Dáil Éireann - Volume 651 - 09 April, 2008

Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The House will now hear expressions of sympathy on the death of former Member, Mr. Gene Fitzgerald. I extend a warm welcome to Mrs. Noreen Fitzgerald and her family to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery to hear tributes to their esteemed late husband and father.

  The Taoiseach: I thank the House for providing an occasion for expressions of sympathy to one of the House’s distinguished and liked Members for many years, Mr. Gene Fitzgerald. I convey my sincere condolences, and those of my Fianna Fáil colleagues, to his widow, Noreen, his children, Áine, Aileen, Aindrias, Niamh and Eimear, his sister, Mamie, his brother, Dan, and his grandchildren on their loss at Christmas time.

Gene was one of politics’ most decent individuals. I sadly miss him because he was, until his death, the honorary secretary of the Fianna Fáil Party and I had contact with him, if not on a daily basis a weekly one, over the past several years.

Gene graced this House for many years. He had a great appreciation for the dignity and traditions of our national Parliament. I am delighted his family are present as it is a privilege for me to lead the tributes in the Dáil for a man who touched so many hearts and delivered so much.

Gene was born in 1932, the same year Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President of the United States. Roosevelt was a consummate politician; so too was Gene in his time and special way. Roosevelt devoted his life to the betterment of his country; so too did Gene. When Roosevelt wrote his famous maxim, “That there is no greater calling than public service”, he could well have opined a final description of the life and work of Gene Fitzgerald, what he did for Cork, nationally and in Europe. He had a great love for our national games and gave great support to Cumann Lúthchleas Gael in both Cork and the country.

Gene epitomised the traditional Cork values of decency, pride of place and solidarity with one’s neighbours. These were qualities Gene learned as a young man and which stood him well in a life dominated by his active early career in business and human resources and his later service to his community and country.

He was first elected to the Dáil in a by-election in August 1972, representing the old constituency of Mid-Cork. He entered politics at the behest of Jack Lynch who admired him greatly and knew him from his community and GAA activities. Gene was a natural on the campaign trail. His by-election victory was a landslide.

At Gene’s removal at Christmas time, I read a newspaper report of the by-election count which described how Gene thanked all of the Opposition parties for a cleanly fought and fair campaign. It described how he embraced the Labour Party candidate, Eileen Desmond, when she congratulated him. It also recounted how Gene refused to take any personal credit for his massive vote, saying it was an endorsement of the policies and position of Jack Lynch in those difficult days of Northern problems.

The article summed up what was the enduring appeal of Gene. Respect for his opponents, graciousness, modesty and loyalty were the qualities that defined Gene Fitzgerald. His ability was such that from the moment he entered the House, he was a rising star. He had already a successful professional career outside the House. In 1977, he was appointed Minister for Labour by Jack Lynch because of his knowledge and skills in human resources. Everyone in the House called him Gene or Gene Fitz. He was never really called “Minister” or “Deputy” — everyone [548] here knew him as Gene Fitz. He was a great man of courtesy and approachability, and his words of encouragement made a huge impression on me. He was well able to fight his corner, of course, and he could turn into a very tough opponent if crossed. That was his job and what he had to do.

He was highly respected by trade unions and employers, which he had to deal with in very difficult times. Gene Fitz worked night and day for the people of the country and justified the faith given to him through massive votes in so many elections. It is worth recording that Gene’s budget, delivered in January 1981, was at the height of a world recession but he still managed to increase long-term welfare payments by 25% and unemployment benefits by 20%. They were times of tough inflation and of chasing a spiral. It was hard for a Minister for Finance to try to get resources to chase that spiral.

At the core of Gene Fitz’s politics was real humanity and concern for the most vulnerable in society, to whom he bravely gave. Gene put a shoulder to the national wheel at a time when it would have been easier to opt out. That was because he was a doer and not one to snipe on the sidelines. He knew it would be a tough job to build up the economy and he was brave enough to roll up his sleeves and get stuck into the work.

I remember those times well, when I was at the Cabinet table as Government Whip, and I knew the difficulties and problems he had to deal with. He was a colleague who successive Fianna Fáil Taoisigh knew could be relied on to carry out his duties with the minimum of fuss and maximum dedication. Gene was a great source of counsel over the years, especially as I followed many of his tracks. I was Minister for Labour and Minister for Finance and Gene was in those positions before me. He was always available either to listen to the problems we were facing or to give wise words. He was very kind in doing so.

His role of Fianna Fáil honorary secretary was not in any way an honorary position. Gene was very active and served on many committees. Even when his health was not as good in recent years, he hated to miss a meeting. He felt it absolutely essential to get to meetings and if he could not get there he would ring several times to make sure he could get a member personally or he would send a long letter giving his views for the meeting. He took such matters very seriously right up to this past winter.

After his passing we have missed him very much in our national executive and party rooms. The House will also miss him because a large number of people would have known Gene. He continued to come to Dublin on various activities and in filling various board positions. He continued to have an interest in this House.

If a person ever wanted to find out how any of the matches went in Cork or Munster in the GAA, not alone could one get the result on a Monday or Tuesday but one would get the full report from Gene. Deputy Coveney knows I like to know what is happening in Tracton because we can not always get it in newspapers. Gene would always give me the report on the Tracton matches and what happened in the south-east leagues or in parts of the country from where my family hail.

We will miss him and I will miss his notes of encouragement. Not a week went by when I did not get a handwritten letter. We acknowledge his work in Europe. When he left us prior to Christmas, national politics lost one of its finest gentlemen, who loved this House, politics and the action and buzz in the place. He was a very committed politician with friends on all sides of the House, a fact of which he was very proud. We have lost one of our most noblest ever public representatives on these benches.

I thank Gene’s family for cherished memories of their husband, father, grandfather and brother. They have lost someone special to them and their loss is the greatest. We thank them [549] for having given Gene to Fianna Fáil and to national and European politics. He will long be remembered in these Houses and we are glad the family can be with us today. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: On behalf of the Fine Gael Party I offer sympathy and commiseration to Fianna Fáil on the loss of one of its stalwarts. To Noreen Fitzgerald, her children and family, as well as the extended family, I express our deepest sympathy on the loss of Gene, a husband, father, politician and friend.

He had a most distinctive voice, hoarse and rasping. One would certainly know when he was around because one would probably hear the voice coming along the corridors. I came in here three years after Gene Fitzgerald in the mid-1970s, although it seems like centuries ago.

I recall in particular his involvement in Private Members’ debates. Whether in Government or Opposition, he had a habit of coming in here in the evening. Depending on the side Fianna Fáil was on, he would either sit on the steps beside me or those opposite. He was ably assisted by another veteran, Mark Killilea. If people on the backbenches here, in Fianna Fáil or any other party were to get awards from the media for heckling qualities, they would have had to face down Gene Fitzgerald and Mark Killilea. There was no issue, motion or political item that these two were not locked into and on which they could not give forth with gusto — and did in this House — in defending Fianna Fáil’s position or attempting to make hay while people were speaking.

12 o’clock

I regarded Noreen Fitzgerald’s husband as a thoroughly decent family man and as somebody one would be proud to be associated with. He did his duty for his constituents in Cork and was a quintessential GAA man. I would say the old State car, in the days they were not scrutinised as heavily as they are now, was certainly filled with good GAA supporters, who may have been Fianna Fáil supporters at the same time, heading to matches all over Munster. It was always a privilege to get a lift to the match in the old black car long before the emissions rules of the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, began to take effect.

He served here for 15 years in three ministries: public service, labour and finance. He also served twice in the European Parliament and was always somebody who was exceptionally approachable, affable and would give whatever information was possible.

I do not know if I told Noreen Fitzgerald the following story. In 1982, the late John Callanan passed away in Galway and a by-election was held, from which Deputy Noel Treacy was elected. I was given the doubtful privilege of looking after the Tuam area for our party. This was shared by John Donlon, who was certainly not behind the fence when speaking. We had arrangements to speak at Cortoon church outside Dunmore on a beautiful summer morning.

When I arrived at the church the State car was backed up against the gate. The speaker for our party was none other than that brilliant academic and constitutional lawyer, a most colourful man, the late John Kelly. He loved Gene Fitzgerald and that sort of characteristic and personality. There were 60 at mass and with Fianna Fáil in Government, Gene Fitzgerald spoke first.

He rasped on about labour rates and days, man hours and industrial strikes etc. People took note of it. The late John Kelly then paid him a tribute because, as the Taoiseach will recall, it was a difficult time in Irish politics. John Kelly stated that Gene Fitzgerald was one of the nicest people in the Fianna Fáil party. He said “Of course, he does not have much opposition for that title”. He proceeded to say: “What did they promise you? That the sun would shine and so it does. That the birds would sing on the trees and so they do. And every economic indicator points to zero.” When he finished his contribution, Gene Fitzgerald approached me and said “God, wasn’t he great?”.

[550] To Gene’s wife, Noreen, I wish to express the sympathy of the Fine Gael Party. Guím rath Dé ar Gene agus guím go mbeidh sé ar dheis lámh Dé go síoraí. He was a gentleman. During the time I knew him in these Houses, he was courteous, approachable and affable. I am glad to have known him.

  Deputy Joan Burton: I wish to offer my sincere sympathies and those of the Labour Party to Gene Fitzgerald’s family — his wife, Noreen, and his son and daughters. I did not have an opportunity to know him while he was a Member of the House. However, I met him on a number of occasions after my election and he was kind enough to wish me well.

As the Taoiseach stated, there was a relationship between the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil in Cork. This was probably due to the fact that in those days elections were so frequent — at times it seemed that they were happening on a continual basis — that politicians almost lived in each other’s pockets. Gene Fitzgerald was extremely kind to me, as a new Deputy, and offered his advice.

Gene Fitzgerald served Cork, the country and Fianna Fáil with distinction. He served as Minister for Labour at a time when an enormous number of strikes were taking place in bodies such as the ESB. He was involved in the genesis of the concept of national understandings, which subsequently led to the development of the social partnership model that has proved so successful.

Gene Fitzgerald served as Minister for Finance under Charles Haughey. Having been raised, as it were, with Jack Lynch and the GAA and Fianna Fáil traditions in Cork, it must have been quite an interesting experience for him to serve as chief financial lieutenant to Mr. Haughey, who was a tough task master. Gene was, however, able to fill the position. Having served under Jack Lynch — whom people, regardless of their party affiliations, recognise as having possessed a special kind of magic — it is quite a tribute to Gene that he went on to serve with distinction under Mr. Haughey and in the European Parliament.

It is nice to see Gene’s family gathered here today. When one serves as a Member of the Houses, one loses out on spending time with one’s family and friends. In general elections, and depending on the circumstances, either 165 or 166 people are chosen by their fellow citizens to serve in the Dáil. It is great that his family is present to recall the distinction and integrity with which he served politics in Ireland. It is also great to see the younger generation of the Fitzgerald family present to recall and celebrate the contribution he made.

I offer my condolences and those of the Labour Party to Gene’s family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: On behalf of the Sinn Féin Dáil and Seanad teams, I wish to be associated with the offering of condolences to the Fitzgerald family and I want to pay tribute to the service of the late Gene Fitzgerald.

Like Deputy Burton, I did not have the pleasure of knowing Gene Fitzgerald during his 15 years of service as a Member of the House. It is obvious from his record that he enjoyed considerable success, not only as an elected representative for the people of the then Dáil constituency of Cork Mid-Central — subsequently Cork South-Central — and the then European Parliamentary constituency of Munster but also as a Minister at a time when the country experienced much greater difficulties and economic problems. The fact that he won six Dáil and two European elections is indicative of the significant respect and appreciation afforded to him by the electorates in the constituencies he represented.

[551] I wish to offer the sympathy of the Sinn Féin team to his wife, Noreen, his son and daughters, his brother and sister, his grandchildren and all of the Fitzgerald family. I also take this opportunity to convey our sympathy to his colleagues in the Fianna Fáil Party, an organisation to which he continued to give significant service after his decision to stand down as an elected political representative. This is an important day in that respect because we must convey our sympathies to both the current Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, and, as of this morning, the new leader of the Fianna Fáil Party, Deputy Cowen. Ar lámh dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

  Deputy Mary Alexandra White: On behalf of the Green Party, I wish to pay tribute to the long legacy of Gene Fitzgerald. Mr. Fitzgerald had left national politics and even the European stage by the time of my entry into the former arena. Unlike others present, therefore, I did not know him personally. However, I am well aware of his legacy.

I spoke to those who did know Gene Fitzgerald and several themes continually came to the fore. I refer here to his passion for the GAA, his heartfelt republican roots, his pride in all things Cork but mostly his pleasant demeanour. As previous speakers stated, his phenomenal electoral record allowed his political career to span three decades. During this time, while he progressed from Deputy to the holder of various ministerial portfolios and eventually became an MEP, he never forgot his home turf. If is fair to say that those who live there never forgot him. His eight election victories on the trot, from a by-election in 1972 through to his second European election in 1999, stand as a testimony to this. As a first-time Deputy, I can only marvel at his achievement.

Gene Fitzgerald’s elevation under Jack Lynch and subsequent rise under Charles Haughey saw him eventually reach the position of Minister for Finance, albeit for a short time during a period of great financial anxiety for this country. After two terms in Brussels representing the then constituency of Munster as an MEP, he took the advice he had advocated as Minister for Labour by taking early retirement to spend more time with family and friends. He did not, however, remove himself entirely from the political scene. I have no doubt that his electoral and general experience and vast grass roots knowledge — which he was able to continue to provide in his position as honorary secretary — were of much assistance to his party in the Cork area.

I wish to extend my condolences and those of my colleagues in the Green Party to his wife, Noreen, and his children, Aileen, Áine, Aindrias, Niamh and Eimear.

  Deputy Micheál Martin: Ba mhaith liom comhbhrón a dhéanamh arís le Nóirín agus clann MacGearailt ar bhás Gene Fitzgerald. Gan amhras, pholaiteoir den chéad scoth a bhí ann. Gaeilgeoir den chéad scoth ab ea é agus bhí sé cóngarach i gcónaí don ghnáth duine. Níl aon amhras orm ach go raibh dea-thionchar aige ar mhuintir Chorcaí agus ar mhuintir na tíre, ní amháin sa Dáil ach mar Aire agus, go háirithe, mar Ball de Pharlaimint na hEorpa. Go pearsanta, thug sé dea-chomhairle domsa i rith mo shaol, go háirithe i rith mo shaol polaitiúil.

It is my privilege to pay a warm tribute to my colleague and friend, the late Gene Fitzgerald. I wish to place on record my deepest sympathies to Noreen and the Fitzgerald family on the lost of Gene, who they loved so much. Gene was a colossus in Cork society. He started out in the GAA world as secretary of his local club, Cloughduv, at the very young age of 17. He was extremely enthusiastic and committed.

Many recall him cycling through the villages, byways and laneways — this was in the days before mobile phones — with a bag of hurleys on one shoulder and the jerseys on the back of the bike. He would personally call on every player and always got to the match on time. He brought that enthusiasm and commitment to political life also.

[552] He probably has one of the best electoral records of any politician since the foundation of the State. He gave an extraordinary poll performance in his first election, the mid-Cork by-election in 1972. As his great friend and colleague Willie O’Brien told me, they had only a few days to prepare for the convention but got an extraordinary vote at the convention and went on to get an enormous vote for the party in the by-election at a time when the party’s fortunes were not too good, prior to the 1973 election. He went against the national grain electorally, which was a testament to his popularity among his people. He was then able to move in, again at a difficult time, to the Cork South-Central constituency, which, due to Boundary Commission changes and so on, was a significant personal change for him. He was asked to do this on behalf of the party in order to become the political and electoral leader in the city of Cork, and of course he did extremely well, polling exceptionally well in view of the changed political environment.

As Minister for Labour, his basic trade union connections and principles and his involvement in the GAA stood him in good stead. Long before the sophistication of the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court, Gene had his own unique way of resolving disputes. One of his colleagues in CIE told me a great story about how he solved one particular dispute — he invited those involved to Dublin and locked them in a hotel room with refreshments, telling them not to come out until they had a solution. This is one of the unorthodox interventions that solved many disputes in those days. As Minister for Labour and subsequently as Minister for Finance, he had a strong sense of his origins and his background in terms of looking after the less well off in society, particularly the elderly and those without employment. That was a strong principle that Gene always espoused in his political career, and he followed through on this in the European Parliament. This was in the era of Jacques Delors and the emergence of a social Europe, to which Gene was very committed and which has made a significant difference to the ordinary man or woman on the street in this country. We salute that commitment.

I wish to mention the personal guidance he gave us in the Fianna Fáil Party. The late 1980s were a turbulent time and in Cork we were under much pressure with the formation of new parties and so on. However, Gene held the people’s nerve and the party’s nerve during that period and gave great time and effort. Long after his retirement from politics he became president of the party in the constituency. He retained a genuine interest in politics — he loved the conventions and put forward names of potential candidates that would be good for the future. He had a great interest in the welfare of the people and gave much of his time to politics long after he had served in the House, which was a noble thing to do. Many of us in the party and many in Cork reflect that this indicated his genuine calling to the noble profession that is politics. We remember his contribution with pride and we remember his good sense of humour. At times, he would correct one in an effort to move on with something and get it done.

He will be missed deeply by Noreen and all the family. We in the Fianna Fáil Party will miss him, and the people of Cork will remember him with great fondness and affection in the months and years to come.

  Deputy Simon Coveney: I am glad to be associated with the expressions of sympathy and tributes to Gene Fitzgerald. I am aware of the range of emotions that a family goes through when they look down on the Dáil Chamber and listen to politicians, some of whom they know and others whom they have seen on television or do not know personally, talking about somebody who was special to them. It is a strange feeling of pride and sadness at the same time. I am pleased to speak on behalf of people in Cork who may be of a different political leaning to the Fitzgerald family but who had much respect for Gene Fitzgerald.

[553] He left politics before I entered politics — in fact, he entered politics the year I was born. I am conscious of the fact that I am from a different generation. That is not to say, however, that I did not know and hear a lot about Gene Fitzgerald. I grew up in a political family and I remember fighting elections and canvassing in areas such as Blackrock, and he was at the time — in the early 1980s — a giant of politics in Cork. We do not get too many Ministers for Finance in Cork, although we may get another one soon. He certainly made an impact on Cork politics locally, nationally and internationally over almost three decades. I can relate to his decision to go into European politics, which I am sure was not an easy one for him considering he gave priority to local politics and working with local Fianna Fáil Party networks within Cork city.

I pay tribute to Gene Fitzgerald and say to his family that even outside Fianna Fáil he was hugely respected. The Fitzgerald family is respected within Cork for their contribution and the sacrifices they have made, as a family, for political life. Those sacrifices that a family makes are often not recognised. I wish the Fitzgerald family well and offer my sincere condolences on the passing of Gene Fitzgerald.

  Deputy Ciarán Lynch: I wish to be associated with the comments made by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the leader of Fine Gael and my own party spokesperson. I have an image in my head of the first election I recall in Ireland, which was the 1977 general election. At that time, election posters did not show photographs of politicians. The Fianna Fáil poster at that time had a series of names. It is a mark of the significance and stature of Gene Fitzgerald in Cork that he did not need a photograph on a poster. Everybody in Cork knew who he was. He was the type of character who overcame political differences. People in my own party, including the former Labour Party TD for Cork South-Central, Toddy O’Sullivan, would speak very fondly of their times in this House with him.

He leaves a legacy that, as a new TD, I can only admire, and his successes fill one with humility. As the Minister, Deputy Martin, mentioned, his successes in elections were immense and would be envied by anybody no matter what his or her party. As a personality, he straddled the broad expanse of politics. Like the Taoiseach, his personality was greater than his political leaning, and his popularity was similar to that of the Taoiseach. On behalf of the Labour Party, I offer condolences to the Fitzgerald family. I acknowledge the contribution of Gene Fitzgerald to the House and to the European Parliament, and acknowledge the loss to both his family and to the people of Cork South-Central caused by his departure.

  Deputy Deirdre Clune: I wish to be associated with the tributes to former Deputy and former MEP Gene Fitzgerald, who was a great Cork man. It is lovely to see Noreen and the Fitzgerald family here today. Gene Fitzgerald had left politics before I entered it as a public representative, but I have long been aware of him in my home and in my political life. He made a wonderful contribution both here in the Chamber and in the European Parliament. He always represented Cork and had a great interest in it. Whenever I met him he was very positive and interested. As the Minister mentioned, he always had a word of encouragement and support for those on the other side of the Chamber. I have memories of my parents being involved with both Gene and Noreen Fitzgerald. First names were used in our house, rather than formal titles such as Gene Fitzgerald TD or MEP. They were involved socially and had a lot of contact on many political occasions also. Gene and Noreen were a wonderful team and a great partnership. They both made a great contribution to politics in Cork. He is sadly missed by his family and by the wider public. It was wonderful, at his removal and his funeral, to see such a huge crowd turning out to pay tribute. People came from far and wide across the country, including former public representatives and others who had come across Gene in political, sporting and social circles. That brought much comfort to his family. We remember him well [554] and he will always be remembered by his family. As Deputy Coveney said, this is a sad day but also an important one when we mark his contribution to Irish public life.

  Deputy Christy O’Sullivan: I would like to be associated with the tributes paid here to Gene Fitzgerald. I happened to be at his final rally in Macroom in 1972 and my abiding memory of him was the way in which he went about his business and made contact with people. He was a fantastic canvasser and always made that vital contact, which stood him in good stead throughout his political life. People always came first for Gene Fitzgerald. I thank him for the friendliness he showed to my family over the years. He was a great friend to my late brother, Dave O’Sullivan. I extend my sympathy to Noreen Fitzgerald and her family. We will miss Gene Fitzgerald but his family will miss him most of all. I thank him for all the efforts he devoted to politics.

  Deputy Kathleen Lynch: We should take time to remember Gene Fitzgerald. As Deputy Burton said, at any general election — God knows, we have had fewer of them in recent years than when Gene was in his prime — only 166 Members are returned to this House. They may not all be the cream of the crop, but in general they are. They are enthusiastic people who are determined about the political process. I am staggered and amazed that Gene Fitzgerald was a Member of the House for only 15 years because it seemed longer. I have known about Gene Fitzgerald’s involvement in politics for as long as I can remember. It seems as if he was here forever because he was so enthusiastic and energetic and contributed so much. Some people may have been in the House for 20, 25 or even 30 years but they will not make the same impression as Gene Fitzgerald did. In his case it was about more than being a politician.

I was involved in elections with him on the south side of Cork and indeed on the north side when counts were held in the parochial hall. I am sure Noreen and his family will remember that awful, drafty hall. If one did not die during the election campaign there was a good chance it would happen on the day of the count. He always had enthusiasm, drive and a love of politics. Gene’s style of canvassing was quite unique. He went at it as if he were going into battle and he approached everyone as if they were to be captured. We can all learn from that type of enthusiasm, which has gone from politics, although not in certain parts of the north side of Cork city. Gene Fitzgerald and Willie O’Brien were legends. Willie was as legendary as Gene was in many ways because they both had that enthusiasm for politics.

I echo what the Taoiseach said, that when one was in an election with Gene one knew one was in a battle. Once the election was over and the count began, however, Gene would say “How are you going to do?”, “How’s it been?”, “You put up a great show”, or “The posters were great”. He always had that friendly word, which meant letting go once the election was over, and we may not see a lot of that in future. It is important to remember it.

My memories of Gene Fitzgerald are very defined. One could see him coming and sometimes one could hear him beforehand. He had a robust personality that was unique. If he had to describe himself, he would probably say “Ah, sure why wouldn’t we, wasn’t I from Cork?” To a great extent that was part and parcel of his personality and part of what he felt he had to contribute. He will be missed, particularly by his family. I often remind myself that, at the end of the day, one could probably count on two hands the people who will genuinely miss one. All of us here should remember that everyday. Gene will be missed most by his children and grandchildren and particularly his wife. He made a worthwhile contribution and above all else he took great joy in doing so. We should not forget that. May he rest in peace.

  Deputy Michael Ahern: As many of us who knew him were aware, Gene Fitzgerald was not a quiet, retiring man. He had forceful views and was not afraid to express them. At the same [555] time, he was respected and liked by everybody with whom he dealt. He attained high office, both here and in Europe. One of the reasons he obtained such great election results was that he always remained a man of the people and never lost the run of himself. He always had the common touch and was able to deal equally with kings and beggars. He was a great Fianna Fáil man and kept the party as a central part of his life up to the day he died. He was also a great GAA man. Over the years, I attended many matches with him and things could get exciting, especially if we were not supporting the same team.

He always gave credit where credit was due. From the time I was first elected to this House in 1982, I found Gene Fitzgerald to be a great mentor for young politicians. He kept advising us up to the very last. He will be missed by the Fianna Fáil Party and everybody who was in touch with him through his work. Most of all he will be missed by Noreen, his daughters and his son. I will miss him personally as a friend. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Members rose.