Seanad debates

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Death of former Member: Expressions of Sympathy


11:00 am

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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I call on Members to offer their tributes to the late Senator Michael Howard.

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Fianna Fail)
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This is a sad occasion. However, it gives me pleasure to say some words about a person with whom I was elected on at least four, perhaps five, occasions, who served in this House for many years.

Michael Howard was born on 19 September 1933 in Ballinalacken in north Clare, the only child of the late Thomas and Bridget Howard. Michael's father passed away when he was a very young man and it fell to his mother Bridget to raise him. She had a considerable influence on his political life. Bridget was the former Bridget Murphy from Ballymacraven in Ennistymon, a cousin of Bill Murphy, the former Fine Gael Deputy for County Clare. She encouraged Michael's interest in politics by involving him in discussions. As a result, from an early age he developed a keen interest in politics, particularly in Fine Gael, an interest he maintained to the day of his death.

He was especially proud of the role that Cumann na nGaedheal leaders played in establishing the founding democratic institutions of our State and he remained faithful to the core philosophy and policies of the Fine Gael Party. It was no surprise that Michael entered the political arena. He was successfully elected to Clare County Council in 1974 where he continued to serve with distinction until 1991. It was only a matter of time before he entered national politics, standing for Fine Gael in the 1969 Dáil elections. He stood for the party on two further occasions, in 1973 and 1981. Although he was not successful in his endeavours, he had an opportunity to enter national politics when he was elected on the industrial and commercial panel to Seanad Éireann in 1977 with a nomination from the Vintners Federation of Ireland. He served as a Member of this House from 1977 to 1987 and again from 1989 to 1997. Michael was a very keen Member of Seanad Éireann and was a greatly respected and popular man among his peers across the political divide. Even though he retired from politics in 1997 Michael never lost his love of and interest in politics. He returned regularly to Leinster House where he enjoyed catching up with old friends and keeping up to date with the latest news.

In his early years, Michael was very involved with Macra na Feirme and played a leading role in the IFA and national farming organisations. He was instrumental in setting up Clare mart in Ennis which was extremely successful at the time. He and his late wife Breda ran a very successful farm and tourist-related business in Ennis. The One Mile Inn licensed premises in Ennis was an establishment where he played a leading role in helping and assisting the Licensed Vintners Association. As the vintners' representative in Seanad Éireann he certainly made his presence felt in his capacity to lobby on their behalf.

He was also a very strong supporter of Ireland's entry to the European Union in 1973 and continued his great support, particularly for the Common Agricultural Policy, up to the time of his death.

He was highly regarded as an analyst and commentator at election time and was an expert on election results. He did numerous commentaries on Clare FM radio as counts progressed during many elections. Nothing would have given him greater joy than to have seen his daughter, Mary, elected to Ennis town council on Friday, 5 June.

On a personal note, I found Michael to be a remarkable individual who gave his all to the people he represented. He had a wonderful way of viewing the world and displayed a remarkable insight into current events. Like so many others in the Seanad, I benefited from his wisdom and political expertise.

We on this side of the House acknowledge Michael's tremendous contribution to Seanad Éireann, to the Fine Gael organisation and to Irish society. He will be sorely missed. On my behalf and that of the Fianna Fáil Party, and as Leader of Seanad Éireann, I extend my deepest sympathy to Michael's family, to Tom, Michael, Mary, Seamus, Elizabeth, Gearóid, Louise and Bríd, to his grandchildren and to the Fine Gael organisation in general. Go ndéanfaidh Dia trócaire ar a anam.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
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On behalf of the Fine Gael Party and as leader of the Fine Gael Seanad group, I pay tribute to our former party colleague, the late Senator Michael Howard, a true gentleman of striking appearance who hailed from north Clare, the heart of the Burren. I acknowledge the presence of many of Michael's family members with us in the Seanad today as we speak about him and his contribution to this House and to society.

Michael passed away in February this year after a short illness. His son, Michael junior, described how his father had been utterly courageous, never flinching as he approached his death. At his funeral mourners were told how Michael Howard had told the counselling nurse sent to visit him after the news of his illness that he had no fear of death, that it was an exam he had prepared for all his life. What wonderful and consoling words for his family to remember.

These traits of courage, stability, decency and deep faith tell us a lot about the man Michael was and the politician he was, both nationally and locally. Michael served as a Senator for 20 years, a wonderful record of public service, from 1977 until 1997. He represented his community on Clare County Council from 1974 until 1991 and on Ennis Town Council. Those in politics who knew him describe him as a tremendous organiser and a great strategist. I understand he was a vibrant and informed commentator on election results over many years. He also showed his great ability as a doer in politics and outside as a farmer involved in the IFA and as a founder member of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, for which he worked very hard.

Michael stood for Fine Gael in three general elections. He was always willing and ready to serve his party, his county and his country. I can only imagine the delight and pride with which Michael looked down upon the election only a few weeks ago to Ennis Town Council of his daughter, Mary.

Many people speak about Michael as a great family man. On behalf of the Fine Gael Party, I extend our deepest sympathy to his family, his sons, Tom, Michael, Seamus and Gearóid, and his daughters, Elizabeth, Louise, Mary and Bríd. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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On behalf of Independent Members and Sinn Féin, I wish to be associated with the words of sympathy expressed by my colleagues. I acknowledge and welcome the family of Michael Howard to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. When I joined the House in 1987, Michael Howard was already here and he was at all times pleasant, friendly and popular. There was nothing better than to watch the way he could wind up Tras Honan, when everybody else was slightly afraid of her. We always remember public figures here in the personal way we got to know them.

At a time like this, we sometimes repeat ourselves, but that is as it should be. We are all in the same job, no matter on what side of the House we happen to be. I would like to say to the grandchildren that it is always more difficult for them to lose a grandad because they do not expect to lose them. We are aware of that.

In offering condolences from these benches to the family, the extended family and the Fine Gael Party, we recognise that putting one's name on a ballot paper and standing for election, wherever that happens to be, is the highest calling within a democracy. The day we cannot get people to do that, is the day a democracy fails. I wish to extend our recognition and acknowledgment of this to Michael Howard's family. He showed commitment at all stages of his life to serve as a people's representative. No matter what party one belongs to, we cry out for such people, those who will stand up and be counted, have a point of view and be prepared to stand by it. This is an important role and I urge the family to recognise that this is the legacy of which they can be proud. This is the nation building part of public representation.

Michael Howard did this as a member of Clare County Council and he was at all times busy, active and effective - the classic example of if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. He was a person who just stretched his time. He made everything fit into that time. He represented his colleagues in the Vintners Federation of Ireland and was also a voice for farmers. When he took on a responsibility, he took it all the way. As a vintner he had something to say and something to fight for and represent. He went all the way and became president of the vintners' group. It was a similar situation in his local community. He went all the way to become a member of the local authority and put forward his point of view there. He was, similarly, a voice for farmers.

He carried all those interests into the Seanad, which is what the Seanad is supposed to be about. I say this as a person who calls constantly for Seanad reform. The Seanad is about people with a mixed and varied background who can stand up and talk about the various areas of life such as rural Ireland, running a business, running a farm, politics etc. I remind Michael's family and grandchildren that they can take great pride in his commitment and energy. They are his legacy. He has made his mark and will be remembered. That is on record. I urge them to take pride in that. We are proud of the fact we served with him.

It is appropriate for me to finish with the words of Deputy Pat Breen on Clare radio last February. He said:

Michael was one of life's gentlemen and a tremendous organiser and strategist. It was these qualities that endeared him to the various farming, business and political organisations he served during his life.

Is fíor iad na focail sin. Tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach go bhfuil daoine mar Michael sásta a ainmneacha a chur san áireamh agus dul thar bhráid an phobail chun a dhícheall a dhéanamh ar son na ndaoine. We take pride in him. 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 condolences to the Howard family on the sad loss of former Senator, Michael Howard. Unlike other party leaders, I was not personally acquainted with him, but I know from my Labour Party colleagues that he was a man who was held in considerable affection and respect in the House over the 20 years he served so loyally here and on Clare County Council. This was a long period of active and dedicated service to public life and the importance of that contribution is enormous. I noticed that even after he had retired in 1997 he remained very active politically and was involved in the campaign against the downgrading of the Ennis hospital in 2003. Even at that stage, he was still very committed to Ennis and his county, which is to his credit.

I was not personally acquainted with the former Senator, but it is impressive to see so many members of his family in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. I am acquainted with two members of his family, Elizabeth Howard and Michael Howard junior, Senior Counsel. In my short political trajectory my colleagues have, at various times, expressed support for me, and perhaps, more often, sympathy in my various dilemmas, but none more so than Michael Howard junior. I thank him for that. Knowing him and Liz as I do, I have some sense or glimpse of the kind of man their father was. It is appropriate we mark his passing in this House but, obviously, it is the members of his family who have suffered the greatest loss on his untimely passing. On behalf of the Labour Party I pass our sympathy to all the family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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I knew Michael Howard very briefly, but found him a unique gentleman. His insight into Irish politics, and the Seanad and its operation in particular, was profound. I am privileged to have known him and am proud to say he was a friend of mine. Senator Fitzgerald spoke about his ability as a strategist and his experience of 20 years in the Seanad. I was the beneficiary of some of that expertise and experience. Without his advice, assistance and encouragement, I would not be in the Seanad today. I thank him for that.

I feel enriched by having known Michael Howard and this House was enriched by his presence here for 20 years and by his ability, expertise and insights into politics. He will be very much missed by his family, but he will also be missed by me and all Members of this House.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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The late Senator Michael Howard was one of the most rounded people I ever met. He was wise, intelligent, good-humoured, committed and very honest. He was a great colleague and was respected by one and all. When he spoke, people listened. He had a very real sense of the role of Parliament, specifically the Seanad, and took his responsibilities as a legislator very seriously and contributed significantly. His own innate dignity and presence contributed greatly to the working of the Seanad. I worked alongside him as Deputy Whip of the Fine Gael Party when he was the party Whip in the Seanad. He was a good, kindly and inspirational colleague. I know how dear and important his family was to Michael. He was a good family man and all-round good man. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I knew Michael Howard for many years. He was a man of considerable courtesy and charm and was always immaculately dressed and presented. In a profession which is not replete with gentlemen, he definitely was a gentleman and exhibited that in all his dealings.

I had not intended to speak, but I had the pleasure of meeting some of his family about 20 minutes ago so I came up here. I asked my colleague Senator Joe O'Toole if he had put on the record an interesting fact he had told me, but he told me he had forgotten it. That fact was that we are all indebted to Senator Howard because it was he who found the crack in the ceiling. This resulted in the closure of the Chamber because of the dangerous condition of the ceiling. Without Senator Howard's eagle eye, some of us might not have been here today or may have been covered in debris from the ceiling. Michael Howard would have enjoyed that because while he knew when to be solemn, he had the most wonderful sense of humour. 1 o'clock

Michael's son who is a distinguished lawyer at the Bar told me he had devilled with a friend of mine and a decent man, John McBratney, who was responsible for me becoming a Member of the House. At a point when I was about to give up, John told me at a meeting that he would leave a few suggestions behind. The suggestion was a cheque for £500, almost the only contribution I ever received. I cashed it and used the money. I am not surprised he was a friend of Michael Howard who was also a decent, supportive man.

I also helped out in a way because, as I told Michael's family, I did not always attend GAA matches and in those days, as Members of the Oireachtas, we used to get two tickets each for the all-Ireland final. Michael, in a very delicate way, would always ask if any tickets were available for the final and I would give them to him. I was shocked and saddened to learn of Michael's untimely death. He will be missed but he has left behind a family of whom he can be very proud.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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I am pleased and honoured to have an opportunity to say a few words about my long-standing political colleague, Michael Howard. While all of us will have thousands of memories when we leave politics, only a few will be abiding ones of the things we did and people we met. One of my lifelong memories of my time in Leinster House is the night I was first elected to the Seanad in 1987. After I was elected at 8 or 9 o'clock in the evening, the count commenced for the industrial and commercial panel on which Michael stood. He received a tremendous first preference vote and at about 3 a.m., when the count reached a conclusion and I was still on a high having been elected to the House - I considered myself a person of serious importance - he and I went out to the plinth where he produced a pipe and lit up. We spoke for about an hour on life, politics and where our careers were heading. Bizarrely, in perhaps the greatest turnaround in Seanad electoral history, Michael lost his seat by the narrowest of margins the following day. Michael was, however, a gentleman and stayed around with his permanent smile for a full week. Two years later, we were all thrilled when he was re-elected to Seanad Éireann.

Michael Howard was the definition of the word "gentleman" and, as has been noted, a superb political strategist. As colleagues and friends on both sides are aware, for a long time it was considered impossible that Fine Gael could win two out of four seats in County Clare. This seemingly impossible goal was achieved in three if not four elections under the astute direction of Michael Howard who took great pleasure in assisting Donal Carey and Madeleine Taylor-Quinn to become Dáil Deputies.

Another characteristic of Michael Howard which strikes a strong chord with me was his regular visits to the House when he finally left the Oireachtas in 1997. He was one of the former Members, whether they voluntarily left the House or were defeated in an election, to return to the House to be with friends and former colleagues and offer advice. Michael visited every month and loved to have a chat and the craic with us all.

Michael Howard was a gentleman and pioneer in every respect. My first visit to a health farm, which I understood only existed in Sweden, was to Michael's farm. I never expected to find a farmer running a health farm in County Clare.

Michael Howard had vision, experience and a breadth of knowledge. Above all, he had a smile on his face at all times. I never heard him complain about anyone in politics and never saw him frown or grumble. For him, politics was about public service and he provided that service with a smile. That is the greatest tribute we can pay to him. If more people like him were involved in politics, it would be the best possible advertisement for the profession. His memory will remain with us and while we are sad he has gone, we are happy and joyful that he has left such a legacy. His decency, sincerity and permanent smile will be what we always remember of him.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the late Michael Howard and welcome his family to the House. I was the Government Whip in the House from 1994 to 1997 when Mr. Howard was a Senator. He was a dependable and honourable man who was great for a Whip because he had the ability to come into the Chamber at a moment's notice and speak on any issue. This is not a surprise when one considers the words spoken about Michael Howard by Senators. He did not need to consult Google before entering the Chamber because he had his own system based on the experience he had gained as a vintner, farmer, businessman and local and national politician. Michael acquired the experience in business and politics to enable him to speak on every subject discussed in the House.

Senator Bradford referred to the count for the 1987 Seanad election which, in the case of Michael Howard, went down to the last vote. Those who aspire to become a Member of the House should note that Michael was beaten by the current Deputy Phil Hogan because the final vote to be distributed recorded a sixth preference for Hogan and seventh preference for Howard. The order on the ballot paper clearly mattered in that count.

Photo of Francis O'BrienFrancis O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I join previous speakers in extending sympathy to the family of Michael Howard with whom I served in this House from 1989 to 1997. As Senators have most eloquently noted, Michael was a gentleman through and through who enjoyed the respect of Senators from across the political divide. He was an honourable and great man who had many friends in County Clare and throughout the country. As his family will be aware, Pat Joe Burke, an independent councillor from Miltown Malbay, was one of his closest friends. I express my deepest sympathy to Michael's family. May he rest in peace.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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I wish to be associated with the tributes to the late Michael Howard who was a Member of the House from 1977 to 1987 and from 1989 to 1997. Mr. Howard was president of the Vintners Federation of Ireland in 1976 and 1977. Nominated to the Seanad by the association in 1989, he tenaciously represented the interests of publicans and business in the Chamber.

Michael made a huge contribution to political life and the Houses of the Oireachtas in his role as a Senator. His daughter Mary continues the political tradition, having been elected to Ennis Town Council, and I wish her well in the future. It was a great honour, as Cathaoirleach, to have represented Seanad Éireann at Michael's funeral in Ennis. I express the thanks of Senators to Michael's family for affording Seanad Éireann and the people of County Clare his outstanding commitment to public life. I also extend my sincere sympathy on their sad loss. May he rest in peace.

Members rose.