Death of Mr. Seán F. Lemass: Expression of Sympathy.

Tuesday, 11 May 1971

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 253 No. 10

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The Taoiseach: Information on John Lynch  Zoom on John Lynch  Members of the House learned, this morning, with deep regret of the death of Mr. Seán F. Lemass—solas na bhflathas dá anam.

Born in County Dublin in 1899, his life from an early age was closely interwoven with that of our nation and [1500] formed a vital strand of the political and economic history of this country since the Easter Rising, in which he participated as a boy of sixteen. Early in the year following, on the reorganisation of the Volunteers, he became a Lieutenant in C. Company of the Dublin Brigade and from then onwards he played a prominent part throughout the War of Independence, displaying—in the face of imprisonment and other privations—the determination and resilience which always characterised him.

He was elected to Dáil Éireann for the first time in November, 1924, and, from then on, was successful at each succeeding general election up to his retirement in 1969. Between 1932 and 1966 he was Minister for Industry and Commerce for over 19 years and Minister for Supplies for six years. He became Tánaiste in June, 1945. He was appointed Taoiseach in June, 1959, and retained that office until he relinquished it in November, 1966. As a former Taoiseach he was, up to the date of his death, a member of the Council of State.

Mr. Lemass received high honours from the Holy See, the Federal Republic of Germany and the Principality of Monaco, and both our universities, Iona College, New York and the University of Villanova in Philadelphia conferred honorary degrees upon him.

Although Seán Lemass has passed to his reward, the manifold results of his endeavours for the nation will constitute an enduring monument to his name. He and his comrades could not have realised that the generosity of their youthful response to the call to serve Ireland would determine the direction of their life's work. He himself later coined the phrase “politicians by accident” to describe himself and his colleagues in the Government, and it is a particularly apt description of a man who was called to onerous responsibilities by fortuitous circumstances yet gave the best that was in him in steadfast pursuit of the same objectives that had first attracted him into public life. Long before he assumed public office, he realised that [1501] the inherited problems of economic decay and social distress would not solve themselves and that all that freedom really conferred was the opportunity of striving towards the nation's political, economic and social welfare. Patrick Pearse said that “every generation has its task”, and Seán Lemass's task was to consolidate the economic foundations which support our political institutions, recognising that unless this were accomplished, the nation's future would always be in danger.

Among the many successful achievements especially associated with his name were the provision of greater social security and improved working conditions—in recognition of which he was elected President of the International Labour Conference in 1937— the immeasurable strengthening of Ireland's industrial arm, the reorganisation and rationalisation of transport services, the establishment of an Irish mercantile marine and an Irish dockyard, the foundation of the Irish aviation services, the vast expansion in the use of electric power, the development of the nation's peat resources, the expansion of the tourist industry, the maintenance of essential supplies of food, fuel and raw materials during the Emergency years from 1939 onwards and—especially during his period as Taoiseach—the development of co-operation with Northern Ireland.

Even in retirement from active public life, Mr. Lemass continued to give unstintingly of his counsel, especially in the sphere of economic and social development in which he had such an abiding interest.

I would ask you, a Cheann Comhairle, to convey to his widow, to his son, Deputy Noel Lemass, and to the other members of his family the very sincere sympathy of the Members of this House.

Déanaimid comhbhrón ó chroí leo ina mbris. Go dtuga Dia gach sólás dóibh agus go dtuga Sé ionad imeasc na bhfíreán d'anam uasal an té atá imithe uainn.

Mr. Cosgrave: Information on Liam Cosgrave  Zoom on Liam Cosgrave  On behalf of my [1502] colleagues, and on my own behalf, I should like to express deep sympathy with Mrs. Lemass, Deputy Noel Lemass, TD, Parliamentary Secretary, and with the daughters of the late Mr. Seán Lemass.

Although we were on different sides politically I enjoyed the most close and cordial relations with Mr. Lemass and during the years I had a great deal of contact with him in Government as well as in Opposition. From an early stage I learned to respect his practical approach to political affairs.

In a very active political career he recognised earlier than any of his party colleagues the status and importance of Dáil Éireann. This realism made him appreciate and further the cross-Border contacts on questions of mutual concern which had been initiated by a previous inter-Party Government. The same capacity enabled him to recognise the time for change and alteration when he advocated the establishment of a committee to consider amendments to the Constitution.

He was a most vigorous and able debater, skilled in the rules and practices of the Dáil. It could be said that he relished political conflict. One of his very attractive qualities was his lack of any kind of pretentiousness. Although he was a man of considerable ability, perhaps it was his misfortune that he came to office as Taoiseach late in his political career and thereby was prevented from realising his full potential as Head of Government.

Those of us who knew him here appreciated his devotion to the practices and procedures of the Dáil and the interest and attention he gave to discussions on legislation or Estimates. We recognised the immense contribution he made to the economic and social improvement and we all feel a sense of loss at his passing. Requiescat in pace.

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  Ba mhaith liomsa ar son Dream an Lucht Oibre agus ar mo shon féin ár gcomhbhrón a dhéanamh le bean agus le clann Sheáin Lemass. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

On behalf of my party, and on my own behalf, I should like to extend our [1503] deepest sympathy to Mrs. Lemass, to her family, and in particular to her son, Deputy Noel Lemass, a Member of this House.

Although we may have been opposed politically, I think all of us recognised and respected the undoubted qualities of Seán Lemass not only as a politician but as a man. The man we saw and liked very much was the man outside the arena of politics; he had a sense of humour, he was genial and, above all, in politics he was tolerant towards his opponents.

He was an historic figure and must claim a major place in the history of this country. For the greater portion of his life he devoted himself to his country and to his party apart from his participation in the national struggle when he was so very young. He served his country in various capacities. He served his country as a Deputy here in this House. As a Deputy he was vigilant, he was in constant attendance and took his duties as a member of the Opposition seriously in that vigilance and in that constant attendance in this House.

As Minister for Industry and Commerce I suppose he will be better known than anything else because one cannot take from him the tremendous efforts he made in order to establish Irish industry here, particularly in the 1930s, and for years on after that. We, particularly, in the Labour Party, applaud the efforts, many of them successful, his initiative, in the establishment of many of the State bodies which now flourish. It is true as well, and I think I said this when the late Seán Lemass was in this House, when he was appointed Taoiseach, that it was a pity he had not this appointment ten or 15 years before because I have no hesitation in saying, even though we were opposed and opposed bitterly on various questions, if he had been Taoiseach at an earlier age it might have been a somewhat different Ireland, it might have been a somewhat different Parliament. We also remember and pay tribute to him for the first gesture that was made in his endeavour to start to bring about normal relations between [1504] the people in the north and the people in the south of this country.

Some of us here were his Parliamentary colleagues for quite a long time. We were his colleagues for very many years and for him we can say that he demonstrated without bitterness and personal abuse. He liked the cut and thrust of politics but I do not think anybody could ever accuse him of either being bitter or engaging in personal abuse. For him we can say he demonstrated his ability in debate and in his practical approach to questions, problems, social and economic. We who knew him can say, although we differed from him and strongly at times, he commanded our respect for his qualities as a Deputy, as a Minister and as Taoiseach. Go ndéanaidh Dia trochaire ar a anam.

Members rose in their places.

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