Seanad debates

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Death of Former President: Expressions of Sympathy


2:30 pm

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Fianna Fail)
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I pay tribute, on the passing of former President of Ireland, Dr. Patrick Hillery, who as we all know was a great patriot, a dedicated public servant and a man who never looked for any kind of recognition but without doubt deserved it all. He is undoubtedly assured a place in Ireland's history for his massive contribution to the progress of our country. His career sums up what is best about politics and public service and his principled defence of standards in public life should not be forgotten.

Dr. Paddy Hillery, as he was more commonly known, was born in Spanish Point, County Clare, in 1923. His father, Dr. Michael Hillery, was medical officer to the mid-Clare brigade of the old IRA during the War of Independence. He served a nine months term in Limerick prison for his role in the war and his house was burned down by the Black and Tans in that time.

Paddy Hillery was loyal to his party and to his country. He was persuaded to stand for the Dáil in 1951 by Seán Lemass as a running mate with the then leader of Fianna Fáil, Éamon de Valera, and was elected to represent the constituency of Clare which he served continuously until 1971.

During that time he served as Minister for Education, a position he took with enthusiasm, and was responsible for much innovative thinking in the Department that was close to the heart of Lemass's strategy of industrial development which was focused on attracting inward investment. He was responsible for initiating many reforms that were to be introduced over the next decade, including the establishment of comprehensive schools and the regional technical colleges. Even after he left the Department, the policy of reforming education was continued by his successors.

He then moved from education to the industry and commerce portfolio in 1965 and became the first Minister for Labour in 1966. In 1969, just as the troubles in Northern Ireland escalated, he was promoted as Minister for External Affairs in Jack Lynch's Government.

The deteriorating situation in Northern Ireland did not dominate completely his tenure in the Department. However, in 1972 he was one of the key negotiators during the talks ahead of Ireland's accession to what was then the European Economic Community, known today as the EU. Following Ireland's entry to the EEC in 1973, he was appointed as the country's first European Commissioner in Brussels, becoming vice-president of the Commission of the European Communities, with special responsibilities for social affairs. Perhaps his most famous achievement as Commissioner was his successful introduction of legislation forcing all EEC member states to give equal pay to women.

He served in this role until 1976, when he was appointed President of Ireland following the resignation of Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh. Three years into his presidency, Ireland received a formal visit from His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, in 1979. Patrick Hillery left office in 1990, having served the maximum of two terms, and he has been widely applauded for his honesty and devotion to duty.

For 40 years, he was at the cutting edge of Irish public life and set an unsurpassable standard of integrity and decency. He was a true and unassuming patriot, who in his time made a noble contribution to the well-being of our country.

As we all know, Paddy Hillery was an excellent golfer and at one time he was thought to be the head of state with the lowest handicap in the world. I know Lahinch golf club, one of the finest links courses in the world, was one of his favourite venues. As a proud Clare man, he always enjoyed playing there. As secretary of the Oireachtas golf society, he was our distinguished honorary president for the past 30 years.

He never forgot his roots and he spent much of his time in his native Clare. He told us one of his proudest days was in 1995, when the Clare hurlers won their second All-Ireland title. He was among his people on that day, basking in the county's glory.

From a Fianna Fáil perspective, Paddy was a long and dedicated servant of the party. He moved on to greater things, representing our country as its first European Commissioner before serving for 14 years as our President. We have much to thank Patrick Hillery for and we should be grateful that such a man served in public life and gave so willingly of himself.

He will be sadly missed and as Leader of Seanad Éireann and the Fianna Fáil group in this House, I offer my sincere condolences to his wife Maeve, son John, daughter-in-law Caroline, and his grandchildren and extended family. Go mbeannaí Dia trócaire ar a ainm.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
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On behalf of the Fine Gael Party in Seanad Éireann, I rise today to extend my deepest sympathies to the family of our late President, Dr. Patrick Hillery, particularly his wife Maeve, son John and the extended family. While extending these sympathies to Dr. Hillery's family, I also thank them for sharing with us and the country a man of integrity, warmth, honesty and ability.

It is somewhat appropriate that last week saw both the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and the visit of the European Parliament President to Ireland. Peace on this island and our membership of the European Union were two significant areas in which Dr. Hillery played an important and pivotal role.

It is now acknowledged that his efforts on the conflict in Northern Ireland marked the beginning of an international involvement in finding and securing peace in Ireland, North and South. One must acknowledge the role played by Dr. Hillery in our accession to the European Community. His work as Ireland's first European Commissioner won him much deserved praise and respect, both in this country and other member states. In particular, as the Leader has stated, he played a crucial role in ensuring equal pay for women. Many people have spoken of this to me and talked about his strong personal beliefs and courage in pursuing this concept at a time when it was far from being as accepted as it is today.

President McAleese summed up the contribution of this man when she stated he was involved in every facet of policymaking that paved the way to a new, modern Ireland. A former President, Mary Robinson, referred to how helpful Dr. Hillery was to her when she took up her duties. Former Taoiseach, Garrett FitzGerald, described him as a good man and a good politician.

As a Deputy, a Minister, a European Commissioner and a President who held office for two terms, the late Dr. Hillery showed his commitment to public service at the highest level. He also displayed his loyalty and dedication to Ireland, his ability and his integrity by getting on with whatever task or challenge that was presented to him. He did so in a quiet and unassuming way. Dr. Hillery was a warm, decent, friendly and engaging man. He was respected and admired by those across the spectrum of political ideas and ideologies and he bridged the political divide. I found him to be warm and engaging and a gentleman.

On this day, I wish to thank Maeve Hillery for her great service to this country as the President's wife. She fulfilled her role with grace, style and confidence.

May Dr. Patrick Hillery — the man, the politician, the President — rest in peace. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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I wish to offer the condolences of the Independent Members to the family of one of the most exemplary and outstanding supporters of the NUI constituency. Dr. Hillery always took a great interest in that constituency and was a close supporter of my colleague, Senator Quinn. He was also the Senator's near neighbour and good friend. Dr. Hillery attended last year's election count, which was the final occasion on which I spoke to him. He was very gracious to the three of us who won seats and asked us how things were. He always displayed that level of interest.

On a personal level, Dr. Hillery was always a pleasant man. Beyond that, however, today we are recognising an outstanding lifetime and career of commitment and drive on behalf of his community, his profession of medicine, his country and the European project at a wider level. Dr. Hillery has, at various levels, left a mark on western Europe. In that regard, it is worth remembering what he did. He displayed a steely determination, particularly during an extremely difficult period as regards developments in Northern Ireland. He also showed leadership and courage and was prepared to take the unpopular line when, particularly in electoral terms, it was hardly beneficial to do so. Bhí nádúr stóich an Chláirínigh ann agus bhí a phréamhacha sáite i gcultúr iarthar an Chláir. Thug sé an méid sin leis i gcónaí.

Dr. Hillery always tried to see the broader picture. He was extremely interested in the nature of politics. He was a role model for everyone in the context of how to move from local politics into professional activity and on to represent one's country at the highest level. With regard to the various ministries Dr. Hillery held, his name still appears in the rules for national schools, the first edition of which appeared in the period 1963 to 1965 when he served as Minister for Education. He was a popular Minister for Education but I never worked with him in that capacity. I did not come to know him until later.

I wish to be associated with the remarks made by the Leader and Senator Fitzgerald. I offer our condolences to his party, his county and, in a special way, to his family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh sé.

Photo of Alex WhiteAlex White (Labour)
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On behalf of the Labour Party, I wish to be associated with the tributes to the former President, Dr. Paddy Hillery. His death represents the passing of another member of an extraordinary generation of politicians, namely, those who were born immediately after independence and who came to prominence in the middle part of the previous century. As Senator Cassidy and previous speakers stated, members of that generation are characterised by a particular kind of commitment to public service. Different generations have various ways of expressing the commitment to which I refer. The type of commitment displayed by Dr. Hillery could be described almost as a form of sacrifice. This is a recurring theme with regard to Dr. Hillery. He said himself he felt he did many things out of a sense of duty. There was a sense of selflessness about it. It can be said absolutely of that generation, and particularly of him, that his commitment to politics and public service was motivated by nothing other than a sense of duty and of honour at serving one's country. There was never any question of its being done for personal gain or opportunity. This is something that characterises that generation of politicians and public figures which, in a sense, is now passing. His passing is a particularly poignant example of that.

As others have said, Paddy Hillery distinguished himself in a number of different positions in Government. In particular, as Minister for Education, he laid the groundwork for much of the work that was done later. He was essentially a progressive Minister for Education and did a large amount of work in that position. For a short time he was Minister for Industry and Commerce, but he was particularly important in his post at the Department of Labour, introducing industrial legislation in the late 1960s which is still an important part of our industrial relations infrastructure.

Others have referred to Dr. Hillery's work on Northern Ireland. I endorse the remarks of Senator Fitzgerald with regard to his contribution to the major issues of peace in this country and our involvement and commitments in Europe. I remember when he stood up to the Irish Government in respect of equal pay, which I welcomed. It was vitally important in those early years of our membership of the EEC that we did not see the benefits of our involvement as flowing in one direction but that we also made a commitment to a fundamental right to equal pay, which was then expressed in legislation in 1974. This was a vitally important, progressive move. He was clear that it had to be implemented and he did the country a great service in this regard.

I join with my colleagues in conveying my sympathy and condolences to Paddy Hillery's family, Dr. Maeve Hillery and Dr. John Hillery, and recall his great personal warmth as a human being as much as a politician. His loss will be felt greatly in this country. I wish to be associated with today's tributes. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Photo of Déirdre de BúrcaDéirdre de Búrca (Green Party)
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On behalf of the Green Party I wish to pay our respects to the family of former President Patrick Hillery, and to pay tribute to Dr. Hillery himself, who was a very fine Irish statesman and a committed public servant. Perhaps the most outstanding tribute one can pay to a former eminent public representative such as Dr. Hillery, who held so many positions of importance, including TD for Clare, Ministers for Education, Industry and Commerce, Labour and Foreign Affairs, the first Irish vice-presidency of the then Commission of the European Communities, and ultimately the Presidency of Ireland, is that he was a modest, decent and unassuming man. Such qualities are indeed admirable in somebody who occupied the pre-eminent positions he did. Perhaps this is why he is held in such high regard by the Irish public and by his former colleagues and friends.

Dr. Hillery's mild-mannered demeanour, however, was underpinned by a steely resolve when it came to defending what he believed constituted the public interest. It has been widely acknowledged that he did the democratic institutions of this State considerable service in years when the separation of powers was tested to potential breaking point. He rose to the challenge of each occasion and his judgments were later clearly vindicated.

The three specific interventions in Irish public life for which Dr. Hillery will be remembered include one when he was Minister for External Affairs at a divisive time in his party in the immediate wake of the Northern Troubles and the arms crisis, in which he played a key role between the emerging factions in the party. He made, as most people are aware, a defining speech at the most memorable Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis in 1971 when he was asked by the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, to speak to the delegates. He will be remembered also for the role he played as Commissioner for Social Affairs after Ireland's entry to what was then the EEC, when he demonstrated his independence once again by refusing to bow to pressure from the coalition Government to grant Ireland a derogation from the equal pay directive for budgetary reasons. The most critical test of his independence came during his second term as President, when he was put under strong pressure not to grant the then Taoiseach a dissolution of the Dáil in 1982. He did not allow himself to be suborned at this difficult time in Irish political life.

Dr. Hillery displayed great courage in defence of constitutional principles over two decades and had a profound influence on political life in this country. He also made a great personal sacrifice by taking over the highest office in the land when asked to do so although he did not have any clear desire to be President of Ireland. His contribution to the development of education in the country in the 1960s was significant and included laying the foundations of the comprehensive school system. He also expanded vocational training, helped to set up the Commission on Higher Education and promoted the OECD investment in education study.

As Minister for Labour he brought forward important legislation dealing with industrial relations and redundancy conditions. The key role that Dr Hillery played as Minister for Foreign Affairs when negotiating Ireland's entry into the EEC was significant. One of the real concerns at the time was that the violence in Northern Ireland might impede entry. However, increasing co-operation between Ireland and Britain meant that fear was not borne out.

As social affairs Commissioner, Dr. Hillery presided over the development of EU social policy from which so many Irish citizens benefit today. He adopted a tough line and refused to allow the Government of the day to get a derogation from the equal pay directive. His spell in Brussels also resulted in improvements for migrant and handicapped workers and the setting up of a combat poverty programme.

On a lighter note, the former President Hillery was once voted the world's sexiest Head of State by readers of the German magazine, Der Spiegel. I believe it is important to remember this also.

Dr Hillery was an exemplary public servant and a role model for us all. He deserves our respect and our gratitude. The Green Party welcomes the opportunity to pay tribute to him in Seanad Éireann today. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Fiona O'MalleyFiona O'Malley (Progressive Democrats)
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I speak today with great sadness at the passing of Dr Hillery and pay tribute to his many works. I do so with more of a personal note, however. Everyone has attested to the great professionalism that Dr Paddy Hillery brought to his various roles. He held the highest office in the land and represented Ireland internationally but as a man he was very much the backdrop in my family while I was growing up. He was very much in the background during my father's political career and at home we always knew him fondly as a person on whose advice one could rely.

It has been attested what a decent man he was, and a modest understated one, but people have referred to the strength the man had as well, and how he was able to stand up to various pressures. This is something that is not always remembered.

He was an understated man and this was noted in the area of education. While Donogh O'Malley has got all the tribute for great works done in promoting and advancing education in the country, it was Dr Hillery who did much of the groundwork. It was typical of the man and his modesty and understatement that he never for one moment sought any of the limelight for that.

Senator Alex White mentioned that Dr Hillery's was a different kind of public service. In some ways one laments that this is the case because it should not be so. A man such as Dr Hillery is one against whom we should measure ourselves as public servants. We should set ourselves those standards and the public service should not be any different nor our standards and our dedication to our country any different from the role model that Dr Hillery has left. It is the passing of an era. He was the last person who was part of de Valera's Government and as we pass into a new phase in politics in Ireland with a new Taoiseach about to be elected, it is a poignant reminder of how periods change.

I pay tribute also to Dr Hillery's wife, Maeve, whom I knew and from whom I learned much about County Clare, Lahinch and that area, and to his son John. I remember very well the time of the passing of Dr Hillery's daughter and what a very great personal sadness it was to him and to his family.

It is a sad day here but the former President is held in a very warm embrace by the public and I am sure that tribute will be a great comfort to his widow as we commence the State funeral. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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Normally I do not move from the Seanad groups but I believe that Dr Hillery's close neighbour, Senator Feargal Quinn, wishes to say something briefly.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I appreciate the opportunity to say a few words, as Senator O'Malley has done, about the private person rather than about Dr Hillery's wonderful record of statesmanship. He was a neighbour of mine for many years, as was his wife, Maeve. His children, particularly Vivienne, played in the pony club with our children. He was also a member of the same golf club as myself and on many occasions we teased one another with regard to that. In addition, he was a customer of mine and his lack of airs and graces was impressive. He walked to the shop to do the shopping and I remember meeting him on the very day it was announced that he was to become President. He was chatting to customers and continued to do so.

He did a lot of other work and Senator Norris has asked me to talk about his support and friendship during the Joyce centenary celebrations. He was a parishioner in the same parish as mine and I understand that he received the highest papal honour ever bestowed on an Irish person — the Order of Pope Pius X — for various works he undertook. I have referred to those matters because other speakers mentioned so many different things the late Paddy Hillery accomplished.

When I first ran for a seat in this House in 1992, I wondered whom I could ask for a nomination. I decided to seek that nomination from Paddy Hillery, a person I admired so much. When I phoned to ask if he would nominate me, he very happily did so then and again in 1997 and 2002. Last year, when I phoned again seeking a nomination, Mrs. Maeve Hillery told me he was not there but that he would call back. Later on he phoned my wife who told me, "He is not going to nominate you this year. I think you didn't give him a short putt on the 18th hole". It turned out, however, that he could not nominate me because his son, Dr. John Hillery, was also running in the same NUI constituency. He was embarrassed at the time but we laughed about it afterwards.

Paddy Hillery has left behind him neighbours, parishioners and friends as well as a wider and greatly admiring public. Looking back, we can say that he left the world a better place for his presence.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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I would also like to be associated with the tributes to Dr. Patrick Hillery. The views which have been expressed are clearly reflective of all Members of the Seanad and will be conveyed to his wife Maeve, son John and extended family. His contribution to public life has been immense and many citizens have been the beneficiaries of his enlightened policies in the many portfolios he held.

I extend my sincere sympathy to his family on their sad loss. I ask Members to stand for a minute's silence.

Members rose.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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May he rest in peace. Amen.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Fianna Fail)
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At 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 17 April 2008.