Seanad debates

Wednesday, 8 February 2006

Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy.


10:30 am

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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Members of the House were saddened to learn last week of the death of Mr. Ruairí Brugha. I will speak on behalf of my party this morning. All Members knew or knew of Ruairí Brugha. I have an ordinary, every day memory of him as a quiet man whom we regularly saw in Oireachtas Library reading his papers. We all did that until recently. He went about his business quietly in the House.

Many tributes to him have been published in the newspapers. As the Cathaoirleach is aware, he was twice a member of this House, serving as the Taoiseach's nominee from 1969 to 1973 and again from 1977 to 1981. It is on this basis that we pay our tributes to him today. Behind his quiet exterior lay a person who was steeped in Irish history. He was the son of Cathal Brugha who was injured during the 1916 Rising and killed in what is now Cathal Brugha Street during the Civil War. Ruairí Brugha later married Máire McSwiney, the daughter of Terence McSwiney, thus uniting two famous patriot families.

Ruairí Brugha's political life was devoted to reconciliation and his demeanour and qualities were in keeping with this aim. He was adopted by, or adopted, the constituency of Dublin South County. From 1973 to 1977, he spoke for the Fianna Fáil leader, Jack Lynch, on many matters relating to Northern Ireland. Fianna Fáil was in opposition at the time. He observed minutely a bipartisan approach to the North with Fine Gael and the Government and was very respectful and conscientious in this regard. He strongly supported the Sunningdale agreement.

Ruairí Brugha was a member of the IRA early in his life. It would have been odd if he did not become a member, given his family background. When he was released from the Curragh on health grounds, he had become disenchanted with the way the IRA had been treated by the Government led by Éamon de Valera. He joined Clann na Poblachta and stood for election but did not succeed in this endeavour. He then returned to the fold, so to speak, where I am sure he was happiest.

His mother was director of Kingston Clothing Company, a very famous company which he joined as managing director as he had to earn a living while he was on this precarious political path. I understand from a conversation some months ago that he was an excellent managing director. One would not have imagined him in such a role.

His wife was the daughter of Terence McSwiney, who was known around the world as a result of his hunger strike, which he endured with heroic dignity. Ruairí Brugha's marriage was a great merging of families. I understand that Máire Brugha's book, which was published before Christmas and launched by the Taoiseach, is a wonderful work which I intend to read.

Ruairí Brugha leaves a widow and four children. We offer the sympathy of this House to them today, bearing in mind that he was an eager attendee of and speaker within it. We also bear in mind the way in which this quiet man was able to shape his life into one of reconciliation and the use of peaceful means to bring about his aims, given that he came from the physical force tradition of Irish nationalism. He never abandoned his commitment to Irish unity, which was his overriding aim, but he strongly believed in reconciliation between Unionists and Nationalists. Throughout his life, he sought to bring about this reconciliation by peaceful means. He was ahead of his time in this regard and we seek to bring about the reconciliation for which he worked. He saw the need for such reconciliation then.

I extend the sympathy of the Fianna Fáil Party in the Seanad to his wife Máire; their four children, Deirdre, Cathal, Terry and Ruairí; and his sister, Neasa. He graced this House with his presence and powerful ideas about reconciliation.

Michael Finucane (Fine Gael)
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The Leader dealt very comprehensively with the background of Ruairí Brugha, to which I have very little to add, except to endorse, on behalf of Fine Gael, the Leader's comments and tribute to him. I respected the bipartisan approach of Ruairí Brugha and Jack Lynch to the Sunningdale agreement from 1973 to 1977, despite Ruairí Brugha's strong background in physical force nationalism and his father's involvement in it. He deserves considerable respect for this. Their approach was a forerunner for subsequent movement with regards to Northern Ireland where this bipartisan agreement has existed over the years. I acknowledge everything said about Ruairí Brugha by the Leader and pay tribute to him and his long experience in the Seanad. He served as an MEP, a Deputy and a Senator, which I believe to be a unique achievement in Irish politics.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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The Independent group in the Seanad would like to associate itself with the comments made by the two previous speakers. Ruairí Brugha was a quiet man. He travelled to and from the Oireachtas Library most days of the week until recently. Very few people would have recognised him, except those of us who knew him for many years. He always moved quietly and never involved himself in conversation until someone spoke to him. He was a bridge builder in many ways.

He was probably the most direct link between the physical force revolution and democracy in Ireland, a role he wished to play, and was completely committed to, throughout his life. It is difficult to give even a taste of the extraordinarily varied and complex life he lived.

I first got to know him through the Kingston Clothing Company, which was founded by his maternal grandfather and located in O'Connell Street. He was managing director of this company and his closest friend and eventual brother-in-law, Seán O'Briain from Baile an Fheirtéaraigh, was company secretary. When I first came to Dublin in the 1960s, I was advised to go to Seán O'Briain and Ruairí Brugha in the Kingston Clothing Company in Connell Street if I wanted to buy a suit, which I did. This company was, in many ways, notorious.

Ruairí Brugha was friends with people like Peadar O'Donnell and Brendan Behan. They would meet regularly on a Saturday morning for tea and coffee in the Gresham Hotel. Peadar O'Donnell and Ruairí Brugha argued with and were friends with a wide circle of people. Brendan Behan was Ruairí Brugha's best and worst customer. He would tell the story of how Behan would continually buy overcoats from him. He would buy an overcoat, lose it, buy another and give it away. Eventually, he would have to pay for his coats but he only wished to pay for one despite the fact that he had bought three. He always ended up calling Ruairí Brugha a capitalist, which was the end of every argument. He had a great relationship with Behan and was very saddened by his early passing.

Few people would believe that Ruairí Brugha was so highly principled that he was jailed for who he was, rather than for anything he did. I do not think he ever fired a shot in anger. Having been jailed for no good reason by his country, his church then excommunicated him. He suffered for his principles, without anyone pointing out what he had done wrong. He did not abandon his principles while he was in the Curragh. When he was offered early release, despite the fact that he had done nothing wrong, he refused to offer any kind of excuse for his actions. He served his time until, as the Leader noted, he was eventually released due to poor health.

He was a complete romantic. The Leader might like to know that when he was in the Curragh, he commissioned an engagement ring to be made from a silver sixpence when he proposed to Máire McSwiney who, of course, accepted. She became the person with the greatest influence on him throughout his life. She was a very positive influence on him because it opened up the width and depth of Europe for him. He was a Francophile who regularly visited France.

He was, above all, a bridge builder who would always bring people closer together. Ba Ghaeilgeoir den scoth é, agus chaitheadh sé gach samhradh i mBaile an Fheirtéaraigh — ar An Ghráig, i ndáiríre —áit a raibh tigh acu, agus tá sé acu fós, mar is cuimhin liom. Gan amhras, bhí an-ghaol aige leis an áit sin trí Sheán Ó Briain chomh maith. An rud ba thábhachtaí i rith na mblianta sin ná gur bhuail sé le Máire ar An Ghráig chomh maith, nuair a bhí sé ag dul ag rothaíocht timpeall na tíre. He cycled completely around Ireland over a number of summers.

He was a man who did things. More than anything else he would wish to be remembered, as the Leader stated, as somebody tied to reconciliation as a bridge builder. In the 1940s, he argued against and fought the perceived wisdom about the physical force tradition when it was difficult for him because of his roots and background in the republican movement. He contended the way forward was democracy and that the armed struggle should be put behind the Irish people. He did this constantly.

In 1966, on the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising, he addressed a large rally in Trafalgar Square. This resonates with a discussion here last week. Flags were waving and the physical force tradition was undoubtedly uppermost in people's minds. Ruairí Brugha stood up in front of the crowd and argued for a democratic way forward, for the physical force tradition to be abandoned, for a move into political life and to accept that this was the way forward. This was a principled but difficult position, but he was a courageous person.

Friends on the Government side may wish to know that some time in the late 1940s he decided to enter political life to advocate his views. He went to the great founder of Fianna Fáil, Éamon de Valera, for advice on entering political life. Mr. de Valera stated that he had been waiting for Brugha and had been wondering when he was coming to join the party. Brugha stated that he had come for advice but could not join Fianna Fáil when some of his former colleagues were imprisoned. He joined Clann na Poblachta, standing for the party several times before returning to the bosom of Fianna Fáil. He was a Senator, a Deputy and an MEP. Even within Fianna Fáil he was still a bridge builder. At a personal cost to his own political advancement he refused to take sides on any of the various and many schisms within that party. He always attempted to hold both sides together.

His time as a Deputy, Senator and MEP has been well documented so I will not deal with them. We have been discussing social capital and Oireachtas committees have been examining volunteerism. Ruairí Brugha took action on issues. At one stage the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes money was diverted from hospitals in another direction. The Mater Hospital had extraordinary difficulty seeking money. Brugha founded the famous Mater Hospital pools, which ran for many years. These were bought out some years back but he was still involved in them until relatively recently.

For 50 years he was a member of Trees for Ireland. I dealt with him there as a teacher, educationalist and member of the INTO. He carried out significant work in the area and cultivated a love of trees in schools, bringing it into the educational system. He was the first chairperson of Dublin Tourism. More than anything else he was a bridge builder. He was a devout Catholic and a conservative man but he led a delegation to the Archbishop of Armagh looking for the ban on Catholics attending Trinity College to be lifted. It was lifted some time later. He was the type of man who took action.

He expended a life-long energy in developing good relations among people who were divided, be they from the North and South of this island; Catholic and Protestant from the whole island or in Northern Ireland; or Unionist, Nationalist, republican or loyalist. He always insisted on spending time in Northern Ireland on a regular basis on the process of reconciliation. He did much work on this, which is appreciated. We on the Independent benches wish to be associated with the words spoken previously and we offer condolences to his wife Máire, his family and extended family, who loved him dearly.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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Tá sé de phribhléid agam cúpla focal a rá in ómós do Ruairí Brugha. Ní dóigh liom go raibh comhrá aige as Béarla ariamh, agus bhí aithne agam air le beagnach 30 bliain. Tá na focail atá ráite ag gach éinne a labhair anseo go léir fíor ó thaobh an tsaoil pholaitiúla agus stair agus thodhchaí na tíre de. Caithfear a rá chomh maith, áfach, gur duine uasal, séimh, macánta a bhí ann. B'shin iad na rudaí ba mhó a chuaigh i bhfeidhm orm nuair a bhuaileas leis go minic ó thángas anseo i 1981.

An rud ba mhó ar labhraíomar faoi ná Iarthar Dhuibhneach agus Gaeltacht Chorca Dhuibhne agus an draíocht a bhaineann leis an áit sin. Bhí a chlann agus é féin tar éis dul i bhfeidhm ar mhuintir Chorca Dhuibhne, agus bhuaileas le beirt ó Iarthar Dhuibhneach a bhí tar éis teacht go Baile Átha Cliath i gcomhair na sochraide. Sin turas de 250 míle, nach mór. Bhíodar tar éis teacht chun bheith i láthair ag a shochraid. Tá mé an-chairdiúil anois le duine dá chlann. Bhíomar i ngleic lena chéile go mór-mhór san ollscoil nuair a bhí Cathal Óg ina bhall d'Fhianna Fáil. Is féidir a rá nach rabhas féin i mo bhall d'Fhianna Fáil ag an am sin, ach réitíomar níos mó le chéile, agus caithfidh mé a rá gur tionchar dearfach é an tionchar atá ag Clann Brugha ar an dtír seo anois agus mé ag féachaint ar an mbóthar atá amach romhainn agus ag smaoineamh ar na rudaí siúd.

Bhuaileas leis den uair dheiridh roimh an Nollaig, nuair a seoladh leabhar a mhná chéile i gCorcaigh faoi choimirce Ard-Mhéara Chorcaí, Deirdre Clune, iníon de chlann eile de na mór-chlanna i ngluaiseacht na saoirse, Clann de Barra i gCorcaigh. Bhí sé soiléir ansin go raibh Ruairí ag teip agus nár ró-fhada a bheadh sé inár measc. Bhí brón ar gach éinne. Caithfear a thuiscint, áfach, taobh amuigh de sin, agus chomh maith lena uaisleacht agus a mhacántacht, gur dhuine láidir é. Bhí sé pósta le bean láidir a tháinig ó chúlra láidir.

Tagann na rudaí sin le chéile, an fuinneamh, an láidreacht agus an mhacántacht a bhí mar bhunús ag an bhfear, agus thug sé an bunús sin dá chlann. Bheadh a fhios ag éinne a bhfuil aithne aige nó aici air nó ar a chlann go raibh na cáilíochtaí céanna ag a chlann is a bhí ag Ruairí féin. Is cailliúint mhór dóibh é go bhfuil athair na cloinne imithe uatha, mar ba chlann iad a bhí aontaithe faoi gach rud agus an-chúng le chéile. Bhí dearcadh faoi leith ag an gclann go léir ar son síochána, na teangan, thodhchaí na tíre agus Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre. Ba mhaith liom comhbhrón a ghabháil le Máire, Deirdre, Cathal, Terry agus Ruairí.

11:00 am

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)
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On behalf of the Progressive Democrats I join with previous speakers in extending our sympathies to the family of the late Ruairí Brugha. It is difficult to speak of an historical icon whom one did not know but having listened to previous speakers, particularly Senator O'Toole's history lesson on the great contribution of the Brugha family to Irish politics, it is clear Ruairí and his father, Cathal, made a great contribution to Irish history and to the evolution of the State we now have. He was a visionary in terms of where we have come to vis-À-vis Northern Ireland and always promoted his belief in democratic politics. He is quoted as saying of his time in the IRA that it had become the victims of an illusion that would never become a reality. It is fitting to review various stages of our history to learn that there were people who knew what they wanted, knew what was right and had a vision of how to go about it. It is a pity we did not listen more.

Cork people are very proud of the Lord Mayors McSwiney and McCurtain and have much affection for them. The unification of two such historic families by the marriage of Ruairí Brugha and Máire McSwiney compares with anything this country can boast. It is remarkable and something of which we in Cork are proud.

On behalf of the Progressive Democrats I extend our sympathy to his widow and their four children. He was a member of the founding fathers of this State, a Member of Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann and the European Parliament and he contributed to all of them in a dignified, democratic way.

Don Lydon (Fianna Fail)
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Having had the honour to serve with Ruairí Brugha in the same constituency for over 30 years and having been involved with him and his family on a deeply personal level it would be remiss of me to let the moment go without saying one or two words about him. So well spoken were the words of the other speakers that I will not repeat them.

I knew Ruairí Brugha well. He always loved debating a point, no matter what it was, and loved an argument. He had a very good sense of humour and was a very kind man. If he is to be remembered for one thing alone it will be his dedication to resolving the age-old Irish problem by peaceful means, which is what his life was all about

It was remarkable to see that, at his funeral, his family was not sad but rejoiceful, because they felt he could not have accomplished much more in his life. He had achieved all he wanted, had done so in a quiet, unobtrusive manner and had touched many people, especially in Northern Ireland in recent years. He will be remembered as a man dedicated to peace. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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I also wish to be associated with the tributes to the late Ruairí Brugha, who was a Member of this House on two occasions, in the periods 1969-73 and 1977-81, and a Member of Dáil Éireann from 1973-77. I was first elected to the Seanad in 1977, a year in which Ruairí Brugha was also elected. There are only two Members in the present Seanad who served with him, namely, Senator Kitt and I. Much of his life was devoted to reconciling the Nationalist and Unionist traditions on the island and bringing about a peaceful end to partition. Though it could be said that he inherited the tradition of physical force republicanism he vigorously promoted the practice of non-violent politics.

In the early 1980s he failed to get elected to the Dáil or Seanad and his active role in politics was over. His wife wrote in her recent book, History's Daughter, that he may have been too idealistic for politics, because he never promoted himself. His only interest was in putting the country first.

On my own behalf I extend my sympathy to his wife Máire and family on the death of Ruairí.

Members rose.