Seanad Éireann - Volume 154 - 12 March, 1998

Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy.

Mr. Cassidy: I propose a vote of sympathy on the death of the late Jack McQuillan. Jack was a Member of the Dáil and Seanad and he served both Houses well. He made an enormous contribution to Irish politics and he campaigned vigorously, especially for land and agricultural reform. He was also a well known and widely respected member of the Gaelic Athletic Association and won two all Ireland medals with his native Roscommon in 1943 and 1944. To his wife, Angela, and daughter, Helena, I extend my sympathy and the sympathy of the Fianna Fáil Party.

Mr. Manning: I join in the tribute to the late Jack McQuillan. I met him only once when he helped me with research. We spent a great afternoon together as he reminisced about his time in Irish politics. However, I felt I had known him all my life because he was a legendary figure. He swept into politics on the wave of zeal that brought Clann na Poblachta to prominence in 1948. He made an immediate mark in Leinster House and had great political courage and independence. He was fearless and always a great champion of the underdog.

[874] During most of his political life Jack McQuillan ploughed a lonely furrow. Yet the contribution of Noel Browne and himself in the 1950s was enormous. They could sting, and when they did, they drew blood. Their targets were usually the complacency, humbug or political dishonesty of the time. They provided an extraordinarily effective opposition during that period.

When Jack McQuillan left politics in the late 1960s he was still a young man and his loss to politics was enormous. As a footballer, Army officer and politician he made a difference. He deserves to be remembered with respect and gratitude and I join in the sympathy to his widow and family.

Mr. Norris: The Independent group wishes to be associated with these messages of sympathy and tribute paid to the late Jack McQuillan. I had the honour of knowing him over a number of years. He was colleague of Dr. Noel Browne and a remarkable man. He was a distinguished athlete whose abilities were recognised at national level. He was also a man of extraordinary honour. He was prepared to pay the price for sticking to his principles. He raised thorny and controversial issues, such as Locke's Distillery. No less a person than former Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey, paid tribute to Mr. McQuillan when he said that he and Dr. Noel Browne constituted the real Opposition in the Dáil over a number of years. That is a remarkable tribute to two individual characters. However, they had a sense of identity and purpose and they understood real human issues.

One of my personal reminiscences of Jack McQuillan is characteristic. I was involved in the peace train that ran between Dublin and Belfast. On one occasion on our way back from Belfast, the train stopped at Portadown and we were told that the IRA had planted a bomb on the line and that we had to leave the train and move onto buses that were parked beside the line. We were all like sheep, simply getting off the train. I saw Mr. McQuillan sitting in the carriage and I thought that perhaps he was unwell. I asked him if he was all right and if I could help him. He said he was perfectly all right so I said he should get off the train or he would miss the bus.

He said he was not getting off the train and that he intended to miss the bus. He said he had travelled on a peace train and he was returning to Dublin on it. The IRA would not put him off the train. I told him I thought he was right and asked if I could join him. From that the whole position unravelled. We refused to get off the train and 90 people stayed in Portadown station overnight. It was a remarkable tribute to his insight and courage. Without that, none of us would have stayed on the train. We scored a notable propaganda victory against the IRA on that occasion.

We must listen to people like Jack McQuillan who come from a strong Nationalist and republican background, whose credentials cannot be [875] impugned and who are noted GAA athletes, when they speak about matters such as Articles 2 and 3. He contacted me about this matter constantly and we framed a form of words about the Articles. He felt strongly that they should and must be amended. No better tribute could be paid to the memory of Jack McQuillan than for all politicians to take this argument seriously at this stage in public life. I do not suggest all Members should think the same way as Jack McQuillan or I on this matter. However, the best way to honour his memory is to take it seriously and to examine it with the type of rigorous honesty which he and Dr. Noel Browne applied to issues. I also wish to be associated with the messages of sympathy to his wife and family.

Mr. Costello: On behalf of the Labour Party, I wish to be associated with the tributes to Mr. Jack McQuillan and the messages of sympathy to his family. He was from County Roscommon and therefore a fellow county man of the Cathaoirleach. He is still well remembered in political terms west of the Shannon and also in football circles. He was a member of the great Roscommon team of 1943 and 1944 which won the All-Ireland twice and probably should have won it a third time. He was one of the backbone of the team and he was always lauded as a tremendous athlete and footballer.

It is probably less common in County Roscommon but he was a socialist all his life. He came into the Dáil on that wave of enthusiasm in 1948 after World War II when Clann na Poblachta was established and great things were expected of it. However, these hopes were dashed when the mother and child scheme was introduced in 1951 and, unfortunately, Jack McQuillan and Dr. Noel Browne were forced to plough a lonely furrow afterwards.

I knew Dr. Noel Browne well and he always said he would have been lost without Jack McQuillan in those difficult days in the 1950s and early 1960s in the Dáil. Together they put down motions, tabled amendments and argued cases. Undoubtedly, they were a bright light in what was a difficult and dreary time in politics and economics.

Jack McQuillan was a member of the Labour Party for a period, as was Dr. Noel Browne, and we were proud to have them in the party. Both men were extremely concerned with the less well off. Jack McQuillan's experience was with rural areas, while Noel Browne emphasised the health sector. Both men made a huge contribution to the quality of Irish life, and we should pay tribute to them for the lonely furrow they ploughed and for their honesty, courage and integrity. I wish to be associated with the sympathy expressed to his wife and family.

Mr. Dardis: On behalf of the Progressive Democrats, I join in the vote of sympathy to the wife and daughter of the late Jack McQuillan.

[876] There is little for me to add to the eloquent words of Senators Manning and Norris. When Jack McQuillan was active in politics it must have taken enormous courage to stand out from the throng and proclaim certain values which were minority values at the time. It was a long and difficult struggle to have those values vindicated and Jack McQuillan was one of those who did so. He is to be remembered for that, apart from for his footballing skills. I wish to be associated with the vote of sympathy.

Mr. Finneran: Jack McQuillan came from the same parish as me, Ballyforan in Roscommon, where he was born in the 1920s. He was the son of a teacher and a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary who lived in Ballyforan all their lives. He was first elected as a member of Clann na Poblachta in 1948 before serving with the National Progressive Democrats alongside Dr. Noel Browne. He also stood as an independent and for the Labour Party.

He will be remembered for his singlemindedness and determination in debate in the Oireachtas. I remember listening to “Today in the Dáil” as a child, and Jack McQuillan was invariably in conflict with the Ceann Comhairle. He was suspended from the House on many occasions, but I remember hearing some of his speeches in the House on the radio. He should also be remembered for his approach to legislation. He pioneered the provision in the Local Government Act, 1953, that allowed local authorities to take private roads in charge, surface and blacktop them for the first time. That should not be forgotten. He also had strong views on land reform, forestry and monetary reform, so he was ahead of his time in many ways. In addition, he was a keen GAA man, winning two All Ireland medals with Roscommon in 1943 and 1944. I join with other Members in expressing my sympathy to his wife Angela, who is from Roscommon and his daughter, Helena. Jack McQuillan left an indelible mark on the Irish political landscape.

Mr. Bohan: I would like to pay tribute to Jack McQuillan because he was a close personal friend of mine for over 30 years. In all that time I have never met a person with the integrity and principles he had. He was an amazing man.

I visited him when he was ill and it was shattering to see him change in a short period of time. His principles were demonstrated during the mother and child controversy, when he was proved right. As Senator Costello said, up to a few weeks ago he was discussing politics and his mind was very active. He is a great loss to this country and he contributed right up to the end. I am sure Jack and the late Dr. Noel Browne are already organising a new party in the great beyond and are looking down and taking care of us. I express my deepest sympathy to his wife Angela and daughter Elaine.

[877] An Cathaoirleach: As a fellow Roscommon man, I would like to be associated with the tributes paid to the late Jack McQuillan and I join in the expressions of sympathy to his wife and daughter. I now ask Members to rise in their places.

Members rose in their places.