of representing people in this country, which is an extraordinary legacy, and I would like that to be noted also.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)
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First of all, I offer my deepest sympathy, that of my family, and that of the Fine Gael family in Galway East to John's wife, Finola, his children, and his siblings Richard and Mary on the passing of an extraordinary man. Many of us in this room, about this time 20 years ago, were involved in our first-ever election campaign seeking to be elected in the local elections of 2004. I imagine many of us had a general idea as to why we were getting involved in politics. For me, they were numerous, but in seeking to distil down my reasons for becoming involved in politics, I searched for many weeks to find a definition of politics which somehow resonated with me. I found it in the writings of an American journalist called Bill Moyers, who once said that a good idea is like an arrow but an arrow needs a bow “and politics is the bow of idealism”. To this day, that is still the central tenet of why I believe I have become involved in politics and it was the very essence of who John Bruton was. He was an idealist to his core and he believed that in politics you have the power to transform your community and your country. He lived that message and that essence of what politics is all about in every day of his contribution to this country.

I recall in the general election of 2011 that John very kindly and generously spent a whole day canvassing with me in the town of Ballinasloe on a Saturday, in a very busy market town and market that still takes place in the centre of the town every Saturday. As Deputy English mentioned earlier, he went around to every single stall and stallholder. Everybody he approached knew who he was but he still had the self-deprecation and humility to introduce himself, to say hello and to say that his name was John Bruton. It meant a great deal to me personally, indeed to those involved in my campaign and to my family, that somebody of John’s stature would take time to come down to Ballinasloe, to stand at my shoulder, and to say that he endorsed this young man as he embarked upon his political career.

John, I thank you for being such an inspiration. I recall one of my last duties in my Ministry in the Department of Foreign Affairs speaking at a conference in Dhaka on the transformative power of education. I was handed an excellent speech by a friend and a colleague in the Department at the time to give to an assembled gathering of international leaders about the transformative power of education. I said that I would rather dispense with that and tell a story. This was the story of Ireland and of how Ireland has been transformed from the Ireland of my father to the Ireland of my son. We should always reflect on the contribution which John Bruton, and indeed many others like him, have made to an absolute transformation when one thinks of the poverty, the strife, the insularity and the intolerance of the Ireland of my father and the country which my son and his peers occupy right now. It is an extraordinary transformation and we have to be so grateful to people like John Bruton who had the vision, the ambition and the deep public service commitment to achieve exactly that.

To us, John Bruton was a towering statesman, somebody of whom we can all be very proud, but it is also important to remember this other extraordinary gentlemen beside me here, and that he was a much and deeply loved brother. I say to Richard and to all those people who are close to John that they can be immensely proud of what he has achieved. I hope that all of the extraordinary memories they have of him as a brother, friend and colleague will carry them through the difficult times in the weeks ahead when they feel that hole in their heart and that vacuum in their lives.

Another form of words which I sometimes revert to when I am trying to extend my sympathies to people who have lost dear friends and family members are the words of Kahlil Gibran and I will finish with these, “When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” My deepest sympathy to John’s family. May he rest in peace.

5:05 pm

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I rise to offer my sympathies and those of the Fine Gael organisation in Cork North-West to Finola, her children, our colleague Richard and his sister Mary on the passing of John Bruton.

I was privileged to be elected to this House in the late 1980s. For those Members who are familiar with GAA lore, it was a time of great competitiveness between Cork and Meath. This had nothing to do with the fact Cork jersey was sponsored by Barry's Tea. The pitch was dominated by colossuses like Shane Cassells, Mick Lyons, Gerry McEntee and a host of others who the previous year had beaten Cork into submission in the all-Ireland final. I remember coming up here and thinking, “My God, not only are they colossuses on the playing pitch, but they have people like John Bruton on the political landscape”. John was the equivalent of a sporting colossus in a political context. We rebalanced the political landscape in 1989 and 1990, making up for previous losses, but in the intervening years, as has been enunciated by previous speakers, John's political legacy flowered. His achievements are remarkable. I do not intend to dwell on them other than to say that given the fact he was a man of faith and is now contemplating a life in the hereafter, I am sure he has a wry smile on his face listening to all the contributions eulogising his fantastic contributions and recalling, at the same time, the torment we put him through within the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party in our rooms on occasions. All of that is passed.

This is a sad day for the Bruton family, for the Fine Gael family and a sad day for politics, because John epitomised all that was best about public representation and the honour it is. He certainly never lost sight of the basic tenet of the connection between the elected and the electorate and that is a salutary lesson for all of us no matter where we are on the political landscape.

To our colleague Richard, our sincere sympathy. John was obviously a public figure, but to his family he was much more than that - a brother, a father, a grandfather, a husband. Those are the things the family will deal with in the coming days and the hole that is left after his passing. We wish Richard and all the Bruton family the strength and forbearance to carry that cross in the days ahead. May the good memories of John's contribution locally, nationally and globally sustain you in the days ahead.

Photo of Patrick O'DonovanPatrick O'Donovan (Limerick County, Fine Gael)
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On my behalf and on that of my family and the Fine Gael organisation in County Limerick, I offer sympathy to Finola Bruton, John's children, his sister Mary and our colleague Richard.

I was struck by Deputy Creed's commentary about the torment our parliamentary party put John Bruton. I joined Fine Gale in the early 1990s, along with people like Deputy Phelan, the Taoiseach, Deputy Denis Naughten and a few others. At a conference in UCD one time, John Bruton said to us "Cause me difficulty", and, by God, we caused him plenty of it. It was a time when young people involved in politics was extremely engaged, to be quite honest. The party had just gone back into government and all of a sudden these young whippersnappers who were in college were causing him, as Taoiseach, and his ministerial colleagues more than their fair share of difficulty. He came to meet us at one stage in UCC because we had had great ideas in the previous couple of months about what difficulty we were going to cause for the party at national level and for the Government. Little did I know these kinds of things would come back to haunt people like me. He took us aside at the time and said, "When I told you to cause me difficulty, I did not quite mean this much difficulty”. However, he meant it in the spirit that it was said. John was somebody who, as many previous speakers have said, advanced the cause of younger people in the party.

I remember attending a function in Limerick in 1995 when he Taoiseach. It was a fundraiser in Adare Manor. I was involved with the party at the time and got an invitation to attend from the Taoiseach's office. I did not even own a suit. It was a huge deal for me. I thought I was going to be seated under the stairs or something like that, but, no, John Bruton insisted the youngest person at the function would be sitting at his table with him.

I have memories of often going into the reading room here, which not too many Members use, in the mornings and often seeing John Bruton reading the papers or going through research he was doing for particular columns he was writing for the following Sunday. Shortly after, I became Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works. Covid and everything had wound down. We were outside there and he was talking about Grangegorman cemetery. He was fascinating in terms of his knowledge and his total immersion in that part of our history, because he believed it fundamentally. He was so proud of the fact that this was the tradition he came from.

I had huge respect for John. In the most recent referendum campaign, which was difficult for a lot of people, I made an appearance on a particular television show that I have since tried to forget about, but with great difficulty. I received a very nice handwritten letter from John Bruton afterward regarding the referendum on repealing the eighth amendment. He basically stated that people had their own views on that subject, that they were entitled to them and that he respected that. That letter displayed a real sense of collegiality. I never heard a truer word than that from the leader of the Green Party who referred to being liberal but conservative all in the one movement.

The other aspect of John Bruton's leadership that I and people in my part of the world will never forget relates to 1996, when our local garda Jerry McCabe was murdered on the street in Adare. John and Nora Owen provided leadership at the time. The Minister of State from Meath, Deputy Thomas Byrne, was right in what he said about the atrocities in Manchester, Canary Wharf and Adare. John Bruton could have decided to go a different path, but he did not; he stuck with the principle that the pursuit of violence was never going to achieve a political objective on the island of Ireland. These were the politics of Hume, O'Connell, Parnell and people of that great tradition.

John Bruton's legacy is one of somebody who was unswerving in his absolute commitment to constitutional nationalism and Ireland's place in Europe. For that, we all owe him a massive debt of gratitude, especially those who were of a younger age when he was in his stride. I was explaining to my mother yesterday that John Bruton had passed away and she summed it up when she said, "The Lord have mercy on him. A nice man".

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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I rise to express sympathy, on my behalf and on that of the Fine Gael organisation in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and my predecessor Olivia Mitchell, to the Bruton family on the sad passing of John. I express that sympathy to Finola, the children, our dear colleague and friend Richard and Mary, who is someone I knew before I knew the other Brutons. She was my wife's employer for a long time in Blackrock and they taught together.

I will pick up on the theme on which the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, and so many other speakers focused - it was first mentioned by the Taoiseach - namely, John's enthusiasm and his dedication to youth politics and young people in general. Twenty-odd years ago, I mistook this for polite tolerance when sitting in the Bruton household having dropped Matt back home after a Young Fine Gael conference. Three of us proceeded to lecture the former Taoiseach about the situation in Ireland in Europe with the assuredness that only second-year arts students could have about matters of the world. However, it was a lot more than tolerance.

As the years passed, I was lucky enough to encounter John more and more. The phone calls and the emails - although not the text messages, as the Minister, Deputy McEntee, mentioned - became more frequent and were followed by offers to speak at public meetings and to come canvassing for me in Stillorgan during the last general election campaign. I realised that he thought back over his own entry to the Dáil so many years ago and was trying to give back to those who had the desire and commitment to enter public life. He shared of himself in a that way many of us probably might assume was a prerequisite of having held office. However, it was absolutely a testament to him as a man and as an individual. It is a lesson to all of us in public life that giving back involves going so much further than just being in this Chamber. That should be continued.

It has been an absolute privilege to listen to the many remarks here this afternoon from people who were privileged to serve with John in this House and around the Cabinet table or simply to know him. Today is a sad day, particularly for the Bruton family and the Fine Gael family, but it is also an amazing day to reflect back on an amazing man.

5:15 pm

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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On behalf of my constituents in Longford-Westmeath, a neighbouring constituency of the former Taoiseach's, I extend my sympathies to his family: his wife Finola; his children, Matthew, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth; obviously our colleague here, Richard, who is so dear to us; and Mary, his sister.

I have great memories of the former Taoiseach in my constituency. I was very privileged back in 2011 to have John Bruton come down to canvass with me and launch my campaign in my bid to get elected to Dáil Éireann on that occasion. I remember it was a very wet night, and one of the first things he wanted to do in the evening time was to go out and canvass, so we headed for an estate not too far outside Mullingar. I remember going up to houses on Millmount Avenue on that very wet night. In every single house we appeared at, there was such warmth and people wanted to bring John in and talk to him around the kitchen table. Those conversations were so engaging and so genuine, given the interest he had in meeting people and hearing their problems at a time when the future was so uncertain because Ireland was going through a very difficult time. He was so engaging and so interested in people. He was a real person who wanted to engage with people on a very genuine level. Every person he met was like a new person, a new individual, with a new issue he wanted to hear about and engage with. He has no doubt left a huge legacy on the Irish political landscape. He was truly a modern-day patriot, a very genuine individual and a man of great principle. That is what we have heard about right across the political divide: the greatly principled individual he was and someone who could really find consensus.

When I took on my new brief as Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, I had a significant amount of engagement with John because he was so interested in European politics. When the Windsor Framework was agreed, John was on to me very quickly looking for the detail. He wanted to know exactly about the Stormont brake, how it could be triggered and how it would affect the Assembly, should it get back up and running. He really wanted to see the Executive restored as quickly as possible. He shared with me during that period a few articles, a few of his thoughts that he was looking to get published. He was exceptionally engaged.

One thing which really stands out is the public service the Bruton family has given to the State. It is something we do not see as much nowadays. After John retired from politics and took up his role as ambassador of the European Union to the United States, he still wanted to give more. He gave his precious time to the service of our State in every way he could help, seeking to impart his knowledge, to really resolve problems and to assist the State in every way he could, just like his brother Richard has done throughout his career.

I extend my sympathies to his family at this very difficult time. Our prayers are with them now and into the future.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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I thank colleagues for the beautiful tributes that have been made. John was so proud of this House - everything about it - and it is so nice to see him remembered in such a warm way. I thank you on behalf of Finola, Matthew, Juliana, Emily, Mary-Elizabeth and, of course, my sister Mary and, I should say, the next generation: Ophelia, Hugo, Oliver and Robin, who were the apple of his eye, as they say, and buoyed him up, particularly during his long illness.

I think it was Kieran who spoke about how Ireland has changed since John entered politics. Going back to 1969, we had 1 million people employed; now we have 2.6 million. One in 20, probably, got to third level; now two in every three or more get to third level. We have transformed from being a narrow society, very inward-looking, almost reactionary, to one that is so much more open, fulfilled in so many ways and inclusive of so many people of different views. It has never been plain sailing, but I think Irish politics, of which this House is the exemplar, has a lot to be proud of, and we should reflect on that.

John loved politics and he loved politicians. There was nothing he liked better than the company of politicians. He was fortunate to have so many friends, not just in our party but across parties, whose company he enjoyed and with whom he enjoyed working. As people said, he had strong beliefs, but I think he saw politics as the art of resolving conflict, ultimately, and that often requires you to understand the views of others. As Brendan said, they might not always be on the same track, but he did find that way of finding the middle ground.

He was a pioneer of reform of this House, and he would be very proud of how it has evolved and very thankful. I thank on his behalf the people who make this House happen, from the Dáil bar, of course, which is an important part, right through to the Library and all the services of the House. They made his life and they were so welcoming to him over the many years during which he used this House.

He believed that the European Union was the greatest creation in international collaboration that was ever made because countries, having warred against one another, had come together voluntarily to try to achieve more together then they could on their own. He saw it as a great opportunity for Ireland, but he did not see it just in those ways. As someone who grew up in the shadow of the Second World War and as someone with a great sense of history, he saw it as something to be built, and he put his back into trying to build the European Union as well as seeing how important it was for Irish destiny.

He was, as people said, a man of a lot of ideas. Over one weekend he wrote a plan for the nation, so he did not lack ambition. I sometimes had to tidy up those texts.

One of the abiding loves of John's life was learning. He was a voracious reader with a voracious appetite for new ideas, and he never lost that interest in the next thing that was coming up. My earliest experience of his love of education was when he was given the task of teaching Mary and me French when we were quite small. I do not know how successful his French teaching was. At that time, French Without Tearswas the high point of French learning, but both of us still speak the language and have an abiding love of it, so he did a lot, and education was something he was very proud to promote.

Politics matters because it allows us to do big things and little things that make people's lives better. John always travelled under the slogan "every person counts". I think he brought it into his dealings with everyone. He struggled over the past year and more. Those acts of kindness that he provided were repaid a thousand times over in the care and support he got from people here and people in hospitals. People have been so nice and decent to him, particularly Finola and the family, who cared for him so well over a long period. I just want to acknowledge that. It is great to see in the Gallery John's colleague, John Farrelly, with whom he soldiered over so many years.

I thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the Ceann Comhairle, the Taoiseach, and all Members of the House for providing this time to reflect on John's contribution. It will certainly buoy us up over these times and it is greatly appreciated.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Anois, i ndilchuimhne ar iar-Thaoiseach na tíre agus in ómós dó, seasfaimid le chéile ar feadh nóiméad amháin inár dtost.

Members rose.

Cuireadh an Dáil ar athló ar 5.11 p.m. go dtí 9 a.m., Déardaoin, an 8 Feabhra 2024.

The Dáil adjourned at at 5.11 p.m. until 9 a.m. on Thursday, 8 February 2024.