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Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy (Continued)

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 988 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] I am grateful for this opportunity to pay tribute to a member of the Fianna Fáil political family who gave a lifetime of service to our country, Peter Kelly. With Peter Kelly, we celebrate a life well lived. He loved his community, he loved people, and he loved politics. Famous for his commitment and hard work, he served the people of Longford with distinction over many years.

Peter Kelly had three great passions in life: his family and friends, Fianna Fáil, and Longford. To those who met him, he was "Peter Kelly, Longford". I recall him introducing himself to me as that many times, even at a point when we knew each other, because that was how he always introduced himself. A great storyteller, he told the story of the county and the community he loved so much with wit, eloquence and ability.

A funeral director as well as a publican, Peter’s favourite job was undoubtedly being a Deputy. In 2011, after nine years in this House, he decided to stand in the general election, even though he knew he would probably lose his seat. When others bowed out, he stayed the course, because he believed the people should have their say, even if it meant they were choosing someone else. That is an admirable characteristic. However, his defining characteristic was loyalty. He was loyal to his party, his family, and his county. I am also told Peter was a great singer and loved a good singsong at the bar. I may have gone home at that stage. When he got going, it was said that even Elvis Presley would not hold a candle to him.

Peter was slow to embrace new technology, and I am told he was the last remaining Member to use a fax machine. A few years ago he was making a representation to the HSE and asked for the fax number in their office. When told they did not have a fax machine, he asked "Where are you?" to which the official replied: "Well, I don’t know where you are, but I’m in 2016". It is a measure of Peter’s graciousness and good humour that he loved to tell that story at his own expense. In later years his wife, Maura, who I believe he always called "The Rose of Castlerea", looked after newfangled innovations like email for him. I offer my condolences and that of the Fine Gael party to his loving wife, Maura, and to their three children, Emily, Peter and Joseph, their grandchildren, and to all their family and friends.

People who knew Peter tell me that his defining characteristic was that he always put people first. He wanted to spend time with people - a valuable attribute in today's very busy times - he wanted to work with people and, above all, he wanted to help people. The words used to describe him capture the man: decent, honourable, old school. Longford will always remember Peter Kelly, their political colossus who did so much for the county he loved.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Is pribhléid dom é, ar mo shon féin agus ar son Pháirtí Fhianna Fáil, a shoiléiriú don Dáil agus don chlann an t-ardmheas a bhí againn ar Peter Kelly, agus comhbhrón a dhéanamh le Máire, Emily, Peter agus Joseph agus a dheartháir Vincent as ucht bás Peter. Duine faoi leith ab ea Peter Kelly. Bhí sé dílis dá chlann, do mhuintir a dhúiche féin agus go háirithe dá chontae féin. Polaiteoir den scoth a bhí ann a thuig tábhacht an chórais polaitíochta agus an dlúthbhaint idir an córas sin agus cosmhuintir na tíre. Fear cneasta, lách a bhí ann agus duine greannmhar ab ea é. Duine a rinne sult, súchas agus spórt le gach éinne a bhí ann. Fear mór teaghlaigh a bhí ann agus fuair sé a neart ón gcaidreamh teaghlaigh. Bhí an caidreamh sin soiléir ag a thórramh, go háirithe idir é féin agus Máire.

Peter Kelly was an outstanding public servant, a man deeply rooted in his own community and a truly great character in the best sense of that word. His family background, growing up and working in his family business, gave him a unique insight into the lives of Longford people. He lived their lives with them. He shared their highs and lows, trials and tribulations. He had the personal touch and was a firm believer in Tip O’Neill’s adage that all politics is local and personal. He was committed to making life easier for families during the most difficult of times.

Peter fought tenaciously for Longford town and he was intensely proud of its traditions, culture, music and political contributions. He was first elected to public life in 1985 to Longford County Council – a breakthrough election at the time for Fianna Fáil in that it ushered in a new generation of public representatives who later graduated to the national stage.

He was particularly inspired by and proud of his friendship with the late, former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds and of Albert’s achievement, with others, of securing the Downing Street Declaration paving the way for peace on the island of Ireland. He had a genuine affection and admiration for Albert.

Peter was also a man who championed enterprise and the self-employed, a voice that needs to be heard in this forum. He understood through experience the concerns and needs of those who create jobs.

He was elected to Dáil Éireann in 2002 upon the retirement of Albert Reynolds and he quickly became known around its corridors and canteens, endearing himself to staff and colleagues and political opponents alike.

He had extraordinary wit and humour. He was a great conversationalist, a great storyteller and a great mimic. The Taoiseach spoke of his difficulty in catching up with technology, but he always believed that his tie was far better than the microphone when he was doing impersonations of Elvis Presley. If one ever went into the canteen or restaurant and saw Peter at a table, one would join him immediately, guaranteed to be entertained by his charm, humour and the latest story. Peter loved company.

By his side at Leinster House and at party functions was his beloved wife, Maura. They were a beautiful couple, relaxed in each other’s company and philosophical about life itself and political life, in particular.

Peter, it is fair to say, was different politically, in that, anyone wandering around Leinster House will find a lot of stressed people with worried, grim faces, particularly at election time or in advance of election time, but in the midst of all of this, Peter’s space was an oasis of calm contemplation and good humour. He conducted politics with an easy grace, understanding how it all worked, and never allowing it to suppress his enduring qualities of kindness, courtesy and good humour. He understood life better than most around Leinster House.

He had, of course, an enduring love of Longford. No matter where he travelled, who he met, he always introduced himself simply as “Peter Kelly, Longford, Ireland”. This was clearly illustrated when he met Justin Timberlake, who was enjoying a quiet pint in that favoured Longford watering hole in Dublin, O'Donoghue's, when Peter introduced himself in typical fashion. They chatted and laughed for a good 20 minutes until the young superstar had to leave and afterwards Peter told the barman. “That was a lovely young fella”. The barman was somewhat perplexed that Peter had no concept of who he had been talking to, and he simply told the barman, “I have no idea who he was but I tell you, he knows all about Longford now.”

Peter loved sport and especially the GAA. He followed Longford at every opportunity and enjoyed enduring friendships with the Longford stars from the 1960s. Peter was a lifetime member of Longford rugby club and, of course, the closest sports arena to the family home was Longford tennis club. He was involved in its endeavours for most of his adult life.

Peter was happiest out among local communities. Whether it was Ardagh winning the national Tidy Towns competition or the Longford minors winning the Leinster championship, nobody beamed a broader smile than Peter. It was that same sense of community that helped ensure that Peter forced steadfast links with the Longford diaspora. He was a staunch and enthusiastic supporter of the Longford associations in London, New York, Dublin and Manchester. He rarely missed their functions and greatly valued their counsel. Peter once said three words could sum him up: “Longford, Longford, Longford”.

Peter Kelly’s was a life well lived - a proud Longford man who understood the concept of serving the public good; a representative who used public office to look after the well-being of those most in need; a clear voice for enterprise.

He was a great father, husband and friend and colleague of ours who, with great commitment, built further on a proud republican tradition.

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