Wednesday, 25 June 2014
Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy
I am privileged to lead the tributes to the late Sam McAughtry, a former Senator, who sadly passed away in March of this year. I would like to welcome to the Visitors Gallery his daughters Elaine, Marion and Angela. I express my sincere sympathy and that of the House to all his family and friends, who I am sure miss him dearly.
As a member of the industrial and commercial panel, Sam was elected to the 20th Seanad in a by-election in 1996 and served in this House until the end of that term. I wondered - I mentioned it to Senator Quinn and others - how Sam managed to be elected in a by-election, which is usually dominated by the political parties. I think the Government parties at the time backed Sam's election. Looking at the by-election results, he secured 115 of the 221 votes cast. He was a very valuable Member of the House.
Outside his political life in Seanad Éireann, Sam McAughtry had many strings to his bow. I understand he left school at the tender age of 14 and joined the Royal Air Force, in which he served for a number of years.
He subsequently joined the Northern Ireland civil service. Perhaps Sam will be most notably remembered for his fruitful career as a broadcaster, journalist and writer. His voice frequently graced the airwaves of BBC Northern Ireland and his words frequently appeared in the columns of The Irish Times, among other publications. Some of his best known works includeThe Sinking of the Kenbane Head, McAughtry's Warand On the Outside Looking In, A Memoir.
Born in a loyalist community in Belfast, throughout his life, Sam was an advocate of peace and North-South relations. His passion for peace was illustrated in his speech on the day he was introduced to the Seanad, when he stated: "it is my dearest wish to see this island inhabited by 5 million Irish people, living in two jurisdictions with consent, but with institutions established to emphasise their Irishness."
Sam was a great storyteller who was blessed with great wit. His artistic contribution served to enrich the lives of all those who knew him, at home and abroad. I extend my sincere sympathy to his family and friends. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I join the tributes to the late former Senator, Sam McAughtry, and endorse the welcome extended to his daughters, Marion, Elaine and Angela.
The Leader gave a comprehensive overview of Sam's life. When one considers the remarkable contribution he made over a long period, it would take much longer than the time available today to go into his life in detail. Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, former Senator Maurice Hayes described Sam as "a really remarkable man – a writer and a political activist who had learned both trades in the hard school of life, a seafarer at heart who had survived many a stormy passage to reach serene old age as a dispenser of wit and wisdom, an advocate of civility and decency in public discourse, and a charitable concern for the underdog and the casualties of society".
Senator Cummins outlined Sam's life. During the war, he joined the Royal Air Force and rose to the position of flying officer. Returning to Belfast, he joined the Ministry of Agriculture as a temporary civil servant which led, in turn, to writing in a trade union magazine and newspaper columns and broadcasting on local radio. He became involved in politics through the Northern Ireland Labour Party. His first book was published in 1970 and was followed by a further nine works, of which the final one was published in 2003. He helped to establish the peace train movement, which campaigned against the IRA's regular disruption of the rail link between Dublin and Belfast. While these events seem a long time ago, they were real obstacles to peace at the time and there appears to be a form of collective amnesia about them. Sam castigated and challenged the IRA for its negative mindset and the barriers it created between the two traditions on the island. I believe most people will subscribe to that view.
Sam was a lifelong trade unionist. He became a member of the Northern Ireland Labour Party and railed against sectarianism throughout his life. Dr. Brigitte Anton of the Labour Party described McAughtry's contribution to the arts and development of non-sectarian labour politics in Northern Ireland as "immeasurable". Damien Smith, head of literature and drama at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland stated: "To describe McAughtry as a much-loved chronicler of Belfast working-class life is to state an obvious truth - he was among the most rigorous, charming, eloquent and visible champions of the old Belfast of two-up/two-down values and the solidarity of the poor."
TheBelfast Telegraph, in an obituary notice, referred to Sam as a "rare, articulate Protestant voice". With his passing, it added, "the memory of almost a century of Belfast life disappeared from reach". In his many newspaper articles, broadcasts, memoirs, interviews and volumes of stories, Sam gave voice to a version of the Ulster Protestant which remains rarely expressed. He was, in his own words, "a hybrid Unionist" who came from a stock which had a more complex relationship with Ireland and Britain than nowadays we would be given to believe existed. I am pleased Senator Cummins repeated the remarks Sam made in the House on his dearest wish.
Sam declared himself happy to live in the United Kingdom and happier still to be Irish and proclaim his Irishness. This is, in a way, the direction in which we are moving, namely, a position in which there is a recognition and acceptance of separate identities on this island. Ultimately, Sam McAughtry's aspiration was for peaceful co-existence between, to use the words of Wolfe Tone, Catholic, Protestant and dissenter. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I, too, express my sympathy to the family of Sam McAughtry and welcome his daughters, Marion, Elaine and Angela, to the House.
As we know, Sam McAughtry was an acclaimed writer, broadcaster and encourager of peace. He was an accomplished and unique individual who crossed borders in a way only few have managed in the recent tumultuous decades which have thankfully become peaceful. We are here to pay tribute to former Senator Sam McAughtry who passed away in March last at the age of 91 years. Personally, I did not have the pleasure of knowing Sam but his voice was certainly familiar to me from radio broadcasts. I remember him, in particular, for his contributions to the "Sunday Miscellany" programme on Sunday mornings. He had a calm voice, which was great for radio.
Sam McAughtry's place in our shared history is well secured. Leaving school at age 14 years, he joined the Royal Air Force and, subsequently, the civil service, before becoming a regular on our airwaves and in our newspapers. He was a columnist forThe Irish Times and could be regularly heard on BBC and RTE radio speaking on both political and personal issues. Sam's voice was different in a time of trouble and difficulty. He painted pictures with words on the effects the Troubles had on ordinary people, highlighted their difficulties and the way in which their lives were affected. His thoughts and statements on radio programmes and his columns in The Irish Timesover the years provided an interesting social history for generations to come.
Sam McAughtry was an accomplished writer whose works included On the Outside Looking In, A Memoir, Blind Spot,Play it Again Sam, Sam McAughtry's Belfastand McAughtry's War. In addition to the many achievements I have listed, Sam also led a very important public life. As a member of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, he was passionate about trade unions and deeply committed to fighting sectarianism. He also led a public life through his election in 1996 to Seanad Éireann on the industrial and commercial panel. He promoted peace and reconciliation against a backdrop of violence and called for a change in understanding, while some still wished to engage in and promote violence as a means to an end.
Before becoming a Member of the Seanad, Sam was a founding member of the peace train organisation. As Senator Mooney noted, its members protested against and stood up to the threats of bombs on the Dublin to Belfast rail line. As someone from Dundalk who lived alongside the line, I remember only too well the frequent disruption to services on the route. As a founding member of the group, Sam helped to bring people together against the fear and threats. He and his colleagues provided a train station platform for people to come together, say "No More" and refuse to allow fear to reign.
Sam McAughtry made contributions to many parts of Irish life and we are thankful to him and remember him for them. He passed away in March at the age of 91 years, having made contributions to the political, cultural and social fabric of his time. Importantly, he connected with an audience through his writing, speeches and work in a way that few others can match. He was a man of many hats who contributed greatly to Irish life. I express my gratitude for the path he paved.
I, too, welcome Elaine, Marion and Angela to the House. I regard today as a celebration of Sam McAughtry's life. I was a Senator at the same time as Sam and I remember well the first time I met him. Looking at a photograph of Sam published in a newspaper the other day, his smile stands out. He had a great, big smile which seemed to be there all the time. I got to know him very well and I remember telling him I had northern connections.
I told him that my mother came from the banks of Lough Neagh in County Armagh and my father came from the poor land of Attical located outside Kilkeel in County Down. This is the land to which the native Irish had to move when the Ulster Plantation took place in the early 1600s. Sam and I talked about this on that day and he said it was interesting to know. He said that his background was such that he would not have had the opportunity to know, on normal terms, people like my grandfather who came from the banks of Lough Neagh or my other grandfather who came from Attical.
I told Sam the following story, which he loved to repeat, about meeting Sir Richard Needham who will not mind my telling this story. He was a British Minister when Margaret Thatcher was in power and I met him at a function in the British Embassy. At the beginning of the meal we addressed each other formally as Senator and Sir or Minister. Towards the end of the meal we addressed each other as Feargal and Richard and I said to him I could not figure out his accent. He responded by saying that he was from Northern Ireland with what I thought, as I said to Sam, a rather swanky Northern accent. I could never claim that Sam had a swanky accent. I asked Richard where he came from and he said Northern Ireland. I responded by informing him that my people came from Northern Ireland. I persisted and asked him whereabouts and he just said County Down. He was not giving anything away. Eventually I said that my father came from County Down, my mother came from County Armagh and asked him again where he came from. He replied with the words "south County Down." Sam roared laughing at the reticence of Richard Needham to say exactly where he was from. In the end I got it out of Richard that he was from Kilkeel. I said to him we may be related because my grandfather came from Attical, from the poor land outside of Kilkeel. He said: "No, no. My good man, you probably owe me rent." Sam loved the story and loved to tell it.
Richard Needham was not born with the Needham name and was originally Lord Kilmorey. He dispensed with the title in order to go for the British House of Commons. He recalled that when he was being put to bed, and then heir to the title of Lord Kilmorey, his nanny would say to him: "You go to sleep now, young Richard, or long Fenians from Attical might come down and take you away."
The reason I have told my story is because Sam loved it so much and was interested in hearing about different sectors of society. As Senator Moran and others have said, he was involved in many things aimed at creating peace and getting the different factions in Ireland together. He worked so hard towards that aim. He showed great commitment in everything he did and spoke about in this Chamber. He forged links and was one of the people who established the peace train. There was great division among so many people in the North. The people from the banks of Lough Neagh and Attical, on the side of the Mourne Mountains, would have had no connection with where he came from in Tigers Bay and he would not have had any connection with them either.
Sam had a wonderful ability as a storyteller. He left school at 14 years of age and became a civil servant after some time spent in the Royal Air Force. Then he published his books at quite a late stage in his life compared with others. He was a prolific writer and wrote many stories and books.
The Seanad was a richer place because Sam brought his humour and good sense to it. I remember his first speech, which Senator Mooney quoted. Sam had insightful views but was able to convey them with humour to the extent that we made sure we were present to hear him. We could also listen to him regularly on his radio programme called "Sunday Miscellany" because he made as many as 200 broadcasts. He had a wonderful Northern accent and displayed a wonderful sparkle of joy and humour. He managed to demonstrate here, more than anything else, his hatred for sectarianism and a belief that we, in Ireland, could be one people, which he worded so well. As Senator Mooney said, he expressed his pride at being a member of the United Kingdom but was also proud to be Irish as well. He was able to put that in words, be committed and accept an invitation to become a Senator. Later he was elected as Senator due to a by-election.
I wish to say to his three daughters here today that these tributes are a celebration of his life. Those of us who knew him celebrate his life. We wish to say how proud we were to have known him. He added to this House and he focused our attention on non-sectarianism of which he was so proud. He did so much, not just with the peace train but in everything else he did. I wish his daughters to have those memories of him and I wish us to have those memories of him.
I express my appreciation to the Cathaoirleach for giving us the opportunity to have this session here today and to remind us all and put on record our memories of such a great man.
On behalf of the Sinn Féin Party I extend my sympathies to Sam's family and welcome his three daughters, Marion, Elaine and Angela, to the Visitors Gallery.
I will start by quoting my party colleague and Stormont Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Carál Ní Chuilín, when she spoke about Sam following his death:
His artistic contributions served to enrich life not only in the north but across Ireland and beyond. He added a splash of colour with his wit and storytelling.The same sentiment has been echoed by many Senators who knew him personally. I did not know him personally but have heard a lot about him. Many acts of reconciliation are taking place on the island of Ireland at the moment which benefit us all. If we look back on the history of the Seanad, especially the contribution made by people like Sam and others who came from the North and a different tradition, a Unionist tradition, they were able to take their seats in this Parliament in the Republic, which was, in its own way, an act of reconciliation at a time when we had a conflict on this island. Sam's contribution to the Seanad was very progressive which should be celebrated by his family, and certainly celebrated by all of us.
Sam represents the very complex issue of nationality, identity and how people see themselves in the North. We have reached a situation where it is accepted that people can see themselves as Irish, people can see themselves as British or people can be both. That is the Ireland we all want to live in.
The Leader will be aware of the debates we have had in the House on Seanad reform and wanting a more inclusive and reformed Seanad in this State. I firmly believe that citizens in the North should have a vote in Seanad elections which would be a further act of reconciliation. It is to be hoped we will see more people from the Unionist community represented in institutions here in this State. We can look at the example given by the Assembly, at the moment, where people from different traditions work together in the best interests of citizens. I hope, as an Irish republican, that we can progress towards a united Ireland, but we must always ensure people who see themselves as British have their rights respected. It is important to say that they have as much right to be part of the Parliament in this State as we do.
Sam was a member of both the trade union movement and the Northern Ireland Labour Party. As other speakers have said, he turned to writing and became a well-regarded and popular storyteller and author. What he said when he was appointed to the Seanad has been quoted already but is worth repeating: "I am a hybrid unionist in that I am happy to live in the United Kingdom but I am happier still to be Irish and to proclaim my Irishness." He was also a supporter of the peace process and went on to say:
As I stated on the day of my election, it is my dearest wish to see this island inhabited by 5 million Irish people, living in two jurisdictions with consent, but with institutions established to emphasise their Irishness.
We can all learn lessons in, say the debate in the North on flags and emblems, from his generosity and forward-thinking.
I express my sympathies to the McAughtry family who have come to the Seanad today to hear these tributes. For anyone who is a supporter of the peace process and has progressive views like Sam’s, we need to continue to build a more inclusive and better Ireland for all those who live here.
I too am glad to have the opportunity to add to the tributes in respect of the late Sam McAughtry. I happened to be in the other House when he served here but I quickly got to know him, as did all Members of the Oireachtas then. We enjoyed his recollections and, for those horse-racing fans, we enjoyed discussing his racing tips. Another side to his make-up was that he was a noted commentator on the horse-racing industry and had many valuable insights in that regard.
He was elected to the Seanad in 1996 in one of the most interesting by-elections that had taken place for many years. As Members know, these tend to be won easily by the government side of the House. The political numbers at the time meant that a tight by-election was in the offing. The Fianna Fáil Party, in its wisdom, ran a candidate from Northern Ireland. Sam McAughtry, probably at the instigation of the then leader of Democratic Left, Proinsias De Rossa, became the candidate of the rainbow coalition Government. It was an active campaign with every Member canvassed. Strong pressure was put on government Members to ensure we turned up at the appointed time and placed our vote. Sam McAughtry secured 115 of the 221 votes cast, a significant achievement. He obviously got the support of all rainbow government Members but also the Independents, a tribute to his skills.
During Sam McAughtry’s brief time here, the first thing that always struck one about him, as Senator Quinn said, was his smile. He was always positive, happy, chatty and good company in the social spaces in Leinster House. His legacy to Northern Ireland, this House and Irish politics is significant. His time here may have been short in political terms but it was a crucial time in the peace process. We had had the breakdown in 1995 of the 1994 ceasefire. His was a voice of reasoned loyalism and Protestantism in this House which was helpful. Along with Senators Gordon Wilson, John Robb and others from Northern Ireland, they forced people in both Houses and in Irish society generally to face up to the fact that nobody had all the answers and that many of us were looking at the Northern difficulty from our own blinkered vision. Sam McAughtry and others forced us to look at all sides of the story.
I want to pay particular tribute to his work with the Peace Train Organisation. Today, all the gloss of the peace process seems to shine off those who had Pauline conversions. Few people credit the men and women who always held the firm line that while change was necessary, bombing, murder, violence and mayhem was not the way forward. Sam McAughtry and his colleagues in the Peace Train Organisation, in a simple demonstration, proved conclusively that those attempting to unite the island were dividing it further, doing grave damage to the citizens of this country. Fortunately, the will and the wisdom of Sam McAughtry and others have prevailed and we all now work in a joint framework towards peace and prosperity on this island. I thank him for that.
While his service in this House was relatively short, it was significant, along with his work as a journalist, a trade unionist and a member of the Northern Ireland Labour Party. That party did huge service for working class people on this island and never asked one’s religion. It was a working class party about the working class and working people, not about sectarianism which, again, is conveniently forgotten by so many. Sam McAughtry left a proud legacy of work, literature and an example of how real peace and dialogue can make a difference.
I sympathise with his daughters. He is fondly remembered by all Members who had the privilege and pleasure of meeting him.
I would also like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy for the late Sam McAughtry and welcome his daughters, Elaine, Marion and Angela, to the House. I also extend my sympathy to his wife, Phyllis, and extended family.
After the many fine tributes that have been paid to Sam McAughtry, it is very hard to have something new to say about him. Sam was elected to the Twentieth Seanad in a by-election for the industrial and commercial panel. It was an interesting period in our history. For the first time ever, there had been a change of government without an election and John Bruton became Taoiseach in 1994. Two Chathaoirligh also died during that period, 1994 to 1997, Séan Fallon, whose seat Sam took in the by-election, and Liam Naughten, who was killed tragically in a car crash. Every Member respected him. He spoke with authority on several subjects, least of all Northern Ireland. He was chairman and a founding member of the Peace Train Organisation which protested against attacks against the Belfast-Dublin rail link.
He was a writer, broadcaster, columnist with The Irish Timesand a great storyteller. He was also a gentlemen with great wit and integrity. I remember him telling me on one occasion that his first job was in a ladies’ lingerie shop which was probably called a ladies’ underwear shop then. He was very young at the time but did not believe he was really qualified for the job because he had never heard the word “knickers” in public before. He got out of that job as quick as he could. One can imagine the very good job he made telling that story.
Sam McAughtry spoke with great authority in the House. At the time, I was the Government Whip so I had close contact with him. He was very dependable and always turned up for votes.
As Senator Quinn said, he always had a smile on his face. He took his work with great ease and lightly but seriously at the same time. It was a great pleasure to know Sam McAughtry and to have worked closely with him over that period. I would like to be associated with the vote of sympathy to him here today and the tributes that Members have paid to him.