Tuesday, 19 April 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Kenny: The Fine Gael family is deeply saddened by the death of Michael J O’Higgins. On behalf of Fine Gael I welcome Michael’s widow, Brigid Hogan, who was herself an esteemed member of this House, their children and extended family who join us in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery. Though they miss Michael, they can be proud of his extraordinary commitment to the Oireachtas, to politics and to his country. They know, better than we do, that in many ways politics was Michael O’Higgins’s life, because politics was in his blood.
The O’Higgins family were “comfortable” people who could have opted for a quiet, privileged life in the professions. Instead, they chose public service, at a time when serving your country could have meant death, and in their case it did mean death. Michael was only ten years old when his uncle Kevin O’Higgins, then Minister for Justice, was assassinated, an historic and tragic event, which made the political resolve of the O’Higgins family stronger and more potent with the advent of Michael’s father, Dr. Tom O’Higgins to the Dáil two years later in 1929. Twenty years later, the O’Higgins’s made history of a happier kind when Michael, his father, Tom, and brother, Tom, were elected to the Dáil on the same day, a proud record that still stands.
Michael O’Higgins was passionate about politics, passionate about Fine Gael and passionate about public service and the duty he believed was his, not alone as an elected representative but also as an O’Higgins. Politics, public service and Christianity were innate to Michael O’Higgins. Anyone who worked with him was aware of his overwhelming belief that he could, and would, make a difference to his country. They witnessed his public affirmation of private, deeply held beliefs and, even if they did not agree with him or his beliefs, at least they could be sure he was speaking and acting according to his conscience because Michael O’Higgins was, above all, a deeply religious man, a man of standards and values.
Michael had a distinguished career in the service of the people of Dublin South-West and Wicklow and, indeed, in the service of the people of Ireland when he became a Member of Seanad Éireann. In 1973, for example, the then Senator O’Higgins was integral to drawing up a common programme with Labour, which helped Fine Gael back to power for the first time since 1957. Michael was also director of elections at that time and his success was rewarded with a Taoiseach’s nomination to the Seanad and appointment as Leader of the House, a post he kept until his retirement in 1977.
Michael is known and remembered as a man of vision, courage and conviction but his family, members of which are present, knew him best and miss him most in the roles that really mattered to him: husband and father. As a Deputy and the daughter of the first Minister for Agriculture, Brigid Hogan knew exactly what she was taking on when she married Michael. She shared with him love of her country, passion to serve and the desire to make a difference to people’s lives. Michael and Brigid had nine children to whom they passed on the honour and integrity that will be forever synonymous with the names Hogan and O’Higgins in Irish politics.
Michael lived through turbulent times in Ireland, Europe and the world. Born during the First World War, at the time of the Russian Revolution, he was a member of a political dynasty that gave their lives — even life itself — to our fledgling State and for that we are forever in his debt. I offer my sincere sympathy to Brigid, Irene, Hilary, Maeve, Deirdre, Michael, Mark, Brian and Cahir and their families.
Only a few Members can recall his service in the Oireachtas. I do and I recall his contributions at Fine Gael parliamentary party meetings in the mid-1970s. He was always a person of quiet but deep conviction and his advice was always sincerely given and his views sincerely held. He was a person with a view on the world and on life similar to other members of his family. I found a short poem on the idea of eternity, which I think is powerfully connected with Michael’s view of the world and what he now knows comes after it:
The Taoiseach: On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party and on my own behalf, I extend my deepest sympathy to Deputy Kenny and the Fine Gael Party on the death of Michael O’Higgins. I join Deputy Kenny in welcoming Brigid Hogan-O’Higgins to the House. Michael J. O’Higgins was the son, son-in-law, nephew, brother and husband of Dáil Deputies. He came from a family steeped in Fine Gael tradition and the legal profession. The O’Higgins family can trace its public service not just to the foundation of the State but beyond to the Irish Parliamentary Party in the 19th century.
Michael O’Higgins was born in Kildare in 1917. He was educated in St. Mary’s College, Rathmines, Clongowes Wood and the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland. He was a distinguished member in many areas of public life. He served as a Dublin city councillor from 1945 to 1955; a Dáil Deputy for Dublin South-West from 1948 to 1951; a Senator on the Administrative Panel from 1951 to 1954; a Deputy for Dublin South-West from 1954 to 1961; a Deputy for Wicklow from 1961 to 1969; leader of the Fine Gael Party in the Seanad from 1969 to 1973; and Leader of the Seanad from 1973 to 1977. This was an extraordinary record of service in many ways.
He had the unique distinction in the general election of 1948 of being elected to the same Dáil as his father, Dr. Tom O’Higgins, in Laoighis-Offaly and his brother, Tom, in the Cork Borough, a parliamentary family event that has never been repeated and is unlikely to be in the modern age. Leinster House may not generally be considered a romantic venue most of the time but it was the backdrop for his relationship and marriage to Brigid Hogan-O’Higgins, who was a Fine Gael Deputy. Her father, Mr. Paddy Hogan, was the first Minister for Agriculture in the Free State. It is an extraordinary family for the significant public service it has given to the country.
Unlike his father, father-in-law, uncle and brother, Michael O’Higgins never held ministerial office but he was an influential politician on local authorities and in the Fine Gael Party. He was close to Liam Cosgrave and he was an important player in his successful pursuit of the Fine Gael leadership in 1965. He was director of elections in Fine Gael’s successful campaign, as Deputy Kenny stated, and he was involved in the always difficult job of negotiating the programme for Government. He served as Leader of the Seanad during the life of that Government.
He was a devout Catholic all his life and forthright in his opinions on issues such as contraception and divorce. I join Deputy Kenny, all Members and all members of the Fianna Fáil Party in extending our sympathy to his wife, former Deputy, Brigid Hogan-O’Higgins, who is here, his daughters Irene, Hilary, Maeve and Deirdre and his sons Michael, Mark, Brian and Cahir. He was predeceased by his son, Patrick. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Mr. Rabbitte: On my behalf and on behalf of the Labour Party, I join in the condolences offered by the leader of Fine Gael, Deputy Kenny, and the Taoiseach to Brigid Hogan-O’Higgins and her family. I did not know Michael O’Higgins. I am bound to say that from what I have read I would not have been in agreement with his political position on many issues but I pay tribute to his remarkable record of public service. He was a prominent member of a political dynasty, which can be traced back not just to Kevin O’Higgins, but to the Irish Parliamentary Party in the 19th century through T. D. Sullivan. I do not suppose it will be ever equalled but the extended family over four generations can claim to have had four MPs, six Deputies, four Ministers, two Chief Justices, two High Court judges and one Governor General. That is a remarkable record, which will stand the test of time.
Both Deputy Kenny and the Taoiseach referred to the other remarkable event in 1948 when T. F. O’Higgins was elected in Cork city, Tom O’Higgins in Laoighis-Offaly and Michael O’Higgins in Dublin South-West. I am reliably informed that at the time all three lived in the family home in Ballsbridge and they constituted 10% of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, something remarkable in itself. The record to which we pay tribute is a truly extraordinary one of public service to the State. Michael O’Higgins’s last major involvement, as has been remarked, was when he was one of the negotiators in 1973, along with Brendan Corish, Jimmy Tully, Ross Connolly and Brendan Halligan, who agreed what I believe was called the declaration of intent for a national coalition Government. He went on to be Leader of the Seanad. It is a proud record, and on behalf of the Labour Party I express my sympathy to Brigid Hogan-O’Higgins and the extended family.
Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Parlon): On my own behalf and that of the Progressive Democrats Party, I extend my sympathies to Mrs. O’Higgins and the entire family. I fully appreciate the deep loss that will be felt among the Fine Gael Party at the death of a significant party stalwart. However, I can imagine that the loss of such a tremendous family man will also be felt very deeply. I did not know Mr. O’Higgins, but judging from the tributes he certainly had a very proud record of delivery on behalf of his family, his party and the State. He must have absolutely loved politics. The fact that his brother, his father and he entered the House at the same time, that he had such forebears, and that he chose — I am sure for other very good reasons — to marry a colleague in the House surely showed his passion for politics. He certainly served his country very well and lived up to the very proud traditions of his party and his family. I once again extend my sympathies to his wife, Brigid, the family and the Fine Gael Party.
Mr. Sargent: Thar ceann an Chomhaontais Ghlais — the Green Party — ba mhaith liom mo chomhbhrón a chur in iúl do mhuintir Michael O’Higgins agus go mór mhór dá bhean chéile agus a chlann, atá anseo inniu.
It is humbling to recall such a proud record of service as that of Michael O’Higgins and his family over many generations. It stands out as something we do not often have an opportunity to recall in this House, and it serves also to remind people that what one’s family — as well as individual constituency representatives — gives is a collective act of public service. The case of the O’Higgins family has shown that such service knows no limits — down to life itself. For that, I pay tribute to the memory of Michael J. O’Higgins, to his achievements and to those of his family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: There is no question but that the late Deputy Michael O’Higgins and members of his family made a great contribution in their time to the political life of this State. I have no doubt that members of his family in years gone by would not have predicted that a Sinn Féin Deputy should rise to pay tribute to the memory of one of them, but I do so without hesitation or reservation. I join with colleagues of all opinions today in this joint and unanimous expression of sympathy on the death of the late Deputy Michael J. O’Higgins. I offer on my own behalf and that of my fellow Sinn Féin Deputies our sincere sympathy to his wife, the former Deputy Brigid Hogan-O’Higgins, their family and their grandchildren. I also extend our sympathy to Deputy Kenny and his colleagues in the Fine Gael Party on their loss. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Mr. Timmins: I have a vague memory of the late Michael O’Higgins in my own home, standing in front of a fire. He wore a light beige Crombie and had a smile that was very embracing and friendly to a young person. He served in Wicklow from 1961 to 1969, and I am reliably informed that he was the first politician to hold clinics in the county. I am unsure whether we should thank him for that, but he certainly set the trend in County Wicklow. The people in the county remember him with affection, and I would like to think that the proud record Deputy Rabbitte enunciated will be added to by the O’Higgins family in the not too distant future. On my own behalf and that of the Fine Gael organisation in Wicklow, I extend my sincere sympathies to his wife and family.
Mr. Jacob: I add my words to those of colleagues who have already spoken. Unlike Deputy Timmins, who had a brief acquaintance with the late Deputy Michael O’Higgins, I never knew him, except by reputation. That reputation was and is honourable and exemplary. He deserves the superlative words that have been spoken about him in this House. I offer to Mrs. O’Higgins and his family my sincere sympathies. I also tender those sentiments on behalf of my party organisation in Wicklow and the people of the county, whom I represent — as he did with great efficiency in his time. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Ms McManus: County Wicklow is fortunate to have been represented by Michael O’Higgins. While I did not know him personally, I knew him by way of reputation, and people still refer to him in the north Wicklow area, which was largely his base. I extend my condolences to his wife, Brigid, who was one of the few women Deputies in Dáil Éireann, on behalf of the Labour Party organisation in Wicklow. I also extend my condolences to his family and the Fine Gael Party.
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