Fine Gael TD Richard Bruton has paid an emotional Dáil tribute to his brother, John, whose death was announced yesterday.
The 76-year-old former taoiseach died following a long battle with illness.
His State funeral will take place in his home town of Dunboyne, Co Meath on Saturday.
Speaking during expressions of sympathy in the Dáil, Richard said that John’s acts of kindness were “repaid a thousand times over” in the past year, which he described as a difficult one.
He said that his brother had lived by the belief that “every person counts”.
A visibly-moved Mr Bruton noted the care and support that John had received “from people here” and “people in hospitals”.
“People have been so nice, and so decent,” he said.
Expressing gratitude for the Dáil tributes, Deputy Bruton said: “It willl certainly buoy us up, and it is greatly appreciated”.
His remarks were met with a sustained ovation, after which a minute’s silence was observed, before the house adjourned for the day.
The flag over Leinster House hung at half mast today as a mark of respect to Mr Bruton.
Bruton described as ‘fine statesman’ and ‘towering figure’
The Taoiseach praised the “modern patriot” John Bruton and his sustained efforts to create a peaceful and more prosperous country.
Speaking during expressions of sympathy for the former taoiseach, Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that Mr Bruton had passionately believed in politics as a noble pursuit which could change lives for the better.
“As taoiseach, John Bruton changed our country forever, and for the better.”
While Mr Bruton was a serious intellectual, “he was always good company,” the Taoiseach said, describing him as “witty, gregarious, sociable, self-deprecating, with a distinctive infectious laugh.”
Minister for Finance Michael McGrath lauded “a towering figure in the development of modern Ireland” who had steadfastly pushed for economic growth and an end to the “scourge of unemployment.”
Speaking for Fianna Fáil, Minister McGrath said that Mr Bruton had “helped lay the foundations for the Good Friday Agreement”, and had been “dedicated to ending political violence”.
This had in part been motivated by the murder of his friend, Senator Billy Fox from Co Monaghan, by loyalist paramilitaries, the minister suggested.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan praised Mr Bruton as a “rigorous and merciful” politician.
The Minister for the Environment said that John Bruton’s rainbow coalition probably “wrote the rule book on a three-party coalition” – a point echoed by Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik.
Mr Bruton would have acknowledged “with his famous, big booming laugh” the “fundamental disagreements” between him and the Labour Party in that administration, Deputy Bacik said.
But she acknowledged that he leaves an “extraordinary legacy of public service”.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald also noted the “deep and very serious disagreements” between Mr Bruton and Sinn Féin during the “very fraught” days of the peace process.
Highlighting “his considerable abilities and work ethic”, along with his “notable skill”, Ms McDonald said that she was “very, very sorry to hear” of his passing.
She praised his commitment to public service along with his resilience and unfailing courtesy. He had always relished debating his sincerely-held views.
Brendan Howlin, who served as minister for the environment in the coalition government, described Mr Bruton as “a very distinguished member of this house and a fine statesman”.
His “respect” for his coalition colleagues had led to the administration’s “cohesion and its survival”, he said.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, a Meath TD, said that Mr Bruton had known every inch of the constituency and apparently everyone in it.
A true gentlemen, he will be sorely missed, she told the Dáil, but will always be at the heart of Fine Gael.
Minister McEntee recounted how she never tired of the delight and surprise on peoples’ faces when he appeared at their door canvassing, always introducing himself by saying: “Hello, I’m John Bruton” before asking for their vote.
Another constituency colleague, Sinn Féin TD Darren O’Rourke, observed that Mr Bruton’s widespread popularity extended well beyond party supporters. “That says something,” he said.
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl began the session by expressing his profound sadness, describing Mr Bruton as “a modern Irish patriot” who had given the country a “lifetime of sterling service”.
He “strode the international stage with purpose”, but was always “warm and unassuming” and generous with his time, Mr Ó Fearghaíl said.
Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan said that Mr Bruton’s support for the Divorce Referendum in 1995 had been crucial in its passing.
He praised his integrity, committment and good humour.
Speaking for the Regional Group, Independent TD Denis Naughten said that the struggles of ordinary people had a “profound effect” on Mr Bruton who worked hard to improve their lot.
He was brimming with ideas, open to suggestions and principled, Deputy Naughten said.
Rural Independent Mattie McGrath praised “a great and principled political leader”, who was “a man of vision” and “a champion of democracy”.
Mr Ó Fearghaíl noted that no-one from Solidarity-People Before Profit spoke during the tributes.
A man of ‘enormous enthusiasm’ – Spring
Former Labour leader Dick Spring described Mr Bruton as a man of endless energy, relentless ideas, and enormous enthusiasm.
“John was a man with no side to him, always ready to laugh, and hugely generous and hospitable.
“It will not be a secret that the relationship between John and me got off to a rocky start. We fought many battles in the 1980’s in particular.
“John was a man of strong conviction and not one to back away from an argument if he felt it necessary. He also had a strong ideological commitment to the role of private enterprise, sometimes to the exclusion of all else, and that led to its fair share of disagreements.”
Mr Spring said he will remember Mr Bruton best as viscerally opposed to violence in all its forms, yet still found a way, in the interests of peace, to work with those who had espoused violence.
“Above all perhaps I’ll remember John as a man who loved his family, his constituency and his country, and as someone prepared to give his all in the interests of public service.”