Death of a Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 703 No. 4

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Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  On my own behalf and that of the Labour Party, I wish to pay tribute to Mr. Justin Keating, a former Deputy, Senator, Minister and MEP. I welcome to the Distinguished Visitors Gallery his wife Barbara, his son David, daughters Carla and Eilis and their respective families.

Justin Keating was a major public figure who, over a long life stretching from 1930 to January of this year, served the State and society in a wide variety of roles with distinction and devotion. Educated as a veterinary scientist he first became a distinguished academic, lecturing in both Trinity College and University College Dublin, where he was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Science and in later life becoming the first professor of equine science at the University of Limerick.

He began a second career in 1965 when he joined the infant RTÉ, where he devised and fronted the pioneering agricultural education programme “Teilifís Feirme” which, due to his superb communications skills, quickly became one of the most popular programmes on television, even among urban audiences. He in turn became the sort of national figure we now call celebrity. This eclectic background prepared him well for his next and most distinguished career, that of a parliamentarian.

A man of deep political conviction, he was a democratic socialist who in the best traditions of the Labour movement was both Irish and internationalist. In response to an invitation to enter public life from the then leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Brendan Corish, he stood as a candidate for the Labour Party in the 1969 general election and was returned to this House from a Dublin constituency.

His arrival coincided with the outbreak of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland and shortly afterwards with that of the arms crisis here in the Republic of Ireland. During the many ensuing debates in this Chamber on Northern Ireland he immediately made his mark for the clarity of his contributions in dissecting the sectarian nature of the conflict and the force of his arguments in upholding the rule of law, a necessary requirement here at that time.

In 1972 he was personally chosen by Brendan Corish to lead the Labour Party campaign in opposing Ireland’s entry into the then European Economic Community. He brought an intellectual robustness to the referendum debate which would otherwise have been absent and which also served this country well by refining the analysis of our vital national interests, such as agriculture. As a direct result, our negotiating stance on the terms of entry was toughened to the benefit of Irish farmers and workers.

He was returned in the 1973 general election and embarked on his fourth career, this time as a member of the national coalition Government, being appointed as Minister for Industry and Commerce and serving in that post for four years. Nine months after his appointment the world economy was plunged into depression by the first oil shock and its disastrous social and economic effects set the political agenda for his remaining period in office. He devised and [708]implemented policies to counter unprecedented inflation and to stem the flow of massive job losses arising from the collapse of international trade. In that regard, he worked tirelessly with the IDA to attract new industry to Ireland and, despite the world depression, succeeded in securing significant quantities of inward investment.

His greatest legacy, however, is undoubtedly the policy he developed on the exploitation of our oil and mineral resources whereby he succeeded in protecting the national interest while encouraging private sector engagement. The policy framework agreed by this House on his recommendation serves as a template for the development of our national resources to this day. His career as a Deputy ended in 1977 when he was not re-elected but he continued his parliamentary career by winning a seat in the Seanad, which he held until 1981 and by then returning to the European Parliament where, a decade earlier, he had been one of our first MEPs, a role for which he was particularly well equipped.

His career as a parliamentarian ended in 1984 and he devoted the remainder of his life to a rich mix of careers which covered teaching, writing, science, the arts, crafts, agriculture, broadcasting, horse breeding, European affairs and environmental politics. As a scientist he was one of the first to recognise the environmental threats posed by unbridled industrialisation and he again served society well via his trenchant warnings of the consequences of climate change.

He had contracted a debilitating disease in mid life, which he fought with quiet courage and despite its physical effects, he remained active in public life up to his death, just one week short of his 80th birthday. Surrounded by his wife, children, grandchildren, extended family and comrades, he was laid to rest in the snow to the strains of the “Internationale”. Justin was a man of great conviction who remained loyal to his values and beliefs right up to the end, as his humanist funeral demonstrated.

Justin Keating put his formidable intellect, erudition as a political philosopher, deep learning as a scientist and his unmatched skills as a communicator at the disposal of his country throughout a long life of unselfish devotion to the public good. This House was fortunate that at a time of unparalleled crises, both nationally and internationally, economically and politically, it had such a renaissance man to serve the Irish public as a national parliamentarian, a Cabinet Minister and international statesman. It is fitting that we pay tribute to him today and acknowledge with gratitude the singular and unique contribution he made to this State, the body politic and to our society. On my behalf and that of the Labour Party, I extend to Barbara, David, Carla, Eilis and their families our sincerest sympathy on the death of Justin Keating.

The Taoiseach: Information on Brian Cowen  Zoom on Brian Cowen  I was saddened to learn of the death of Mr. Justin Keating on New Year’s Eve. I welcome his family to the Dáil and I am pleased to have this opportunity to say a few words about a person who made a strong and meaningful contribution to the development of our country in a variety of roles.

Justin Keating passed away just a week short of his 80th birthday. His life was full of activity and achievement in a wide variety of disciplines. An obituary written about Mr. Keating made the point that he was a man who never really retired and he was certainly enthusiastic and active for the causes he espoused right up to his death.

As a young man Justin Keating studied in University College Dublin and the University of London. He became a respected academic and a gifted teacher, and in the 1950s he lectured in the UCD veterinary college. In 1960 he was appointed as a senior lecturer in Trinity College. I note from Deputy Ruairí Quinn’s memoir that Mr. Keating was a voice for progressive reform in our universities in the late 1960s and inspired many people in student politics.

[709]Justin Keating had a lifelong love of learning and the values and benefit of education were to be a consistent theme throughout his public and political careers. Much later, in the 1980s, he would serve with distinction as chairman of the National Council for Educational Awards, and he was a committed educationalist. He had a great love of learning and this especially focused on his significant interest in our natural heritage and environment.

His knowledge in this regard and his articulate nature served him well in his career as a distinguished broadcaster. Justin served as RTE’s head of agricultural programmes from 1965 to 1967. This was a time when the country was experiencing significant advances in industrial policy and international investment but Ireland was still a predominantly agrarian society. He was an award-winning broadcaster who kept people informed and was at the cutting edge of debate in a changing Ireland. His passion for our natural environment infused his programmes and his whole philosophy on life.

In preparing for these tributes I had the pleasure of reading Deputy Michael D. Higgins’s typically eloquent and passionate remarks at Mr. Keating’s funeral. Deputy Higgins captured this aspect of Mr. Keating’s life and this facet of his personality best when he stated:

As a prominent broadcaster and someone with strong and sincerely held convictions about how our country could progress, Mr. Keating was never going to be one to solely offer advice from the sidelines. He took the decision to enter politics and was one of a number of prominent academics who joined the Labour Party at that time. He was elected to Dáil Éireann for the first time in 1969 and served two terms in this House. He served a subsequent term in Seanad Éireann and an earlier stint in the European Parliament. He was a politician with strong ideas and definite views and he was also a man of great courtesy and integrity.

Writing about Mr. Keating in the days following his death, Senator Eoghan Harris said that he was serious about politics but “could have a royal row with you while observing the decencies of public discourse.” For Justin Keating, politics was never personal and he immersed himself in the cut and thrust of politics. He debated issues to great effect and with a particular gift for oration.

It is important and only fair to say he also had an abiding respect for the views of others. He was a prominent member of Liam Cosgrave’s Government and Justin Keating did his duty as a Minister at a difficult time for Ireland. He served as Minister for Industry and Commerce at a time when Ireland contended with problems provoked by the oil crisis. He was a reformer and not one to be deterred by the slings and arrows of political life. He was a strong advocate at the Cabinet table for protecting and developing our natural and national resources. He also made a significant contribution to Ireland’s industrial development and expansion.

Former Taoiseach John Bruton, who served as his parliamentary secretary in that Government, said that Justin Keating’s work as Minister for Industry and Commerce laid the foundation in difficult times for Ireland’s subsequent modernisation through overseas investment. It must be said that Justin Keating did play his part. He rolled up his sleeves during tough times for our country and got on with his job. Despite the economic difficulties of the day, he persevered with the policies of pursuing foreign investment and free trade, which in time reaped a significant benefit to our national life. As Minister, he led numerous trade delegations and put this vital work for the country above his own political interests. In the month before the [710]1977 general election, he undertook a 19 day world tour promoting Irish businesses, which entailed 30,000 miles of travel. He came home and went straight into the demands of a difficult and competitive election campaign.

Beyond politics, Justin’s life was no less productive and active. He was prominent in the National Union of Journalists and wrote a column in the Sunday Independent. He returned to broadcasting and remained in tune with academic and scientific developments. He farmed in his beloved Kildare and he remained immersed in culture and the arts. He was never far from the public sphere and he chaired the Crafts Council of Ireland and in later years, the Irish Humanist Association.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my condolences to our colleagues in the Labour Party, and especially to those who knew Justin best and loved him most; his wife Barbara, his children Carla, Eilis and David, his grandchildren Wendy, Danielle, Jonah, Jonathan and Seán, his great-grandchildren and all of his family. Each of you can take great pride in Justin’s life, which was one of service and achievement, and was fulfilled with great energy. He was an inspiration to many, and he is fondly remembered by people throughout Ireland.

Deputy Enda Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Ba mhaith liom cuidiú leis an rún comhbhrón ar bhás Justin Keating. He was a man of presence, influence, intellectual capacity and understanding. I served with him in this House from 1975 until 1977. I saw him on many days when he walked down those stairs and sat in the seat occupied by the Minister, Deputy Dempsey. In fact, he was in this Chamber for month after month dealing with the issue of Bula and Tara Mines. Question Time lasted for weeks in those days because Ministers dealt with all questions.

Justin Keating had a power, a presence and a communications capacity that few have ever equalled in this Chamber since. Anybody going on deputations to that Minister had better be informed, because they were dealing with a scientist, with somebody who lectured in veterinary anatomy, who knew his brief and who was not prepared to hide behind the counter or the newspaper when defending his beliefs.

I saw him canvassing in the wilds of the west as a member of the national coalition for my own by-election, along with Conor Cruise O’Brien, Brendan Corish and all the other members of the Labour Party. In Belmullet or in Ballinrobe, he held farmers enthralled because they expected that somebody of the academic brilliance of a newly acquired member of the Labour Party would not understand the difficulties with which small farmers in the west had to contend. As somebody who lectured veterinary anatomy, he knew the changing face of nature, or as Deputy Higgins pointed out, the changing colours of the fields and the hedgerows. It was an election in which the party had little chance of making it, as Deputy Higgins admitted, even though it put up a great fight at the time.

Justin Keating’s life and his philosophy was crystallised by Barbara when she said that he used to say, “If you show me better, then I must change”. He was never afraid to change, but he always defended his deep rooted belief in his principles. It was a privilege to have known Justin Keating. I remember going on the odd delegation to the Minister for Industry and Commerce to speak about industrial expansion or whatever, and I remember him behind the desk dealing in an understanding way with people whose case might not be that clear, always pointing out a way forward.

He was the son of Seán Keating, and the Taoiseach and Deputy Gilmore outlined his history. I remember him as a person of big presence and influence, but as a person who understood the ways of human nature and who translated that into politics. It was difficult for a person of academic stature to do that in the way he did. It was a privilege to have known him and despite [711]a difference with many of his political beliefs, it was wonderful to see him in action. He had a particular belief in the payment of royalties to the people for the nation’s natural resources, which should be used for their benefit.

Here was a man who made a difference. Here was a man who stood out and was proud to make that difference. Here was a man who defended what politics was all about. We often listen to commentators today who say it should be all about legislators, and the late Justin Keating made it all about legislators. He paid the price for that, but he made no bones about standing for his duty and responsibility to put legislation through this House. It may have been to the detriment of some of his constituents, but they make their own choice in any event. He was quite fixed on his responsibility as an elected Member and as a Cabinet Minister to ensure that legislation was dealt with fully, comprehensively and thoroughly. If I recall correctly, that Bula Bill was before this House for two years, and he was in here week after week doggedly pursuing his own agenda for the Bill.

For me, “If you show me better, I must change” was the philosophy of Justin Keating. He was a person, a citizen and a politician who made a difference, and I was proud to have known him.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White: Information on Mary Alexandra White  Zoom on Mary Alexandra White  It is a great pleasure to add my voice to these tributes to a very special man, Justin Keating. He was an idealist and an activist for all of his almost 80 years, which took him through a great variety of careers and interests. He was a distinguished Member of this House and the Seanad. He was a veterinarian, an enthusiastic academic and educator, a talented Minister, a courageous campaigner for many causes, a ground-breaking journalist, a farmer, a cook, an artist and much more besides. It is no surprise at all that he never retired, and many people were astonished to learn that he battled serious illness for much of his adult life.

  5 o’clock

On behalf of the Green Party, I salute Justin Keating today as an environmentalist who gloried in the natural world and was always very passionate about the need to respect and protect the environment. He saw no contradiction between industrial development or efficient farming and respect for the world around us. He was keen to keep his footprint on this earth as light as possible, yet he enjoyed life to the full, in good company whenever he could find it. Justin Keating championed what was then called the electronic cottage, and was among the first to support the idea of people being able to live in rural places and work from their own homes. In this and many other areas, he was indeed ahead of his time.

I wish to offer my heartfelt sympathy, and that of all members of the Green Party, to Justin Keating’s family, relatives and friends, both here and across the globe. Ba phribhléid faoi leith dom labhairt anseo inniu i dtaobh Justin Keating. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam cróga dílis.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  On my behalf and on behalf of the Sinn Féin Members of the Dáil and Seanad I extend deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the late Justin Keating. I also extend sympathy to the Labour Party, of which he was a leading member and for which he served as Minister for Industry and Commerce between 1973 and 1977. In that role, he set out terms for oil and gas exploration off our coasts that were far more favourable for the Irish people than the sell-outs which occurred subsequently and the negative consequences of which still reverberate.

During the Oireachtas hearings on the Barron report on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of May 1974, Justin Keating spoke frankly of the role of the then coalition Government and supported the call for a judicial inquiry. It is correct that we should also recall at this time the recent passing of Mr. Justice Henry Barron, the author of that report.

[712]When his book The God Squad was published in 1988, abuse survivor and author Paddy Doyle praised Justin Keating as the only politician who wrote and spoke about child abuse. I never had the privilege to meet Justin Keating, who was a Deputy from a previous era. However, his reputation and legacy have carried on. He was independent minded and challenged preconceived ideas. Justin Keating was widely recognised as a man of keen intellect and sincere commitment to public service. Déanaim comhbhrón dá chlann agus dá chairde go léir.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  On my own behalf and on behalf of all Members of the House, I join in the expressions of sympathy to the Keating family on the death of Justin Keating.

Members rose.

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