Friday, 17 December 2004
Tributes to Head Usher of the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Other Members will have an opportunity to speak about him. When speaking about Pat Behan, it is difficult to know where to begin. I find myself somewhat at a loss in deciding what to say. We all know him very well. I would like to hear his recipe for good health — he did not take a sick day for 32 years, which is some record — so that it can be given to all those with whom we work. It is a mark of how happy and fulfilled he felt in his job that he liked to get up every day to come to work.
The leaders of all parties in the House were given an exhaustive list of the various roles played by Paddy during his life. We are familiar with the role he has played in this House for many years, first in the ordinary usher service and then as deputy usher and chief usher. He developed a strong interest in genealogy while he was in charge of the register of births and deaths in the Department of Health. He was an avid footballer and jogger during his early school years. When he served in the Reserve Defence Force, his boss was Charlie Haughey. Paddy played an enormous role in his many special interests.
Mr. Behan was working in the Houses of the Oireachtas when many eminent presidents and other people of note visited the Houses. He has had a kaleidoscope of experiences, all of which were notable for his affability, good humour and approachability. He remained cheerful, outgoing, affable, pleasant and eager to help, regardless of whether he was dealing with President Mitterrand or a first-time nervous backbencher in the Dáil or the Seanad. Such attributes and characteristics come to mind when we think of Paddy Behan or try to sum him up. He treated princes and paupers with professionalism, skill, affability and the great interpersonal skills he has in abundance. Paddy was friendly and outgoing whenever one met him, whether it was early in the morning or late in the evening. He was always keen to help and do all he could to make one's path easier.
I know from my private conversations with Paddy that he respected and empathised with those who had difficulties or sorrows. He was in tune with people's approaches to life. I am very grateful to him for that. He is a very fine person who epitomises the highest qualities of public service.
That is something we feel deeply about. Although I have always known him as Paddy Behan, I note that the documentation I have been given refers to him as "Pat", which may be more respectful. When one met Paddy, one knew that whatever one said to him mattered at that moment and that he would try to help one in every way there and then. He is a very fine person.
We are pleased that some of his friends and family are present this morning. He has a fine family — his wife, Kathleen, his son, Simon, and his four daughters, Niamh, Orla, Aisling and Aoife. Given that he has such a varied background and so many interests, it is clear that he does not intend to have an easy or cosy retirement. I imagine that he will be pressed upon by many groups and many people. I wholeheartedly salute his years of professionalism, public service and friendship.
As we mark the retirement of Paddy Behan, I would like to echo the words of the Leader on behalf of the Fine Gael group. I did not know that one could retire in one's 40s. As I look at Paddy Behan, I wonder where the years have gone. Paddy Behan is a northsider like myself, although I have not mentioned that to many people in west Dublin over the past nine years. He is part and parcel of the north side of Dublin. He is an avid golfer and a member of Clontarf Golf Club, as well as a keen cyclist and marathon runner. He is an instrinsic part of St. Vincent's GAA Club, and all that stands for on the north side of Dublin. I am sure Senator McDowell will tell us more about that later. He is one of the few people in the House with an All-Ireland medal. It now seems to be an astonishing feat for a Dubliner to win an All-Ireland medal. Where was he when we needed him in recent years? Paddy is a great sportsman and I know he will remain as fit as he was when working in Leinster House.
I met a junior colleague of Paddy's yesterday who said all the staff would miss him terribly. The colleague said that Paddy, in his 32 years in the House, never once gave an order. Such was his manner that he never had to do so. I know how well respected he is among the staff of the Houses. Paddy will be missed greatly but I know he will visit the Houses after he retires and bring in the scones and bread which he will bake at home from time to time. I wonder if he will ever write a book given that he was a member of staff in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, during which period he experienced turbulent years and all kinds of events. He will not be prevented from doing so because the Official Secrets Act does not apply to retired civil servants.
I wish Paddy every success in his retirement and hope his wife and children, who will now see him more than they used to, will continue to enjoy his company for many years. I, on behalf of Fine Gael and all Members of the Seanad, sincerely thank him for his sterling work and, as the Leader implied, his sterling contribution to public service in this country. He will be greatly missed and I hope he will have a wonderful retirement.
On behalf of the Independent group, I wish to echo and add to the sentiments of Senators O'Rourke and Brian Hayes. If we were honest with ourselves, we would note that, from time to time, we pay somewhat tepid tributes to people in this House whom we are quite happy to see the back of.
The opposite is true in the case of Paddy Behan. It was with incredible sadness and great surprise that I discovered he is retiring in about two weeks. I believed he had about a year and a half to serve before retirement. As Senator Brian Hayes said, it is extraordinary that someone who looks and sounds so young, and whose mind is so young, is leaving us. It is a terrible condemnation of the fact that there is mandatory retirement for people in the public service who reach a certain age. Paddy Behan still has very much to offer but unfortunately he will not be able to offer it to us any more.
If Paddy Behan was not the first person I met when I first came to Leinster House 23 years ago, he is certainly the first I remember. All I can remember is that he was incredibly kind and very helpful. He showed me the ropes and told me my entitlements. Some weeks later, I heard that Paddy had left and I was devastated. Some less friendly face appeared behind the counter downstairs. However, about six weeks later, Paddy reappeared and has been here ever since. He has been a great friend to all Members.
As Senator Brian Hayes implied, the greatest tribute to Paddy Behan is not that he is a friend to the Members, as he has been, but that the junior staff in Leinster House speak so incredibly highly of him. If one judges a man on his life or job, one should do so on the basis of how he is regarded by those in positions below him and not on how he is regarded by his equals or those he is supposed to serve. I have considerable experience of talking to staff of this House and have noted that they have all spoken highly of Paddy Behan. This is an incredible tribute to him given that there are people in the Houses, in all positions, who do not speak quite so highly of the rest of us. Paddy Behan is unanimously respected and liked because he has the time to be helpful to everybody, regardless of his or her stage in life. Being popular with the staff is an incredible quality.
The second characteristic of note is Paddy's great patience. He always has enough time to talk to one about one's problems. I had a small problem last week that caused me a great deal of grief. The assistant in my office stated that Paddy Behan was the guy to sort it out. We went to Paddy, who was sitting at his desk, and he told me not to worry because he would resolve the problem. Another person might have been a little more gruff. The problem in question was a fault more of my making than anybody else's but Paddy resolved it.
Paddy Behan will be irreplaceable. He has been an incredible rock of sense and support to all Members. He is a great advertisement for how civil servants should go on forever. I wish him a very happy retirement, a long life and a great deal of continued activity and fitness.
My first experience of Paddy was not dissimilar to that of Senator Ross. Shortly after I was elected in 1992, I remember coming to the front gate of Leinster House before the beginning of the Dáil term. I had been to Leinster House before then for Christmas parties of the Labour Party and other such functions but had never entered the place of my own right. I confess that was a wee bit nervous because I did not know how to get in. Paddy happened to be lingering in my vicinity, wished me good morning, invited me in and led me into the building. I was mightily impressed and I presumed Paddy had been studying photographs of new Deputies. I discovered subsequently that he lived in Marino and that I should probably have known him at least as well as he knew me.
Paddy Behan also helped me through a great catharsis in my life which took place very shortly after I was elected. As a young, idealistic Labour Party activist from the north side of Dublin, I was nervous about expenses forms and had a notion in my head that they were all grubby and sordid. I would have preferred if expenses cheques arrived without my having had to sign a document. Somebody explained that the way to deal with the matter was to speak to Paddy, who would sort it out. It was only after some months that I went to Paddy because I was nervous about the whole process, but he went through the dates on the calendar and told me what to mark up.
He showed me where to sign and stated that he would sort me out. It was this kind of informality that marked Paddy's service in Leinster House.
I, too, saw the curriculum vitae with which we have been provided and it astonished me that Paddy has been a member of staff for so long. It is somewhat strange to be speaking about Paddy almost in the past tense because I know I will see him again, probably quite soon. Senator Brian Hayes damned Frank Lane forever last week by referring to him as a cultivator of chrysanthemums. My experiences of Paddy Behan tend to be in pubs in Marino late at night and, very occasionally, in the golf club in Clontarf, of which he, unlike me, has succeeded in becoming a member.
I also encounter him very occasionally in St. Vincent's GAA club.
Paddy has been a true friend to us all. There is an obvious warmth to the genuine tributes we have heard this morning. We are all grateful for the assistance Paddy has given us over the years. Senator Brian Hayes is right in saying that this is also the case in respect of the other ushers. In all my time in the House, I never heard a bad word said about Paddy by any of the other ushers. This is an extraordinary tribute to any boss. I join the other Senators unhesitatingly in wishing Paddy all the best. No doubt I will meet him for a pint in Graingers some night.
On behalf of the Progressive Democrats, I am delighted to be associated with this tribute to Paddy Behan, who has served us so loyally and well for 36 years in Leinster House. In many ways, he epitomises the ideal man who can "meet with triumph and disaster, And treat those two imposters just the same", as depicted in Rudyard Kipling's poem If. Paddy has all the qualities listed in the poem and he has been professional in everything he has done. He could write a book, as Senator Brian Hayes suggested, and it would make very interesting reading. I understand he has given a commitment to bring the secrets to the grave with him. There was a great sigh of relief around the Houses when he made that statement.
He has been a father figure to all of us. When one comes in the gates of Leinster House for the first time one can be quite intimidated. Paddy has always been able to put us at our ease. It never ceases to fascinate me how, when each new intake arrives, everybody is known. One presents oneself at the desk and does not have to say who one is. It takes a great deal of effort and homework to do that. We are all very grateful to him for the assistance he has given us. It is unusual in any walk of life not to hear people speak ill of others but it is quite unique in this place and I have never heard anybody speak ill of Paddy.
His sporting achievements have been listed but one aspect has not been mentioned, namely, the way he looked after the Oireachtas rugby team which has been playing for 12 years or so. It plays an annual fixture against the Houses of Lords and Commons among others, and has been to the World Cup. Paddy was the manager, masseur, minder of the money and the fixer of the scrapes. By scrapes I do not mean those on the field but those off the field. For all of that I thank him and assure him that the tickets will continue to be available to him for Lansdowne Road. We hope he enjoys those, and that he and his family enjoy his retirement.
I speak on behalf of a group that has never before been recognised in this House, and which will dissolve as soon as I finish speaking, that is, present and former Members from Northern Ireland. I recall Gordon Wilson telling me about his experience of coming to Leinster House when he said he had no problems because there was a man called Paddy Behan who filled up all the forms for him and that was all he had to do. If I may speak on behalf of Gordon Wilson, Bríd Rodgers, Seamus Mallon and SamMcAughtry, and warmly on my own behalf, I pay tribute to Paddy Behan and thank him for all he has done to make this place so liveable in, and so welcoming to people. To instil that sort of culture and spirit in all the people who work here is an achievement and I am sorry to see him decommissioning but am glad he has no objection to being photographed.
I did not realise until I read his curriculum vitae recently that I had come across Paddy approximately 46 years ago, in much less pleasant circumstances. He was a member of a Dublin minor team which beat a Down minor team in the semi-final of the all-Ireland. He was a star then and he is a star now. I thank him personally for all he has done.
I wish to be associated with all these fine tributes to Paddy. The applause following them confirms the respect he commanded in this House which was second to none. He was always in good humour, always had a smile, and it was a pleasure to meet him. He established a high level of professionalism in his job. Senator Brian Hayes mentioned his youthful appearance and others mentioned his achievements on the football field. I am involved in a masters hurling team in Limerick, which I think won the all-Ireland this year. Dublin won the football. Paddy would be very useful on this masters team which would help to keep him fit for the future and where I am sure there would be a place for him. He will also have time to pursue his other great sporting activity, golf. I do not play golf and do not known much about handicaps but I am sure he will have plenty of time to improve his handicap now.
On a personal note, I have a daughter who is a civil servant. She worked in the Department of Justice and Paddy's daughter Orla worked with her and they became great friends. My daughter, Aileen, is in Limerick but every time she visits Dublin her first call is to Orla Behan. They have developed a friendship which is hardly surprising knowing their two fathers.
We will miss Paddy's smile but we will probably see it somewhere. I wish him, his wife Kathleen, his son Simon, and his daughters, Orla, Niamh, Aisling and Aoife the best of luck for the future. I thank Paddy for his great help. The tributes to him have been fine and deserving, the like of which I never witnessed in the House.
I extend season's greetings to all Members of the House. I thank the Leader of the House, the Deputy Leader and the leaders and whips of the various groups for their hard work. I also thank the Superintendent and the Captain of the Guard and their staff, including Paddy Behan to whom we have paid glowing tributes, Dessie Edwards who is also retiring, and Frank Lane who retired earlier in the week. I thank the broadcasting and reporting staff, the staff of the Houses, and members of the press for their attendance and coverage. On behalf of Members I thank the Clerk, Deirdre, and the Assistant Clerk, Jody, and other members of the staff in their office for their guidance and assistance. I also thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the Acting Chairmen for the many hours they spent in the chair.
I wish everyone a relaxed and peaceful Christmas.