Wednesday, 7 February 2024
Death of Former Taoiseach: Expressions of Sympathy
I know Senators were all deeply saddened to hear yesterday of the death of former Taoiseach, TD and European Union ambassador to the United States of America, John Bruton. He had a long career of service to his constituents and to Ireland. He was one of the youngest people ever elected to Dáil Éireann, being elected at the age of just 22 to the Meath constituency. He served consecutively from the Nineteenth Dáil to the Twenty-ninth Dáil, which is a huge era of service. Of course, we know that he held a lot of ministerial portfolios, as well as the highest office in these Chambers, as Taoiseach. He was elected Taoiseach in 1994 and served until 1997 and he has the unique distinction of being the only Taoiseach to take that office in a change of government midway through elections.
He was hugely popular with his colleagues on all sides of the House. In 2004, he took up the office of European Union ambassador to the United States of America, where he was one of the most active ambassadors that the European Union ever had, having a phenomenal reputation on Capitol Hill as a most engaging and enthusiastic advocate for Europe and Ireland. Of course, Ireland and the peace process were deepest among his thoughts. He was a patriot, always serving and striving for peace. He made a significant contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process through his friendship and relationship with John Major, as well as through his relationships with people across the United States of America. I am sure he would have been very pleased to see the Northern Ireland Executive back up and running last week. He was, as we know, a strong supporter of the EU, the European project, European integration and working together collaboratively on the longest-running peace process, that being the European Union itself.
For all his political successes, he was immensely proud of his family. They were his guiding light, greatest joy and certainly his proudest achievement. His brother, Deputy Richard Bruton, and sister, Mary, are in our thoughts today, along with his life partner and wife of many years, Finola, his son, Matthew, three daughters, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, and his grandchildren, Ophelia, Oliver, Hugo and Robin, who brought him so much happiness over the past number of years. On behalf of the House, I offer our condolences and sympathies to all who knew and loved him. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Quite rightly, there will be many tributes paid to John Bruton today, as a politician, our EU ambassador, a former Taoiseach, a public representative and one of the youngest people ever elected to Dáil Éireann. He was all of that and more to me and to many of us here. He was a role model and, for me, a supporter as I began my political career.
My earliest memory of him is from when I was a nine-year-old child at the party Ard-Fheis with my little autograph book, running around trying to get everybody I thought was famous to sign it. John was a former Minister at the time and very shortly after it, in 1981, became our Minister for Finance. He gave me time. I have loads of little autographs but his is special. Who knew that nine-year-old would move to Dunboyne many moons later and come out of mass one Sunday morning to find John on a soapbox, microphone in hand, extolling the virtues of Fine Gael and the wonders of our policies to the people of Dunboyne? A couple of years later, we moved to Ratoath and my dad and I came out of mass one Sunday morning to find John on another soapbox with his microphone. This was the leader of our party, still absolutely entrenched in local politics and in reaching out and speaking to people in the way old-fashioned politics was conducted. One would genuinely think the party leader would be too busy doing stuff for the party to be able to go door to door. Some of the conversations I have had in the past 24 hours involved stories of people having him rock up to their door in the middle of campaigns and spending time with them. That was hugely valuable and it is why he is so loved and respected in the town of Dunboyne and elsewhere. He doubled down on canvassing when he was leader more so than at any other time.
When it was my turn to start my political career in 2006, John was there. He was a bit like a giant and because he was so great, it was actually hard to realise he was giving me advice and support. Yet, he did so for many years. When I became a councillor, he was there at the end of a phone and there for the cup of coffee. He was always great and wise but humble and genuinely down to earth in his advice. Even after being in poor health for the past while, he called me on St. Stephen's Day last year to offer his condolences to me. These things really mean a lot when we are talking about giants.
John was one of our greats. He was a true and brilliant statesperson. He was such an intellectual that I think some of the stuff he was trying to convey sometimes went over my head. He continued to try to tell us the things he thought were the right things for the party, the country and the people. He had a huge interest in international affairs. Anybody who has worked with or for him will say that. It was lovely to hear people paying tribute to him yesterday on our radio and television programmes. The tributes were all genuine, heartfelt and absolutely accurate.
We will miss John's contributions to public life.On behalf of all my colleagues in the Fine Gael family, I offer our deepest condolences to his much-loved family, Finola, Emily, Matthew, Juliana and Mary-Elizabeth, our colleague Richard, his sister Mary and his grandchildren along with his very large group of friends and colleagues. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
The first newspaper to hit the newsstands with the coverage of John Bruton's passing was quite fittingly his own local newspaper the Meath Chronicle, which hit the shelves in Meath at 6 p.m. last night and carried a front-page picture of the former Taoiseach and Meath man with the headline "Death of a Statesman". John Bruton was every bit a statesman who rose to the highest office in this land and served the people with great dignity and diligence.
The passing of a former Taoiseach is always a seismic moment in the 100-year history of our country. The passing of John represents the death of the tenth leader of our country. He left an indelible mark on politics in Ireland, Europe, the United States and most notably at home in County Meath. As Meath people, Senator Doherty and I know there was a deep sense of pride in December 1994 when he rose to the office of Taoiseach. Irrespective of one's political party or political beliefs, he was a nice man and it was the first and only time one of our own has risen to the highest office. History will judge his contribution on behalf of our nation kindly. Senators should not get me wrong. I know we in Fianna Fáil did everything we could to get rid of both John and Fine Gael as quickly as possible, including a young Shane Cassells in the summer of 1997 out campaigning to make sure that the Meath man whom we were proud of would be gone.
We are now in an era where people are turning away from public and political service because of the attacks on those of us who put our heads above the parapet by those who hide their identities shielded behind anonymous accounts. However, John Bruton conducted his political debates with dignity, without recourse to the toxic style of politics polluting public discourse today. Perhaps it was a different era, but it was an era where service came first - not spin but service.
I well remember the night of the heave against him 23 years ago. I was coming from a cumann meeting in Navan O'Mahony's and the televisions were on in the bar. I remember being particularly sad watching his emotional address on the plinth at 10 o'clock that night. Even in that moment when the knives had been wielded against him, he remained dignified right to the end. Rather than walk away from politics, he returned to Meath and continued his work as a TD.
I think about that summer of 2001 and that whole year because he ran again in 2002. I was a young councillor and it always stuck in my mind how every week John Bruton could be found in the hall in the main street in Navan, quite a distance from his own home base, conducting his clinic on a Monday night on the bread-and-butter issues of politics. This man who had mixed it with world leaders was as accessible to the local man and woman on the main street in Navan as he was to prime ministers. The sight of him in that clinic reminded me of the virtue of public service.
On a funny side, the local pub down the road used to always take great pride because the man came in and had his tea there before he went to do his clinic. It was Loughran's pub in Navan and the proprietors, Henry and Frank, always saw it as a great badge of honour that John would come in and take his tea in their hostelry. He was also the only man who went in there and ordered prawns for his tea. Nobody else in Navan went into that place and ordered prawns. I think on his first visit a run had to be made to the fishmongers to produce the tea.
I cannot claim to have known John on a personal level as Senator Doherty did. However, I have a small link to him in his timeline as I contested the by-election in 2005 caused by his resignation from the Dáil when he was made the European Union ambassador to the United States for a five-year term. It was a fitting way for a man of such great intellect to finish his political career. From the Dáil to the White House, from Pennsylvania Avenue to Trimgate Street, John Bruton was the same courteous, affable man no matter where you met him.Ireland has lost a statesman. To his wife, Finola; his children, Matthew, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth; his sister, Mary, and his brother and our colleague, Richard, we extend our condolences. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
I will speak first, as the previous two speakers did, of my personal connection to and my personal relationship with the late John Bruton. In Meath, he was a neighbour of Cavan, and I knew him as a neighbour. I knew him on a social level. I was in the Seanad while he was deputy leader of the party. He visited my home in Bailieborough on a social basis. In fact, he was a guest at our wedding. He was a lovely individual on a personal level, and I want to speak to that first. He was extraordinarily good-humoured, witty and intelligent. His intelligence was legendary. Such was his intelligence that he thought on a different plane. He responded very quickly and extraordinarily. I was very friendly with one of the special advisers from his office, who I was talking to yesterday about meeting after the funeral, and I met another one of them recently at the Dublin Bay South special breakfast. He told me that the difficulty with John, when he was Taoiseach, was keeping up with his ideas, because they ran ahead of those of his staff. He told me that the staff were still trying to factor in and process his ideas when he had long moved onto another one. He said their job was not so much to advise John, as to in some way race after him. He was extraordinary on that level. That is another way I knew him personally.
His wife, Finola, was in college with me and was a wonderful fellow student. She is a lovely lady. In fact, her mother was involved with the Irish Wheelchair Association with my wife, and they were visitors to our home often in that context. Finola is a lovely lady. That brings me to the point that John was a wonderful family man. His family was everything to him. He was completely devoted to family. In the midst of his public life, family remained paramount. His love of family and his interest in them was remarkable. He would get animated talking about his family when you met him on any social occasion.
I want to turn now to John, the politician and public figure. I was very impressed by other speakers' remarks about him, coming from another perspective. He was totally devoted to public service. His commitment to public service was unambiguous. He was an extraordinary orator and his oratorical skills were legendary. He had was no competitor as a speaker other than the great James Dillon. His great friend from Roscommon who died last week, John Connor, would be in that mould too. John Bruton stood out as an orator. It was something to hear him at parliamentary party meetings.
He had absolute integrity. His word was his bond. There was no mealy-mouthedness or ambiguity. What John said, he meant and he knew. If you had a conversation with him or you were coming to petition for your constituency, for yourself or for a group of people, you left that room and conversation with an unambiguous, unequivocal answer from him. It was a "Yes" or a "No". If it was a "Yes", it was a "Yes" and if it was a "No", it was a "No".
His party slogan for one particular election was "Every Person Counts". With John Bruton, every person did count. That was one extraordinary aspect of him. Every person is extraordinary, but if he was talking to somebody who, by our definition of things was ordinary, he had the same respect for them, rapport with them and approach to them as if they were one of the great and the mighty.That was one of his amazing attributes. I saw him in action. Like the Deputy Leader, I was in County Meath for events. She will remember that I attended many events in Meath where he was socialising and meeting people in the room. He had the same respect for the most obsequious, uncelebrated member in the back row as he had for the person who saw himself or herself as great and mighty. Every person counted for him.
John Bruton brought great dedication and creativity to every office he held. He held multiple Ministries but he was never happy to go into a Ministry, knock in the time, and come out the other end unscathed. That was not his approach. He was proactive, creative and innovative. I imagine civil servants spent a lot of time trying to restrain him because he would have been out there doing it. He did not go in and say, "I am here just to knock my time in and get through the four years." That was not his approach.
As Taoiseach, he did something that was unheard of at the time and was not expected. He led a coalition that included Democratic Left. It was assumed that party was so ideologically divergent from him that he would have difficulty leading that coalition. The expectation among the pundits was that that coalition would not last. In fact, such was his respect for others, his intellectual capacity to think outside the box, and to look at another person's point of view that he led that coalition in an excellent fashion. He kept that coalition together, which was very united under him. The parties in it worked together with great mutual respect and without mutual suspicion. That coalition was an extraordinary success. Coalitions are now the norm throughout Europe and here, but at that time they were not the norm. He was a pioneer in that sphere. That was a very important contribution to democracy. John Bruton was such a democrat. That coalition Government was an extraordinarily important contribution to the continuity of democracy not only here but abroad. It was his capacity to respect others and his intellectual breadth that delivered on that.
Following that coalition, John Bruton left the economy in robust health. During that coalition, he handled the peace process with extraordinary commitment, skill and sincerity. I remember him being in County Cavan on a tour of the constituency. He had to interrupt the tour, much to the chagrin and annoyance of many of the members there, who would not get this stuff and were very angry. He had to abandon the tour because of what could have been a crisis in the peace process. He interrupted me to say that the peace process was paramount, left the tour, and went on the phones to work on what the issue was at the time. During that time, he did something that was very important. Of course, in the context of the peace process, one has to acknowledge the great work of many but we are talking about John Bruton today. He did something very important that will have to be done as we now aspire to a united Ireland: he reached out to unionism. That was courageous and unpopular at the time. That led to him receiving a lot of unfair criticism. There was misunderstanding around it. He had to reach out to unionism because it was important he won the respect of unionists. He did that. He also held the respect of republicans through that. He navigated the peace process with extraordinary skill and talent. He respected all traditions and had that capacity to put himself in other people's shoes. He did it very well. Again, that was unexpected. As it was unexpected he would lead a coalition so effectively, it was similarly unexpected that he would be such an architect of the peace process and would continue the architecture of the peace process. He did that with extraordinary skill.
As the Leas-Chathaoirleach referenced, he was latterly EU ambassador to the US. We have all had the privilege of going to America at various points and have different connections there.Who in this Chamber does not have many cousins and friends in America? I know anecdotally of how he made an extraordinary impact in Washington. No more than in his ministries and when he was Taoiseach, he was not in Washington for a jolly. He was creative and he promoted the EU there in a very effective way. At all times, he was a very apt ambassador for the EU, because he was a passionate European. He really believed in the European project, and he would have been very depressed and saddened by Brexit. He believed in the European project. He believed in peace, building a peaceful world and building a good economy for people and he had a real passion for Europe in that regard.
All in all, he was a great human being, a great family man and an exceptional political leader. It was an honour to know him, and you could not but be impressed by him. A person might say they diverged from his political aspirations or his political views. Of course, you will come across that, but in all my years, I have yet to meet a person who questioned his integrity, his commitment to public service and his innate human decency.
In a very special way, I want to express my sympathy to Finola. I knew her through college and met her on many occasions with him. I knew her mum and her extended family. Finola has a cousin who is married in Cavan town. She is a very lovely lady. I offer my sympathy to Finola, Matthew, Juliana, Emily, Mary-Elizabeth and, of course, to our colleague in the Oireachtas, for whom this has to be a shattering and difficult time, Deputy Richard Bruton, his wife, Mary, and the extended family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.
On my behalf and on behalf of my colleagues in the Seanad Independent Group, I want to be associated with all the tributes that have been paid to John Bruton in the national media and most especially in this House.
What I want to say about John Bruton can be reduced to one sentence: He was a genuine, authentic, honest and brave character. As Senator Joe O’Reilly just said, you knew exactly what he thought, and he was honest in all his opinions.
Senator Joe O’Reilly mentioned that he was in college with Finola. I was reflecting last night as I went along the corridor in my house. I have a poster on the wall for “Garret’s local team” in the 1979 local elections. Finola, Joe Doyle, Tommy Woods and I were Garret's local team. She was very active in Young Fine Gael. Garret FitzGerald encouraged people like myself - I was just five years out of college and she was still in college - to stand and get involved in politics to transform Irish politics. When you think about it, John Bruton himself was elected at the age of 22 in a by-election. He had been waiting for 12 years for his run at being a Minister for Finance and had been waiting for 22 years for the unanticipated crack at being Taoiseach.
In all that time, I cannot think of any occasion on which he said anything unkind, nasty or unpleasant in these Houses about anybody. I may have a rose-tinted view and I am sure he was a highly competitive politician. However, during all that time during which I dealt with him in various shapes and forms in Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats, etc., I never remember him saying anything unkind or bitter about anybody else. He was an enigma in some respects because he came from what would have been seen as the conservative Christian democrat wing of Fine Gael, rather than Garret FitzGerald’s social democratic wing of Fine Gael. Yet, as Senator Joe O’Reilly said, he was able as Taoiseach to command a coalition with Proinsias De Rossa’s party as his partner in government.I remember that well because we in the Progressive Democrats thought it was our opportunity. We got ten seats in the previous election and we were entertained to a meeting with the Labour Party. Former Deputies Mervyn Taylor and Ruairí Quinn were representing then Labour leader Dick Spring, who was not going to meet us on that occasion, which was a signal in itself. I remember Ruairí Quinn smoking a large Havana cigar and dismissing us as people who were not going to be allowed into government. That Government seemed an unlikely political combination but it succeeded due to John Bruton's diplomacy. At the end of that period in government when he faced into an election, John, the conservative Christian democrat leader of Fine Gael, urged voters to give their preferences to the Democratic Left rather than the Progressive Democrats. That rankled with me at the time, I must confess, but there you are.
On Northern Ireland, he was absolutely honest in his convictions. He came from a Redmondite family. He was not in the Collins-IRB tradition of Fine Gael at all. He clung to the notion that even the 1916 Rising was unfortunate and unnecessary, a proposition with which I would not agree, but he articulated that view and had the courage to do so. Even if you profoundly disagree with him, very few people would have had the bravery to say that even if it was what they meant and that was why John Redmond's picture was in his Taoiseach's office. As Senator Joe O'Reilly said, it enabled him to extend a hand to unionists in Northern Ireland, which is still essential but was most essential then because politics in Northern Ireland before 1998 was a very different process than it is now. The animosities between the two communities were so strong that anybody coming from Dublin was naturally suspect. He leant over backwards to accommodate unionists and to try to bring about mutual reconciliation and peace in Northern Ireland and took a fair amount of flak for so doing. His aim at all times was to take the gun out of Irish politics, to stop the bombs and killings and to stop the communal hatred and replace it with a different type of politics.
Senator O'Reilly also mentioned John Bruton's European views and it occurs to me that he was a committed European federalist. It is undoubtedly the case that he would have been disappointed by Brexit, as we all are. His views on Europe were not mainstream Irish views because they were probably more federalist than most Irish people would be. Again, he never concealed his commitment to a federalist Europe and made it plain at every hand's turn that he aspired to it.
He eventually ended up, by irony, as the chief representative of all the businesses in the International Financial Services Centre, IFSC. That was a strange outcome because it was a body largely established at the instigation of his great rival, Charles Haughey. Again, his aim in all of that was not self-promotion but to ensure that the economic success of this country developed in the way that it has.
The most important point about John Bruton was his sense of humour. He was highly intelligent and imaginative, and was frequently way ahead of others in conversation, but his laugh and his enjoyment of company endure. I remember dinners in King's Inns when the whole dining hall was shaking with his laughter. I always thought he was the most genial and pleasant person with whom one could deal.
Those things having been said, Finola, Matthew, Emily, Juliana and Mary-Elizabeth have lost a wonderful husband and father but they should be buoyed to some extent in their grief by the huge outpouring of admiration and gratitude we have seen over the past few days.Again, to Richard, another person who has quietly devoted his entire life to public service, I extend my deepest sympathy on the loss of his brother John. For one family to produce two politicians who have quietly but consistently served the State when it was not in their economic interest to do so, is significant. It probably was not economically necessary for them to become involved in politics. It was probably to their detriment that they did but their belief in their values has driven them. I will end on this point. We are, as has been said, including by Senator Cassells here, living in a world where people hide behind anonymity to attack, to denigrate, to drag people down, to distrust their motivation and to make allegations of corruption or cynicism or whatever against everybody else but if we look back on John Bruton's contribution to Irish public life, there is a better kind of politics and it should not die with John Bruton. We should all dedicate ourselves to upholding, if not all his political beliefs, at least his personal values and his commitment to Ireland as a functioning democracy.
On behalf of the Green Party grouping, I convey our deepest sympathy to the former Taoiseach's wife Finola, to his family, in particular to our Oireachtas colleague Richard. It is very poignant when we lose one and when one of our own suffers such a direct bereavement, to his many friends and to the Fine Gael family. As legislators, we bring our ideals, experience, vigilance and intelligence to the legislative process. These values are especially important at a time when expertise is undervalued and those who seek to destabilise both our communities and the world order through, for instance, the use of social media, are busy at their work. Populism concocts enemies, exaggerates social problems for its own benefit and proposes divisive slogans as solutions. Populism often seeks out legitimate social problems, not to cure them, but to undermine the very fabric of society. It sets a them-against-us narrative.
John Bruton was not a them-and-us politician. He was authentic and genuine. John Bruton was not a populist. He had an old-style way with his notebook in his back pocket taking notes all the time. He was pivotal. Just as the Attorneys General came out very late in the day to save this Upper House, John Bruton's intervention and contribution in the second divorce referendum when he gave us a dose of his raw authentic honesty, tipped that referendum single-handedly. He was innovative. His view on the 1916 Rising is well documented. However, looking at what he said on Northern Ireland, he was brave. He was before his time yet he was utterly committed to peace. I remember he appointed my college friend, Brian Hayes, as a peace envoy to Northern Ireland. He took abuse for that position. He was not in synch with the cosy cartel of Irish nationalism at the time but he has been totally vindicated in reaching out the hand as the only way forward as a precursor to the Good Friday Agreement for which he was instrumental in setting up the infrastructure and framework. It is an example of his thinking outside the box that we should encourage. I was particularly taken by his open-mindedness on how sometimes in a coalition, perhaps there would be room for a Green Taoiseach as thinking outside the box and of doing things differently in coalition.They epitomise bravery and an intellectualism that has at its heart a vibrancy and an innovation. Looking back on his career, one of his finest, shining 24 hours was his second motion of no confidence motion against him. He went on "Questions and Answers" the night before the vote and he was full of passion and dedication. He came alive. It was ironic that he was speaking to the nation but only the few in the parliamentary party had the vote on that occasion. He was just so alive, so convincing and so dedicated in his contribution on that "Questions and Answers" broadcast when he tried to rescue a situation where, a day later, he had fallen short. However, within a very short time, his dignified acceptance of that result reminded me of Liam Cosgrave handing over power to Jack Lynch in the RTÉ studio. For me and for those who know Fine Gael, its commitment to law and order is not a catchy sound bite but it goes to the core. John Bruton epitomised this decency and deep concern for law and order and the desire that politics passes flawlessly following an election. We all saw what happened on 6 January in American when politics was in peril.
We can best pay tribute to John Bruton by remembering the resilience and fighting spirit on that "Questions and Answers" show when his back was against the wall and to remember his acceptance of democracy and his unequivocal and unreserved acceptance of a democratic outcome. We can remember his decision to continue then, and that that was not the end, but there was further public service. The best tribute we can pay our distinguished, late Taoiseach is to cherish European values and condemn in any form violence of any type for any reason - the taking of life, maiming or injuring people can never be justified for political goals - and to call out populism and ensure it is not tolerated. In yesteryear, the currency of corruption might have been tribunals of inquiry. The currency of corruption and distortion today is a form of vile populism that is challenging the world order. We have to take a leaf out John Bruton's sincerity, honesty and his genuine, straight-up approach to politics by not letting populism thrive and by encouraging individual thinking, even in parties that have whip systems, which are outdated, to encourage and incentivise individual thinking and the flourishing of new ideas and to be inclusive of everyone on the island. He has been totally vindicated in his approach. He was one of few who stood up at that time. That is a lasting legacy and it is would be tribute were we to reach that high standard of inclusivity on the island of Ireland.
I want to pass on the deepest sympathies of the Labour Party to our Fine Gael colleagues, John's wife Finola, his sons, his daughter, his grandchildren and his brother, Richard, and his sister, Mary. It is difficult to speak about a man I did not know but knew of because he dominated my early political life, especially following the very personal perspectives of Senators Doherty, O'Reilly and McDowell's on our former Taoiseach. I will not take up too much time as I understand our Fine Gael colleagues will want to take some time to pay tribute but from a Labour Party perspective it is fitting that we are having tributes in this House this week, the week after the Northern Ireland Assembly was restored.His role in the process is often overlooked and, in some cases, written out. We will particularly remember him for giving space to the unionist community and allowing the unionist community at that stage in the late 1990s to feel safe to come into a process, and for working towards not just the historic Good Friday Agreement, but perhaps the most significant part of that process, which was the 1994 ceasefire. John Bruton was very sensitive to the unionist perspective and reached a hand out to them at a time when nobody else would.
Last night, I was watching an interview he did with Sean O’Rourke when he was Taoiseach, where he talked about the picture of John Redmond that he hung on his wall and how he was very proud of that picture. I also thought he used very diplomatic language when he came to speak about Michael Collins, and I say that diplomatically. It is incredible that he had a very different perspective that he was not afraid to articulate within Irish politics, and that created space for other people to feel safe. He was a vehement pacifist and because of that, he was able to reach across the table during that turbulent political era of the 1990s.
When I watch what is happening in Gaza at the moment, I am often struck by how, in the mid-1990s, the Northern Irish peace process and the Middle East peace process were both running in tandem at the same time, and the difference that 30 years has made here in comparison to the Middle East. The Oslo Accords were held up for us as something we should follow but, unfortunately, peace has not been reached in that region, whereas we have entered a period of great stability. Great thanks is owed to John Bruton for that.
From the Labour Party perspective, in 1995, he rescued us or took us, or whatever people called it at the time, but he managed to keep that rainbow coalition together despite the doubts of very many people. He had people from different sides in a three-party coalition working together very efficiently at a time when nobody thought they would.
I will finish with a tribute that my former party leader, Dick Spring, paid to him today, which I think best sums up John Bruton from our perspective. He said that we will perhaps remember him as someone who was viscerally opposed to violence in all of its forms yet still found a way, in the interests of peace, to work with those who espoused violence, and as somebody from a deeply conservative background who was then able to lead change and contribute to progressive change. I think it is the mark of an extraordinary politician that he was somebody who came from one political perspective but, in the interests of working together and progressing positive change, he managed to do that, particularly through the 1990s and 2000s.
My deepest respect to my Fine Gael colleagues on the other side of the House. I look forward to hearing the other contributions.
On behalf of the Civil Engagement Group, I want to join in the expressions of sympathy to the family and friends of the former Taoiseach, John Bruton, following his passing yesterday, in particular, his wife, Finola, his children, his grandchildren, his sister and, indeed, our own colleague, Deputy Richard Bruton, who I serve with on the climate committee.
As a TD, as a Minister holding many Ministries, as ambassador for Europe and as Taoiseach, John Bruton's life was one that was dedicated to public service and to our shared national and international institutions. His commitment to the European Union has been discussed and highlighted by others, including his role in Ireland's Presidency of the European Union in 1996. It is worth noting his contribution, as a representative of these Houses, to the European convention which drafted the then-proposed EU constitution, and the support that he expressed at that time for more democratic accountability and citizen input in our shared Union. These discussions are ongoing in the Future of Europe process and discussions that are still being held today.
His contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process has been highlighted. What has been described very eloquently by others, as well as the work of peace, is the fact that to take a position in favour of peace even with absolutely diverse perspectives - diverse perspectives as to goals or as to means - to be able to look at that and work for peace is, in fact, a brave thing and is a contribution.It is something that can be forgotten sometimes in the language of war and militarism, wherein military action is how one takes serious action, when we know that deep, long, difficult work for peace is extraordinarily brave. He was a strong example of someone who did the work of peace. His commitment to that process and to the EU was immense. Nationally, he was the Taoiseach from 1994 to 1997 of a Government which made lasting, significant decisions and changes in Irish society which continue to have a positive impact on people's lives. To pick just two examples, I looked at free university legislation and the equality legislation. These are things that can perhaps be taken for granted but they were, in fact, seismic, ambitious ideas that came in under his watch as Taoiseach.
He was somebody who recognised in a compassionate way the diverse complexities of people's lives. That was seen in the divorce referendum where somebody who may be coming from a personally conservative position was able to recognise compassionately the realities of people's lives and to help and contribute, as others have highlighted, to the passing of that progressive referendum and the granting of the right to divorce.
John Bruton's commitment to democracy, both internationally and nationally, and the fact that he was a strong voice for Ireland and indeed for Europe, his commitment to our country and our shared institutions, and his authenticity and sincerity in the way that he delivered public service, is something that leaves a lasting legacy. I add very sincerely the wishes of all the Civil Engagement Group today and extend our sympathies not just to the friends and family but also to his colleagues in Fine Gael.
I want to, on behalf of not just myself but my colleagues in Sinn Féin, offer our condolences to John's family, to the Fine Gael party and in particular, Deputy Richard Bruton, who I have got to know quite well through our work together on the enterprise committee and who I have the height of respect for. There is no doubt that John Bruton made a very significant contribution to Irish life over four decades of service. Even looking at the range of Ministries he held, including industry and energy, education, finance twice, public service and, of course, Taoiseach, it really was a career dedicated to public service. I do not think anyone can possibly doubt that.
Clearly, Sinn Féin and Fine Gael had particular differences during that time. I do not want to gloss over those differences nor do I want to deal with those today. Today, it is important to remember where we can agree. What I can certainly agree on is John's significant contribution to public life. There are three aspects in particular that I want to highlight. The first, as I mentioned yesterday evening on the radio, is his contribution to the peace process. It is sometimes overlooked and it should not be. His relationship with John Major in particular was significant and crucial in building those building blocks and framework that Bertie Ahern, Martin McGuinness, Tony Blair and others were able to build on when they came to power. It is important to recognise that.
The second is the divorce referendum. I had this conversation with one of my children last night. It is hard to describe to young people today just how rancorous that particular referendum was in 1995. I remember it vividly. The significant contribution of John Bruton then has to be recognised. He was leading what we would broadly regard as a conservative party but he was taking a very clear stance in favour of divorce. It could not have been easy at that time. In fact, when I look back at the social changes that followed, that really was a turning point for us as a country. The winning margin was so narrow at 0.5%. He deserves great credit for his leadership on that issue.
The final point I want to raise is one I only learned about yesterday, which was that I gather the committee system that we operate is very much the work of John Bruton. It is testament to the fact, as others have referred to, that whatever position he had, he took that position with energy and creativity and did his very best to deliver.Whatever position he had, he took it with energy and creativity and did his very best to deliver. The fact that we are still working through that very effective committee system today is a true tribute to him. It is very fitting and right that we remember John today. I am thinking in particular of my neighbour, Frank McDermott, from the small village of Fore, County Westmeath. Frank was a very good friend of John Bruton's. He was a good neighbour and has been a good neighbour to my family for generations as well. Funnily enough, Senator McDowell mentioned the local elections in 1979. I had just come back to the country as a child and for better or worse, I went to Frank's celebrations the night he was elected. Frank has been a good neighbour and friend ever since. I know this loss will certainly affect Frank and I just want to remember Frank as well today.
It took me by surprise. I genuinely did not know that John had been ill. These days, 76 is not a particularly advanced age. I want to join others in offering my condolences and again say how fitting it is to remember him today.
I would like to join my colleague, Senator Shane Cassells, in expressing the condolences of the Fianna Fáil Party to John Bruton's wife, Finola, and family at this sad time for them. I did not have the pleasure of knowing John Bruton personally but he was someone I always genuinely admired for his integrity, directness and courage. I actually did encounter him once or twice. I was on a deputation here one time when I was a youngish councillor. I was trying to remember what the event was and I am the indebted to Senator Gavan who reminded me of John being the Minister responsible for industry and energy at one time. There was a local issue in County Kerry in which were involved. He gave us a very fair hearing and we came out of the meeting convinced that this guy wanted to do something. I do not know if he ever did but I felt he wanted to do it. He did not give us any baloney about it. We knew where we stood with him which is a quality I like in any politician.
He of course came from the Redmondite tradition and was very proud of that. When I was young, John Redmond did not enjoy great press for a long time. The Irish Parliamentary Party endeavour was rubbished to a certain extent in the excitement of the War of Independence and all that followed. However, it was a very proud and important tradition. It was the party of Parnell, John Dillon and William O'Brien, after all. Redmond was a patriot of the highest order, despite perhaps being out of touch with the majority view post 1916. I agree with John Bruton. I do not say that 1916 was wrong but we might have had a different type of evolution towards the independence we enjoy now, perhaps with less bloodshed. He was proud of that tradition that has been kept up by his Fine Gael colleagues, with whom I also sympathise. Most recently, our former Leader, Maurice Cummins, was a great admirer of John Redmond. I am sure his son John is continuing in that tradition.
One of the toughest moments John Bruton had in politics was when the elections seemed to throw up a result that was going to guarantee a Government led by Fine Gael, with Labour involved. There was a famous meeting on a Sunday evening in some hotel here in town where he met Dick Spring. He came down the steps from the meeting in the full glare of the press, knowing that his dream had been shattered. The anguish could be seen on his face. Who could then could begrudge him his time, when with the vagaries of politics being what they are, within two years he was Taoiseach, and a good one? It is overlooked that he was a very popular Taoiseach and a very good vote getter for his party. Even though they lost the following general election, if memory serves me right, Fine Gael did exceptionally well, increasing its representation by perhaps a dozen seats Of course, Labour fell apart in that election, so therefore there was a change of government.
In rural Ireland, where I come from, he was highly respected for his credibility on agriculture. It is a family thing, obviously, as he came from a strong farming tradition. Fianna Fáil farmers were slow enough to criticise him because it was a time when they particularly benefited and that stood to him.
What I most admired in him was the way he reached out to unionism at a time when very few Irish politicians were prepared, or had the courage, to do so. It is something that we are still pretty slow to do and, of course, there are many reasons for that but it was particularly difficult at the time, when the likes of Ian Paisley was ruling the roost in the North. That was a different type of unionism to what we have today but John Bruton did reach out. He had no patience for, and gave very short shrift to, the wrap-the-green-flag-around-me brigade. Every party in this country is bedevilled by that to a certain extent but he cut through it. Of course, he was nicknamed Unionist John and all that kind of stuff but he was proved right. He was ahead of his time and it was important that people like him led, prepared the way, and set the groundwork for the peace process and, ultimately, for the Good Friday Agreement.
Finally, standards in public office are talked about quite a lot but John Bruton and his generation did not have to worry about answering in relation to standards in public office because they had the highest standards. He belongs to a generation of great politicians including Liam Cosgrave, Garret FitzGerald, Jack Lynch, Des O'Malley, and right up to my own leader, Micheál Martin. These are people who put the country first. They looked after their party interests but they looked after the country first and that is what it is all about. I worry at this point in time, with the departure of John Bruton, whether politics will be lucky enough to attract his equal again in the future. When I see the toxic cesspool that politics has become, with social media and the rise of populism on the left and the right - I cannot see any difference between them - I worry but hopefully his example will strike a chord and people will reflect on what he did and continue in his vein.
To his charming wife Finola, his family, his brother Richard and to Fine Gael, I express my deepest sympathy. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
I join everyone in paying sincere tribute to the statesman, former Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael, John Bruton. There has been a lot of commentary here today and I know John was a devout Catholic and a man of faith. I hope and believe that he is up there now, looking down, and is probably quite chuffed. It is often said that people are better regarded in death than in life but when people are living we do not always get the occasion or the opportunity for tributes like this. Maybe we should pay tribute while people are still around but that is not the way things work.
It is important in politics to acknowledge one's flaws. People in politics may think they do not have flaws but I am sorry to tell them that they do. John had his flaws too but he learned from those flaws. Others have talked about the famous meeting when, by all accounts, Dick Spring read him the riot act and told him why he was not going to support him as Taoiseach. When the opportunity fell to John, he knew he was not going to be mistaken again. He was going to change, to be a chairman, Taoiseach and head of Cabinet that was collegiate and collaborative and history has proven that.
There was great media coverage over the last few days on John's life, including an excellent package by David McCullagh on RTÉ yesterday. He talked about all of John's qualities, the things that went right for him but said that one thing he did not have was luck.Luck came in strange circumstances at the end of 1994 which one could argue possibly should not have happened. Thankfully, it did, and John got the opportunity to become Taoiseach in the Rainbow Coalition. He was unlucky not to be re-elected in 1997. After that, he was up against the formidable machine that was Bertie Ahern and, subsequently, he lost the leadership on that occasion.
Senator Cassells spoke about his dedication even after he left office. He ran again as a TD. I think Garret FitzGerald and Charlie Haughey ran after losing office as Taoiseach so it is not that it had not happened before but you can imagine a lot of people would say, "I have done enough now, I will step back". He ran again as a TD, got elected and was involved in serving his constituents in County Meath, a testament to his dedication as a constituency politician. You do not last that long as a constituency TD without looking after people close to you. It is important to acknowledge that as well. I lived in Trim in County Meath for a few years. I attended the Teagasc Grange facility outside Trim. At the time - it was around 1996 to 1998 - there was a lot of discussion about the EU food and veterinary office coming to Grange. John Bruton was given credit among the cohort in Grange and was involved in delivering that project. It was decided by the EU Council of Ministers at the time. A 22-acre field on the road on the corner of the Grange complex became known as John Bruton's field in my time there. The EU food and veterinary office went on to have its offices in the area.
John was a man of integrity. He was passionate about Europe. It was fitting that his final public position was EU ambassador to the United States. He was a man of peace who had no tolerance for terrorism. He believed in compromise and in understanding both sides on this island. He was proven right, of course, in that regard because we got the peace process by bringing two sides together following ceasefires. I started in politics when John was still a TD but no longer party leader and he left shortly afterwards so I do not have the intimate knowledge of serving directly with him but I knew him as somebody who believed, fundamentally, in democracy, the European project, decency and integrity. I extend my sympathies to his wife, Finola, his children, Matthew, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, his sister, Mary, his brother, Richard, and his extended family. I know Richard continues his brother's great dedication to public life. Who knows, maybe there will be future generations of Brutons in the years to come? Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h'anam dílis.
I join with others and would like to be associated with the many tributes to John Bruton, the TD, Taoiseach, father, friend, brother, supporter and encourager. What a wonderful man he was. I knew John Bruton personally. I had many reasons to be with him in County Meath. I was down in Meath yesterday and spoke to a number of people in Navan and in a lovely little place called Kilcloon. For those who do not know, that was the parish of John Bruton. While he lived in Dunboyne, he always went to the parish of Kilcloon. Fr. Gerry Rice was his parish priest. For those who know Navan in that part of County Meath, Kilcloon is in a little tripartite of three parishes of Kilcloon, Kilcock - the side in Meath rather than in Kildare - and, of course, Batterstown. John liked the idea, as he said to me many times, because it gave him many opportunities to go to three churches within his own parish, which was part of his networking. That is the extent he went to. He also said he liked the intimacy of this little church, which I would say was built in the 1970s.It is a very modern angular church at the crossroads in Kilcloon. There is nothing more in Kilcloon other than the parish priest's house and a few sprawling bungalows but it was very interesting. Fr. Gerry Rice, who has moved on and I met John at his funeral, said to me, "Bruton now has been elected the Taoiseach of Fine Gael. He will hardly be standing at the gate with Finola with a biscuit tin collecting for Fine Gael or he will hardly be standing on the box making political speeches." The Deputy Leader talked about her experience of meeting John, but, no, that was not to be. Typical of John, his style, his connections with people and his community, and his huge connection with his parish church, which was very much part of his extended family and what he believed in, what he supported and was very much a value that he had, he was out there in his typical short cream Crombie coat wearing a waxed hat upside down in the pouring rain as it was on that particular Sunday. There was John slowly crossing the traffic because on a wet day people got into their cars and drove away fast but he was determined to engage with them, say "Hello" and "Fine Gael is here and we are doing a church gate collection". I do not think too many people do church gate collections but that was typical of John.
As others have said, John identified with the European Christian democratic tradition. He was proud of that and never ashamed of that. He was very much a Catholic. He believed in the principles of that Christian democratic ethos. He weaved that, carried that out and activated that through dialogue and political engagement. That is what I liked about John more than anything. He did not compromise. He did not dull down his own fundamental beliefs in who he was. He was truly an authentic man. He also believed deeply, and I have to say this because it can sometimes get lost in the narrative, but Bruton absolutely supported deeply the dignity of people regardless of their race, gender, orientation or stature in life. Sometimes that aspect gets lost when we talk of people who are possibly to the right or, possibly, with a heavy emphasis on Catholicism, and that was not the case. John mastered many things in politics but he had that great art of being a pragmatist and of working with people with whom he disagreed or belonged to another party. That is a skill which few politicians have.
I mentioned the experience with Fr. Gerry Rice and that is typical of the man. It is strange when we look back on the life of John Bruton but he was the Minister for agriculture that we never had. He never served as Minister for agriculture. He had a love of the land, the soil and animals. His father was hugely involved as a land agent. That was not a nice place to be, and to be in a family and reared around people who acted as land agents, particularly for absentee landlords, in County Meath and beyond was sometimes a challenge but they did it and they were greatly respected in terms of business and economics but the one area that John never touched on was agriculture. When I first sought to be elected to the agricultural panel in Seanad Éireann, I sought him out. I met him in County Meath and I asked him for advice and he asked me what was I doing and how was I engaging. I replied that I operate the very simple principle of going to the kitchen table, breaking bread with people, looking people in the eye and making the ask of them and he said, "Don't go away from that, tick with that and engage with people. You will have to convince people. You will get one opportunity. If you do not deliver on it then you will not get a second opportunity." I always took his advice with me.
Today, as I walked up the stairs I met the British ambassador who was on a visit here to Leinster House to pay his respects to John Bruton. The British ambassador decided to go to Dáil Éireann to sit and listen to the tributes in Dáil Éireann. I thought that was very significant and welcome. While the ambassador cannot be in both Houses, his visit is an indication of John Bruton's commitment. The fact that the British ambassador to Ireland decided to come to Leinster House and listen to the tributes being paid to John Bruton says so much about our new, mature relationship and our engagement with our nearest citizens. I also thought how chuffed John Bruton would be today, wherever he is looking in and seeing the progress that has been made on the island of Ireland in the past few days. John played a significant role in that.He was clearly committed to building stronger and more robust Anglo-Irish relationships. When Paul Johnston came here today, we talked briefly on that and that says so much. I do not need to say any more about that. It is really important.
John was the Fine Gael opposition spokesperson on agriculture but he was never the Minister for agriculture. There is no doubt that he and Ivan Yates had many an old banter about agriculture there - and he truly was a great agricultural Minister himself.
I also think of Roy Dooney today. Many in Fine Gael will know of him. Roy was John Bruton's special adviser when he was Taoiseach. He was well known around these Houses. He went on to other things. He went to America with John and he always said one thing about John: that John was boundless energy. I remember meeting John in Dún Laoghaire on the fringes of a Fine Gael selection convention for just a small council seat and there was John Bruton in the middle of it. I will not say he micromanaged but he was usually interested in the finer details of the Fine Gael political family and the successes of it. Someone said to me today that John was very much involved in the intrigue. He liked to shape and determine, as we all do, outcomes. He certainly had his finger on the pulse in the selection of many Fine Gael people who went forward into local and national politics. He was an "encourager" and a motivator. He was generous with his experience and he shared that experience and encouraged young people into Fine Gael. While much credit is given to Enda Kenny, John Bruton had a huge significance in recruiting and bringing people into Fine Gael too. We see the success of all of that in Leinster House. We see it in the success of the many Fine Gael Ministers here today who learned and gleaned information and experiences from them. That is a tribute to himself. Roy Dooney said that John was a man in a hurry, he had so many ideas and wanted to do so much. I believe that he did this in many ways.
Yesterday I had a look in the Oireachtas archive at the first and last speech John Bruton made in Dáil Éireann. I then went over to look at the archive of the Seanad. Two things were obvious to me. One was that he wanted Oireachtas parliamentary reform. Reference has been made to the Oireachtas joint committees and to pre-legislative scrutiny. John Bruton had his hands all over that. He had travelled around and he was familiar with other parliamentary democracies. He valued the pre-legislative engagement and he valued discussion. He believed that people do not all have to be sitting at Cabinet to be working on policy. He was really in instrumental in that and he also made very significant inroads on reform of these Houses.
More importantly, he spoke passionately in Seanad Éireann about Irish emigrants and the right of Irish emigrants to have a vote in Seanad Éireann. That was the thing I gleaned most from the archives. In these Houses, he talked about the need to extend the franchise to our diaspora, our people that we grow up with, and generations of our people from all over this country. He spoke of the need to give them a voice in the ambition and the future for Ireland. Hopefully at some stage in the future, we might revisit some of those links to some of those speeches. Hopefully, we might take guidance and look again to renew that commitment to how we in the Seanad can reform ourselves and, more importantly, how we can extend the franchise for votes to Irish emigrants.
He was truly a unique man but most of all he was a decent man. That is a nice thing to say about anyone. He was liked, he was popular, he engaged and he was pragmatic. To the Fine Gael family political group, I extend my sympathy. I know that when you have someone so close in any party you become entwined with friendships and family and support. You can be proud of his achievements as one of your great leaders in your party. To his family, to Finola, and to the people of Meath the county that he loved, the country life that he loved and the place he will now go back and rest in, you have lost a wonderful public servant. He will be there and he will be remembered. His legacy will live on in many other Fine Gael people who will stand for that party in the constituencies in County Meath.
Like others, I want to spend a few minutes paying tribute to the late John Bruton. First, I extend my sincere sympathies to his wife, Finola, their four children, his brother Richard, sister Mary, their families and the extended family, and to the Deputy Leader and Fine Gael Members. I am sure many of them are quite saddened by his passing. He was a man of absolute integrity was very dependable. He was undaunted in his beliefs. He was decent, patriotic and very honourable. He was a man who had a huge interest in the European project. During his time as EU ambassador to the US, he did massive work and gave the United States a better understanding of how important Europe was in many respects.
We should not forget that he was a man who was elected at 22 years of age to Dáil Éireann. That was extraordinary in those times. It just shows how committed he was. I think he doubled his vote in the second election he stood in, so he certainly went down well with the electorate. As has been said here, he was a conservative man and a staunch Catholic. One of the things I always noted about him was that despite that staunchness, he never in his comments, debates or work on Northern Ireland did he use the Catholic flag. In fact, of all the politicians, he was very strong in expressing the fact that Protestant people could not be pushed into a united Ireland. That was extraordinary for a man who held such Catholic views and the minority was under such pressure. Of course he also stood up for Catholics.
Last week, as ill as he was, he went on the "The Joe Finnegan Show" on the local radio station, Shannonside Northern Sound, and paid tribute to his late friend, John Connor, the former Senator and TD. We all knew when we listened to his voice that he was very ill but he was determined to do that at the time for his friend. Even though we knew he was quite ill, little did I think at that stage that we would be paying tribute to him.
Again, as has been mentioned in regard to the divorce referendum, despite his strong Catholicism, he realised that many people in relationships were in desperate situations and that it could not go on. At that time he did a very brave thing and probably was responsible for getting that referendum through, which I accept was by a very tight margin. Again, one would have to say that was something we had to admire him for.
He was a true patriot of Ireland. There is no doubt about that. He is going to be missed by everybody, and his contribution will be noted in the history books. If we go back to the notice of his death, one line in his family's statement stands out for me: "We will miss him greatly." There is no doubt but that right up to the end, John Bruton was pro-family. The best way to move along with things is to have a good family behind you if you had issues or problems. He never lost that and I think that should be acknowledged here today as well. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
It has been a very sad few days for Fine Gael, which like most political parties in this country is a family or tribe, as such, and John was our leader for a very long time so there is a huge tinge of sadness there.
When I look at John Bruton, I look at a man who gave definition to politics, to Fine Gael and to his role as a leader and Taoiseach. He was absolutely unequivocal in his opposition to the IRA and to terrorism. That steadfastness on that issue, together with other Fine Gael people like Paddy Cooney, was a real source of comfort to the thousands of people, particularly in the Border region, who rejected the horrific violence of the IRA in this country. John Bruton stood strongly and steadfastly against that. He did that in a time when it was dangerous for it to be done.The death of Senator Billy Fox, who served alongside John Bruton, was a turning point - when he saw that violence - in John’s career. John Bruton was a strong man of courage in the way he took on the IRA at all opportunities.
That is why he was a defining politician for me: he took a stand. He stood for something and said what he believed in, whether it was popular or not. He made his views known. One does not see that in the modern era of politics, where most politicians try to be all things to all people. He took a stand, he was prepared to argue that stand and he took on all comers. I think standing for things and taking a stand on an issue is a good, important trait for a politician to have, and John Bruton had that. He was a man of very strong opinions, even if those opinions went against the common consensus of people. That common consensus was spoken about with regard to John Redmond and Redmondism. I consider myself to be - and my family’s history comes from - that Redmondite tradition; that Irish Parliamentary Party tradition and home rule tradition. That is a tradition I am proud to be part of and one that John was proud to be part of as well.
As I sit here in the back row with my colleagues, Senators Currie, Cummins and Ahearn, all of our family members served with John Bruton in Dáil Éireann over different periods. The fact that John even up until his recent illness was always there to offer advice and support to newer members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party showed how in tune he still was with the party he had led and the party he loved so much.
I look back to when my late uncle, Brendan McGahon, who had served with him for 20 years, died.. In his obituary in 2017, it stated:
Former Fine Gael taoiseach John Bruton provided what was probably the best summing up of Mr McGahon's career, saying, “Brendan was an exceptionally courageous politician who stood up for the democratic institutions of the State. He was a true original who thought for himself."
I wish to take this opportunity to repay that compliment to John Bruton, because he was the definition of a true original, a courageous politician and a parliamentarian who served this State with exceptional ability. He will be greatly missed by all of us who had the pleasure to know him.
To finish up and not to detract from the seriousness of this – Senator Cassells may remember this – I will tell you what James Bond and John Bruton have in common. As a child, I was utterly obsessed with James Bond and I still am to this day. In 1999, my late mother took me to Navan, where Pierce Brosnan was being offered the freedom of Navan. I went there dressed as James Bond. Unfortunately, I did not get to meet Pierce Brosnan and I did not get my picture taken with him. However, my late mother and my father introduced me to my uncle’s and dad’s boss, John Bruton, who was speaking at that event. While I did not get a picture with James Bond, I got a picture with John Bruton at nine years of age. I still have that picture to this day.
Frankly, we will never see the likes of John Bruton again in this House for the quality of parliamentarian that he was. As a State, we were very lucky to have a person of his ability, calibre and decency lead this country.
I pass on my sympathies to Finola and the family and our colleague, Richard, on the sad passing of a former colleague of ours. One line I saw written stated that John Bruton did his country a great service. That is something he did and it is something that all of us involved in political life strive for to be said about our service to our country, and we will hopefully be in political life and the Houses of the Oireachtas for that number of years.
He was well respected throughout Europe and very pro-EU. That was acknowledged when he took up the role of EU ambassador to the United States, where he was based for five years and worked with a neighbour of mine from home. He played a significant role in the peace process and was a great support to the Fine Gael family and all of us as Fine Gael members over the past long number of years, even in his retirement. He is someone all of us looked up to and respected.I want to pass on our sympathies to Finola and the family, and our colleague Richard and his family, on the sad passing of John.
Most people are speaking, certainly on the Fine Gael benches, about their abiding memory of the former Taoiseach, John Bruton. My abiding memory is him speaking and giving an oration on 20 September 2000 at my mother's funeral. As the Deputy Leader remembers recently, and John would have remembered recently as well, at a funeral of a loved one you do not remember everything. He spoke eloquently, and it was very emotional but I cannot remember what he said because, when you go through grief, you just do not. I remember that it was a big thing for us as a family and for the community. What is striking in the last 24 hours is the amount of messages I have received from people who were at the funeral 23 years ago, and who spoke about what he said. They reminded me of how he spoke about my mother and her life in politics. A lot of the attributes he remarked on in her are quite true of him.
John spoke about political parties being a family, and sometimes we get grief about being in political parties and having a whip. However, there is a family community in it. I speak a lot about that when we are in a private setting as a political party but not here as such. There is a family feeling in our party. After Mam's funeral, we were obviously grieving at the time. Most people are talking about John Bruton as a Taoiseach and a leader but he was such a decent person. He approached my father afterwards and asked if he would be interested in just keeping involved in the Fine Gael Party, not as a public representative but just keeping involved. He knew that we were all proud of our mother, and we all had an interest in politics. We were young at the time, and maybe he foresaw something in the future. He appointed Dad to be a trustee of the Fine Gael Party, which is a really big role to have as a lay person. Dad was not too excited to do it at the time because obviously, he was grieving the death of his wife at a very young age. However, it kept him involved and it kept us, as a family, involved in the family of Fine Gael. I really think a decision like that, which he made at that time, kept Dad involved and he became a local politician. It kept me involved, and I studied politics in college and got to where I am today. It is because of the decency of the man, who thought of a family, what they were going through, and how he could play his role in supporting them. It meant an awful lot, and we were discussing in the family over the last 24 hours the role he played.
For my mother's whole career in politics, he was essentially the leader. I was named after a different leader of our party but he was the leader while she was a TD. While there were so many attributes to him as a Taoiseach, I think he was even greater as a person. I want to pass on my condolences to Finola, the family and, importantly, to our colleague Richard.
There have been so many lovely tributes here this afternoon to our friend and colleague, John Bruton. I would have known John since 1997. I first met him in the Ashbourne House Hotel where, I think, there was a Fine Gael cumann meeting on and I could hear this laughter coming from one end of the bar. Everybody knows what John sounded like when he laughed. He had a ferociously infectious laugh. Somebody then introduced him to me that night. I have known him since that time.
When I ran for politics in the general election of 2016, I was outside the church in Dunboyne after mass trying to gather up a few votes in his area, which I was not going to get anyway. I remember him coming over to me and wishing me well. I thought that was really lovely, and something nice for a colleague to do in politics.He was a devout Catholic and a devout believer in the pro-life issue. I met him, in the cream overcoat he always wore, in the corridor in Leinster House about a year ago. He greeted me and said, "I see you are causing trouble." I said, "And plenty of it", to which he replied, "Well, keep up the good fight."
I express my deepest sympathy to Finola and all his family, as well as to the Fine Gael family. When one belongs to that family within a political party, it can be quite sad to lose such a large figure. It is like losing a father figure for the organisation and, indeed, for all the people of Dunboyne. So many people in my community have such wonderful things to say about John Bruton, which is really lovely to hear. It would be great if we could all have that legacy in life when we leave here. It is what we should aspire to. My deepest sympathies go to my colleagues and to his family.
It is an incredible honour to speak about John Bruton and to say he was the leader of my tribe. Senators McGahon and Ahearn have spoken about that sense of family in our party. Before I was a member of Fine Gael, I admired John Bruton as a politician and a man of great integrity, intellect and conviction. He gave hope to a generation of us who came out of school with very little hope, very few employment prospects and with very hard circumstances facing us. He sowed the seeds of the prosperity our country experiences today.
He had such a deep sense of responsibility and passion for his country, by which I have always been greatly inspired. I loved his abhorrence of violence. I found it inspirational and courageous. It has had a lasting impact on me in seeing a lot of the origins of the setting in motion of a permission for violence that should never have been given. Maybe that is the Redmondite tradition, although I have never coined it as such, in my own views. Among many accomplishments, John's efforts in bringing together the communities in the North that were torn apart by decades of conflicts, his sense of inclusion, speaking up for both sides, determination and vision were, no doubt, the foundations of the Good Friday Agreement. Often, his very instrumental role in that gets overlooked. He had a steadfast commitment to peace and reconciliation in a way that was incredibly admirable.
John was admired beyond our borders. He was very influential in shaping Ireland's role in the European Union. I am very proud of that. He was a strong advocate for co-operation, unity and recognising the importance of Ireland's place within the broader European community or, in the words of Robert Emmet, taking its place among the nations of the world. Beyond his political achievements, he was a man of great character and warmth. His kindness and humility touched the lives of all those who had the pleasure of knowing him. He was a mentor, a friend and a beacon of hope for future generations of Irish leaders.
I came to Fine Gael through my husband. We worked together in YMCA Dublin and had a massive project of building homeless accommodation. Dave's job was to procure the money and I was the young, first female chief executive in the organisation's 150-year history. We signed a contract with the builder for an €11 million project only to find, when we turned up soil, an unexpected archaeological feature. Just when we thought we had all the money, we found ourselves massively short.Dave, my husband, was Jim Mitchell's director of elections. There had been many a robust exchange over the years between Jim and John Bruton, and Dave had been party to that. I came in knowing all of that history and hearing the stories of the nights especially around Christmas when along with the Mitchell Mafia we all got to talk about their history and their experience.
One of the things we were told was that the Taoiseach had a discretionary fund. John had been out of office a number of years at that stage. Dave was forever doorstepping anyone we thought would give us an ear and give us the money to complete the €600,000 that we were short. We read in the newspaper that John Bruton was the headline speaker at a very expensive gig in Dublin Castle and Dave said to me that we would get his advice of how to get into the Taoiseach and how to get the money out of that discretionary fund. He said, "We'll slip in during lunchtime and ask his advice. He knows me well. We'll go up and ask his advice and we'll keep ourselves under the radar. We'll just go." I was mortified at the idea that we would doorstep an event that we had not paid to attend. Anyway, we arrived in. John saw Dave and Dave saw John. They embraced and it was a really warm encounter. We were keeping under the radar. John invited us to come to lunch with him. We ended up sitting at the top table during lunch only to find that other speakers at the event had to move tables to facilitate us. He was curious about our project. He was curious about Dave's life. He was curious about our journey and life post Jim's death; Lord rest him too.
That was my personal encounter with him - someone who was warm, passionate, curious and interesting. People have spoken about his curiosity and his interest. I have actually lived that in a very powerful way. I had the pleasure of meeting him again as a Senator when he spoke at the first Fine Gael think-in I attended. He knew exactly who I was and where I fitted in. He remembered that I was Dave's wife. He had very encouraging and had warm words.
Today we stand to bid farewell to an extraordinary individual. We have the honour of remarking on his amazing legacy - his contributions as a politician, peacemaker and advocate for progress in our country. We have all of our memories in our hearts. My thoughts today are with his family, his wife, Finola, his four children and their families, and especially his brother and our colleague, somebody I am no proud to call my friend, Richard. All of us in the Fine Gael family will really miss him and will treasure everything he stood for. Hopefully, he will continue to be a standard bearer for everything that a politician, especially a Fine Gael politician, stands for.
I too stand today to salute a great Irishman, a great statesman and a great human being. I first met John Bruton when I was a student in UCD studying politics and economics back in the early 1990s before he went into government. The one thing about being a member of Young Fine Gael in UCD was that the leader seemed to pop in a lot. He had a huge regard for young people. He went into universities on a regular basis. He may not have been the most popular leader of the Opposition and certainly at times he did not say what might be construed as being popular among young people. However, as others have said he debated and argued his point. He took a great interest in the people he met and I certainly felt that. He took a great interest in me, my life story and my potential interest in politics.
I was in Leinster House in December 1994 on the day he became Taoiseach. I was in the Public Gallery. Now, when a Taoiseach is elected, they are led by the Captain of the Guard down the ceremonial corridor and out to the car.Back then, it was not as formal. I can remember well John Bruton putting his head in the door of the visitors bar, saying he was off to the park. I can still hear the roar that day, because nobody back then expected Fine Gael to go into government. As has been said here already, he was the first person to become Taoiseach mid-term. After that, when I was involved and a member of Young Fine Gael in UCD, the branch was brought into Government Buildings and we had a meeting with the Taoiseach in the Sycamore Room. I do not think a college branch would get into the Sycamore Room as easily now as we did then. He was interested in listening to what young people had to say. He challenged us and expected us to challenge him. He went on to be a phenomenal statesman during the term of that Government.
During that period as Taoiseach, he made many visits to County Clare. He secured the new terminal in Shannon Airport. That funding was provided under his stewardship as Taoiseach at the time. On behalf of the people of County Clare and, indeed, the Clare Fine Gael constituency, I would like to offer my sympathies to John Bruton and his family. He left Government in 1997, and I think that was a real shame. His style of government and leadership, had it continued, would have been very much in the interest of the country. I acknowledge the role he played in terms of the peace process, flying to London to sign the framework agreement, which was a very important agreement at the time. It was very instrumental in where we are today. His role in that has been acknowledged and very much appreciated and respected.
I decided to go into politics in 1999, and stood for the local elections. I stood for the convention, which I did not win, but John Bruton added me to the ticket. I remember getting a phone call one day to say that John was coming to Ennistymon to canvass with me for two hours. He was doing a day's functions in Limerick and would be in Galway the following day, and was going to stop off on the way. To say I was stunned was an understatement. He came, and there was bingo on at the time, and he spent two hours going around and meeting everybody, drawing bingo balls, taking photographs and having the craic. Sadly, it was not enough to get me elected at the time, but we persevered. I remember getting a call from him after I was elected as a councillor in 2004, which I was equally dumbstruck to get. It was unexpected, but it was wonderful.
In later years, I used to meet him early in the morning in the reading room downstairs. He would be going to a meeting or doing a function in Dublin and he would come in early in the morning and read the papers. Over the years, from 2011 right up until before the pandemic, you would meet John regularly downstairs in the reading room going through the papers. It was on those mornings that I had many a long conversation with him. I was always impressed at his level of detail and how he followed all our careers. He was not afraid to say he would go in a different direction if he was on the justice committee, for example, or would do this or that. He was always challenging, and challenging for the better. He loved Ireland and the Fine Gael Party. He loved Leinster House and everybody who was involved in politics, irrespective of whether he agreed with them or not. He was a true democrat, admired people who put their name on the ballot paper and saluted their courage. Ireland has lost a great leader and a great statesman. His family has lost a dear loved one. Finola, Matthew and the girls, and our great colleague and friend, Richard, have our heartfelt sympathies. They can take great solace from the outpouring of admiration not just nationally but internationally.
It is very difficult to follow some of the tributes paid by my colleagues in the Chamber and in the Lower House. Naturally, I too extend my deepest condolences to John's wife, Finola, his children, his brother and our colleague, Richard, especially, and his sister. The Fine Gael family has been mentioned quite a lot by my colleagues. It is true that we have lost a great of our party, but this country has also lost a great statesman, someone who had great courage and integrity, and somebody who was kind, loyal and cared deeply for his constituents and this country as a whole.
My father knew John far better than me. When I asked him about John in the past couple of days, he referred to his innate ability to listen and understand other people's points of view, particularly the views of those he did not agree with. That is a great testament, which stood him in great stead across so many areas, particularly in his dealings on Northern Ireland, the divorce referendum and many other facets of his political life.
I had the pleasure of meeting him on a number of occasions. Unlike my colleague, Senator McGahon, I was never dressed as James Bond. Certainly, when I was growing up, it was always amazing to be in the room with, and in the presence of, the leader of the party and the Taoiseach at that time. The last time I met him was at a lecture on John Redmond, who has been referenced a number of times by colleagues, in Waterford. Redmond and Parnell were people he held in great stead. He really believed in the Irish Parliamentary Party. He had a picture of John Redmond on the wall of the Taoiseach's office. He always believed in the ability of this island to achieve peace by peaceful means and without the use of the gun. As somebody who comes from and lives in Ballybricken, where John Redmond delivered many fine speeches, that is something I have always listened to very carefully . John Bruton's speech at Waterford that day was absolutely fantastic, as his speeches were on many occasions in various parts of the country.
I pay tribute to somebody who was an unbelievable statesman. He will be remembered by all of us as somebody who gave his life to politics and to service of the people of this country. He always had an amazing word of encouragement for people, such as me, who were coming through the ranks. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for the opportunity to pay tribute to such a great man.
I pay tribute, along with all our colleagues, to former Taoiseach, John Bruton. I extend my deepest sympathies to his wife Finola, children Matthew, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, his sister Mary, and our esteemed colleague, his brother Richard.
I go back to when John was Taoiseach. Like Senator Conway, I was present when he was elected Taoiseach. I was a member of Young Fine Gael at the time and was very involved in our party in Limerick. As others said, John was always very encouraging of people to get involved. While he was not Taoiseach, when I first ran for office in 1999, I always remember getting the phone call on the day I was elected. I thought it was a big thing that the leader of the party rang me to say, "Congratulations and well done".He said that the next time he was down in Limerick he would meet me to hear about what I was doing. He showed an interest in everybody. Many Members have referred to what a statesman he was. You were not ashamed to let him go out to represent the country because he was so highly thought of right across the world.
I remember how during his term as leader, the late Jim Kemmy died and there was a by-election in Limerick. John, as leader, camped out in Limerick for a couple of weeks. Even though we had an office, my father had a pub, and many of the canvassers started from there and were sent off in different directions. We had the pleasure of having John drop in. He would say, “I didn't have any lunch today. Can you sort me out?” He was such a lovely, charming gentleman.
He showed so much interest in everything that was going on and was so interested. Even when people came down to canvass during the by-election, he would nearly be the first one to thank them for travelling such a distance. He really appreciated the fact that people came down to support our late colleague, Mary Jackman, who ran in the by-election at the time.
I remember how when I was on a committee in Europe, I met John a few times over there when he was ambassador to America from Europe. I just met him on the street. He would stop me and ask me why I was there. He would ask what was going on and what was being discussed at the committee. He was so interested and full of advice, which has been referred to by so many others as well.
He touched the lives of many people. Anybody who served with him or knew him through various different guises was really impressed across party. He was a devout Catholic and that was referred to. He had his views but he did much for the peace agreement. I pay tribute to him for that because he was able to cross those divides, talk to all sides and bring people with him. That is an attribute that not everybody has, but John Bruton certainly had it. May he rest in peace. Again, I offer my sincere sympathies to the family and all in Fine Gael.
First, I would like to extend my sympathies to the Bruton family, Finola and our colleague, Richard. Whenever death comes, it comes suddenly, even if there is a long lead into it. We are never prepared for it. It is no secret that I grew up in a staunch Fine Gael family. My father was a blueshirt to his marrow. He was a sadly misguided man who drove me into the Fine Gael Party as a young man. Until I was enlightened in 2012, I stayed in the Fine Gael Party.
My abiding memory of John Bruton is of VAT on children's shoes. I remember how in Limerick, when I was a member of the branch, the Government fell. I remember the craic at that time. It was amazing. It was it was good fun because it was a Limerick man who was at the heart of that as well.
I will mention one of the things that amazed me about John. I never met the man in my life, and I only saw the man from a distance. I was not aware of how far-seeing he was, and how intuitive he was with respect to issues such as security, until I came across a speech he made in 2019. The things he pointed out were ironic. He spoke about the vulnerability of gas pipelines. Who would have thought in 2019 that five years later a gas pipeline would be blown up in the North Sea? He spoke about cyber threats. He spoke about the need for maritime surveillance. He spoke about all the things I find myself speaking about in this House on a regular basis. Yet, I have never seen John Bruton in that particular sphere. When I looked this up, I found myself wondering if we would be in the disastrous state we are in today with our security services, had John Bruton been re-elected in 1997.For me, he epitomised the Fine Gael Party my father loved and drove us all into. I remember the craic in the house back in the day when Charlie Haughey would appear on the television. My brother would turn to my father and say, "Charlie Haughey, praised be his name" and my father would leap off the chair, fit to be tied because of an attack on the Fine Gael Party he loved.
Sadly, John has left us. He has left us with a legacy and I hope the party that my father loved will look back at the legacy of John Bruton and embrace it. For Fine Gael, he was a great man. I need to put on the record that I had some enlightenment in 2012 and resigned my position in the party and became an Independent but I still love most of you dearly.
I will follow the majority of those in the House by wishing the best to the Bruton family, in particular John's wife and siblings, including Richard, our close colleague, on the death of his brother, John. He was a unique individual. He was a TD and Minister, a Taoiseach and an ambassador, and overall he was a statesman. He will be sadly missed.
I got to know John during the 1994 by-elections. There was a unique situation in Cork in 1994 whereby by-elections were required both north and south of the River Lee. One was caused by the death of Labour Party TD Gerry O'Sullivan and the other was caused when then TD Pat Cox went to Europe. There were two by-elections in November 1994. This statesman came down to us for three and a half weeks and canvassed, worked and lived in Cork. We got an amazing result by winning the by-election on the southside of the city and there were knock-on implications because five weeks later, he was made Taoiseach because of the change in the configuration in numbers and other issues that happened nationally. I will never forget his commitment on the ground. He worked from 7 a.m. all the way through the 20-plus days he spent down there. He was a party leader and statesman who was not afraid of the work and the grind. He was not afraid of getting out there. Those by-elections were my first times in politics and I remember the buzz of the whole situation. Winning a by-election was unique. Former Deputy Hugh Coveney, who won the by-election, was a member of our branch in Minane Bridge. At the time, we were part of Cork South-Central before the constituency changed. It really was a special occasion. I will never forget John's commitment and the speeches he gave night after night were powerful. The knock-on implication was that five weeks later, he was Taoiseach because of things that happened nationally and the change in the local figures.
He was a grounded man. He had many things going for him. He could talk to the Pope and the farmer in the street at the same time. He had the ability to go full circle, which is unique in politics. It is a really good characteristic of any individual. From my first interaction with politics, he was an important figure in my life. He will be sadly missed. My sympathies go to Richard and the entire family. He truly was a pure statesman.
It is an honour to speak about and pay tribute to John Bruton. I first remember his family. We all know what it is like to make sacrifices as public representatives and I am sure it was true for John as well. He gave hours for the country, for us in the Dáil and in this House. Those were hours he was not with his family and we must remember at times like these the sacrifice that he made.
Many people have paid tribute here. I knew John as a citizen. I knew him from seeing him as our Taoiseach on the television. I was at home yesterday to hear and see the tributes that were paid by people who acknowledged the work he did. I listened to the Minister, Deputy McEntee, talk about how his word was his bond.We talk about how his word was his bond. I heard and saw the piece he did just before the divorce referendum. He spoke about how we need to think of others. I really thought that was the mark of the man that he would say to people going out to vote in the referendum that they might have a perfect, happy marriage but ask them to think of others they knew who were in difficult situations. There is something to be said there about someone who has empathy and understanding and who could see his country and society as it was and how it should be. That was extremely strong.
We have had a sad time recently in County Roscommon as well. Senator Murphy spoke about the passing in our area of John Connor and the sadness around that. The sadness in the House today is the same as for those people who have been representatives in our area in Roscommon-Galway. Former Senator Michael Mullins has said much about John Bruton's integrity which was absolutely outstanding. He said it was John Bruton's work in many Departments over the years that laid the foundation for the economy we see today. They also spoke about that on the news yesterday and about the budgets they strove to put together as part of all of these coalitions and that much of that was adopted at a later stage. The work John Bruton did in a financial setting and that he started was adopted long term in other Governments. When you look at a country that suffered so badly in the 50s and 60s with poverty in an area he would have known well due to his family and background, but also to have seen the impact of immigration in the 80s in particular and to now see a country that is at full employment and the highest population ever, is there any better tribute to the work that has been done over decades to get us to this point?
It is an honour to be here as a member of Fine Gael to be able to speak on behalf of John's tribe and his party. We are all the better for having had John Bruton as our Taoiseach. Citizens across the country would have seen the work he did and how his politics was a politics of consensus as has been said. He believed in making the impossible possible and that is something that is magical about politics. It really is. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
I want to pass my condolences on to the entire Bruton family: Finola, Matthew, Juliana, Emily, Mary-Elizabeth, our wonderful colleague Richard, and his and John's sister Mary. I am really so sad about losing John because he has gone too early at 76. John was the kind of man who would continue to contribute at any age and he is a huge loss to the party. John was hugely generous both in stature and in spirit and there was nothing like that feeling when he recognised you, singled you out, and greeted you with so much warmth. There was also the generosity of his intellect and his time. When we were kids, we would have to sit through a lot of political engagements, some of them lengthy, and one of the things that amused us was when John would invariably laugh at a public event he was doing. We would get the giggles and it would pass from me to my brother, to my other brother - whoever was there - on to my mum and then the elbows would come back in the opposite direction to tell us to stop. I experienced that generosity when I was in my 20s and my dad thought it was a great idea while I was in New York to look John up because he was obviously based in the States as the US ambassador. I just dropped in to his office and he made me feel so welcome and after that he would send me messages through Linkedin to stay in contact. Nearly every year on our work anniversary, he would send me a note to check in to see how I was and then when I arrived in the Oireachtas, he used my official email address.It is one of those moments I am so grateful for and the advice that then followed.
I admire the fact that he was a brave and individual thinker who was not afraid to share those views. We need more of that, as others have said. Whatever he did was always underpinned by his values. Integrity is the word of the day as far as I am concerned. I looked at my father's book yesterday and that is what he said; the reason he supported him at every step was because of his integrity. He was incredibly resilient. In such a long career he was able to take the knocks and bounce back, and thank God he did. But he was also utterly committed to reconciliation on this island. Even up until December 2022 when he contributed to the Good Friday Agreement committee's looking back at the architects of the Good Friday Agreement. We interviewed him and thank God that we did because we now have a 28-page statement on the record. Even then, his primary concern was reconciliation between two opposing philosophies and traditions on this island.
He had so many portfolios over the years. He was so young when he got into politics. Others have spoken of his contribution to our economic destiny and how its roots lay with John. He was such a great Taoiseach. Those three years of the rainbow coalition set the path for how coalition politics, compromise politics and centrist politics, can be done well. Rather than talk about VAT on children's shoes, I would like to remember the fact that he appointed my dad as the first Minister of State for children. That was ground breaking at the time. People will remember what a dark period it was in terms of children's abuse, collusion and corruption. That was a very important political move to put children and their rights at the centre of these Houses and that work continues.
He was progressive, as others have said, but it is his contribution to Northern Ireland that I will remember most. He was unequivocal in his condemnation of violence. In that way, he met a kindred spirit in my own father. What he did in bringing forward the Downing Street Declaration to the Framework Documents was an incredibly important move. The twin-track approach which he led was incredibly important because we had reached a stalemate where they were trying to balance the gun and people who were coming into talks without a gun. He managed to progress that. He was the person who progressed the international body that ended up with the Mitchell principles. It was George Mitchell and the work he did that helped move things forward. He really persuaded John Major to take that step and we have to be hugely grateful for it. It is often overlooked but it was a major diplomatic breakthrough.
I am very proud of the fact that I am part of a party that is a broad church of thinkers. To me, that is the sign of a healthy democratic party that we have different views of things. It makes us stronger. John made us stronger. The debates we all had, and have, make us stronger. It has been said over the last couple of days that he was a true patriot. That is what I want to finish on. He was a true patriot and that work of reconciliation will continue.
Like others, I join in expressing my condolences to the Bruton family and our colleague Richard.John was a young man both in heart and in body and, at 76, too young to die. Throughout his career, he was young for what he was doing. He left office as Taoiseach just after he turned 50, so the fact that he continued to be so involved in public life, but in a very understated way, is a credit to him.
He will have a legacy that any one of us would be proud of and that all of us should be proud of. He was a thinker, somebody who was deeply interested in policy and ideas, and he always drove ideas. He was also somebody of great generosity in terms of the time, advice and consideration he gave to those of us who were beginning in politics. I can think of a number of occasions after maybe appearing on television or in the media, where you would get a phone call from John agreeing with what you said and also disagreeing with what you said, but having a chat about the issue, talking to you about what you said or did not say, asking you how things were and what way you were approaching something, or whatever it might be. The notion that somebody of his stature would take the time to pick up the phone to somebody like me was always something that was hugely encouraging and something that drove you on and made sure you continued to get involved and continued to think about what you were saying.
As I said, he was a thinker. I am very pleased to see some of the tributes to him in the last day or two, particularly the credit he is given for what he did on Northern Ireland. Again, the generosity of what he was doing came through in his actions on Northern Ireland and his consideration of the fact that there are two sides. While many of us consider ourselves to be on one side, there are two sides, and we must join both sides if there is to be a future for peace on this island. He was somebody who was hugely committed to that and committed to making sure it was an enduring peace. I am glad to see the words from people like the former Prime Minister, John Major, giving him credit for what he did and the ground that he laid that eventually came to fruition after he left office.
Even after he left office, he continued to be involved in public life. His commitment as the EU ambassador to the United States for five years from 2004 to 2009 was another hugely successful venture on his part. It is something that is still spoken about in Washington and he gets enormous credit for the work he did in securing that relationship between the United States and the European Union. Again, it goes to the stature that he had within the European Union that he was chosen to take on that very central office for the European Union on behalf of us all and that he did such a good job.
He is somebody history will remember very fondly. It is all very raw today and I think all of us have lost somebody we admire. One of the things I have heard consistently from people of all parties, all opinions and all colours is that he was somebody who was an asset to this country in the various portfolios that he held, as Taoiseach and subsequently, and his involvement in the development of public policy is a testament to that. As we look back years from now, we will recognise that he was somebody who was a great asset to this country, a great friend and a man of great personal generosity and stature.
Although we have all expressed our condolences, it is worth mentioning that books of condolence are being opened throughout the country. I thank the Cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Councillor Denis O'Callaghan, who has opened one in the county hall there at my request, and I know other local authorities are opening books of condolence. People will have an opportunity to put down in writing their thoughts on John Bruton and what he has done, and their sympathies for the family of a great man, a great Taoiseach and a great leader.