Former Fine Gael senator Paul Coghlan has died after a long illness. The Kerry politician was a long-standing member of Seanad Éireann. He served for five consecutive terms after being first elected in 1997 up to his retirement in 2020. He was Leas Chathaoirleach of the Seanad during his last term between 2016 and 2020.
A native of Killarney, Mr Coghlan was a businessman who worked as a bank official, auctioneer and property developer during a long career.
He was also involved in local politics for many years as a member of Kerry County Council and Killarney Urban District Council.
He stood unsuccessfully for the Dáil in 1992.
A graduate of University College Cork, Mr Coghlan was small in stature but had an ebullient personality. He built up a wide social network throughout his long career, forging strong connections and friendships at all levels in business, politics, the legal profession and the judiciary in Ireland and in Britain. However, he was also grounded in his own town of Killarney, and in Co Kerry.
A founding director of Radio Kerry, he also served as President of Killarney Chamber of Commerce and was a driving force behind the society that commemorated Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, the Kerry priest who used the Vatican to help families escape from the Nazis.
He was also a long-serving member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and was involved in key committees that worked on improving the Anglo-Irish Agreement, co-operation between policing services and the freedom of movement between Britain and Ireland.
Mr Coghlan was a devout Catholic and was one of the Fine Gael members to oppose the repeal of the eight amendment.
The Kerry senator also made alliances across the political spectrum and his Senate vote in each election was said to include more than a few votes from TDs and councillors from other parties.
He became close to former Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny during his term as Taoiseach. On the night before Mr Kenny resigned in 2017, Mr Coglan recalled that in a conversation Mr Kenny brought up the subject of the legendary Kerry player Colm “Gooch” Cooper.
“Enda said to me, the Gooch knew that the time was right to go,” said Mr Coghlan, who was urging Mr Kenny not to resign.
“I replied to him: ‘That’s not a fair comparison. The Gooch was grounded by a bad injury and you are fit and full of energy’. But I got the sense that he had made up his mind.”
Mr Coghlan retired from the Seanad in 2020 after deciding not to contest that year’s election for the Upper House.
He is survived by his wife, Peggy Coughlan, and their five adult children Michael, Mairead, Áine, John Paul and Aoife.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of the “very proud Kerryman”.
“Paul was hard-working, dedicated and never forgot his roots in the Kingdom. Perhaps most importantly, he was always courteous and kind and was driven by his commitment to public service and his local community.
“I served with him in the Oireachtas between 2007 and his retirement in 2020. But even before that, as councillor, Paul offered encouragement and practical support. He was very collegial and affable in his approach to politics. He would talk to anyone and fell out with no one. While we did not always see eye to eye on policy, he was always very kind, very good company and he will be missed by his colleagues and party.”
Cathaoirleach of Kerry County Council, Cllr John Francis Flynn, said Mr Coghlan was a distinguished politician who had given many long years of service as a member of Seanad Éireann, Kerry County Council and Killarney Urban District Council.
“Paul was first a foremost a Killarney man and throughout his career, he always advocated eloquently for his native place and for the county as a whole. Whether making his mark in the UDC chamber, the County Council chamber or the Seanad chamber, he was a dedicated and committed public servant who had many friends across the political divide.”