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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 Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly] They were engaged in a fight to save their homes but also needed to know when to let go, walk away and not allow it take over their lives.

I have thought a lot about that since Shane's death. It is easy to be nice to be people when times are good and things are going well. An honourable and decent person stands by one when the chips are down and it is not popular to do so. A couple of such instances come to mind. When I left the Socialist Party and was being vilified by our colleagues in the media I passed Shane in his car in the carpark in Agriculture House. He beckoned to me and then jumped out of the car and gave me a big hug saying, "Don't worry about it, they're talking about you today, it will be me tomorrow and somebody else the day after. Don't worry about it. Just get on with it". When Deputy Wallace was in difficulty he called him aside and said, "Listen, you've no friends in that House, this is a dog-eat-dog place where people generally only think about themselves". While that is largely true it was definitely not true of Shane.

I would have been glad to call Shane my friend. On the last occasion Shane was in this House I engaged with him in a debate on Coillte. I am glad I went easy on him. He was brutal that day. I could always go easy on Shane because he was too nice to get thick with. I am glad I worked with him. I am incredibly proud to have known him. I am determined to carry on his legacy to fight for justice for pyrite home owners because he deserves nothing less.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Six weeks have passed since Shane's death. It is still difficult for many of us to grasp and accept what happened. This is a difficult day in this House for Shane's many colleagues and friends from all parties. It is a particularly difficult day for Shane's wife Kathleen and his children, Vincent, Helen, Sally and Aoife and other members of the McEntee family. I have some experience of what it is like to look down on a Chamber and listen to the Taoiseach, party leaders and colleagues speak about a loved one. It is not easy.

This is another difficult step for a family struggling to deal with an immense loss. I am sure they would rather not be in a political environment given all that has happened in that context. However, they are here. They are here because politics was fundamentally part of Shane's life and it is appropriate and necessary to pay tribute to him today in an honest manner, the way he would have spoken.

I got to know Shane long before we shared the running of the Department together. He was a larger than life character. One always felt better after meeting him than one felt before, particularly if struggling with an issue. He tended to bring clarity to things quickly, knowing the difference between right and wrong and not really understanding or caring for the kind of PR management on which many of us focus too much. He preferred instead to get to the root of a problem and spoke in a plain, decent and honest way about problems and how they should be solved, be it about pylons, pyrite, stag hunting, about which Shane was so passionate he could almost convince Deputy Clare Daly to support it, road safety, which he managed to link with stag hunting in a discussion with me on one occasion, greyhounds or horticulture in respect of which he had ministerial responsibility, the suckler cow welfare scheme about which we got some stick, solving the Chalara problem in ash plantations across Ireland or internal battles within Fine Gael when as a party it was making difficult choices, at which meetings he was a passionate advocate for the Taoiseach. Everybody respected Shane because of the way he spoke and how he spoke. He spoke to colleagues like he would speak to his brother, which is not too common these days, particularly in this House or among the people who report what happens here. This should cause us to reflect somewhat on how we behave and speak to each other, solve problems together, the often personalised nature of that engagement, how we engage with those who we need in the broader media to get our messages across and how they engage with us and the pressures this can put on individuals and families.

Given his straightforward nature, Shane was hugely popular. He was popular among his colleagues in Fine Gael and, as we have heard, in other parties. He was not really a party man. Fine Gael was the vehicle through which he conducted politics and he was proud to be a member of that party but party allegiance was not what drove him, which I learned through my work as Minister with him. Farmers loved Shane because of his straightforward nature. I noticed at meetings which we both attended, whether with the IFA, other farming organisations or the public, that the leadership engaged with me and the members engaged with him. I was the person outlining the theory of policy, the CAP negotiations and the figures of budgets but the farmers went to Shane to find out in plain English how this would impact on their lives. I suspect I will never be as close as he was to rural communities in terms of really understanding them but I learned a huge amount from him.

As a Minister of State, Shane McEntee, did a huge amount. He was underestimated by his colleagues and many people in this House but not in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The record will show that in the past two years there were no cuts to funding for forestry, an increase in expenditure for horticulture and no cuts in funding for the greyhound industry. There were also no food safety scandals, which was one of his areas of responsibility, until after he passed away. Were he here with me trying to solve the current challenges we face in the food industry his impatience and plain speak would be helpful through this difficult period. He would also be caught up in it personally, as was the case in respect of everything he was involved with, which affected him and often weighed him down even though he never showed it.

Most mornings when I arrived at work I would meet Shane bounding down the corridor. He was a big man in every sense. He would always say, "Everything all right Simon?" If ever I asked him to do anything, which I regularly did - I regularly tested his loyalty - the instant response was, "No bother, I'll make that happen". If I asked him at the last minute to give a speech or attend an appointment I could not make he changed his diary and made it happen. He was extraordinarily loyal at a personal and political level to me. He was an outstanding Minister of State in terms of his own portfolios and as a support to everyone in the Department.

The following sums up Shane in the Department. Last July, I was putting together a budget.

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