Seanad Éireann - Volume 152 - 08 October, 1997

Death of Deputy Kemmy: Expression of Sympathy.

An Cathaoirleach: It is customary that there would be one speaker from each group.

Mr. Cassidy: I join with the Labour Party and all the Members of the House in expressing our sympathy on the death of Deputy Jim Kemmy.

It was obvious from the many tributes paid to Jim Kemmy over the past week that he was a very popular Member of the Oireachtas and that he was respected by all sides. This respect was earned by his many years of service in the House, as a trade unionist, as a member of Limerick Corporation where he proudly served as major and in his life in Limerick in general.

He stood for the real men and women of Limerick and worked ceaselessly for their causes. He spoke for those who were voiceless and was never afraid to go it alone for the sake of what, in his eyes, was right and just. Whether as an Independent, a member of his Democratic Socialist Party or as a high profile member and chairman of the Labour Party, Jim Kemmy's voice could not be stilled. Nobody could ever doubt his sincerity and integrity, his love for life or his belief that people have the right to live their lives as free people in a just society.

Our sympathy goes to his companion, Patsy, his brother, Joe, his two sisters, Maureen and Joan, and all his colleagues and friends in the Labour Party. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party and, as Leader in this House, I wish to express our gratitude to his colleagues and friends for his dedication and hard work over the years as a Member of the Oireachtas. Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam.

Mrs. Jackman: On behalf of the Fine Gael group, I extend our sympathy to the Members of the Labour Party and particularly to the people of Limerick who still miss him so much. I extend our sympathy to his lifelong companion, Patsy, the immediate members of this family, his two sisters, Joan and Maureen, his brother, Joe, and his nephew.

He was a prophet honoured in his own city. We did not have to wait until Jim was dead to appreciate his popularity. We miss his ambling gait as he walked up and down on the streets of Limerick, stopping to chat or to discuss his anthology or articles for his Limerick journal, always ready to listen.

We, from Limerick, miss him because he was a father figure. He was a liberal voice when it was not popular to be so. He worked among the disadvantaged. He attended every public meeting where sometimes he was criticised for his very definite stand on issues but he did not flinch. He often said, “Mary, politics will be there after us”.

He was a man who had a great sense of life and [151] honesty. His funeral epitomised the kind of man he was. It was simple, dignified and ordinary. The hearse passed his favourite haunts and stopped for a moment. It was poignant, when walking away from the graveyard that very warm midday, that the only sound which could be heard after he was buried was that of a member of his trade, a stonemason, simply chipping away at a monument. That is exactly as he would have liked it. He was Limerick's father and we still miss him very much.

Mr. O'Toole: On behalf of the Independent Senators, I want to be closely associated with the tributes paid to the late Deputy Jim Kemmy. All his political life he was seen to take a stand on issues that were often unpopular. We saw him time and time again standing on his own preparing to be the lonely voice. He is the man who proved beyond all else that one person with courage is a majority on his own. We saw him prepared to put his Dáil seat and his political career at risk voting against the budget on one famous occasion. We saw him some years later being hounded out of office — or, if he was not hounded out of office, the right-wing forces of the Church in Limerick ensured that he was not returned by the electorate, but he still fought on. He never whinged. He was a public representative; he was always a fighter. At the last meeting I had with him during the summer, when I was lobbying him on some issue, he did not agree with me, which was typical of him, and argued like he always did.

He proved something hugely important — that to be a patriot is something which is learned. His love of his native city, his extraordinary pride when he was its mayor, and the fact he was never afraid to show and share that pride and love was something of which we were all well aware. His commitment to this country was seen in many varied aspects of his life on which I do not have time to elaborate.

I make one substantial point and in the knowledge that I am elected to this House by graduates of a number of universities. Jim Kemmy proved one did not have to be a graduate, did not need university education or to go through years of education to be an extraordinarily effective and clear thinking public representative. He proved one did not have to have a degree to be an extraordinary historian and that an ordinary person could make a huge contribution. At a time when the community and society do not put great store by commitment to public life, it is important for us, his colleagues, to point to him as an example and role model for young people and others who seek to serve this country.

On behalf of the Independent Senators, I draw attention to his commitment to public service and to his extraordinary energy as a public representative and offer our condolences and sympathy to his family, friends and partner.

[152] Mr. Costello: On behalf of the Labour Party I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Leader of the House for giving time for tributes to be paid today. We are particularly gratified by their tone and the fine things which have been said about our colleague, Jim Kemmy, chairman of the parliamentary Labour Party and long time Deputy for Limerick. The Oireachtas is a poorer place for his untimely death. Many Members were aware our colleague was seven weeks ill in St. James's Hospital, an illness he bore stoically with courage and fortitude.

I was fortunate enough to visit him on Thursday, 25 September. I was coming from an inaugural meeting of the Law Society in UCD at which the motion was “Politics is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. I arrived at St. James's Hospital at 10.45 p.m. and was present with his family and friends when he died at 11.05 p.m. I thought how utterly offensive the assertion in that motion was to a politician like Jim Kemmy who graced politics all his life with high principles, courage, conviction and care for the underprivileged.

It is obvious from the many tributes paid to Jim over the past few days that he was a popular Member of the Oireachtas, was respected by all sides and that that respect was earned by his many years of service as a politician, trade unionist, member of Limerick Corporation, where he was proud to serve as mayor on two occasions, and his contribution to life in Limerick in general.

Many have described Jim Kemmy as a big man on the landscape, and that he was. He was born in Limerick in 1936 and understood well the harshness of life for many in his native city, particularly during the 1930s and 1940s. He experienced the trauma of exile when he went to England in the 1950s. On his return in 1960, he became an active trade unionist, particularly in the stonemasons' and bricklayers' unions, while working as a stonemason himself. He had an extremely active life as a politician for over 30 years, most of which is well known. Some of it was spent outside the Labour Party when he led the Democratic Socialist Party. My colleagues and I in the Labour Party were especially glad that he recently rejoined after the merger of the two parties. The high esteem in which he was held by our party was evidenced by the fact that he went on to become vice-chairman and subsequently chairman, a position he held until he died.

Jim Kemmy had another life outside politics which was equally important to him. By and large, he was self-educated, widely read and the proud editor of the Old Limerick Journal for many years. He was a great supporter of the arts in his native city and throughout the country. His fine work The Limerick Anthology was published last year. Many people are aware that he was looking forward to the publication of the compendium of Limerick literature in November and I understand the publication will be dedicated to his memory.

[153] Jim Kemmy's politics were influenced by strong views on poverty, personal freedom and the national question. He voiced his views without fear or favour over the years and on many occasions when it was neither fashionable nor profitable. If anyone doubted his stature and standing in the city he loved, they will have been left in no doubt by the scenes on the streets of Limerick during his funeral procession. The people of Limerick lined the streets to say farewell to one of their favourite sons. His companion Patsy, brother Joe, sisters Maureen and Joan and their families, all of whom are rightly proud of Jim and his achievements, will mourn his passing and they have our sincere sympathy on this sad occasion.

Jim was a man of the people in the true sense of that expression — as a stonemason, trade unionist, politician, local historian or friend of many Members of this and the other House. We all mourn his untimely passing. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Mr. Dardis: It is appropriate that the Seanad should mark the passing of Deputy Kemmy. He was a great politician, Irishman and patriot. He served as an excellent role model for anyone considering entering public life in that he was the epitome of what a good public representative and constituency person should be. He was also a great survivor. That is a tribute to his resilience and the fact that he fought causes which, at times, seemed unpopular. However, he fought them in a principled manner. He was deeply committed to the underprivileged. With the passing of time issues which were unpopular when he first stood for them proved to be vindicated as was he by the success of some of those causes.

Jim Kemmy was a fearless man with a great heart. What one saw was what one got; that was the mark of the man. His great love of Limerick has been referred to and was manifest in the fact that he was self-taught and none the worse for it. He was learned and there lies a lesson for those who presume themselves more learned than others by virtue of academic training or education. Deputy Kemmy put the lie to that. He was an emigrant and experienced what that did to people. I am sure this informed many of the political battles he fought. On behalf of the Progressive Democrats I extend our sympathy to his companion, family and friends and his colleagues in the Labour Party.

Members rose in their places.