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Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy (Continued)

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 859 No. 2

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  1 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross] I believe his heart and head happily coincided on that occasion, which gave him both the result he wanted and the correct result. That was a pleasant coincidence. He then went on to become Government press secretary in 1976 and to be elected to the Dáil in 1981. At the same time, his book continued to be published.

  I think I am right in saying that the references to his Gaelic football career are correct but this was combined with a rather versatile career in sport in that he also played rugby league for Lancashire. I am sure he was the only person who played rugby league for Lancashire that also played Gaelic football for Sligo. That is a magnificent achievement. While it is probably not his greatest achievement it is one that is probably unlikely to be repeated.

  The Taoiseach was probably massaging the truth when he referred to Ted having written a book entitled Tales of Leinster House. The book was actually entitled Tales from the Dáil Bar.  The Dáil bar was a pleasant place in which to meet Ted Nealon because, as others have said, he was a magnificent raconteur. He was, if I might say so, pretty well party blind in the choice of his friends in that he did not appear to distinguish between those who sat on the Government side of the House and this side of it. He was so entranced and absolutely intrigued by the business of politics that he would talk about it to anyone and share his great knowledge with anybody regardless of colour.

  We have lost someone with a great fascination with and knowledge of politics and who made a great contribution to politics. I again sympathise with his family.

Deputy John Perry: Information on John Perry Zoom on John Perry I am honoured to be a part of this formal acknowledgement by the Oireachtas of a former Member, colleague and friend, the late Ted Nealon. I welcome members of his family to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. Ted's wife Jo is unable to be with us today but she is here in spirit. We are joined today by Ted's son, Fergal, and his wife, Sinead, his daughter, Louise, live from Sydney via the Oireachtas television service, his nephew, Ted Nealon, and members of the Loughnan and Townsend families. Their presence today reminds us all that while we have lost a much respected former colleague, they have lost a much loved husband, father and friend. It is appropriate that this commemoration is taking place today as yesterday would have been Ted's 85th birthday. He was born on 25 November 1929 at Coolrecuill, Aclare, County Sligo.

  As Ted represented Sligo-Leitrim in Dáil Éireann for 16 years and I followed in his footsteps as a Deputy for Sligo-Leitrim, I came to know him very well, both as a political expert and as a person. It is to Ted Nealon the person that I pay tribute today. The full scope of Ted's life and times, his outstanding achievements as a sportsman, journalist and politician are well-known and documented. For the record, he played with distinction with Sligo GAA for many years and also played with Connacht in the Railway Cup competition. Two of his most outstanding personal qualities were his wisdom and his sense of compassion. His personal wisdom was a combination of exceptional intellectual capacity, evident from an early age in the many council scholarships he won, and in his unique ability to analyse and understand the political process from an early age.

  Ted was a distinguished journalist and current affairs broadcaster who made a successful transition into politics, which is very much the exception. It is important to note that he was a reporter and presenter with the RTE programme "Seven Days" and was part of a heavyweight team that included the late Brian Farrell, Bill O'Herlihy and John O'Donoghue. It was the first television programme that brought a new cutting edge to current affairs. Cross-examination was very new at that time. Ted won a Jacob's Award in 1973 for his coverage of the then general election. His analytical side was well-complemented by a strong sense of sympathetic understanding of people. Ted lost his mother when he was a young child and this sad experience sharpened his sense of compassion for others in adversity. As he wrote in his book, the only visual memory of his mother that he carried through life was of the lid of the coffin leaning against the wall of the house as they prepared to take her to the church. It was these particular qualities of intellectual capacity, analytical ability and compassion for people combined into one personality that made him one of the foremost political commentators and election forecasters this country had ever seen.

  The Nealon's Guide to the Dáil and Seanad, published in 1973 and following every election since, has become the indispensable bible for those interested in Irish politics. Ted was extremely proud of his agreement with The Irish Times that it continue in publication into the future. Never one to take the easy road, Ted then decided to leave the role of commentator on politics for the more onerous role of actually being in politics. Again, he devoted all his skills and energy to being a very successful local representative for his native place and later became Minister of State. Being the first Minister of State with responsibility for arts and culture and being vested by the French Government with the very distinctive honour of Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres were two of his proudest achievements.

  I am taking a short cut through his time as a Member of the Dáil because I want to speak a little about what is probably his greatest legacy to us all as politicians, namely, his book entitled Tales from the Dáil Bar. Ted's book, in a spirit of generosity and understanding, speaks of politics and politicians in a style that is illuminating yet kindly and humorous. In the tales he chooses to relate, he speaks to us of his own sympathetic understanding of the challenges facing anyone who wishes to be in politics: the clinics, the funerals, the election campaign canvassing and - a favourite of mine - the everyday challenge of trying to remember the names of a vast number of people and how to try and skate past the problem when a name you actually know becomes trapped on the tip of the tongue and refuses absolutely to move any further.

  At the other end of the scale, Ted takes in a vast sweep of economic and social history into his story about the clinic for the poitín maker. First, he tells of how new EU agriculture policies led to the demise of the widespread production of poitín. He then comments on the rural folklore that poitín was a valuable alternative medicine in the prevention of flu and colds, a comment that would be credible enough were it not immediately followed by the advice that if the poitín did not work as a preventative therapy, it was also a great cure for anyone with a bad flu or cold. The tales he chose to write of in his book speak to us of his wisdom and compassion, but it is in the gentle and humorous way he tells the stories that we can come to understand fully his sympathetic view of politics and politicians and of his great insight into and empathy for everyone. Apart from some very witty stories about election rallies and politician retorts to hecklers, he speaks little about the campaigning clashes and policy battles fought within and between parties during election campaigns, preferring instead to focus on the human and personal side of politics within Leinster House. In his modesty, the few stories he tells of his personal involvement in some great political drama are told mostly as a compliment to some outstanding quality of another politician.

  In his time as a Member of this House and in his Tales from the Dáil Bar, Ted was generous in his comments about colleagues. It is appropriate that in this formal acknowledgement by the Oireachtas to the memory of our colleague and friend, we are also generous in the memories of him that we share today. I join the Taoiseach and all other Members in expressing sympathy to the Nealon family on the death of Ted. I particularly wish to express my sympathies to his wife and children, his extended family and many friends. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy It is fitting that we are paying tributes today to the late Ted Nealon. I welcome his family to Dáil Éireann. I knew Ted Nealon. My first engagement with politics was during the H-Block hunger strikes. Up to that point, I had kept a lengthy distance from politics. The H-Block hunger strikes drove me to try to bring about change in this country.

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