Seanad Éireann - Volume 154 - 04 February, 1998

Death of Former Oireachtas Members: Expressions of Sympathy.

Mr. Cassidy: It was with regret that we learned of the death of Patsy Lawlor a former Member of the House. Although her time in the House was relatively short, from 1981-82, she displayed great commitment in her role as a representative of the people of County Kildare. She first entered public life in 1974 when she successfully contested local elections. She became the first woman to chair Kildare County Council and Kildare VEC. She was highly respected for her role in the ICA, another great passion of hers. She founded the Kill Guild in 1961 and in true form she went on to become its national president.

It has been said that every generation produces a uniquely gifted and talented person and Patsy was such a person. One could not fail to be touched by her warmth, humanity and drive to achieve her goals. She will be deeply missed by the people of County Kildare. On behalf of the House and Fianna Fáil I extend our condolences to her husband Tony, her daughter Miriam, her sons Kevin, Anthony and Philip and to the Fine Gael Party. Go ndéanadh Dia trócaire ar a anam.

I wish to express sympathy to the Gibbons family on the death of Jim Gibbons, a former distinguished Member of Dáil Éireann and Fianna Fáil. As a member of Kilkenny County Council from 1954-67 he learned at first hand the concerns of his constituents. His time as a member of the county committee on agriculture, which he chaired from 1955-65 and his membership of the National Farmers Association, now the Irish Farmers Association, served as a good apprenticeship for his two terms as Minister for Agriculture. As Minister, Jim Gibbons played a key role in the agricultural side of our EEC membership negotiations and in the commencement of the process of the amalgamation of the State's creameries. During his second period as Minister for Agriculture he [4] successfully solved the problem of access for Irish lamb to the French market.

One could admire the personal courage he showed in facing down political adversity during his career and, more recently, his calm fortitude in coping with his failing health over a long period. On behalf of the House and Fianna Fáil I extend our condolences to his widow Margaret and his four surviving sons, especially our colleague, Senator Gibbons, on their sad loss. Go ndéanadh Dia trócaire ar a anam.

Mr. Cosgrave: On behalf of the Fine Gael Members I wish to extend our sympathy on the death of our former colleague Patsy Lawlor who served here in 1981-2; her election in 1981 followed on a narrow defeat in the general election. She had many qualities which she used to the full on behalf of the people of County Kildare and to the benefit of anyone who required her assistance. Her attractive personality was directed with energy and enthusiasm to the task in hand. Her life was dedicated to the welfare of others, particularly the less well off. She worked tirelessly on their behalf on Kildare County Council, Kildare VEC, Naas UDC and served in many roles as Chair of Kildare County Council. She was also one of the first chairpersons of the General Council of County Councils. Patsy performed with distinction and remarkable variety and possessed an almost inexhaustible talent in speech and, sometimes, in song. She was also President of the ICA from 1976-9. Her knowledge and skill were of immense benefit when appointed to the Arts Council in 1975.

Patsy Lawlor had an extraordinary knowledge of the people and politics of County Kildare and was widely respected throughout the county and country by colleagues of all colours and creeds. This was evidenced by the many people who came from far and wide to her funeral. She was a great follower of sports whether following the fate of the Lily Whites in Gaelic football, attending race meetings or rugby matches. Patsy was particularly honoured when her son, Phil, achieved the highest honour in rugby and was capped several times for Ireland.

Those of us who were privileged to know Patsy Lawlor knew a loyal friend who was steadfast in her views which she expressed fairly and fearlessly when required. To quote the words of Councillor Michael McWey who delivered the oration at her funeral: “There is a void created in the political and social life of the community that will be impossible to fill”. While she is a great loss to her colleagues in Fine Gael and her other friends, the loss is greater for her husband, Tony, and her family, Philip, Anthony, Miriam and Kevin. We send our sympathies to them.

I would also like to be associated with the Leader's remarks on the late Jim Gibbons who served his constituency and the country as a Minister with honour and distinction. We extend [5] our deepest sympathies to his son, Senator Jim Gibbons, his widow and other members of his family.

Mr. Ross: On behalf of the Independent group I would like to be associated with the remarks made by Senators Cassidy and Cosgrave. I was elected on the same day as Patsy Lawlor in 1981. She made an initial and sharp impression on this House in which she served for far too short a time. She was one of the typically unsung heroines of Irish political life who do great service in their communities. Patsy was elected to many local posts but served in this House for a very short time. She might have served in the Dáil for a long time if matters had been different. In 1981 she was defeated by less than 50 votes but she would have made an extremely fine TD had she been elected. My sympathy and that of my colleagues go to her family.

I would also like to be associated with the remarks about the former Minister, Jim Gibbons. Everyone knows that he showed enormous integrity in controversial circumstances throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He was not as successful as others in holding his position in both Houses. However, he takes his integrity to the grave with him and this is something with which his family can identify and be proud of. We have great sympathy for them.

Mr. Costello: I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy and condolences to Senator Jim Gibbons and his family on the death of his father and to the family of Patsy Lawlor on her death. I was not a Member of this House when Patsy served but I knew her quite well as a member of the vocational education committee and the General Council of County Councils. As an aspiring Senator I had reason to visit her and seek her vote. She was an extraordinary businesswoman who was interested in local activities and the arts. She had enormous energy, dedication and vitality and served her country well on a local and national basis.

I did not know Jim Gibbons personally but I knew him well in terms of that extraordinary period in Irish history in which he was embroiled. He served his country loyally and with integrity during the most difficult of times and I pay tribute to him for his work then. It must have been a traumatic experience for him and his family. I extend my sympathy and that of the Labour Party on the deaths of these former Oireachtas Members.

Mr. Dardis: On behalf of the Progressive Democrats and as a colleague of Patsy Lawlor on Kildare County Council I, too, join in the expressions of sympathy. If one thing above all could be said about her it is that she was a tremendous character and those of us who served with her on the county council will remember her for that. She was known throughout County [6] Kildare. She would have been dismissive of eulogies, especially with regard to herself. It is something that should be borne in mind today.

It was my privilege to serve with Patsy Lawlor on the county council. She first came to national prominence as president of the ICA. She served with great distinction and enhanced the standing of that body. Her achievements in local government have been catalogued in terms of her chairmanship of Kildare County Council, the VEC and being the first woman to chair the General Council of County Councils. She could have filled more senior political posts with distinction had the cards fallen for her in that way.

Patsy Lawlor was a colourful person and was larger than life. She had little time for pomposity or sham. She was also fiercely independent in every respect, both personally and in her politics. What one saw was what one got. She had a definite way of putting people in their place with just a word or two. There was no better woman to do so at county council meetings or elsewhere. She was a generous and gregarious person and could hold her own with the best when it came to a song or story at some of the gatherings after council meetings. She will be sorely missed by her colleagues on Kildare County Council and the wider community in County Kildare. It is good to see that her son Tony will fill her place on the council. We extend our sympathy to her husband Tony and her family.

In mourning the late Jim Gibbons and in joining with the expressions of sympathy to his wife Peggy, his son Senator Jim Gibbons, who is with us here today, and his large family we mourn the passing of a patriotic Irishman of the first rank. He was a representative who gave outstanding public service, a dedicated and effective Minister and a person of shining and fearless integrity. He was also a man of considerable learning, wit and artistic talents and he carried the gifts he had lightly and modestly.

I could not improve on the words spoken at the funeral mass for Jim Gibbons in Kilkenny by his colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy. Speaking on behalf of those who served with Jim at a time of great stress he referred to his exemplary life, its successes and disappointments and went on to say how much they admired his judgment, knowledge, loyalty, scrupulous honesty and shining integrity.

Jim Gibbons helped to bring this nation through some very dark days and there could have been disastrous consequences without his presence and the presence of some others. As Minister for Defence he defended the integrity of the Defence Forces and he fulfilled his constitutional duty unflinchingly. The nation is in his debt. He was instrumental in introducing third level education for young military officers, which is worth recording as an achievement.

[7] We also owe him a debt for the terms he secured with Dr. Paddy Hillery for Irish agriculture under the CAP when he was Minister for Agriculture in the 1970-3 period in the lead up to Ireland joining the then Common Market. He consolidated these gains during his second term as Minister for Agriculture. He was also a Member of the European Parliament.

The courage Jim Gibbons showed in politics was also evident in his personal life and in the way he dealt with a protracted illness. Another achievement which should be recorded, and of which he was immensely proud, was the transfer of Kilkenny Castle into public ownership and the protection of the building, the parks and the surrounds of the castle. Other historic buildings in Kilkenny were also preserved and restored under his influence.

It must have been a matter of great personal satisfaction to him to see his son Martin elected to Dáil Éireann in 1987 and to see his son Jim join us in the Seanad last autumn. Of the late Jim Gibbons it can truly be said “ní fheicimid a leithéid arís ann”. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dhílis.

Mr. Lanigan: I join with other speakers in expressing my sympathy to the Gibbons family. As a constituency colleague of the late Jim Gibbons, I remember the fantastic work he did at local and national level. His commitment to Kilkenny, Ireland and Europe was massive. Jim accomplished a great deal in the area of agricultural education. The Dalton College, initiated by Jim Gibbons, is a shining example of what agricultural education should be.

Jim Gibbons achieved great success with the military college and the amalgamation of creameries. He was also involved in setting up Avonmore creamery out of whose small beginnings a tremendous agribusiness has grown. The take-over of Kilkenny Castle was hugely successful and stands as a monument to the foresight of Jim Gibbons. It would be fitting for that to be remembered in a lasting way by the Office of Public Works at some stage. Jim Gibbons's interest in Rothe House in Kilkenny is a shining example of how a Minister was able to put his finger on the pulse of what was required to preserve and renovate our older buildings.

Away from politics, Jim Gibbons was an very well read man. He often sang in the company of his friends and was an extremely vivacious person. As far as Kilkenny is concerned, he will be sorely missed.

The Gibbons family has played an important part in the politics of Kilkenny and Ireland. A picture was presented recently to Jim's uncle, the late Séamus Mac Gibbiún. Jim son's Martin served on Kilkenny County Council and in the Dáil and his son, Jim, is a Senator in this House. Both in terms of political life and personal commitment, the Gibbons family has given a [8] huge amount of energy to Ireland. Jim Gibbons will be remembered at international, national and county level and I join in the votes of sympathy which have been extended to his family on his death.

An Cathaoirleach: As I was a Member of the Oireachtas with both the late Patsy Lawlor and the late Jim Gibbons, I would like to join in the expressions of sympathy which have been offered. I now ask Members to rise for a moment's silent prayer.

Members rose in their places.