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Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy (Continued)

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 984 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar] Some people were perhaps unable to see beyond the trademark tartan cap but that was their foolish mistake. There was real political substance to Jackie Healy-Rae and he brought substantial benefits to the people of Kerry through his backing of the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern's three-legged stool coalition between 1997 and 2002. He secured similar terms during the Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition between 2007 and 2011.

I hope his family will take it as a compliment from me when I say he had a real flair for publicity and for memorable expressions. Coming from the beautiful surroundings of Kilgarvan and deriving the addendum to his name from his ancestral townland, Reacaisleach, Jackie Healy-Rae never lost an election, a winning trait that is clearly in the genes and has been passed down to his descendants.

I will always fondly remember the few drinks I had with him after the Munster final in Kerry one year and his hospitality when I visited his pub in Kilgarvan as Minster for tourism. It was a very late night and I am pleased he was able to get a late licence for the purpose so easily.

He bore his final illness with great courage and fortitude and after his death in 2014, a poetic tribute was paid to him: he came from the mountains and he spoke for the people of the mountains. Jackie Healy-Rae was not just a politician; he was a political chieftain. He represented his people with courage and ability and gave them a national voice, for which they loved him.

In his later years, he was ably assisted by his sons, Michael and Danny, on Kerry County Council. He loved to describe the relationship as three for the price of one. Both Michael and Danny followed him into this House and continue to speak, and sometimes even shout, for the people of Kerry. Today we also recognise their brothers, John and Denis, and sisters, Joan and Rosemary. I also take the opportunity to pay tribute to their mother, Julie Healy-Rae, who passed away in 2015.

I also offer our sympathies to Jackie's grandchildren, to Kathleen Cahill and her daughter and granddaughter, as well as Jackie's brothers and sisters and the wide circle of family, friends and supporters gathered here today. Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Fear agus carachtar faoi leith a bhí i Jackie Healy-Rae. Bhí clú agus cáil air ar fud na tíre agus polaiteoir den scoth ab ea é. Thuig sé go háiritihe an tábhacht a bhaineann le seirbhís poiblí. Tírghráthóir agus fear láidir ab ea é ach fós bhí sé i gcónaí cneasta, cairdiúil agus flaithiúil lena chuid ama. D’oibrigh sé go dian dícheallach domhnach is dálach ar son mhuintir a dúiche, mhuintir Chiarraí agus mhuintir na tíre. Ceoltóir faoi leith ab ea é agus, gan amhras, bhí suim mhór aige i gcúrsaí spóirt.

It is my great privilege today to speak on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party in remembrance of a celebrated hard-working and most effective member of this House. Jackie Healy-Rae was a politician, sportsman, musician, farmer, entrepreneur and much, much more. He was an outstanding political organiser, manifested in his repeated successes as a director of elections for Fianna Fáil in Kerry South for many years. He was a by-election specialist and was instrumental, working with the late Neil Blaney in guiding the success of former Deputy, John O'Leary in a famous by-election in 1966. Such was his success then, that he was invited to support and organise other by-elections across the country for the party, which, I understand, led to young Michael, our colleague, catching the electoral and political bug early in his life.

That by-election lived long in political folklore, being responsible for the eventual construction of the bridge to Valentia Island and reflecting the great drive and organisational ability of Neil Blaney. Jackie Healy-Rae in particular developed a real admiration for Neil Blaney and in the 1980s, would regularly call at Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheiseanna for the return of "the best organiser in the western world".

Jackie was a formidable election organiser himself. He was successful in being elected to Kerry County Council in 1974 and in every subsequent election since until the end of the dual mandate. During the 1970s and 1980s, Jackie served three times as Fianna Fáil's director of elections in Kerry South and helped deliver two of the three seats for Fianna Fáil. When John O'Leary retired in 1997 an opportunity arose for Jackie to rise to the national stage. Although he did not secure the Fianna Fáil nomination at the convention, he went on to contest the election as an Independent, defy the odds and won in the subsequent election. I chaired that convention. A colourful occasion it was and is well documented in John O'Leary's memoir and is well worth a read for that and his description of the subsequent election. Jackie's speech that night was masterful. Even in defeat he was laying the groundwork for his subsequent campaign and hinting at his intentions. I recall him telling the gathering "Do not be a bit surprised in the Black Valley in the depths of winter, as you open your half-door, that you won't see these beady little eyes looking in at you". The die was cast as we left the convention on that occasion.

As an Independent Deputy supporting that minority Fianna Fáil-led Government of 1997, which was a highly effective and impactful Government on many fronts, Jackie's role was constructive and in the national interest. That Government, under the leadership of Bertie Ahern, delivered the Good Friday Agreement and transformed the areas of education and research, to name but a few of its achievements. He had the capacity to win projects for his constituency and to influence social policy, but astutely also knew his limitations and was particularly skilful in getting the balance right. He mentored and led the other Independents supporting that Government, namely, Harry Blaney, Mildred Fox and Thomas Gildea. He was intensely competitive in terms of the constituency and had to be watched at all times. I recall how, as a youthful Minister for Education and Science at the time, we inadvertently let slip at a match at Croke Park that a highly sought-after special needs assistant, SNA, post for a school in Killarney was to be awarded. The then Minister, John O'Donoghue, had a very able constituency officer who picked it up and arrived at the school principal's office at 8.30 a.m. the next morning to alert them that Deputy O'Donoghue had delivered the SNA. I was at a factory in Cork that day, meeting with multinational companies, and received a phone call from Séamus Brennan who was keeping that Government together. He said I had to phone Jackie Healy-Rae immediately as the Government was about to collapse over a SNA in Killarney. I made that telephone call and got a real lesson in life because down that phone line, I got it both barrels. I told him, "Look, Jackie, I owe you one," and he told me I owed him much more than one. He was building up the credits for thereafter.

He was also lyrical in his use of language and prose. As a Cork man I have observed and consistently saluted the lyricism of Kerry people. Jackie had it in abundance. He wrote me a letter when I was Minister for Health on the development of South Doc, which originated in the town of Killarney because of the industry of GPs there. I always regret that I did not keep the letter, because it is a masterpiece in itself. Its first sentence grabbed my attention: "This is one of the most important letters you will ever read", and I was immediately captured. He described this visionary project and concluded with a great line: "If this project does not come to pass I know that it won't be for the want of your trying". No pressure. It did come to pass and along with Caredoc in Carlow, it ushered in a new era of 24-7 GP care across the country.

Jackie loved his native county and particularly Kilgarvan, where he went to primary school and grew up on the family farm. He was an active participant in GAA games and won two senior county hurling titles with Kilgarvan in 1956 and 1958. He was an accomplished saxophone player with the Kilgarvan dance band. He would have been particularly proud of his two sons, Danny and Michael, their success in general elections and their contribution to national politics, and, indeed, of his grandchildren, Maura, Jackie Jnr., and Johnny who have made it at local elections. It was indeed a costly convention on that occasion.

He was a legendary figure politically.


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