Wednesday, 11 October 2000
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Cassidy: As Leader of the House and on behalf of Fianna Fáil, on the sad occasion of the death of John Boland I wish to extend my sympathy to Kate, John and Grace Boland and their family and friends, to John's brother, Cathal, and to the Fine Gael Party. I knew John very well. What I most remember about him was his passionate commitment to public service to which he dedicated 22 years of his life.
John was first elected to Seanad Éireann in 1979 where he served for eight years. He was the youngest ever Member of the Upper House as he was only 24 years of age when elected. John went on to serve in the Dáil for 12 years where he was best known for his enthusiasm and dedication to areas such as public service reform and for the abolition of corporal punishment in schools, for which generations of young people have reason to thank him. John became chairman of Dublin County Council at the age of 26 where he performed his duties with great distinction. He is still spoken of with great admiration in council  circles because of his initiative which set up the first parks department in any council.
John Boland enjoyed life to the full, whether sailing, having a pint or enjoying a day at the races. He was a gifted person with a sharp mind, which could cut through the difficulties that faced him. The rejuvenation of the Dublin quays and the introduction of urban renewal schemes resulted from John's tremendous foresight, his belief in what could be done and a commitment to ensure that urban renewal could take place. May he rest in peace.
I also express my sympathy on the untimely death of Deputy Theresa Ahearn, a young mother struck down in the prime of life. We all witnessed the enormous courage with which Theresa battled a very serious illness. That courage was, perhaps, the greatest inspiration to anyone whose privilege it was to meet her during her trying and difficult years. I offer my deepest sympathy to Theresa's husband, Liam, her four sons, Patrick, Liam, Garret and Scott, her colleagues and the Fine Gael Party which she served so well.
I also express the great sadness felt in the midlands on the death of the legendary former  Member of this House, Deputy Joe Sheridan. Joe was a distinguished and respected representative for the constituency of Longford-Westmeath and for the entire midlands. He hailed from Drumlish in County Longford, moved to Kilbeggan and then to Mullingar. He was well known in the agriculture industry in which he was a legend.
Joe entered public life and was successful as a member of Westmeath County Council. He became a Senator in 1958 and entered Dáil Éireann as an Independent in 1961 where he served for 20 uninterrupted years. Throughout his time in politics, Joe worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Longford-Westmeath, Roscommon, Offaly and the neighbouring counties. He was one of the most powerful public figures of the time and was seen by many as an authority on many issues, particularly those concerning rural life and rural families.
Joe earned a great reputation as an honest, loyal and hard working man. Everyone knew him on the basis of “vote for Joe, the man you know, the man who knows you too”. He was a man apart who made a great contribution to the people of his constituency and will be remembered in the midlands for many years. I offer sympathy to his five sons, four daughters and extended family.
Mr. Manning: I join the Leader's tributes. I first knew John Boland when we were students in UCD where he was editor of the student newspaper Awake. He was a very good editor and had flair, imagination and a very good nose for a story. He did not take hostages. Had he stayed in journalism I am certain he would have ended up as editor of one of our national newspapers. However, at a very early age John chose politics and became a Senator in 1969 at the age of 24. He remained in politics for the next 20 years and was still in his 40s when he left to take up a new and successful career at the Bar.
John Boland made a very real difference in politics. He was courageous and far-sighted. He believed in politics and that politics was about changing things for the better. In his years as Minister for the Public Service, Minister for the Environment and Minister for Education he made many changes, introduced many innovations and left things very much better then he found them. He was not afraid to take on vested interests no matter how powerful or how painful the consequences.
John Boland was a great servant of Fine Gael. He was a superb strategist and a great organiser. He had a great sense of loyalty and pride in the traditions of his party. He could be great company or, at times, he could be explosive company. He called things as he saw them and, as someone who was occasionally on the receiving end of his candour, it could be bruising.  However, there was never a grudge, normal service was always restored and his wicked sense of humour would soon be in evidence.
John Boland died just has he was making a real impact in his new career at the Bar. He died young but, young as he was, he had made a real and lasting difference. To Kay, Grace and John Paul, I extend the sympathy of my party and all Members of this House.
It is over 20 years since the late Joe Sheridan was Member of either House of the Oireachtas. Few of the current generation of politicians served with him but to those who knew him he was a memorable and deeply likeable person. A friend of mine who knew him well said he was a great man for his own people. He worked tirelessly to bring industry to Longford-Westmeath and he supported every local initiative aimed at bettering that constituency. Whether it was the building of the first swimming pool in Longford, the introduction of new industry or the building of housing for the people, Joe Sheridan was always there to lend his support. Most of all, he had a great understanding of people. He was generous, helpful and wise. He knew how to help people and he did so quietly and without fuss, and in return the people of Longford-Westmeath sent him back to the Dáil time after time, sometimes at the head of the poll.
Joe Sheridan came from the Fine Gael tradition. He was a great follower and friend of the late General Seán MacEoin but when he fell out with us, he retained his personal friendships within the party. Among his great friends was the former Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave. I have never heard a bad word spoken about Joe Sheridan by anybody in the Fine Gael Party. It was our loss that he left us and became an Independent. Those good words continued even when he supported and kept in power the Government – a good Government – of Seán Lemass. Joe Sheridan did not do deals but he understood Seán Lemass and Seán Lemass understood him and it worked for both of them. Those who knew Joe Sheridan talk of a man of great warmth, a great storyteller, a fountain of great memories and a good man who served his people to the best of his ability.
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: It is with great sadness that I rise to express sympathy on the death of our Oireachtas colleague, Deputy Theresa Ahearn. Theresa was an extraordinary woman who over the past three years fought a very serious illness with great bravery, courage and exceptional dignity. Her attitude and approach as she faced into that illness confounded everybody who came across her during the past three years. She was a great source of inspiration and a strength to everybody who came across her. Her extraordinary zest for life, good humour and positive approach were particularly amazing.
 Her greatest focus of interest was south Tipperary. That is where her heart rested. It is extraordinary that somebody should be taken from her family and constituency at this early age. Dáil Éireann has lost a great Deputy. They have lost a great woman who respected and valued fully the honour bestowed on her by the people of south Tipperary on being elected to Dáil Éireann. She represented south Tipperary with great dignity, total commitment and absolute resolve in what she was about to do. She was an intelligent articulate woman who brought common sense to bear in all the debates to which she contributed. She served effectively on various Oireachtas committees, particularly on the committees on foreign affairs and women's rights.
During her time in the Oireachtas, she also served on the Fine Gael front bench. She was particularly proud of the Fine Gael Party and its ethos. She first stood as a Fine Gael candidate for Tipperary South Riding County Council and was elected. At one time she simultaneously served in Clonmel Corporation, Tipperary South Riding County Council and Dáil Éireann.
Theresa broke the mould in south Tipperary and was successful. It is not easy for a woman to succeed in a rural constituency – it can be quite difficult. The people of south Tipperary remained loyal and committed to her right to the time of her death. As I canvassed for the recent by-election her name was repeatedly mentioned with affection and respect throughout south Tipperary. During her time in Dáil Éireann she forged many friendships across party lines. For many, this is not just the loss of a colleague but also the loss of a very good friend. That was evident by the wonderful turnout at her funeral in Grange.
The greatest loss of all rests with her husband, Liam, and her four sons, Garret, Patrick, Liam and Scott. She was extremely fortunate in having in her husband Liam an extremely devoted man who was completely committed to her political career. He supported her effectively in all her political duties and was a great source of strength to her during her final illness.
Her husband and sons can be extremely proud of what she has left behind. She has left a great legacy of honesty, integrity, value for public office and respect for serving in public office. That is something of which everybody can be proud. Her high values and honesty and her bravery in her final days are an inspiration to all. I extend sympathy to her husband, sons, sisters and brothers.
Mr. O'Toole: We on the Independent benches also wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy made by our colleagues. The people we are remembering today had much in common. They were people who took the unpopular stand. John Boland, in particular, was never afraid to take the non-populist view or decision and take on interest groups. I know that because I was involved in one of those interests groups. He  made life very difficult for me in his work as a Minister and I could do nothing but admire him, except the time when he called me a Fianna Fáil hack, which had an immediate impact when my mother changed her vote from Johnny Boland to Mark Clinton. He did what he thought was right. That was one of those issues in primary education on which we had a number of arguments with him, but at no stage did anyone think other than that he was acting as Minister in the best of interests and that differences were issue-based and no more than that. His commitment to his point of view was extraordinarily strong, forceful and powerful and it did not finish when the meeting was over. He certainly carried it right to the end of the issue and that was an admirable quality.
Representing the interests of Members of both Houses in recent times, I had occasion to refer to John Boland more than once. He was courageous in implementing a salary increase for Members of the Houses, which I hope will be reciprocated by the Government when that comes up.
Mr. O'Toole: I say that not in an attempt to say something topical but to make the point that he always took the strong line which he thought was correct. Before taking those decisions to which I referred he knew he would encourage public criticism but nonetheless he took that line.
It is fair to say he was the person who initiated the debate which finally led to the strategic management initiative in the public sector. He left a legacy which is highly respected on all sides. He was the type of public representative of whom we can all be proud.
I remember his extraordinary courage during the Lemass Government, when he took the line on an issue and supported the turnover tax, as I recall it, in the middle of a very difficult debate when the country was divided even at village level. I recall that he called a meeting of his supporters in Mullingar where he made it quite clear that the decision he would reach, whatever it was, would be that of an Independent. He took a strong line. In those ways these were public representatives who we could take as role models.
I was extraordinarily saddened by the death of Deputy Theresa Ahearn. I was shocked to hear in July or August that her illness was terminal because she had been so open and brave about it. She had discussed it on many occasions, was clearly ready to fight it and was not prepared to be in any way oppressed by it. She fought it to the very end. She deserves our admiration for her courage and the way she spoke out openly and  helped many people with the same condition. I had a long conversation with her two years ago after one of her many difficult times. She was ready to move on, return to the House and do her work as well as she could. She was a model of an efficient, effective and deeply committed public representative.
Speaking as an Independent, the kind of leadership we need in political life is people with the courage of their convictions, who live what they say, put forward a point of view and stick with it. Those three people were the epitome of that. Ar dheis Dé go raibh siad. We express our condolences to their families.
Mr. Costello: I wish to be associated, on behalf of the Labour Party, with the expressions of sympathy to the family of John Boland – Kay, John and Grace – and to acknowledge his enormous contribution to public life. He came the traditional way to the Dáil, through the county council and Seanad, and finally became a Minister. He then returned to his profession of barrister and died, unfortunately, a young man.
John Boland was an extraordinarily talented, committed and single-minded man. Like Senator O'Toole, I knew him in the educational sphere and found him to be a very tough and single-minded opponent. He was, however, a very fair opponent and would always have a chat and a drink afterwards.
He was Minister in three Departments and he left his mark on each of them. He was instrumental, as Minister for Education, in abolishing corporal punishment, which was opposed by a huge number of vested interests. However, we now regard it as one of the major steps forward in the educational sphere. As Minister for the Public Service he was responsible for a reform which was strongly opposed by various vested interests but which has been to the enormous advantage of the entire public service and the country as a whole. He was also a reforming Minister for the Environment. My constituency of Dublin Central owes a lot to him in terms of urban renewal as an incentive package was put together to revitalise the quays in the 1980s, which led to the Financial Services Centre and so on. I admired him very much. He was a man of very strong views and was a credit to all parliamentarians.
On behalf of the Labour Party, I offer my sympathies to the family of Joe Sheridan and acknowledge his enormous contribution to public service. He came the same route as John Boland through local politics, the county council and the Seanad to the Dáil. He operated in the rural sphere. I still hear people speaking about him in Smithfield, where he used to come to the mart and the horse fairs. He was very interested in  agricultural matters and is remembered for his great sense of humour and wit. He was a tireless campaigner for his constituents and a very colourful person. I could do worse than adopt his slogan, “Vote for Joe, the man you know”, which might be very useful to me in the future. I offer my sympathies, on behalf of the Labour Party, to his family.
We all knew Theresa Ahearn very well in this and the other House. We offer our sincere sympathies to her husband, Liam, her four sons and Fine Gael, the wider family of which all those people were members. She endured a very long illness very courageously. She was a woman of tremendous commitment. It is ironic, poignant and tragic that south Tipperary has lost two out of three Deputies in the same year. I met her during the by-election and she was as bright and cheerful as if she had never had a moment of illness in her life. She was an inspiration to us all to fight to the last and take an active, open and confident part in what is going on. She was involved in a number of committees, but I remember her most from the committee on women's rights. She was a very distinguished parliamentarian, as were the other two people. They are examples and models to all of us in public life.
Mr. Dardis: On behalf of the Progressive Democrats, I join in the vote of sympathy to the families of the late Deputy Theresa Ahearn, Joe Sheridan and John Boland and to Deirdre Lane, the Clerk of the House, on the death of her brother.
There was widespread shock in the Houses when Theresa Ahearn died, although we knew she had been ill. That shock and grief extended well beyond party lines and was universally felt. We had all got to know Theresa well and knew her qualities of determination, dedication and commitment to her constituents and her party. Those qualities were very obvious in her attitude to her illness, which she treated with cheerfulness and determination. We knew at an early stage that she was ill and she seemed to recover very well. It was not obvious from seeing her in Leinster House, not long before her death, how ill she was. I extend our sympathy to her husband, Liam, her four sons and the Fine Gael Party.
Like Senator Manning, I was in University College Dublin at the same time as John Boland, although I am somewhat younger. My abiding recollection of him is that he had almost a permanent office in Newman House, which seemed to act as his constituency office, his mailbox and probably his editorial offices for Awake. He had a great gift for bringing gossip to the back page of Awake and could probably have become like Nigel Dempster of Fleet Street if he had continued. He could be aggressive and  argumentative, but in the very best sense, and he did not hold grudges.
John Boland's public career speaks for itself. It is a measure of the quality of the person he was and his talent that he achieved so much in the ministries he held. He fundamentally reformed attitudes within the public service, which is one of the lasting testimonies to him. He was widely respected. Senator Cassidy spoke about his record as the youngest Senator until the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, was appointed to the Seanad. He was also chairman of Dublin County Council at the age of 26 years. At the end of his public career he became successful at the Bar and renewed his journalistic links. He was obviously a very talented person who put those talents to very good use on behalf of the State. I extend my sympathies to his family and the Fine Gael Party.
I know three of Joe Sheridan's daughters quite well and, although not knowing him, I would have heard stories about him over many years. It was recalled on one occasion that he had been accused of visiting the Taoiseach's office on six occasions before a vote. He said he had never been in the Taoiseach's office. Perhaps there is a lesson there in the modern day context – the difference between Deputies of that time and the present time. It was a formidable political achievement for him to win a seat in a constituency which went from being a five-seater to a four-seater as an Independent Deputy and to hold it successfully for 20 years. He had a formidable political brain and he put it to good use on behalf of his constituents.
I have also heard from Deputy O'Malley, who, I understand, was Fianna Fáil Whip at that time, about some of the difficulties of getting Joe Sheridan to Leinster House to ensure the numbers were stacked up on the Government side. As Senator Manning said he supported the Lemass Government which was a successful Government. He will be remembered for that.
He was active in farming and auctioneering circles and was known to people well outside his constituency in those roles. He was a member of several prominent farming organisations, the Irish Cattle and Livestock Traders Association being one. To his family, particularly, to Cathy, Brigid and Mary T. and his sons and other daughters and brothers and sisters we extend our sympathy.
Mr. Glynn: I wish to echo the words of the Leader of the House and the leaders of the other groups pertaining to the sad passing of Theresa Ahearn, Joe Sheridan, John Boland and the brother of the Clerk of the Seanad.
I knew Joe Sheridan very well. I want to be  closely associated with the tributes paid on his sad passing. He was a remarkable man. He won five general elections in a row as an Independent candidate. At the height of Fianna Fáil's popularity in 1977, Joe Sheridan headed the poll in the constituency of Longford-Westmeath. If Joe Sheridan had met you in Tooreendathaneybeg or Ballydehob five years ago with your wife and three sons it is a sure bet that he would have remembered all the names. His remarkable memory was one of his great strengths. He was also very entertaining and was marvellous company. Another of his strengths was his capacity to identify with almost every section of society.
He will be remembered for his great contribution to the agricultural scene. As a member of Westmeath County Council, where agricultural matters played a pivotal role on the agenda, Joe was foremost in those debates. I worked for some time with his son Pat who was a valued colleague but went on to do other things. Public life will be very much the poorer for the passing of Joe Sheridan. While he retired a number of years ago he remained active. Not long ago Joe lobbied me and other members of the council on matters of concern to him.
My first encounter with him was in 1973 at the time of a general election. Joe met a lady at the polling station on Mount Street, Mullingar and asked if there was any chance of her No. 1. She said she was not from the constituency and did not have a vote. Joe, never short for a word, said, “You might know somebody who has a vote and perhaps you will ask them for me.”
Mr. T. Hayes: It is not many months ago that I spoke on the vote of sympathy following the death of Michael Ferris. Little did I know when we resumed after the summer recess that my first duty would be to pay a tribute on behalf of the people of south Tipperary to the late Theresa Ahearn.
My memory of Theresa Ahearn goes back a long way. I was born only a mile up the road from where she was born. Our families had many associations over many years. Many tributes have been paid to Theresa Ahearn, all of which are worthy. One thing I always noticed about her was her determination to succeed in whatever field she was involved, whether at Golden national school or the Presentation Convent in Cashel where she was prefect and year head. She attended University College Dublin where she got involved in the students' union. She was involved in Macra na Feirme where she achieved distinction in public speaking and debating.
Following her entry to politics she was a shining example, particularly in Tipperary South Riding County Council. She was a committed south Tipperary person and fought on behalf of her constituents. I often saw her take on officialdom, red tape and the bureaucracy with which public representatives have to deal and she did so with vigour and determination. Many  people experience much happiness in their lives because of what she achieved in her role as a public representative. She was extremely popular in the constituency and never lost an election.
She will be sadly missed by the Fine Gael Party in Tipperary South but most of all she will be missed by her family, her husband and four sons, her brothers and sisters and by all the people in Golden and Grange, areas which she cherished and loved. Everybody knew she had been ill. I visited her only a week before she passed away and could see her determination to live on despite being worn away. She has left her mark on everyone and her passing is regretted.
Mr. Glennon: As a friend and near neighbour of the late John Boland for the past 30 years I join in the tributes to him. It is difficult to believe it is 11 years since he retired from politics. He believed passionately in the commitment to public service. It can certainly be said that he led by vigorous example. He was fair, fearless, articulate, compassionate and blessed with intelligence and a breadth of vision which he was able to bring to bear on the various political offices he held, starting with the old Dublin County Council. His record there has already been mentioned.
When one looks at his achievements in the different Departments in which he served the extent of his vision is clear. The abolition of corporal punishment in schools was a radical step but it is hard to imagine how the difficulties in that sector, particularly during the past ten years, could have been so different if corporal punishment had not been abolished by the visionary that was John Boland. We are all aware of his unique achievement in the Department of the Public Service. He was the only Minister to serve as Minister for the Public Service. His achievements were remarkable.
If I can be parochial I will refer to his achievements in the Dublin area. He was a Clondalkin man by birth and a Skerries man by adoption but, above all, he was a Dubliner and a proud Dubliner. I remember particularly John the sports fan during his term of office as chairman of Dublin County Council in 1974 and the tremendous kick he got from the rejuvenation of Heffo's army. He had great fun following Heffo's army around Leinster when it was not particularly fashionable to do so – it did not become fashionable until after they won the All-Ireland. However, John travelled with them throughout the province during that campaign.
He will also be remembered in Dublin for the tremendous contribution he made to the rejuvenation of the docklands, particularly Custom House Dock, in conjunction with his great friend and colleague, Fergus O'Brien, and for his legacy in the area of urban renewal generally. In Fingal and Dublin North he left the immense legacy of one of the most enlightened parks departments in any council in the country.  He was a pioneer in that area. There are approximately 1,200 acres of parkland in north County Dublin which people throughout the northside have enjoyed for years. They are a lasting testament to John.
I referred earlier to his interest in sport and I noted Senator Manning's comments on John Boland's candour about his political views. As one who was on the receiving end of his candour in the sporting area, I can testify that his powers of critical analysis were as strong there as they were in the political arena.
John Boland believed in the nobility of politics as a profession and it is a privilege to state that the profession of politics was ennobled by his contribution. On behalf of my colleagues in Fianna Fáil in Dublin North and of the people in Dublin North, I extend sympathy to Kay, John and Grace, his colleagues in Fine Gael and in particular his brother, Cathal Boland, who serves on Fingal County Council.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: As a colleague of the late Theresa Ahearn in south Tipperary, it is a privilege to join in the tributes which have been paid to her today. Tipperary and Ireland have lost an effective advocate. She was a public representative of sterling qualities.
She came from the old school of decency, and public life needs that quality today more than ever. Her concern for other people was genuine and Christian. It certainly superseded personal ambition and even political affiliation. A few weeks before she died, Theresa, with members of her family and some college friends, attended a function I organised in Cashel. I thought she was in particularly good spirits that night. She sang a song about her native Tipperary with such passion and determination that she made a huge impact on the international audience present. It was only afterwards I learned from her family that that was the day she had received the bad news of her deteriorating medical condition. However, she did not show it that night and, in a way, it was an example of her great strength of character.
Her constituents are much poorer for her passing. She was always accessible and available. She was one of those people in public life who are quite comfortable in any political company. One always sensed a warmth where Theresa was concerned. Down the years and throughout the cut and thrust of politics I never saw her lose dignity. There was always a sense of dignity about her, which should recommend her to any young person today who might be seeking a role model in public life.
Mr. Bohan: I express my deepest sympathy to the families of the late Deputy Theresa Ahearn and former Deputy John Boland and to Deirdre Lane on the death of her brother. I did not know  Theresa well except to say hello to her. I had the pleasure of having a few good sessions with John Boland, especially at rugby internationals. I am not likely to forget them or him and Fergus O'Brien, one of his closest friends.
Joe Sheridan was my close friend for over 30 years. Like me, he came from the hungry hills of north Longford. He started his career as a cattle dealer or, as it was known then, cattle jobber. He went on to better things but he never lost touch with the people he dealt with throughout his life. He was a man of the people and that is no exaggeration. I was close to him for all those years.
His memory was unbelievable. Regardless of how many years had passed he could inquire about the health of his constituents and ask if young John or Mary had recovered from whatever ailment they had suffered from when he had previously met them. Joe never forgot his roots. He did a huge amount for Longford and Westmeath when both counties were a single constituency. Later he represented Westmeath. He did more for the two counties than any other politician. His house was open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. I often wondered how he managed to rear such a wonderful family and still look after his constituents so well.
One needed a lot of patience when Joe started to tell a story because he could go on and on. A few months ago I met him at the funeral of the late Joe Kelly in Longford. We went for a few drinks afterwards and he had not changed a bit. His memory went back beyond 40 years as he enjoyed his few pints. I never expected to be at his funeral some months later. His funeral was huge. Several former Taoisigh attended, as did people from all branches of politics and other walks of life. He richly deserved that massive funeral.
Joe was a legend, certainly in Longford and Westmeath. Hundreds of people came to the Bloomfield House Hotel after the funeral and everybody had good stories to tell about Joe and what he did for them when he was in politics. He leaves a fabulous family. I shall miss him as if he were my brother.
An Cathaoirleach: I wish to be associated with the tributes which have been paid to the late Theresa Ahearn, John Boland and Joe Sheridan and I join in the expressions of sympathy to their families. I also wish to be associated with the expression of sympathy to the Clerk of the Seanad, Deirdre Lane, on the death of her brother.
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