White pays tribute to Dr. Paddy Hillery

From today’s Seanad sitting:

On behalf of the Labour Party, I wish to be associated with the tributes to the former President, Dr. Paddy Hillery. His death represents the passing of another member of an extraordinary generation of politicians, namely, those who were born immediately after independence and who came to prominence in the middle part of the previous century. Members of that generation are characterised by a particular kind of commitment to public service. Different generations have various ways of expressing the commitment to which I refer. The type of commitment displayed by Dr. Hillery could be almost described as a form of sacrifice.

This is a recurring theme with regard to Dr. Hillery. He said himself he felt he did many things out of a sense of duty. There was a sense of selflessness about it. It can absolutely be said of that generation, and particularly of him, that his commitment to politics and public service was motivated by nothing other than a sense of duty and of honour at serving one’s country. There was never any question of its being done for personal gain or opportunity. This is something that characterises that generation of politicians and public figures which, in a sense, is now passing. His passing is a particularly poignant example of that.

As others have said, Paddy Hillery distinguished himself in a number of different positions in Government. In particular, as Minister for Education, he laid the groundwork for much of the work that was done later. He was essentially a progressive Minister for Education and did a large amount of work in that position. For a short time he was Minister for Industry and Commerce, but he was particularly important in his post at the Department of Labour, introducing industrial legislation in the late 1960s which is still an important part of our industrial relations infrastructure.

Others have referred to Dr. Hillery’s work on Northern Ireland. I endorse the remarks of Senator Fitzgerald with regard to his contribution to the major issues of peace in this country and our involvement and commitments in Europe. I remember when he stood up to the Irish Government in respect of equal pay, which I welcomed. It was vitally important in those early years of our membership of the EEC that we did not see the benefits of our involvement as flowing in one direction but that we also made a commitment to a fundamental right to equal pay, which was then expressed in legislation in 1974. This was a vitally important, progressive move. He was clear that it had to be implemented and he did the country a great service in this regard.

I join with my colleagues in conveying my sympathy and condolences to Paddy Hillery’s family, Dr. Maeve Hillery and Dr. John Hillery, and recall his great personal warmth as a human being as much as a politician. His loss will be felt greatly in this country. I wish to be associated with today’s tributes.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.