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 Header Item Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions (Continued)
 Header Item Death of Former Members: Expressions of Sympathy

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 979 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar]  In terms of philosophy, I do not see a conflict between being involved in peacekeeping and peace support operations on the one hand and international development on the other. I see what we do in Mali and Ethiopia as mutually complementary. International development is worth nothing without security, and security will never last without international development, economic opportunity and freedom for people. I see these things working together. We can do nothing for the refugees fleeing Eritrea in the camps in Ethiopia without having security in Ethiopia and Eritrea. They have to go hand in hand - security as well as international development, democracy, human rights and economic opportunity. I do not see a conflict there. It would be an error of philosophy in foreign policy to say that we will only be involved in international development, but if guerrillas come in or an offensive government comes in, overruns and sets fire to all our projects and knocks down the schools, we cannot say we do not care. That is not what we do.

Death of Former Members: Expressions of Sympathy

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl In accordance with the order of the House from yesterday, we now proceed to expressions of sympathy on the deaths of our former colleagues, Brendan McGahon of Louth and Seymour Crawford of Cavan-Monaghan.

Before calling Members to offer their tributes to our departed colleagues, I welcome the families of Brendan McGahon and Seymour Crawford to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. Brendan is represented by his daughters Jill and Adele, his son Conor and their family; and Seymour is represented by his nephews, Andrew and Alistair, and niece, Kirsten. They are very welcome to Leinster House today. This is a sad day for them all, but I hope that the memories shared here in Dáil Éireann will serve to support them as we pay tribute to two much respected and distinguished former Members.

I did not have the privilege of knowing Brendan McGahon personally; he retired from this House in 2002, the year I was first elected to Dáil Éireann. He was from a long line of political activists in Louth, stretching back over many decades. It is fitting that that tradition is continued by his nephew, John, a familiar face for many of us in Leinster House today.

Few of us would doubt that Brendan's 20 years here were on occasion politically colourful and sometimes contentious with views on a wide range of issues which divided opinion nationally as well as in the county he clearly represented with such pride. He was a man of his own independent views, firmly expressed, with such independent voices making our parliamentary tradition all the richer.

He also struck up many seemingly unlikely associations and friendships during his time in this Chamber, finding common cause with equally committed public representatives which transcended personality and tribal politics. As Brexit threatens the peace, stability and economic well-being of places such as his beloved Dundalk, we need to continue to find common cause as Brendan often did for the greater good for all citizens we are honoured to represent in this Chamber.

I did know Seymour Crawford very well and held him in high regard. I had the honour of serving on the agriculture committee with him. While the stony grey soil of his home county was different from the land I farm in Kildare, his deep knowledge of farming, farmers and the concerns and challenges facing that community found a firm and vocal advocate on that busy committee.

As well as the agriculture committee and many considered contributions here in the Dáil Chamber during his years with us, Seymour was an active and long-serving Member of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body subsequently the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. As we mark the centenary of the First Dáil as an integral part of our decade of commemorations, I salute in particular the work Seymour undertook in advocating cross-Border co-operation and understanding, work this fine, upstanding and decent man undertook with quiet efficiency and delicacy.

Both Brendan McGahon and Seymour Crawford served this House with distinction and fortitude. As Ceann Comhairle, I offer my renewed condolences to their families who should take great comfort in the patriotism shown by both Brendan and Seymour.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Inniu, déanaimid comhbhrón agus tugaimid ómós do bheirt Bhall den Teach seo a d'fhreastal anseo le honóir agus le gradam. Bhí fuath go smior agus go buan ag Brendan McGahon agus Seymour Crawford don bhforéigean agus bhí siad tiomanta go gcuirfí an síocháin i réim san oileán seo. Mar Bhaill de Thionól Parlaiminteach na Breataine-na hÉireann, d'oibrigh siad ar chúlstáitse anseo agus i Londain chun cairdeas idir an dá thaobh a chur chun cinn agus tuisint níos doimhne a chothú. Teachtaí Dála dúthrachtacha, cróga ab iad araon, a chur go mór le saol agus sochaí ár dtír.

In politics as in life, it takes courage to swim against the tide. It is one thing to stand up for one's principles when they are popular and widely accepted; it is quite another to stand up and speak up when one's views are unpopular or when one goes against the views of one's colleagues, especially when there is a considerable threat to one's life.

Brendan McGahon's career of public service was defined by his political courage. He was a man of principle and great personal courtesy. He had friends on all sides of this Chamber. He once remarked that he sometimes got on better with those on the other benches. Notwithstanding, he was very much an admired respected colleague in Fine Gael and colleagues valued his integrity and courage.

The history books record how Brendan McGahon stood up to the Provisional IRA and shone a dark light on their dark deeds and cruelty. He famously refused to close his newsagent's shop in Dundalk during the funerals of hunger strikers in 1981, despite threats to his life and limb. Throughout his career, he excoriated the Provisional IRA for its violence and hypocrisy, and he gave voice to its victims.

As a teetotaller, he was disgusted by the glorification of alcohol and wanted greater punishments for drink-driving offences. I had the opportunity to meet him on several occasions. While I did not agree with all his views, I certainly respected them. He opposed the abolition of the death penalty as well as the decriminalisation of homosexuality. At the same time, he supported the introduction of divorce in certain circumstances and defied the Fine Gael party Whip to vote against hare coursing.

Brendan showed the same tenacity and determination in the Dáil as he did on the football pitch, at an earlier time in his life playing for Dundalk F.C. For nearly 20 years between 1982 and 2002 he represented the people of Louth with distinction and he was a tireless advocate for the economic development of his county. I believe he would be rightly proud at the progress made there in recent years.

Sadly his wife, Celine, predeceased him. We offer our condolences today to their five children, their extended family, including Councillor John McGahon, who is known to many of us in the House, and his considerable number of friends. Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.

In a distinguished career of public service, Seymour Crawford was a peacemaker who used his considerable expertise to serve his community, his constituents and his country. He represented the people of Cavan-Monaghan in this Chamber for 19 years. We benefitted enormously from his considerable experience as a farmer, as a director of the CBF and as vice president of the Irish Farmers' Association. It gave him unique insights into agriculture and related issues, such as animal welfare, drainage and the beef industry. I know his advice was greatly valued during the particularly difficult General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, GATT, negotiations. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has rightly described him as the best Minister for agriculture we never had and I think that is a very fair description.

A gentle giant, Seymour was passionate on so many issues, including education, the care of the elderly, rural roads, tourism and social welfare. With a good sense of humour and natural humility, he knew how to bring people along with him and how to strike a good deal. He was perhaps most at home in his constituency office in the Diamond with files all around him, putting his considerable skills to the service of his constituents. As a bachelor politician, he was truly married to the job.

For 14 years he was a member of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body and then the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, later serving as Vice Chairman. As a Presbyterian from a rural Border community, he knew all about the different traditions on the island and he played a crucial role during one of the most important periods of the peace process, bringing his unique perspective to the table. Peace and reconciliation were his overriding concerns and he did much to develop understanding and trust between North and South.


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