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Death of Member: Expressions of Sympathy (Continued)

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 791 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams] On behalf of Sinn Féin and on my own behalf I extend my deepest condolences to Shane McEntee's family, his wife Kathleen and their children, Aoife, Vincent, Helen and Sally, his mother Madge and his siblings. I also express my sympathy to the Taoiseach and the Fine Gael Party. Shane was deeply committed to Fine Gael and he worked tirelessly on behalf of the party. His by-election victory in 2005 helped lift Fine Gael when its fortunes were low and all of that is to the good from his perspective.

He was first and foremost a proud Meath man and he made a very significant contribution to his local community, as a farmer, as a community activist, as an active GAA member and as an elected representative. I first came across the McEntee name through the footballing exploits of Gerry, Shane's brother. In his capacity as a surgeon, he also ministered and tended to a very good friend of mine over a long period.

I always found Shane to be very courteous, polite and generous - except on one occasion which I will deal with in a moment. He was deeply committed to his politics, but was willing to listen to other opinions. He had a deep commitment to rural Ireland. I was surprised at the number of times he came to me quietly on the side to talk about forestry in the Cooley Mountains, about the ash tree disease or about his good relations with the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development in the North, Michelle O'Neill MLA. At one time he came to me after we had discussed collusion here and told me of an occasion when he was at his parents' farm and they had friends in from the North who had suffered from collusion - this family had been bereaved and he believed what was being said about collusion. He was also very proud of his south Armagh family connections.

The one incident to which I referred was that I was heckled here one time, which happens quite frequently in this Chamber. To my surprise I discovered afterwards that it was not just the usual suspects, but that Shane was one of the hecklers. I was both disappointed and offended by this. The next day as I was sitting here with Deputy Mary Lou McDonald beside me, he came across and stuck his hand out, shook hands and said, "I was out of order yesterday. I'm sorry." That was a measure of the man. He then went on to say, "When you're giving my Taoiseach a hard time, I see red." That was a sign of his great loyalty to the Taoiseach.

The big loss is to the family, including a bhean chéile and children. All of our families suffer grievously in one way or another because of our involvement in politics. However, I hope it is some consolation to Kathleen to know all the good work that her husband did and that he was liked by all sides in this Dáil. Many people are in a far better place today because of what he did and I thank her for that.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly I am very grateful for the opportunity to say a few words about Shane. He might have been surprised to know that there were three women fighting at the Technical Group meeting yesterday over the right to have this slot. However, seeing that it was Shane, it was a fight that I was absolutely committed to winning. I know that Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan wanted to make points about Shane and his contribution to the debate on mental health when she initiated the discussion in Private Members' time almost a year ago. I know that Deputy Catherine Murphy, who was elected on the same day as Shane in a by-election recalls the time when they were expectantly waiting outside the door to come into this Chamber and how her family and Shane's intermingled. She recalled how emotional Shane was on that day - as we all know he was always someone who wore his heart on his sleeve, a straightforward man, a simple man. Members of his family said to members of Deputy Catherine Murphy's family: "Look, Shane is not much of a talker, but he is a doer." What an important day it was for him and they obviously kept a connection going throughout the years, being from similar constituencies.

I would never normally want to speak in a slot such as this because politics matters and it is hard to separate the political from the personal. One could look at it and say that Shane and I were polar opposites in terms of tradition and ideas. While that is true, I must say, hand on heart, there are few people about whom I would be more honoured to say words than Shane. That is not in disrespect to anyone else, but recognition of the very different and special type of person he was. For me the biggest compliment I could pay him was that he was not a politician. First and foremost for me Shane was an incredibly decent human being and that matters and counts for a huge amount.

The first time I met him was at the back gate of Agriculture House going across to our offices. I did not know who he was. As a vegetarian and an animal-rights campaigner, I had heard of him by reputation in terms of the stag hunt and all the rest of it. One would not think of us as being pals, but after that first encounter I left with his phone number - I did not even have to ask for it - and a commitment that his door was always open and that we could work together on the pyrite issue because he knew the work I had been doing in my constituency. An unlikely team was formed that day.

I have said this here previously and I am glad that I did. Nobody has done more for home owners affected by pyrite than Shane McEntee. He was the person who drove this issue. In the years in opposition when it was not popular, he was a lone voice. I told him that he was too complimentary to his Fine Gael colleagues because he fought that fight almost singlehandedly in opposition. When Fine Gael got into power and he got his ministerial position, he absolutely used it to try to deliver gains for home owners. I have no doubt that this issue would not have been progressed in the way in which it was without the work that Shane did. The residents who campaigned with us - and indeed myself - always viewed him as our man on the inside in terms of this issue. He was a very practical person who sat down and hammered out deals with developers and quarry-owners - he did not want to enrich solicitors. He worked quietly behind the scenes delivering results.

He was a really peculiar politician. Everybody knows most politicians talk themselves up and try to claim things they have not done. Shane was the exact opposite - he quietly did things behind the scenes, delivered results, changed people's lives and never claimed any credit for it. He was not a mad media follower or anything like that. I would certainly agree with him on that one. The Government must pick up on that legacy and deliver what Shane started in terms of the pyrite issue. Deputy Catherine Murphy and I had a meeting after Christmas with the residents who were involved in the pyrite action campaign. There were a few tears, a few laughs and a big empty space where Shane normally sat at those meetings. People talked about the constant phone calls, about him calling into their houses, putting on the kettle for a cup of tea and ringing them up to see if they were okay. About 20 or 30 of us would get a separate phone call, giving us a bit of information and telling us that we were to keep it to ourselves.

There are families up and down the commuter belt whose lives have been transformed by Shane's work in here. I do not say that lightly by any stretch. He was their advocate and their voice. We have a responsibility to carry on that battle. I remember the first meeting we had in the ALSAA where we brought together residents from the different counties affected by pyrite. We were trying to hammer out a strategy on the issue. In the middle of the meeting Shane got up and started talking about cows of his that had been poisoned. All these urban couples from the commuter belt, who had probably never even been on a farm, were looking around unsure where the story was going. The story involved how Shane tried to get justice over that issue and how he fought a long case to try to gather the evidence. However, the evidence was destroyed and he had to abandon the court case. The moral of the story he was telling the people was that the battle in which they were involved was a serious one and could be all-consuming for them.

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