‘A life of extraordinary public service’: Taoiseach leads Dáil tributes to John Bruton

Richard Bruton thanks colleagues from across the political spectrum for their tributes to the former taoiseach and Fine Gael leader

Former taoiseach John Bruton saw “politics as the art of resolving conflict ultimately”, his brother Richard Bruton has told the Dáil.

The Fine Gael TD said his brother was “a man with a lot of ideas” who loved politics and had written “a plan for the nation” over the space of a weekend.

Normal Dáil business was suspended on Wednesday with hours of statements heard instead on the former taoiseach and Fine Gael leader.

A minute’s silence was observed in the Dáil after speeches were concluded for Mr Bruton, who died on Tuesday aged 76 following a long illness.


His brother Richard, who became emotional at times during his speech to the chamber, said while John had strong beliefs, he always found the “middle ground” with others.

Mr Bruton said his older brother was “a pioneer of reform” of the Dáil and would be “very proud” of how it had evolved.

He also said his brother believed that the European Union was the “greatest creation in international collaboration that was ever made” and saw it as a great opportunity for Ireland.

Mr Bruton said one of the abiding loves of his brother’s life was learning, and that he was “a voracious reader” with “a voracious appetite for new ideas”.

“He never lost that interest in the next thing that was coming up,” he said.

Concluding his remarks, Mr Bruton said his brother had struggled with the countless acts of kindness towards him over the past year as he dealt with his illness and thanked colleagues across the political spectrum for their tributes.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said John Bruton was “a modern patriot who led a life of extraordinary public service” and had made “lasting contributions to our country and leaves a remarkable legacy”.

Mr Varadkar said the former taoiseach had inspired him to enter politics and to join Fine Gael.

“I was struck by his incredible belief in young people and his unshakeable faith that they could make a difference,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said as taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, Mr Bruton’s rainbow coalition “set our country on a path to peace and prosperity”.

“Before he took office, economic growth was slow and stuttered. Thanks to the policies of the rainbow government, it took off spectacularly in a strong and sustainable way,” he said.

“I believe he helped to lay the foundations for much of the economic prosperity we enjoy today.”

Minister for Finance Michael McGrath (Fianna Fáil) said Mr Bruton was “by any measure, a towering figure in the development of modern Ireland”.

“He was a patriot in the truest sense of the word because he believed in serving all of the people of the nation and dedicated his life to the idea that a democratic society must respect diversity of traditions and opinions,” he said.

“Within this, he powerfully rejected the idea that there is only one tradition within Irish nationalism and challenged us all to look beyond the limits of our own narratives.

“In these days of increasing verbal aggression and partisanship, particularly in online discourse, we would do well to remember the approach he followed, of respecting those that you disagree with.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said it was “no secret” her party had “deep and very serious disagreements” during the period of the peace process but pointed to the “notable achievement of his government” in passing the divorce referendum in November 1995.

Ms McDonald said while she profoundly disagreed with his viewpoint and positions on many issues, in particular Ireland’s revolutionary history and the Easter Rising, she knew his perspective was sincerely held.

She also described him as always courteous, a true gentleman, adding that “he did this State and the people of Meath some considerable service”.

Labour TD Brendan Howlin, who served as minister for environment in the rainbow coalition, said a critical component of that government’s cohesion was “the character of John Bruton”.

“His approach to cabinet, his respect not only for the component parties in the government but for each member of the government, led to its cohesion and survival,” he said.

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Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times