Seanad debates

Wednesday, 7 February 2024

Death of Former Taoiseach: Expressions of Sympathy


1:00 pm

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

It is an incredible honour to speak about John Bruton and to say he was the leader of my tribe. Senators McGahon and Ahearn have spoken about that sense of family in our party. Before I was a member of Fine Gael, I admired John Bruton as a politician and a man of great integrity, intellect and conviction. He gave hope to a generation of us who came out of school with very little hope, very few employment prospects and with very hard circumstances facing us. He sowed the seeds of the prosperity our country experiences today.

He had such a deep sense of responsibility and passion for his country, by which I have always been greatly inspired. I loved his abhorrence of violence. I found it inspirational and courageous. It has had a lasting impact on me in seeing a lot of the origins of the setting in motion of a permission for violence that should never have been given. Maybe that is the Redmondite tradition, although I have never coined it as such, in my own views. Among many accomplishments, John's efforts in bringing together the communities in the North that were torn apart by decades of conflicts, his sense of inclusion, speaking up for both sides, determination and vision were, no doubt, the foundations of the Good Friday Agreement. Often, his very instrumental role in that gets overlooked. He had a steadfast commitment to peace and reconciliation in a way that was incredibly admirable.

John was admired beyond our borders. He was very influential in shaping Ireland's role in the European Union. I am very proud of that. He was a strong advocate for co-operation, unity and recognising the importance of Ireland's place within the broader European community or, in the words of Robert Emmet, taking its place among the nations of the world. Beyond his political achievements, he was a man of great character and warmth. His kindness and humility touched the lives of all those who had the pleasure of knowing him. He was a mentor, a friend and a beacon of hope for future generations of Irish leaders.

I came to Fine Gael through my husband. We worked together in YMCA Dublin and had a massive project of building homeless accommodation. Dave's job was to procure the money and I was the young, first female chief executive in the organisation's 150-year history. We signed a contract with the builder for an €11 million project only to find, when we turned up soil, an unexpected archaeological feature. Just when we thought we had all the money, we found ourselves massively short.Dave, my husband, was Jim Mitchell's director of elections. There had been many a robust exchange over the years between Jim and John Bruton, and Dave had been party to that. I came in knowing all of that history and hearing the stories of the nights especially around Christmas when along with the Mitchell Mafia we all got to talk about their history and their experience.

One of the things we were told was that the Taoiseach had a discretionary fund. John had been out of office a number of years at that stage. Dave was forever doorstepping anyone we thought would give us an ear and give us the money to complete the €600,000 that we were short. We read in the newspaper that John Bruton was the headline speaker at a very expensive gig in Dublin Castle and Dave said to me that we would get his advice of how to get into the Taoiseach and how to get the money out of that discretionary fund. He said, "We'll slip in during lunchtime and ask his advice. He knows me well. We'll go up and ask his advice and we'll keep ourselves under the radar. We'll just go." I was mortified at the idea that we would doorstep an event that we had not paid to attend. Anyway, we arrived in. John saw Dave and Dave saw John. They embraced and it was a really warm encounter. We were keeping under the radar. John invited us to come to lunch with him. We ended up sitting at the top table during lunch only to find that other speakers at the event had to move tables to facilitate us. He was curious about our project. He was curious about Dave's life. He was curious about our journey and life post Jim's death; Lord rest him too.

That was my personal encounter with him - someone who was warm, passionate, curious and interesting. People have spoken about his curiosity and his interest. I have actually lived that in a very powerful way. I had the pleasure of meeting him again as a Senator when he spoke at the first Fine Gael think-in I attended. He knew exactly who I was and where I fitted in. He remembered that I was Dave's wife. He had very encouraging and had warm words.

Today we stand to bid farewell to an extraordinary individual. We have the honour of remarking on his amazing legacy - his contributions as a politician, peacemaker and advocate for progress in our country. We have all of our memories in our hearts. My thoughts today are with his family, his wife, Finola, his four children and their families, and especially his brother and our colleague, somebody I am no proud to call my friend, Richard. All of us in the Fine Gael family will really miss him and will treasure everything he stood for. Hopefully, he will continue to be a standard bearer for everything that a politician, especially a Fine Gael politician, stands for.


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