Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Donie Cassidy: It is with a heavy heart that I speak about the sad passing of a friend and colleague, Kieran Phelan, someone for whom I had great admiration. He was a truly wonderful person, a highly intellectual Member of Seanad Éireann and one of the best attendees. He was also an astute and capable individual who was interested in getting things done. He leaves a legacy of hard work and a strong commitment to public service having served the people at local and national level.
A farmer and an auctioneer from Raheen Upper, Donaghamore, Portlaoise, County Laois, Kieran was first elected to Laois County Council in 1991, continuing the tradition begun by his late father, Paddy, who had served for 12 years. Kieran served for 12 years as a councillor for the Borris-in-Ossory area and, as we all know, topped the poll in the 1999 elections. He was very proud to be elected chairman of Laois County Council in 1998, a role he performed with great pride and dignity. He was also vice chairman of County Laois Vocational Education Committee and chairman of Rathdowney GAA Club, a club he loved all of his life.
I first met Kieran in 1978 when he was director of elections for the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, for whom both he and his wife, Mary, worked hard to get her elected, particularly in the Dáil elections of 1981, February 1982 and November 1982. She has stated it is doubtful she would have been elected without Kieran’s and Mary’s expertise and input in those three general election campaigns.
The peak of Kieran’s career was when he was elected to the 22nd Seanad on the Industrial and Commercial Panel in 2002. At approximately 9.10 a.m. on a Monday after the general election in 2002 the doorbell rang at my home. When I answered the door, standing there were Marty Rohan, John Moloney — now a Deputy and Minister of State — and Kieran who, as they put it, had come for some advice on how to fight a Seanad election. Any one of the three could have written the book himself. They achieved their mission and goal and were very well looked after in County Westmeath. Kieran was loved by the local authority members and respected in the county each time he stood for election to Seanad Éireann. He was re-elected in 2007 and our spokesperson in the Seanad on defence at the time of his death.
From the moment he was first elected to Laois County Council in 1991 Kieran served the people of that county with tremendous dedication and commitment until 2002 when Members of the Oireachtas had to stand down and were no longer allowed to have a dual mandate. As we know, his seat on the county council was taken by his brother, Brendan, who continues the family tradition to this day. As a Member of the Upper House, Kieran continued to work on behalf of the people of County Laois and never faltered in his determination to help them in whatever way he could.
Kieran was an unassuming man who was held in high regard by everyone but particularly in his local community. His enthusiasm and warm personality endeared him to all. He was kind, easygoing, dependable and, above all, loyal. He had a great ability to be able to relate to people. It is small wonder that he was such an immensely popular man and I know his loss will be felt among his friends and colleagues. On this side of the House we knew him as a great servant of the Fianna Fáil Party, of which he was so proud. He was a staunch defender of the party and a great upholder of its traditional values. We will miss him. On a personal note, I was privileged to serve as Leader of the House during Kieran’s tenure as Senator. I owe him a great deal of gratitude for his loyalty and the service he gave the party and the House.
Despite his love of Seanad Éireann, Kieran’s greatest love was for his wife and children, mother, grandchild and extended family. His sudden death has robbed them of a great husband, father, brother, uncle and friend. On behalf of Members and the Fianna Fáil Party, I offer our condolences to his wife, Mary; his five children, Fiona, Martina, Brenda, Aisling and Patrick; his grandson; his mother, Delia; his brothers and sisters and extended family who have come here today in such large numbers. I have been a Member of the Oireachtas for almost 29 years and have never seen such a large turnout of members of the extended family. May God comfort and console them on their great loss. Go ndéanfaidh Dia trócaire ar a anam.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: On behalf of Fine Gael Party Members of Seanad Éireann, I pay tribute to our late colleague, Kieran Phelan, whose sudden death shocked us all in this Chamber and everybody in Leinster House. No doubt, its suddenness can only have made his parting all the more difficult for his family and wider circle of relatives, friends and supporters. I hope the tributes today will go some small way towards outlining to his wife, Mary, and their five children, Fiona, Martina, Brenda, Aisling and Patrick, the high esteem in which he was held and the sadness shared by everyone here at his untimely passing.
I remember being at a meeting with Kieran only days before his death. He was so full of life, in good humour and showing his usual characteristics which made him well liked and popular across the political divide in Leinster House. The words “jovial”, “kind”, “friendly”, “good humoured” and “unassuming” spring to my mind when I think of him. One could always be sure of a friendly smile or an encouraging word from him in passing or at a meeting. His passing has been felt by all of us who interacted with him in the world of politics.
As the Leader said, Kieran served his community, county and country with dedication, commitment and distinction, first in Laois County Council from 1991, at which he represented Borris-in-Ossory — he became first citizen of his county in 1998 — and then in Seanad Éireann from 2002 until his untimely passing this year. His life and contribution were cut far too short. He was taken from us far too soon, but I have no doubt he is looking down on us today and we can still picture his smiling face, friendly demeanour and warm manner. To his wife, Mary; his five children; mum; extended family and friends who are with us today, I extend our sincere sympathy. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Senator Joe O’Toole: Let me raise one technical matter, something which always upsets me on these occasions. I note that on the television monitors the late Senator is referred to as Mr. Kieran Phelan. This happens every time there are tributes. To us, Kieran is still a senatorial colleague and will always remain so.
We will miss Kieran’s good humour and warm personality. We can only imagine how his death impacts on his family and friends. I speak on behalf of my colleagues on the Independent benches, on whose behalf I extend our deepest condolences. We knew Kieran as someone who was loyal and dependable. When one did a deal with him, it was not necessary to sign off on it. His word was his bond and always maintained. In this way he endeared himself to Members on all sides of the House. I would like his family to know that this has nothing to do with party; he was a colleague who was appreciated as much on this side of the House as on his own. His views were always his own. As has been said, he was honest and untrammelled by party or other considerations. He said it as he thought and believed it, straight up. He could have been talking about somebody in his own or another party; it was his view and he lived or died on that basis alone. On behalf of Members on these benches, I acknowledge his contribution to this House and politics. It is wonderful to hear on an occasion such as this the sound of a grandchild gurgling in the background. I know Kieran would have appreciated it.
On a serious note, at a time of turmoil in society, it is important to recognise there was never a greater need for people to step forward to put their names on the ballot paper and acknowledge their responsibilities. That is what Kieran did. As a public representative, he recognised that was the greatest service a person could provide in a democracy. Whether a person does it well or otherwise, he or she has to start by putting himself or herself in a position to be knocked down. There is no higher calling than facing the electorate and the ups and downs of political life and rolling with them. For this, we express our appreciation to Kieran.
It is rarely understood and too often forgotten in the midst of the constant criticism of politicians on the so-called gravy train that a significant commitment and sacrifice are required, especially so in the case of one’s family. Because of the nature of a politician’s life, there is separation from one’s family for long periods. Politicians cannot be effective without the full support of those closest to them. In Kieran’s case, this was provided by his spouse, Mary; his five children; his brothers and extended family. We record our thanks to them for providing that level of support. In a special way this is their contribution to public life and public service, of which they should always be proud. We know we can do nothing on our own without those behind us. Providing such support must have been difficult at many times during the years when the burden of rearing a family and running a home fell on the other partner and others. Kieran’s commitment to his family, place, party and country was unmatched. It was real and a commitment by which he lived. I remember my last conversation with him. The voting records of Members had been made available. We were at a Whips’ meeting and either Senator Cummins or Senator Wilson made the point that Kieran had the best voting record in the House. I suggested to Kieran that perhaps in the future the salaries of Senators should be benchmarked against their voting records, a suggestion with which he was very pleased.
My colleague, Senator Harris, will speak further in tribute. When he and I sought support, Kieran stood with us on an issue of no value, electoral or otherwise, to him; it was a selfless gesture motivated by common humanity, an innate sense of justice and a commitment to fair play. We appreciated very much the stand he took with us. That was the mark of the man; he was not in it for personal recognition or personal or electoral gain. Ar dheis Dé go raibh sé. Tá brón orm go bhfuil sé imithe uainn. We extend from these benches our condolences to his family.
Senator Alex White: On behalf of the Labour Party, I extend my sympathy to the family of the late Senator Kieran Phelan, as well as to the Fianna Fáil Party, the Leader and the Cathaoirleach on the loss of a close friend and associate. This is not a partisan occasion and I am saddened but privileged to have an opportunity to honour a true colleague with whom I worked for several years in the Seanad. We are often advised not to react immediately to events but we responded briefly on 26 May because, as Senator Fitzgerald noted, there was genuine shock at the suddenness of Kieran’s passing. I made an off the cuff remark on that occasion to the effect that Kieran was impossible to dislike. Sometimes the remarks we make spontaneously are the ones we really mean, even in this business.
He had huge warmth but, in addition to being very personable and likeable, he exercised sharp political judgment. I was a member of the committee to which an earlier speaker referred and, if I am not mistaken, we met the day before Senator Phelan’s untimely death. I cannot remember the precise nature of the issue we discussed but I recall it was a source of contention. Kieran was a man of relatively few words but they were well chosen and he expressed astute views on the issues that came before him.
The Leader spoke eloquently about the great public service Kieran Phelan gave to his county and his country. In the short period that I knew Senator Phelan, I witnessed his sense of commitment in action. He was tenacious in his work on behalf of constituents and on the national canvass.
I regret the passing of Kieran Phelan. He is sorely missed in this House and I extend my sympathies to the Fianna Fáil Party and, in particular, to his family members who are gathered here. It is our sad privilege to honour his contribution to this House.
Senator Dan Boyle: On behalf of the Green Party, I extend my sympathy to the late Senator Kieran Phelan’s wife, Mary, his children, his extended family and his Fianna Fáil colleagues. Several speakers referred to Kieran’s affability and good humour. These are qualities by which many would define him but his commitment to this House should also be stressed. He was party spokesman on defence, an area in which not much legislation is debated in this Chamber, and he was a full participant in every other aspect of the Seanad’s business. Mention has been made of his voting record, his daily attendance on the Order of Business and his membership of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I do not think anyone in this House can match that level of commitment and he stands as an example which will live long after his presence in this Chamber. His family can take a great deal of pride in the fact that he contributed not only to this House but also to his own local authority as chair and member of Laois County Council.
Alongside the great affability to which other speakers referred, there was a sense that Kieran possessed a steely strength that perhaps belied his good humour even though few, if anybody ever saw it. He needed that strength of character to suffer the slings and arrows of public life in local government and this House. We are the poorer for his departure but I hope his family takes solace from the sincere words being spoken by Senators. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Senator Paddy Burke: I wish to be associated with the vote of sympathy to our late colleague, Kieran Phelan, and extend my sympathy to his wife, Mary, and his immediate and extended family. I had known Kieran for many years but I came to know him much better since he became a Senator. He was a loyal colleague even though we sat on opposite sides of the House. He was warm, sincere, friendly and good humoured. As Senator Alex White noted, we could not but like him. He had a natural ability to get on with people and appreciate different viewpoints. It was a sad occasion to attend his funeral in County Laois and we will miss him greatly. Most of all, however, he will be missed by his wife, Mary, and the Fianna Fáil Party. He was a great colleague and his sudden passing created a void within this House.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson: I welcome the Phelan family to the Visitors Gallery, including his mother, Delia, his wife, Mary, and his four daughters. Unfortunately, Patrick is unable to attend because he is in Australia. Kieran was the eldest of a family of 18 and most of his brothers and sisters are here to acknowledge the tributes being paid to their late, great brother.
I first met him while canvassing for the 2002 Seanad elections and I liked him immediately after being struck by his infectious laugh. I am glad to say we were both successful in that election and we subsequently became great friends.
Kieran was dedicated to his family. He was married to Mary for 37 years. He was shy about these matters but I discovered on the night of his wake in Rathdowney that he dated her since they were both teenagers. He was dedicated to his five children, Fiona, Martina, Brenda, Aisling and Patrick. He adored his mother, Delia, and rushed to Dublin every Tuesday morning to meet her for tea and toast and fill her in on the previous week’s news from Rathdowney. We used to joke that he was always the first in on a Tuesday. On Thursday mornings he brought his briefcase with him to the Order of Business and he tried to be the first out of here.
Kieran was very proud of his late father, Paddy, who was also a member of Laois County Council. He was immensely proud of his brothers and sisters, all of whom were regularly mentioned by him. He took great pleasure in their success. When I and others would slag him about the millionaire Phelans, he would say “they all have money except Mammy and me”. He had other loves as well. He enjoyed farming, cattle and, in particular, cattle dealing. If one happened to walk into his office, he would invariably be on the telephone to Brendan, telling him to “buy, buy, buy”. In all the years I knew him, I never heard him saying “sell, sell, sell”.
Kieran was dedicated to politics. As Senators Cassidy and Fitzgerald said, he was committed to the people of the Borris-in-Ossory electoral area, whom he served on Laois County Council. He was committed to County Laois and to the Seanad. He had 100% attendance in this House until the time of his death. He worked very hard on behalf of his constituents. He would bring a bundle of representations to Dublin every Tuesday. He would have dealt with them all by Wednesday evening, when he could relax and have a drink because all of his constituents had been sorted out.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson: On Friday of this week, 19 November, he would have celebrated his birthday. I will celebrate my birthday the following day. He used to say there were just 20 years between us.
As others have said, he was Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on defence in this House. He was good at it. There is a joke to the effect that the Minister for Defence has to be good at sitting on the fence. Kieran Phelan was no good at sitting on the fence. As Senator O’Toole said, he told it as it was. One could take it or leave it. He could not tolerate injustice of any kind. He would make it very clear if he felt one was partaking in such activity.
Kieran passed away on 26 May last. I was honoured to know him in life. Like Deputy Calleary, who is in the Gallery, I was privileged to have been with him when he passed away. All I can say to his family — I have said it to them previously — is that Kieran died as he lived, with dignity and calmness. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis. Before I finish, I want to acknowledge especially the presence of Noah Patrick Phelan, who was born after Kieran died.
Senator Camillus Glynn: Like other Senators, I would like to express my sincere sympathy to Mary Phelan, the children of the late Kieran Phelan, his brothers and sisters, his mother Delia and his extended family.
Kieran and I had two things in common. He was the eldest of a family of 18, whereas I am the youngest of a family of 15. He would always say “you know Glynn, I am a few lengths ahead of you”. That was a joke between us.
I first got to know Kieran in the early 1990s after he became a member of Laois County Council. He was a very friendly and warm person. He would make one feel that he had known one all his life. He often used the phrase “my best friend”. He made one feel that he was one’s best friend.
It has already been alluded to that he had a number of loves in his life, including his wife, Mary; his five children; his mother; and his brothers and sisters. Of course, he had a great love of farming. He was a dream for Senator Wilson and me in the Whip’s office. We never had to worry about him. He was always sitting in his chair, which was right behind me. The chair is vacant today. That is to be regretted. He loved his party. He loved farming. He loved people.
Kieran Phelan was a giver. He gave of himself, without condition and without expecting anything back. He epitomised generosity. Along with a number of colleagues, I met him a number of years ago at a conference in Tralee. I will not tell any tales out of school, other than to say my sides were sore the following day. When Kieran was in full flight, one would think he may have missed a great opportunity in life, as he would have been a great comedian. He was very funny and had a great wit.
It has been mentioned that he was continuing a family tradition when he became a member of Laois County Council in 1991. His late father, Paddy, was also a member of the council. I am well acquainted with his brother, Brendan, who is an articulate and strong party politician. He is continuing the proud tradition of the Phelan family.
Kieran spent many hours in this House. Senators Wilson and Cassidy have referred to his many strong points. Kieran Phelan left a strong mark in this House in terms of his sincerity and loyalty. He was constant in that regard.
Fear macánta, dílis agus díograiseach ab ea é. I am deeply saddened by his passing. I considered him a great friend. He will be sadly missed in this House and especially by his wife and family, whom he loved so dearly. Ar dheis Dé go raibh sé.
Senator Geraldine Feeney: Senator O’Toole summed it up when he said it is with a heavy heart that we gather today. It is with huge sadness in our hearts that we are talking about our late friend and colleague, Kieran Phelan. I take my hat off to our Whip, who was able to deliver his few words without emotion, probably unlike me. I know this has been most difficult for Senator Wilson.
I join others in saying that Kieran was a gentleman. The warmth of his personality, like the depth of his nature, was huge. No personality was as big as Kieran Phelan. When I looked at the Gallery, I said to Senator Ellis it is too bad he is gone because he would have had two quotas the next time.
I smile when I see the faces in the Visitors Gallery. I will only mention one of them. Kieran would have wanted this person to be mentioned. I refer to the former Senator, Michael Brennan. Michael and Kieran were the best of buddies. Like Kieran and Senator Wilson, they were peas in a pod.
Having referred to the personality and the depth of his nature, I have to turn to his family. As Senator Wilson said, he absolutely adored his mother, Delia. He was always telling us about things she said and did. His love for Mary, Fiona, Martina, Brenda, Aisling and Patrick knew no bounds. He used to say that the world was at rest on the days when things were good with his family. Nothing was wrong if the family was right.
Senator Wilson put it well when he said that Kieran was the first up on a Tuesday. I would slag him and ask if the keys were in the ignition at 10.30 a.m. on a Thursday morning. They were and he would have the engine running ready to drive out the back gate of Leinster House to Rathdowney.
As the Cathaoirleach will know, there was no prouder Laois man and Fianna Fáil man than Kieran Phelan and it would have been difficult for him to pick one over the other. When we talk about people like his mother, Mary, and the family, we are reminded of all his siblings. He loved his siblings. I would hear him on the telephone to different siblings because I had the pleasure of sharing an office with him. If there was a little tiff going on between one or other of them, he would tell them to leave it. He would not want a cross word to come between any of them and he would never have taken sides.
There was another man in his life, the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney. If ever he watched and wanted a man to grow politically, it was the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney. There is now another little man in his life, his little grandson. Senator O’Toole was right that it was lovely to hear the little cries and giggles from his grandson. We would slag Kieran and say himself and Moloney will be pushing the prams around Laois. He would say that by God whatever he would do, he would not push a pram. We would say to him that it would do him the world of good and get rid of some of that old condition. He would laugh at us.
I want to share a story at which the Cathaoirleach will smile. People talk about Kieran’s wonderful voting record in this House, which none of us could match. I remember a day when the Cathaoirleach was Chief Whip in the last Seanad and Senators Kieran Phelan, Wilson and myself were somewhere we should not have been. We got a telephone call to say there was a vote. We had to leg it back to the House. Two of us made the vote but one man did not because he could not run quickly enough. He kept shouting to hold the door open but we could not hold the door open and it was closed. We always said that if Kieran Phelan did not have a heart attack that day, he never would have one. The Cathaoirleach will remember that he was grey in the face when he met him that day. He put his two hands up and said to the Cathaoirleach to say nothing because it would never happen again and, by God, it never did.
Kieran would never let anyone down. I was elected to the House the same time as Kieran in 2002 and, like Senator Diarmuid Wilson, we became great friends. He shared an office with former Senator and now Deputy, Timmy Dooley, and Senator Wilson, and I shared the office next door. When Senator Wilson became Chief Whip, he had to move out of my office. I told him he could only move out if he brought Phelan in. He did the deal and Kieran moved into my office and we never looked back. I had the best of laughs with Kieran Phelan and our office was like Heuston Station on an all-Ireland Sunday. It was always full of people. Now it is like a League of Ireland match on Bohola on a bad Saturday. No one ever darkens the door and I do not mind that because it is a sad and lonely place without Kieran. The time will come when the door will open again and people will start to come in.
As Senator Wilson said, 19 November was his birthday. We never said anything about his birthday last year when he was celebrating 60 years. If one does the maths, I think Senator Kieran Phelan was out on the 20 years but we will say nothing about that, although he would want one to say that. We said nothing about the birthday and after the Order of Business we went to the bar for a coffee as we always did. We had a big chocolate birthday cake which was laden down with candles. The few he would have coffee with, including the Cathaoirleach, were there. We brought the cake out with the candles lit and as he saw us coming with it, he said: “Good God, that is not for me.” It was only a birthday cake but we might as well have told him he had won €1 million in the lottery because he was so made up with that birthday cake and the card. Half the cake was left and I asked him if he would bring it home to Mary and the girls. He said he did not want to go home with it and to let other people have it. I went around the bar and gave it out. I will not say to whom I gave it but he said that if he had known I was going to give it to that crowd, he would have brought it home. That is the proud man Kieran Phelan was.
I say to Mary, his mother, Fiona, Martina, Brenda, Aisling, Patrick, who cannot be with us, and to his siblings that never a day goes by when Kieran Phelan is not talked about or thought of in this House. We do not often say these words in the Chamber but Kieran Phelan was a man we loved and he will never be forgotten.
Senator Maurice Cummins: Kieran Phelan was a larger than life figure in this House. Everyone loved Kieran and he loved everyone, or most of us anyway. Like myself, he was so proud to be elected to this House in 2002. He was so proud to be here among friends and colleagues. As my colleague, Senator Coffey, said, he made the people who were elected in 2007 so welcome.
Kieran was a decent and honourable man. He was not one to jump up on the Order of Business every day talking about this, that and the other. He was a man of few words but his contributions were always so sincere and to the point, except for the odd time he might have a script and have a go at the Opposition after which he sat down and winked over at me. That was Kieran Phelan. He had wonderful humour.
Unlike Senator Feeney, I never enjoyed a cup of coffee with Kieran but I certainly enjoyed many a pint with him and Senator Wilson over the years. One could not but enjoy his company. He was a wonderful colleague. I do not believe politics ever came into it. We were all excellent friends and none more so than Kieran Phelan.
Senator Eoghan Harris: As we all heard and know, Senator Kieran Phelan was probably the most well liked Member of this House. Being well liked is not enough in politics, however. One must have character too. Senator Kieran Phelan had the same toughness and grit of character behind his affability. It was a toughness of spirit that he shared with the woman he helped to put in Dáil Éireann, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney. They were two of a kind.
I did not know him very well but I had to get to know him on one occasion when I, along with Senators O’Toole and Norris and others, wanted to get the case of second lieutenant Dónal de Róiste reviewed. The Dáil had failed repeatedly to do so. I knew that if I did not get Senator Kieran Phelan to support it that it was doomed. I went to him, laid out the case and he considered it. People have said he was a loyal member of Fianna Fáil. He may have been but he was only loyal to Fianna Fáil and to any party if it was loyal to the country and the conscience of the people. Conscience came first with Kieran Phelan. He had to pro forma defend the State’s position but he prefaced it with a personal statement which made it quite clear that he felt there was a case to answer in regard to second Lieutenant de Róiste and that he was not happy justice had been fully done. As was significant and typical of him, he seized upon second Lieutenant de Róiste’s mother’s sorrow as his point of departure and picked up her letter and read it to us and made it clear where he stood. In that moment he stood above party and stood for justice. It is no small thing. We can all look back on our record in this House but very few of us can say they contributed to rectifying an injustice. Senator Kieran Phelan and his family can be proud that he stood his ground and did his best to get Lieutenant de Róiste’s case re-opened.
Apart from that, he was a very boyish person. He retained his youthful vigour and that sense of innocence. He was a very sweet man and he was very much a man’s man; women liked him, he was the kind of man that men and women liked. One would follow him anywhere.
I always judge a mature man by what kind of a father he would make. I say to myself: “I wonder what kind of a father he is?” I met his family today; I met his wife, Mary, his mother, Delia, and his daughters, Fiona, Brenda, Martina and Aisling. I looked at them and saw that they have poise and confidence that argues that he was a great father, a great husband. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam usual.
Senator Michael McCarthy: I was elected to this House in 2002 on the same day as Kieran. Shortly after that election I had the pleasure of sharing his company on the train to Dublin and from that day up to that very sad day in May of this year, we got on like a house on fire.
Without going over everything that was said, Kieran was a true gentleman. It was always a pleasure to meet him. In the cut and thrust of politics we can say things, we can be highly motivated and emotive but it was a pleasure to meet somebody who had the calming and soothing effect of Kieran Phelan. He was a real gentleman and I do not say that lightly.
I had the pleasure of sitting beside him last year at the Christmas party organised by the Chief Whip, Senator Wilson, and it was a laugh a minute. He was excellent company socially. He was a great colleague at political level.
Attending his funeral mass on that Sunday morning was obviously very sad but it was also very beautiful. The tributes paid to him by the Taoiseach and by the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, the music, the prayers and the general coming together of colleagues at a place far away from most of our homes on that morning to pay tribute to Kieran Phelan is something that will stand out in my mind. In many respects, it says a great deal about the man that he had that type of respect not only while he was alive and working as a colleague but the huge outpouring of sympathy from his shocked and stunned colleagues is a great tribute to him. I hope it is a great source of consolation to his mother, Delia, to Mary, Fiona, Martina, Brenda, Aisling and Patrick. It is wonderful to see his grandchild Noah in the House today.
Senator Nicky McFadden: I extend my sympathy to Kieran’s family, to Mary and to his mother, Delia. I really enjoyed Kieran’s company. As everybody has said, he had the most wonderful smile and a brilliant laugh. My biggest memory of him is when I was newly elected to this House and we were both asked to address the LAMA conference in Portlaoise. He was very encouraging and supportive of me and I will never forget him for that because it was quite daunting for me at the time.
I will never forget the day he passed away. It was a tremendous shock for all of us in the Seanad. I realise how dreadfully upset the Fianna Fáil Party and his friends must still be at his loss because I miss him and I cannot imagine what it must be like for them to miss him.
I also add that he was a tremendously successful politician. He topped the poll in the 1999 elections. He was elected twice to the Seanad and that is no mean feat. He always had the sincerity and decency to represent the people of Laois and that is no mean feat in this day and age.
Senator David Norris: I am honoured to be given this opportunity to speak in tribute to the memory of the late Senator Kieran Phelan and to extend my sympathy to his family. The Cathaoirleach underlined one element of today’s proceedings when he spoke about the unusually large number of people who want to speak in his memory. These things unfortunately are part of life. We meet from time to time and speak in memory of colleagues but I can never remember where things were so heartfelt, where there were such a large number of people wishing to speak and where both the Distinguished Visitors Gallery and the Visitors Gallery were filled to capacity with people were waiting outside. That in itself without any words of ours speaks eloquently of the esteem in which the late Kieran Phelan was held.
I did not know him terribly well. I knew him from this Chamber but I greatly enjoyed his company. I was here on the day he died and was one of those very shocked by the sudden nature of his death. It was a quite dramatic and extraordinary thing and people were quite stunned.
I attended the removal and this is one of the things one does in political life. I tend to avoid funerals as much as possible but I was at the removal and it was also unusual because often it is done on a formal basis. It is done for form sake and that is the reason I avoid political funerals as much as possible but on this occasion there was a real sense of genuine shock and of personal loss.
I only really knew him from this Chamber but we used to meet, particularly during a vote when we would have five minutes, and we would have a chat and there was a connection. First, I would gravitate towards him because he was a man of genial humour and of considerable courtesy and warmth but he had something else that nobody else in this Chamber can claim, he was a Laois man, and that was my connection to him. During a vote we could talk about personalities and townlands nobody else in this Chamber would know. I recall telling him how I loved listening to the GAA results on a Sunday night, and one would hear Camross, Castletown and Ballacolla. He also knew places that my late uncle used to talk to me about full of leprechauns such as Ballyhuppahane. I doubt if there is one other person in this Chamber who has ever heard of Ballyhuppahane but according to my uncle it was full of leprechauns. I remember discussing that with Senator Phelan and we had a great laugh about it one day here in the Chamber.
His family were one of the distinguished families of Laois going way back. If one looks at McLysaght and the history of the Queen’s county of Canon O’Hanlon, one will find there the records of his ancient and distinguished sept who played such a significant role in the development and history of ancient kingdom of Ossory. He was unusual also in that he possessed ordinary, decent and modest virtues. He had a sense of decency and integrity. We tend to think of these virtues as ordinary but I wonder how ordinary they are in political life. There was no doubt in the case of Kieran Phelan that he exemplified these and that they were not a facade put on for electoral purposes. They were an expression of his deepest personality.
I shall certainly miss him. I find it difficult to believe he is no longer here. When I look across the Chamber I can almost see his shape on that seat. Regrettably we will not be seeing that shape in that seat but we have the memories of a good and decent man, a loyal son of Laois and somebody who will continue to live in the hearts and minds of his family and of his colleagues here in Leinster House.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I would like to be associated with all the warm and genuine tributes paid to Kieran. He was everything that has been said of him. He was always good humoured, a very fine, decent fellow and a fine, loyal colleague, as has been said. He was totally dependable and trustworthy. The previous speakers have all attested to that. He was definitely very warm and generous and we all had such lovely times with him and with many other colleagues here.
Somebody referred to the slings and arrows of political life, but it is truly difficult to imagine Kieran suffering the slings and arrows of political life because he was genuinely so disarming and affable.
I will mention another Phelan who cannot be present but would like to be associated with these warm and genuine tributes, namely, our colleague, Senator John Paul Phelan, who is on parliamentary business elsewhere. I wish to be associated with the fine contributions that have been made.
Senator Feargal Quinn: I only got to know Kieran well a few weeks before he died when we chatted over lunch here in the House. I realised then that I had lost an opportunity to get to know him in previous years. I knew he was a humorous, sincere and committed Senator but it was only when we started to converse and share things that I realised I wanted to get to know him much better. Over lunch, we started a little competition. We both had five children and my 12th grandchild had just arrived. There are now 13 grandchildren in my family and we hope the 14th will arrive before Christmas. On that occasion, Kieran agreed to have a competition on the number of grandchildren we would have. That competition is now for Kieran’s five children.
I learned how sincere Kieran was and recognised his sense of humour and commitment, not only to politics but also to his family. He really was a family man and it became clear to me that entering politics must have intruded greatly on his family life. Despite this, he was able to fit in both politics and his love of and commitment to his family, including his wife, Mary and his mother. Senator Feeney referred to how much Kieran loved his mother.
Senator Norris referred to Kieran’s removal from St. Vincent’s hospital. I remember the occasion very well. I met his family and saw that they had experienced a sudden loss. Only one or two days previously, Senators were stunned and shaken when they entered the Chamber to learn what had occurred. We could not believe Kieran’s seat would be empty because he was young and had achieved so much. He had so much ahead of him.
Kieran had a strong interest in agriculture and farming. He told me his family had become involved in the duck egg business. A few days later, I was in the J.C. Savage supermarket in Swords when I saw a couple arriving with duck eggs. I approached them and asked whether they were part of the Phelan family and of course they were. Kieran was proud of his family and of being a Member of the House. His sincerity and sense of humour jumped out at once whenever he spoke.
There is a lovely story by O. Henry about people receiving an invitation to a funeral. On visiting the house of a friend they had not seen for many years, they discovered that she was at the door to meet them. When they said they thought they were coming to her funeral the old friend said she had decided to have her funeral before she died because she did not want to miss such an occasion. I recall that story today because Kieran would have loved to have been here. He would have been embarrassed to hear how much love and affection there was for him and how proud we all were of his commitment to the House, County Laois and all he did over the years. Senators will miss him, although not nearly as much as his family will miss him. He is in our thoughts and their thoughts and I am sure he is looking down saying how proud he would have been to be here.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I express my sincere sympathy to Kieran’s wife, Mary, his children, his mother, Delia, his extended family and his political colleagues. I met Kieran first during the previous Seanad campaign. For geographical reasons, we both visited a couple of houses of Independent councillors in County Clare and we got chatting to him. We became friends and our friendship remained. We would always have a word.
Kieran was warm, friendly, extremely sincere, good humoured and affable. He also had charisma and was a great worker on behalf of his people. On the day of his funeral, the celebrant, who I understand was a first cousin, summed up Kieran’s life and work very well when he said that having exceeded the quota of good deeds, he deemed Kieran to be elected to heaven. Kieran exceeded the quota of good deeds and humour and had a great rapport with others. It was a privilege to have known him. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Senator Paudie Coffey: I express my sympathy to the family of Senator Kieran Phelan. I was a young man when I entered the Seanad in 2007. The Oireachtas can be intimidating place and Kieran’s friendly face and banter were very welcome. He and I shared a passion for GAA. He often asked how Waterford hurling was going and would speak about hurling in Laois. Kieran was an honest and decent colleague whom we all loved.
One meets people at different crossroads in one’s life when one is faced with challenges. Kieran was one of the guys who welcomed me to the House and it did not matter to him that I was a member of the Opposition. That is a sign of an even bigger man. I wish to be associated with the sympathies expressed to his family. I will have good memories of Kieran.
Senator Jerry Buttimer: I offer my deepest sympathies to Kieran’s wife, mother and other family members. Like Senator Coffey, I shared with Kieran a great affection for GAA. He was a great GAA man but, more important, a great friend. On many a day when I was annoying the Cathaoirleach, Kieran waved across at me to indicate I should stop shouting because he feared I would be thrown out of the House. I wish I was able to thank him in person today.
Kieran was an affable man who had character, an attribute about which Senator Harris spoke. He was proud of his family and where he came from. His cousin, the late Seán Phelan, was involved in my GAA club in Bishopstown and interceded on many occasions on Kieran’s behalf for Seanad votes.
Kieran had a great ability to forget about politics. He would walk out the door after a session in the House and put his arm around one and discuss other business. In the week he died, Kieran, Senator MacSharry, Senator Wilson and I spent half an hour or so in the bar of the D4 hotel and he was in great form. While we often hear of people dying there are few people who we genuinely miss. When one looks across the Chamber towards Senator Wilson one expects to see Kieran’s smile or a gesture and one wishes he was still here. He was that type of person, much larger than life and with much to offer.
Politics is a humbling profession but people like Kieran give us a sense of what we can achieve. While I am conscious that no words of mine or anyone else will ease the pain, I refer to the hymn, “Ag Críost an Síol”:
Senator Maria Corrigan: I note the name on the monitor has changed from Mr. Kieran Phelan to Senator Kieran Phelan. Kieran Phelan was a very special person who loved his family, his constituency and the land. When he arrived in Leinster House on a Tuesday, we would all hear about the activities of the Phelan family — his wife; daughters, Martina, Brenda, Aisling and Fiona; son, Patrick; mum; sisters and brothers. He was so proud of everything they did and the people they were that we felt we knew all of them. Every Thursday he thought he would never get back on the road to return to those whom he loved. I extend my deepest sympathy to all of them on their loss.
Kieran loved the constituency of Laois-Offaly and was proud of all his colleagues. When the Cathaoirleach was elected to the post, he was delighted. When Deputy Cowen became Taoiseach, he was over the moon, but when Deputy Moloney became Minister of State with responsibility for disability and mental health issues, we all thought he would burst with pride. He took great pleasure in each success and the advance of his friend of long-standing, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. I am struck by the fact that both the Minister and Minister of State spoke in the Chamber earlier.
Kieran was the epitome of kindness. Whether one was friend or foe, he had an enormous capacity for kindness should one hit a spot of bother. It was a reflection of his humanity and I certainly was a recipient of that kindness. He had a very special friendship with Senator Wilson and when I became a Member of the Seanad in 2007, they kindly allowed me to tag along occasionally. On the night before he died, the three of us had tea together. Kieran spoke at length about everything and issued instructions to both of us as he went along. When we left the restaurant to walk back to the hotel, he spoke about his membership of the House. He stated it had always been a dream of his; he spoke about running and not being elected and being afraid he never would make it. He spoke about his happiness at making it in 2002 and how, when he was re-elected in 2007, it was like an impossible dream that had come true. He stopped in the street and remarked on what an honour and privilege it was to be a Member of the Seanad and that it was great to be alive to experience it. He was very proud of his membership of the House and enjoyed being in the Chair. He is the only Acting Chairman I can recall who warned a Minister not to make him the first to ask a Minister to leave the Chamber.
Kieran was very special and I was lucky to have him as a friend. All Members were lucky to know him. They all miss him and I can only imagine the profound grief his family must feel. However, he did them proud. May he rest in peace.
Senator Denis O’Donovan: I pay tribute to Kieran in a way that celebrates his life rather than sorrowfully, as sorrow passed in the beautiful ceremony on the day of his funeral and in the proceedings before it such as at his removal from Dublin and so on.
My first memory of Kieran is while we were canvassing in County Tipperary during the 1997 Seanad election campaign. We were on the same panel and while it is unusual to be good friends with someone on the same panel, we took the view that I was deep in Munster in west Cork, while he was in the midlands. Everyone present who has been on the Seanad trail will be familiar with the experience of covering south Tipperary early in the day and then moving on to north Tipperary. On the day in question, having made 11 calls, like the parable of our Lord and the fish, I only caught two and was not even sure whether they were my own. I met Kieran that night——
Senator Denis O’Donovan: We were poaching as best we could. However, we met on the same evening that Michael Smith had been appointed as Minister. At approximately 9 p.m., when most people would have been finishing canvassing, we both received news that a celebration was taking place in Thurles for Michael O’Kennedy and Michael Smith, that all of the councillors in the Tipperary region probably would be there and that we should attend. We decided to meet up there and had a few pints. If I am being honest, we had a couple of gallons and stayed until the small hours. We shook hands that night and wished each other luck. As it transpires, I was elected to the Seanad that year but Kieran was not.
Another little thread of camaraderie is that my nominating body was the restaurant association known as Ireland’s Blue Book. On my election to the Dáil in 2002, Kieran was one of the first to telephone me to congratulate me. He had received a nomination from the same nominating body and I wished him luck. I remember early on in the campaign being in west Cork when he rang late at night to ask whether it was too late to travel to Bantry to meet me. I told him there was no problem, as I was on my way to the opening of the Baltimore Seafood Festival and that if he wished, I would arrange to meet him there, as there was another councillor who could be fitted in. Rather than wait until the following day, we met in Baltimore.
I have many happy memories of Kieran and I am mindful of what he would wish Members to do here today. I was the youngest of 11 children in what I consider to be a big family, but when one hears of 18 children, God bless his great mother, as well as his wife, family and extended family. However, I wish to remember him as that hearty, jovial person whose body shook with laughter when he laughed. Members are present to celebrate his life and pay tribute to him. However, I would love to remember this day by recalling the huge attendance of Members, his family and so on.
To conclude, I wish to tell a funny story and Kieran would probably laugh at me from above. For health reasons, I was advised to join the gym after Christmas to shed a few pounds. When I went over to it, I was like a bull in a china shop on machines I had never used before. I had a special little red rucksack and one day — I believe it was a Thursday — as I wanted to get home early, I went to the gym for half an hour while waiting for our Whip, Senator Wilson, to give me the imprimatur to go. Proceedings were difficult that day and he reeled me in. I arrived at his office from the gym with my little red rucksack that contained all the bits and pieces that should have been in the wash. He told me that I could leave and when I remarked that I was under time pressure, he replied that he would look after my bag for me. The following week, when I looked for it, he could not recall what he had done with it. I checked with the Captain of the Guard and every usher in the House was looking for it. With all due respect, I was afraid that it would stink someone’s room and wanted it found for the sake of my own sanity. Eventually, three weeks or so later, the search ended when Kieran — God be good to his soul — got wind of a desperate smell in his office. What had happened was that Senator Wilson had gone over to his office and threw the bag into it. Kieran had kicked it under the table where it had lain for three weeks. He actually apologised to me and told me that had he known it was my bag, he would have returned it to me. However, with all due respect, the real culprit was Senator Wilson. We all had a good laugh about it.
I would like to have happy memories of Kieran recollected here today. He would love Members to celebrate his tremendous life and political achievements. There is no doubt that his family, from his mother to his wife, children and siblings, were very proud of them, rightfully so.
Senator Terry Leyden: This week would have marked Kieran’s birthday and Members pay tribute to him following his untimely death in May. I entered the Seanad on the same day as Kieran and, like all Members, he was extremely proud and privileged to be here. I extend my deepest sympathy to his wife, Mary, and children, Fiona, Martina, Patrick, Aisling and Brenda, as well as to his wonderful grandson, Noah, who I hope someday will be in this House. When he watches the DVD of this event, it will be very important for him.
The fact that Kieran followed his father, Paddy, as a member of Laois County Council and has been replaced on the council by his brother, Brendan, reflects great service given to County Laois. I am sure his mother, Delia, is proud that her husband and two sons have served on the council and particularly proud that Kieran was a Member of this House. It was a great privilege for a family of 18 children. The Phelan family are highly successful and renowned in County Laois as decent, respectable and honourable people. In particular, I am delighted that Delia who reared such a wonderful family is present. I am also delighted to see such a large attendance, both in the Visitors Gallery and the Distinguished Visitors Gallery, including former Senators, some of whom are now Deputies. It is a tribute to his warmth, hospitality, generosity and kindness. The tributes to him are the finest I have heard paid to anyone in this House. I would like to be associated with all the tributes to this great Irishman, Laois man, Fianna Fáil man, father and grandfather. We all miss him.
Senator Francis O’Brien: I express my deepest sympathy to Mary and to Kieran’s four daughters, son, brothers and sisters and to his dear mother, Delia, whom he loved. He was always delighted to visit her every Tuesday morning and to have a cup of tea and talk about the goings on in the country and in the wider community outside County Laois. Kieran was a good man. He was a good family man and very good humoured. Kieran was great crack.
He loved his family and the people of his electoral area and Rathdowney. When Kieran passed away so suddenly, the way the community of Rathdowney looked after everything was second to none. Members of this House saw this at his removal and funeral. The work he did as a public representative and how highly he was thought of in his community showed at his funeral.
Kieran’s family — his brothers and sisters, his wife, Mary, and his mother, Delia — have lost a great friend, but Kieran was a friend to each and every Member of this House. Party did not come into it. He loved to get into the Cathaoirleach’s chair. He would have loved to be in your place, a Chathaoirligh. You put him in the Chair on a few occasions and he loved it.
Senator Francis O’Brien: You are dead right there, a Chathaoirligh. As Senator O’Donovan said, we should think of Kieran as good humoured, good fun and a real friend. May he rest in peace. God bless his family and I wish them all well in the years to come.
Senator Fiona O’Malley: A day like today is always difficult for a family. They are forced to remember the person who is so absent from their lives. I hope they get some comfort from the words of colleagues, because they are heartfelt. We all miss him.
I enjoyed listening to Senator Feeney’s contribution because the word I really miss is “Rathdowney” and the way he would say it. That is when one realised the sound of the man and his ordinariness. That is what I miss most. I miss the way he would say: “Lave it; lave it.” He had a beautiful musicality and ordinariness about him, yet he was an exceptional man. He had a talent for friendship. This is seen by all the people who have travelled far to pay tribute to him today.
An earlier speaker suggested that he was the most popular man in both Houses. Everything he did was done with great gusto, and I miss him. He was always in the House on Tuesdays. I might not always have been here at 2.30 p.m. but when the first vote was on, he would be sitting in his seat so that one wondered if he had stayed over the weekend. Not at all, he would have been in Rathdowney. I enjoyed talking to him about farming, because he had great passion about everything he did. He was such an exuberant man. He really was quite an exceptional individual and had great judgment.
The Taoiseach said in his tribute that he was totally dependable. That is such an ordinary word but it means so much. That is exactly what he was. He was a true gentleman and we miss him terribly. I can only imagine how much his family miss him.
It was his great privilege to serve in the Oireachtas. Previous Members have said how much pride and joy he took in serving here and he never took it for granted. As Senator McFadden said, he was a man who had such enthusiasm for politics. I loved that. He would recharge my batteries any day. I thought Senator McFadden paid him a lovely tribute. He loved to see people serve his country. The way he served his community was demonstrated at his funeral when so many people turned out and gave such an extraordinary funeral. As Senator Quinn said, he was the only person missing at his own funeral. He would have enjoyed it.
Senator Marc MacSharry: As Senator O’Donovan said, Senator Phelan and I never had an ill word. There might have been some poaching of votes from time to time. It is not widely known that Kieran used to tell me who he knew was not voting for him; so therefore, I knew where to fish.
Like Senator Wilson and others, I first met the Phelan family through the meat business. I knew Laurence and Paschal Phelan many years ago, but it was not until I met Kieran Phelan that I realised what nice guys they were. That says a little about Kieran. He was a fantastic man and a smashing friend. We were on the same electoral panel and, as Senator O’Donovan said, it is unlikely that one would be friends with another Senator from the same panel. With Senator Wilson, the former Senator Brennan, who is in the Visitors Gallery, Deputy Scanlon, who was then a Senator, and Senator O’Brien, during six or eight months in 2002 we did a tour of accommodation in Dublin. We were in every establishment from Phibsborough to the city centre and elsewhere until we found our ultimate home in the Grand Canal Hotel. Through many evenings and many chats over the guts of eight years, the contribution Kieran Phelan made to my life was immense.
As Senator Wilson said, he took tremendous pride in the successes of his children and family whom he loved dearly. He also took pride in the achievements and success — material and otherwise -of his siblings. He had no interest in the cost of material things but what he knew more than anyone else, and what he taught me, was the value of things. I had no children and was not married when I was first elected to this House. It is Kieran Phelan who taught me the value of family, friendship and loyalty. That is what I will have to thank him for forever.
I never saw him as someone on the same panel or as an opponent in any way. As Opposition Senators have said, he was just a decent person. He was the epitome of what friendship, loyalty and generosity are about. He could have been in the Dáil, as the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, would say, but his selfless nature meant he was happy for other people to be there and to have those successes and for him to know he had played a part in their success. He did not want endless accolades or praise. It was enough to see the success of others and to know the part he had played in it. It is fitting that, in the fullness of time, he was elected to the House and played a universally popular and significant role. He taught me the value of many things.
To Mary, Fiona, Martina, Brenda, Aisling, Patrick and especially to Noah Patrick Kieran, which is the full title of Kieran’s grandchild, I say my sincerest sympathy. One line sums up Kieran Phelan for me. He was all graces and no airs.
Senator Martin Brady: I knew Kieran Phelan before he became a Senator. I met him when he ran for the Seanad election in 1997. He was beaten by one vote on that occasion but he kept battling on. I would like to be associated with all the good things that have been said about Kieran.
With regard to Kieran’s constituency work, he used to arrive to Leinster House every Tuesday and present a few cases to my secretary, Carol, usually pertaining to getting people with medical problems into hospital. Funnily enough, for some reason or another we were successful with every case he presented to us. I used to ask Kieran whether he would e-mail the outcomes to his constituents but he used to say he would bring them home with him and drop them into their houses. He said it was more effective when one looked them straight in the eye and they looked back.
I told Kieran he would have no problem getting elected given all the work he was doing in his constituency. He said it did not work that way. In this regard, let me quote a remark by Kieran that I have quoted ever since and which I quoted to Senator Quinn today:
Kieran was a very gregarious man and, as every Senator said, he was very good humoured. He had a couple of special friends, as we all do, but he was friendly with everyone. One could not dislike him. He would always make one feel included. If he was in company, he would say: “Murt [as he used to call me], sit down with us.” That is the way he was.
One morning Kieran dropped up a box of chocolates to my secretary, Carol. She said Kieran was a lovely man. I said we knew that. She said he never gave anyone a reason to dislike him because he was so friendly. My secretary was doing bits and pieces for him and he gave her a little gift in recognition.
Kieran was a giver and never looked for recognition. He was not into making big speeches. I used to ask him on certain days whether he was speaking on any matter but he used to say that he was not, that he did things quietly. He did so and was very effective in what he did. He could always give one a bit of advice. In this business, we can learn from one another and one could certainly learn from Kieran.
I sympathise with Kieran’s family, including Mary, Brenda, Martina, Fiona, Aisling and Patrick, and with his grandson. I acknowledge the presence of Kieran’s grandson because he will be able to read these remarks in the historical record. We should remember Kieran as the person he was. I suppose he is looking down on us now, probably surprised that we are saying such good things about him because he did not think we were that fond of him.
Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin: I was elected to this House in a by-election in 2009. I was a new Green Senator and was green in every sense of the word. Kieran sat behind me and I got to chat with him. I got to know him quite well. He took me under his wing and explained to me what the hell was going on in this place because I did not really know. Most Members were elected in 2007. Kieran helped me more than almost anyone else in this Chamber. This is not to disrespect all the others who have been kind to me since I was elected. Kieran really was a very decent man.
Senator Quinn mentioned family. I am a father of five children. Kieran was very proud of his children and, in our discussions, we referred to family most. Kieran would be very proud to see all the members of his family here today. It is a fine family. It was wonderful to meet Kieran’s little grandson just outside the Chamber today. It is wonderful to see a baby in the Chamber today. The family can be very proud. It is quite clear that all the Senators are very proud of Kieran Phelan. He was a great man.
An Cathaoirleach: I want to try to include every Senator and, therefore, ask each one to be brief. I am against the clock because we were to proceed to a motion on finance at 4 p.m. I call Senator Ellis.
Senator John Ellis: As with all my colleagues, I would like to be associated with the vote of sympathy to Kieran’s wife Mary, in addition to his mother, brothers, sisters, daughters, son and grandson. Kieran Phelan could have been nothing other than a gentleman because his mother was a lady. When I rapped on her door in the early 1980s looking for a Seanad vote, she brought me in and made me the cup of tea. Tragically, I did not meet the woman again until the morning Kieran died. We met her then in the hospital and I recalled having been looked after by her almost 30 years earlier in a sympathetic manner.
Seanad candidates, when they travel the country, have some very lonely days, as Senator O’Donovan said. The day on which Kieran’s mother made the tea for me was a lonely day because I had trawled Laois and had not found as much as one fish. Senator O’Donovan was lucky in that he at least found two. I did not find any. I was just told I had to report to Paddy Lawlor that night at a meeting, at which I would get five or six in the one go. That night I became a special friend of someone whom the Leader mentioned, Marty Rohan. I nearly killed him that night on a humpback bridge between Abbeyleix and the late Johnny Cooney’s. These are the sorts of events that stick in one’s mind.
When I was nominated to the Seanad by the Taoiseach, not having been able to get on the industrial and commercial panel through the party — I do not know how that happened but we will leave that until another day — Kieran became a very special friend to me because we had the same interests outside the House. The first question he asked me every Tuesday was what it was worth this week. He was referring to the price of beef and wondered who was paying the most. As the day progressed, he would give a report on the sales he had attended the previous week. Whether Brendan gave him the ones that were cheap, we never knew. However, Kieran always said that Brendan gave him the value.
We lost a perfect gentleman when we lost Kieran Phelan. We lost a friend and colleague and we probably lost the person with the greatest sense of humour among the 60 Members of this House. Kieran had a tremendous sense of humour. I could tell a story in this regard but it would take too long. In that regard, the Cathaoirleach is looking at us with long eyes. One day we were above in the office and we made a telephone call to a certain gentleman. Senators Feeney and Wilson were present. What was happening became so funny that we all had to put down the phones, having wound up the poor individual so far. Kieran turned around and said that if the individual could get his hands on us and knew what we were doing, he would do a job on us. All he did say that day was: “Isn’t it great to have a sense of humour and to be able to ring up someone and say you wound him up and that he is now off the hook?”
To Kieran’s mother, wife, family and grandson, I say I have no doubt that the CD of today’s proceedings will take pride of place not only in his home but also in the homes of all his siblings. It will be there for generations so they will know how we felt about our former colleague. I suppose Kieran is above looking down upon us saying: “They did not say all those things about me when I was with them.” No one knows the value of anyone until he is gone.
Senator Lisa McDonald: I express my deepest sympathy with the family of Kieran Phelan and the community of Rathdowney in Laois. I met Kieran when I entered the House as a young Senator in 2007. As Senator Corrigan said, he often invited me to tag along to tea after the Order of Business. Since he departed, I feel that time of the day has passed with him in that we are not as good at engaging in the camaraderie and craic that he seemed to embody and bring out of us all. It is this that we, as a community of Senators, really miss about Kieran.
Kieran Phelan and I shared a love of the GAA. It struck me how happy he was when his club won the club championship. He was able to tell me about how my club had won the championship and tell me that members of my community that I did not even know were ill or in trouble. He seemed to have antennae watching every parish in Ireland. He was the quintessential Irishman. He loved his community, parish, people, county, country, party and the GAA. He also loved his mother, which is another sign of a good Irishman. Of course, he loved his tea. He used to always invite us for tea and this is what I do not want to forget about him. There are many different types of politicians but I learned from Kieran that some politicians just spring from their communities. He was one of the latter.
On the day of Kieran’s funeral, I was struck with awe regarding the massive crowd that was in attendance. I recall, as a young child, reading about the funeral of Nicky Rackard in Wexford. The report I read indicated that the streets were jammed with people and that his coffin was flanked by his friends and family, members of the community and those whose lives he had touched. It was the same on the day Kieran was buried.
What Kieran did was neither a job nor a chore for him — that was just his way. He was absolutely brilliant at reaching out to people. I recall speaking to him just after I gave birth, when he informed me that his daughter, Fiona, had just been given the good news regarding Noah’s impending birth. For the last few months of his life, Kieran continually spoke to me about babies, children etc. It was as if he was studying up on the subject. I know he was really looking forward to Noah’s birth.
I know the Cathaoirleach is under pressure with regard to time constraints. I also know we could talk forever about Kieran Phelan. The phrase going through my mind at present is “Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann”. When I entered the Chamber earlier and saw little Noah and his amazing smile, I thought, Kieran Phelan will never be dead as long as that boy is alive. If Noah grows up to be half the man his grandfather was, he will be doing well.
In the context of his Irishness, his spirit and the great strength he gained from being Irish, which is something that is often overlooked, Kieran had it all. He certainly passed some of what he had on to me and I am aware that he touched many people’s lives. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: They say a picture paints a thousand words. If a painting were done of this scene before us today it would, in the same way that our memories of Kieran are painted and imprinted in our minds forever, be an eloquent enough tribute in itself. The day on which Kieran’s funeral took place was another picture or moment in time that we will never forget. I recall walking into the local community centre following the funeral and witnessing what people had done in order to make the day special. That is no doubt that this is another picture which will remain in my memory.
I recall how the news of Kieran’s death spread throughout the Houses on 26 May last. While disbelief might have been replaced by reality in the interim, there have been many moments when we have found it difficult to comprehend that Kieran, who was bigger than life in the most positive sense, is not going to appear in the restaurant to have tea or is not going to be present in the House. Kieran will never be gone. Those of us who knew him will always remember him fondly. We are fortunate to have served as Members at the same time as he did. We all remember him as a highly respected, well-loved and very loyal man.
Previous speakers referred to Kieran’s good sense of humour. There was a gang of them in it in that regard. It was great fun for anyone who was on the fringes of the group in which he mixed but I am not sure whether it would have been much fun to be the centre of that group’s attention. Kieran had a great sense of humour and he smiled when one was down. He cheered people up when they did not feel themselves to be in great shape. I do not believe I ever saw him being grumpy or in bad form, even when he was not feeling well. I recall touching base with him on a particular day and informing him that I did not believe he looked especially well. He said to me “Come on and have a cup of tea — it will be grand”.
There are many things one would love to say on a day such as this. However, I am conscious of the time constraints. All I will say to Delia, Mary and the entire family is that all of us in this House are of the view that we lost Kieran too early. We could have enjoyed many more cups of coffee with him in the bar. The members of his family have suffered the direct loss and it is they who have been obliged to live through the months since May. I hope that in the midst of their pain, their happy memories of Kieran have — as is the case with Members — made them smile and laugh. Kieran Phelan will never be dead because we have our memories of him. The unlucky ones are, perhaps, his grandchildren who will never have the opportunity to meet him. I am certain, however, that his family will ensure that their grandfather will be as alive in their hearts as he is in ours.
No amount of words will paint a picture for the family. I am sure, however, that they have many pictures in their photo albums and stored in their minds. I hope that what Members have said about Kieran has offered the family some solace. We give solace to each other by having moments in time like this.
Senator Ann Ormonde: Kieran occupied the office next to mine and every Tuesday afternoon he would come in for a chat. He would chat about how he had walked the land during the previous week and would tell me all about his cows. We used to chat about cows regularly because I told him I loved cows. I also told him I had a lovely painting of a cow and promised to bring it in for him to see. He said to me that if I got another such painting, I should tell him about it. One of the last things I said to him before he died was “Say hello to the cows for me”.
Kieran was a really good person. He was an old-style politician and he did his business in the same way my father did. Kieran was both sincere and committed. If he was asked to pursue a matter, he dedicated himself to doing so. Even if it took two or three weeks to deal with an issue, he would go back in person to the relevant family. He never wrote to people or telephoned them. Instead, he called to see them. That was the way in which he did his business.
Kieran was extremely loyal. Loyalty is a great thing and we need to restore it. Kieran should be remembered as a person who really understood the value of loyalty in politics. His understanding of loyalty was reflected in the way in which he operated. All of the tributes that have been paid are a testament to that for which Kieran stood and how we remember him. He was a smashing man, very sincere and was great in one-to-one situations. Many of the staff of the Houses were absolutely shocked when they heard about his sudden death.
Kieran will be remembered for many reasons. I miss him terribly, particularly as we were located in adjoining offices. I miss chatting to him each Tuesday. I wish to say to his mother, his wife, Mary, his children, his extended family and his family in Fianna Fáil that his loss was shocking and we all miss him terribly.
Senator Larry Butler: I will be brief because I am aware of the time constraints. I wish to express my sympathy to Kieran’s family and friends. Kieran was a very proud Laois man. He did his family and county proud when he served as a Member of this House. Members are very proud of what he did when he was here with us.
I was elected from the same panel as Kieran. I used to meet him on occasion when we were out canvassing for votes. Essentially, we were often seeking the same votes. He was a lovely individual and always paid me the compliment of saying that I was doing very well. He would then state that he was not doing too well. He always had a good word to say about others.
We miss Kieran in the House, particularly because he was an outstanding Acting Chairman. I used to say to him that he was made for the job and he would say he enjoyed being in the Chair. It is important that his family should know that he was a great guy, a good Senator and a good councillor and that he represented the people of Laois so well. He was an extremely honourable man. I am proud to have been elected from the same panel as Kieran and to have known the man.
Senator John Carty: It is with sadness that I rise to pay tribute to Kieran Phelan. I was elected to the Lower House in 2002 but after a short period I became quite friendly with Kieran because we had a great interest in agriculture. During an earlier period in my life, I worked in County Laois and I was able to tell him about Spink, Raheen and other places I had visited and discuss with him the various characters I had met while there. As a result, we became quite friendly.
A group of four of five of Members, including Kieran and me, used to come together to discuss various matters. There was Deputy Johnny Brady who has just left the Gallery, Senator Ellis, myself and a couple more who were interested in agriculture, and we would have a regular debate on it. There was always something wrong with disease eradication and sending cattle to the factory, and why they should or should not be tested. He used put the onus on us, Deputy Johnny Brady and myself — of course, Senator Ellis was helping him in a big way — to get over there and get the various Ministers that we work to and under to change. Some of the changes came, some of them did not.
Senator John Carty: We, Senator Wilson, Senator Ellis, Deputy Johnny Brady and myself and several others, all congregated in there and we had great times and great fun. When one would go into his office, as I did many times a day — indeed, he would go into mine and into Senator Wilson’s — he might be on the telephone. He would be trying to get a problem solved for a constituent and the call would more than likely be to the county council office in Laois, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, or other places on different matters. He would come off the phone and say, “That one’s solved”. One would hear him saying, “Bye, bye, bye.”, and one knew then he was on a winner.
When he would land in, I would ask was he going to such a meeting and he would say he had heard nothing about it. I would say that he got an email or a text, and he would answer that he never read them. That was Kieran’s way. He wanted to do everything on the telephone. He wanted to have the personal touch, and he had it.
It is sad here today but it is also great to see four generations of the Phelans. That is a tribute to him as well. To his mother, to his wife Mary, to his family, to his grandchild, to his brothers and sisters, I offer my sincere sympathy.
Senator Mary M. White: I am honoured to express my sorrow and empathy to his beautiful wife Mary at the shock that she must have got that morning when we heard here the news with disbelief. It is sad that one must walk in the shoes of another person for seven miles before one can experience his or her pain, but I say it to Mary in very humble words.
It is sad for Delia to lose her son. I thank Delia, who I met in the hospital. I did not know Kieran well. He was on a different floor to me and, as she can hear from here today, those who were on his floor knew one another. I discovered later, for other reasons, why. He actually was not very friendly to me for my first few years here and then I discovered that he was a competitor of mine. Interestingly, I did not have this warm friendly relationship until the past 12 months. In the past 12 months when the Taoiseach was under severe pressure in Government, on the Order of Business I would push home the Government’s position because I believe we must be loyal to the Taoiseach and to the Government. Maybe behind closed doors one might give out, but not in public. Every time I praised the Taoiseach, or the Minister, Deputy Harney, for that matter, Kieran gave me a big smile and our relationship grew out of me defending the Government. When I met Delia at the funeral and she said, “I know all about you, Mary”, I was so delighted.
I am very pleased that Brendan is carrying the flag for the Phelan family. I offer my condolences to every one of his widely talented brothers. I know his brother in South Africa the best, and I knew him well before I knew Kieran.
Senator Mark Daly: I had to share an office with Kieran, or he had to put up with me, for a while. I am sure he gave his family some reports on that, on how a Kerry fellow had piles of paper on his desk and did not seem to be getting much achieved, but he did give me some great advice.
We had a common interest in the GAA because we both served on GAA committees together. He used tell me, and I agreed, that GAA committees can often be more political than politics itself. Of course, he had hurling. Mary might remember that once upon a time we gave him a Kerry sliotar, which is probably the rarest artifact one could give anybody. He talked about hurling which, to a Kerryman, would be the equivalent of talking to a nomad in the Sahara desert about deep sea diving, but I tried to empathise with the trials and tribulations of Laois hurling and, of course, cattle dealing and negotiations on fair days. We discussed how the art of negotiation, like politics itself, can be learnt, and fair days, whether in Kenmare or in Laois.
I offer my sympathy to all his family, to his wife Mary and to his darling daughters and his son, his grandson and all the members of his family, his brothers and sisters, and to his mother and to his many friends who, I suppose, would say the words of W. B. Yeats:
Senator Ned O’Sullivan: I did not really know Kieran until I arrived here three years ago. I liked him and I looked up to him and respected him a great deal. He died around the same time that the Taoiseach was about to open the new bypass in Rathdowney, which is on my way home to Kerry. In the last conversation I had with Kieran I asked him the time of the opening and he said he would ring me the following morning, and that call never came. It was a tremendous shock when Senator Glynn rang me to say he had passed away. What a shock it was to Senator Wilson and all his friends who stayed in the hotel and were with him in his final hours. What a huge shock it was to his lovely mother and wife, and all the family. We saw that sense of shock and loss at the funeral mass in Rathdowney.
I just want to say one word about Kieran. For me he was an example because he was a loyal and proud Member of the Seanad. He was always here for every vote and every session. The Leader will confirm that he never missed any of the Fianna Fáil group meetings. He was always there. I am the kind of fellow who tries to do his best always but, with human frailty being what it is, I sometimes go off-side. The very odd time that I missed a vote I would be far more afraid of facing Kieran Phelan than the Whip because he would let one have it. That is genuine.
Senator James Carroll: My first memory of the late Senator Kieran Phelan was when I was a parliamentary assistant to Deputy Margaret Conlon from Monaghan and Senator Wilson, the late Senator Kieran Phelan, the Minister of State, Deputy Maloney, took Margaret under their wings. That meant such a huge amount to Deputy Conlon, as a brand new TD in here in 2007. Senator Feeney was such a great source of support to Deputy Conlon also. I remember on a few occasions I was in the office when a call would come from the late Senator Kieran Phelan, and I never knew who this man was. But when I got in here 11 months ago, I certainly found out who he was.
It was a sad 24 hours before Kieran passed away. I sat in beside him and I told him that Louth were playing Longford the following Sunday in the first round of the championship and I wanted to get an advertisement into the programme, and asked would he know anybody on the county board who could help me. He said he would get a name for me and within two hours he rang giving me a name. I got the advertisement in and I remember I wrote a card to the man who had helped me get it in at the last minute, stating, “Kieran says hello”. Sadly, within 12 or 14 hours Margaret rang me to say that Kieran had passed away. I met Margaret that morning and saw the tears in her eyes. We went into the Cathaoirleach’s office. When I came in here I thought the Cathaoirleach was a man of steel and to see a tear in his eye was very sad. Those are the memories I have of Kieran.
I also remember going to Rathdowney and seeing the huge crowd that was there. It is a credit to see his wife, family and all the Members of the House here and the message they are sending out. May he rest in peace. His memory will never be forgotten in this House and he will not be forgotten by his family and friends.
Senator Rónán Mullen: Ní thógaidh mé i bhfad. Ba bhreá liom chomhbhrón a dhéanamh le máthair Kieran Phelan, a bhean chéile, Mary, agus le Martina, Brenda, Fiona, Patrick agus Noah. I did not know Kieran very well but like others who are relatively new to these Houses, I could fairly describe him as having a gentle reassuring presence. There was something especially warm about the man and about the way he would greet one with his smile. Frequently, I had short chats with him. I was not here very long and we did not have the opportunity, unfortunately, to have many long conversations.
The day of his passing was truly shocking. I remember it very well and very clearly. It was a reminder to us of the transience of all things human, that the joys of life are transient and, it is to be hoped, so too the sorrows of life. I had to be away then but I was very glad I was able to return for his funeral in his home place. I say this for selfish reasons because, like today, his funeral was a celebration of the best in Irish country life and community life. When I arrived at the graveyard I found myself among many people waiting because it took a long time for Kieran to arrive because so many people were present. I remember distinctly the view from the graveyard as people waited. It was a funeral that was celebrated with fitting dignity and respect for the man. That respect for him is very much evident here today in the contributions that people have made.
People often state to the university Senators that it is very difficult for us to get elected but if we are honest, we know there are more difficult elections, and elections to the vocational panels are certainly very difficult.
Senator Rónán Mullen: It seems to me that when one has gone through that system, one is prepared for much that life can throw at one. Certainly, I think Kieran’s gentle and reassuring presence would be welcome in these particularly difficult times when the mood has changed around here because of the challenges our country faces.
This is to say that I hope it is not goodbye and that we will meet him in a better place. Tá súil agam go bhfuil gach comhbhrón déanta lena chlann. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam agus suimhneas síoraí dó.
Senator Paul Bradford: I thank the Cathaoirleach for this opportunity to say a few words of tribute to Senator Phelan. I listened with great interest over the past two hours to the words and comments of my colleagues and for once we can safely say that not a lie was spoken in this House. Every word we have heard over the past two hours about Kieran is absolutely true. I extend my heartfelt sympathy to his wife, mother, family and his colleagues in Fianna Fáil, three or four of whom were exceptionally close to him.
The time of his funeral was a unique occasion and the thousands of people who turned out to pay their respects were the loudest, strongest and most profound statement of all. At a time when politics is in low standing, it was beautiful to see so many people pass a huge vote of confidence in their friend and former public representative, Kieran. If there is something that we all can learn from him it is the simple fact that a smile goes a long way. He had friends not only in this House but throughout the country and he will be sadly missed by all, most of all by his family. They will have treasured memories of a gentleman whose life impacted on all of us. I can safely say that as long as we are here in this House, we will remember him and we will treasure him. May he rest in peace.
Senator John Hanafin: Like many others, I mourn the passing of our colleague. In particular, I found that, like others, I was drawn to Kieran. I was drawn to his affable ways, his kindness and his good humour. I will especially miss him at a time such as this when we have difficulties. I would get a statement from him as to the bottom line of what we are going through. He was a man who had the ability to see through what was happening, reassure everyone that everything would be fine and to see the bright side. To his family, I extend our condolences. We miss Kieran Phelan.
An Cathaoirleach: I would like to be associated, on my own behalf and on behalf of Deirdre, Jody and the Seanad staff, with the tributes to the late Kieran Phelan. As has been stated, he was a Member of this House since 2002. I first knew Kieran when he was a member of Laois County Council. He served with his father in politics prior to that. He served the people of Laois for many years. He was elected on the industrial and commercial panel of Seanad Éireann in 2002 and again in 2007 as a nominee of the Irish Country Houses and Restaurants Association.
Kieran’s integrity and demeanour and unfailing sense of humour made him one of the most popular members of the House and won him respect and friendship of Members from all parties and groups. As a temporary Chair, he regularly presided over sittings, and his sense of fairness and procedural knowledge was very obvious. As was commented on earlier by a Senator, he almost created a record at one time during a robust exchange between Members of the Opposition and a Minister. Kieran told the Minister he might set a record as he might be the first man to ask a Minister to leave the Seanad Éireann Chamber.
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