Expressions of Sympathy.

Tuesday, 16 November 1999

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 161 No. 1

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An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly  Zoom on Brian Mullooly  Before I announce the matters on the Adjournment I feel it would be the wish of all Members that we should note with sadness the death yesterday of Mary Cummins of The Irish Times and extend our deepest sympathy to her daughter Daisy and the other members of her family. Apart from being an outstanding journalist, Mary Cummins had a special association with and affection for Seanad Éireann. She recognised and acknowledged the quality and relevance of the debates in the Chamber and this came through very clearly in her extensive coverage of Seanad business in her reports in The Irish Times. I call the leaders to join with me in paying tribute to her. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  As Leader of the House and of the Fianna Fáil group I wish to express my sympathy to her daughter, Daisy, and family of the late Mary Cummins who proudly covered Seanad proceedings for many years. I knew Mary personally and will always remember her for her love of life and her tremendous sense of humour. [2] Although she was a qualified nurse and midwife, I understand Mary always wanted to write and pursued freelance journalism until she began working with The Irish Times in 1970. She was an extremely gifted writer and journalist and her writings will be greatly missed.

In 1991 she was appointed women's affairs correspondent, a role she combined with her coverage of the Seanad. Although Mary suffered a long illness, her death was a great shock. On behalf of the House and the Fianna Fáil group, I extend my sympathy to her daughter, Daisy, who lost both her mother and her grandmother within a few days, and to the other members of her family.

Mr. Manning: Information on Maurice Manning  Zoom on Maurice Manning  I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to say a few words about the late Mary Cummins. Like everybody else, I was shocked and saddened yesterday to hear the news of Mary's death. We all knew she had not been well and was fighting a brave fight against cancer. I suppose we knew that fight could only end one way, but the news yesterday still came as a great shock.

[3] Mary Cummins was first and foremost a fine journalist. She was accurate and fair and greatly respected the truth. She could be sharp, critical and angry in what she wrote, but she would never knowingly run anyone down. She would never slant or distort her material or allow bias to creep into what she wrote. She was a fine writer with a clear style and a sharp eye for detail. As the Cathaoirleach said, her Seanad reports were a model of their kind. She was a great friend of this House. She liked it here and liked most of us. She respected and understood what took place in the House and this showed in what she wrote.

As a feminist at a time when that cause was not always popular, Mary Cummins was straight, direct and forceful in what she wrote. She pioneered a number of areas, drawing attention to issues which up to then had been neglected. However, she was a feminist who liked the company of men. She never saw feminism as a battle between the sexes but rather as a crusade to put things right which should have been put right. She was never exclusive or intolerant in her feminism and her social concern went far wider than feminism. Long before the term “social exclusion” became fashionable, Mary knew what it meant and was fighting against it.

Most of all, as the Cathaoirleach said, Mary Cummins was a delightful person. She was warm and friendly. She had a marvellous sense of humour and, especially in those last few difficult years, she showed courage, fortitude and character. She was greatly loved by all who knew her. She died far too young and will be greatly missed. On behalf of Fine Gael, I extend my sympathy to her daughter.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  How pleased Mary would be to hear these tributes to her. She had a fantastic interest in the House. When I telephoned her last week in St. James's Hospital she said she watched “Oireachtas Report” the previous night and saw so-and-so. Right until the end of her illness she maintained a great interest in what was happening in the House. Having been a friend of hers for nearly 30 years, it was a great shock that she died so suddenly.

She had a sparkling personality and I think this is what made everybody with whom she had contact recognise that she had a real interest in her work. That interest made all the reports she wrote of the House and her “Among Women” columns so alive. It was wonderful that The Irish Times decided to publish her columns in book form just at the start of her illness. I well remember the launch because Mary had begun chemotherapy. She arrived in a most splendid silk turban and was quite determined that this was her occasion and she was going to be the centre of it, even though she had undergone severe treatment in St. James's Hospital within the previous few days.

Her daughter Daisy has been mentioned. Mary was inordinately proud of Daisy, who made a [4] tremendous career in the film industry, and took a lively interest in the various projects Daisy was involved in and all her trips abroad. Daisy has lost a most inspiring and loving mother. I join with the other Members of the House in expressing my sympathy to her and to the other members of her family.

Senator Cassidy mentioned Mary's time as a nurse and midwife. This work was enormously important in enabling her to report on many issues. As Senator Manning has said, this was important to women in the early 1970s when some issues regarding women were not popular to discuss. Her sister Sheila was also a nurse and a tremendous support to her in the last months of her life. It was extraordinarily sad that her mother predeceased her by such a short length of time. She too was a wonderful woman. All I can remember of the two sisters is having lunch with them. They were the sergeant's daughters in Ballybunion and they recalled that Professor Brendan Kennelly, Senator Norris's friend in Trinity, had said how vital it was always to have a dance with the sergeant's daughter in Ballybunion and what a pleasure it was that it was such a person as Mary.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  On behalf of the Labour Party I would like to be identified with the tributes and expressions of sympathy on the death of Mary Cummins. I extend my sympathy and condolences to her daugher Daisy and to her family. Mary was a fine journalist for The Irish Times. She was also the first to give sustained coverage of the proceedings of this House to the public at large and we have to be grateful for that. The proceedings were always covered with dignity and the importance was underlined at all times. She would have seen herself, first and foremost, as a woman of her time, a progressive feminist and she was passionate in championing the causes of justice and equality. Owing to her early days as a nurse and midwife she would have been proud of the recent stand taken by the nurses in relation to their careers.

To me above all she was a lovely person. She was a great woman to go to the canteen and have a chat and a cup of tea or coffee with. On behalf of the Labour Party I wish to extend my sympathies to her daughter and family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  I would like to be associated with the Chathaoirleach and the other Members in paying tribute to Mary Cummins. She was an unusual person and someone of very high quality. She was part of the Seanad community and was heavily involved in the reporting of the proceedings. She did that job with unusual accuracy and clarity. It was characteristic of her journalism that accuracy was something she valued greatly and she made great efforts to ensure her reporting was correct. Mary was a reporter in the best sense of the word. There are probably a lot fewer reporters and more people [5] making comments nowadays. Perhaps there is a message in that. She was passionate about women's rights and she could be angry about things she saw as being unjust. That was also an admirable characteristic.

As Senator Henry said, it is poignant Mary should have buried her mother a few days before her own death. We extend our sympathy to her daughter Daisy and her wider family. We also remember with affection the time she spent in our midst.

Members rose.

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