Seanad Éireann - Volume 187 - 31 October, 2007
Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy.
Senator Donie Cassidy Senator Donie Cassidy
Senator Donie Cassidy: On my own behalf and on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, I offer my sympathy to Deputy Seán Sherlock, his family and the Labour Party on the death of our late colleague, Joe Sherlock. Joe was a proud Corkman who served for a long time and worked hard both as a Member of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann. He was first elected in 1981 to the Dáil as sole representative of Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party. He lost his seat in 1982, regained it in 1987, retained it in 1989 only to lose it again in 1992. However, he won the seat back in 2002 and he served as a Member of this House between 1993 and 1997. I had the great honour and pleasure of serving with Joe Sherlock, a very humble, decent and honourable man, during that period. He won a seat on the Labour Panel, similar to myself.
He was a man of great commitment and conviction and he always represented the poor and the underprivileged. From a young age, he showed great commitment to the people of north Cork and to improving the lives of the less well off in the community. His election to Mallow Urban District Council in 1974 marked the beginning of a successful political career that spanned more than four decades.
Joe Sherlock was a committed public representative whose dedication and loyalty to the people of Mallow and north Cork will be sadly missed. They have lost a true champion who was passionate in his work on their behalf. In his brief retirement, he was extremely proud of his son Seán, who followed in his footsteps by being elected to the Dáil this year. Joe worked all his life to be elected to both Houses and to local authorities in Cork. Seán will follow in his footsteps and enhance the great reputation of the Sherlock family.
I would like to extend my sympathy to Joe’s wife, Ellen; his daughter, Úna; and his sons, Joseph and Seán. Go ndéanfaidh Dia trócaire ar a anam.
Senator Frances Fitzgerald Senator Frances Fitzgerald
Senator Frances Fitzgerald: It is an honour to pay tribute on behalf of the Fine Gael group to Joe Sherlock, a former Member of both Houses of the Oireachtas. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to know him during my time as a Member of the Dáil and I was always impressed by his deep commitment to the people he represented in the Cork East constituency and to the causes dear to him. Throughout his 40 years in public life, Joe Sherlock demonstrated a deep and unwavering commitment to public service as a member of local authorities and both Houses of the Oireachtas. The leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Gilmore, put it well when he said of Joe, “He was an outstanding public representative whose dedication and commitment to the people he represented was an inspiration to us all”.
I offer my deepest condolences to the Sherlock family, Joe’s former colleagues in the Labour Party and, particularly, his son, Deputy Seán Sherlock, who is continuing his family’s tradition of public service in the Oireachtas. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Senator David Norris Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris: It is rather sad in a way to say goodbye to Joe Sherlock. I, like the Leader, have happy memories of him in Leinster House. He was a good, committed, regular contributor in this House and he always had a twinkle in his eye. I seem to remember him smoking a pipe. Perhaps I am wrong but I have an image of him fiddling with the pipe with his eyes twinkling away while he made a sharp, perceptive comment. He was a man who was involved in the republican movement but he saw the light and opted for democratic politics. He was in Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party and he was one of the architects of the move on the left that united the Workers’ Party and the Labour Party. Shortly after he was elected as both the first and only representative of Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party in 1981, he said he hoped there would be a realignment of the left and that both parties would work in closer harmony.
He was an honest, decent man of the soil. He started life as an agricultural labourer and he had a lovely, easy swing of a walk along the corridors of Leinster House that marked him as somebody from a rural background, as my own people were, and I always liked that about him. He was loyal to north Cork. He fought for Mallow hospital and the sugar beet industry in which he had been employed. He will be missed but he was extremely proud at the close of his political career that his son, Seán, was elected to succeed him. I met Seán recently in the corridors and I asked him whether he was one of the new Members. When he told me who he was, I was very pleased to shake his hand and say I remembered his father with great affection. He will be a distinguished representative.
When I told my colleagues in the office that we were having expressions of sympathy on the death of Joe Sherlock and I had been asked to say a few words about him, everybody, including the secretarial staff, commented on what a decent, nice man he was. That is a rather good tribute. On behalf of the Independent Members, I offer my sympathy to his wife, Ellen and his children, Úna, Joseph and Sean, who has followed him into the world of politics.
Senator Alex White Senator Alex White
Senator Alex White: On behalf of the Labour Party, it is a sad honour to pay tribute to my late colleague, Joe Sherlock, a former Member of both Houses of the Oireachtas. As previous speakers said, Joe served for many years in public life and he gave strong public service throughout his career. He was a deeply principled man who was truly dedicated to the people of Mallow and east Cork. Like many of his generation, he did not have an easy upbringing. He worked hard from a young age, initially on local farms and then in Mallow sugar factory. He had a passion for all things Cork and all things local. Mallow hospital and the sugar factory played significant roles in his contributions over many years and I recall, when I worked in the media, the very effective campaign he led to retain services in Mallow hospital, which are still there today.
At an early age, Joe became involved in the trade union movement and he then took the political path. He was a true republican who was proud of his country. He recognised at an early age, as a member of a generation of republicans of that era, the need for effective political change. He moved with the times and was proud ultimately to serve as a Deputy for the Labour Party.
Joe was famous for the passion with which he spoke and for his particular style of oration. People tended to listen to him regardless of whether they agreed with his argument, because they knew his words came from the heart. He was impatient with bureaucracy and became frustrated when progress was not sufficiently speedy. As public representatives, we are all aware of the frustration of awaiting a return telephone call or written response. He had a fiery temper and could occasionally deliver a sharp-edged response. He used that fieriness to great effect to get his point across. Inevitably, however, he quickly returned to his courteous self. This is the person Senator Norris and others have called to mind today.
Joe Sherlock’s political career began with his election to Mallow Urban District Council. He often reminded people that he was first elected in 1967 with 110 votes. Few elections are won these days with only 110 votes.
Senator David Norris Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris: Senators elected by the panels can do so.
Senator Alex White Senator Alex White
Senator Alex White: Senator Norris will be pleased to know that I secured some 165 votes in the election.
By the time he retired, Joe had accumulated 40 years of unbroken service in elected office. This is a significant achievement in anybody’s book. He contested a Dáil election for the first time in 1973 and continued to challenge for a seat until he was successful in 1981. As the Leader said, he was re-elected in 1982, 1989 and 2002. He was a type of Lazarus who kept returning, whether to this House, through the labour panel, or to the Lower House. He served these Houses with great distinction throughout those years.
When he retired earlier this year, he threw himself into the election campaign of his son and our colleague, Deputy Sherlock. He was immensely proud that his son was successful in retaining the seat in Cork East. It is sad that Joe did not get to enjoy a significant period of retirement. As someone who contributed so much to his county and country and to politics in general, he deserved such a retirement. He will be sadly missed in Mallow and elsewhere in east Cork as well as in the Labour Party. He was a man of considerable integrity and passion. As my party leader, Deputy Gilmore, said at his graveside, we are saying goodbye to a true political comrade, friend and patriot. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Senator Dan Boyle Senator Dan Boyle
Senator Dan Boyle: I am pleased to join in the expressions of sympathy for a person who was not only a former Member of both Houses but also a Cork man. I attended many political events with Joe Sherlock in the Cork area. He was a person recognised for his assiduousness as a constituency worker in view of his involvement in campaigns such as those relating to Mallow General Hospital and to the sugar factory in Mallow. He was also associated with the workforce in Mitchelstown Co-operative. Mallow was where he built his political base but he was well known throughout north-east Cork, in towns such as Mitchelstown and Fermoy. Senator Bradford knows Cork East is a constituency with a broad reach, stretching from Roches Point to Buttevant. Anyone contesting that constituency must make themselves widely known throughout its length and breadth. Part of Joe Sherlock’s achievement was that he did so successfully.
As Members observed, his 40 years of unbroken public service is a notable milestone. Other speakers have outlined his political journey. He was first elected as a member of the then Sinn Féin Party, which became Sinn Féin the Workers' Party. He was elected as the first Deputy for that party in 1981. It subsequently became the Workers' Party and then Democratic Left, which ultimately merged with the Labour Party. What historians might consider political inconsistency was, in Joe Sherlock’s case — and in the case of many others — a natural progression.
I must confess I was part of a conspiracy that saw Joe Sherlock become a Member of this House. He, along with two Progressive Democrats Senators, made history in February 1993 by becoming the first members of a non-traditional party to be directly elected to this House. This came about as a result of an electoral arrangement between the Progressive Democrats, Democratic Left and the Green Party. I was the fifth leg of that particular arrangement, having been deposited on the cultural and educational panel without being told I would need three times as many votes as I received. I nonetheless managed to quadruple the Green Party’s tally in that election.
Senator David Norris Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris: Did Senator Boyle increase the number of votes to three?
Senator Dan Boyle Senator Dan Boyle
Senator Dan Boyle: Senator Norris will be interested to learn it was 48,000 votes.
Senator David Norris Senator David Norris
Senator David Norris: Does the Senator mean four and a half votes?
Senator Dan Boyle Senator Dan Boyle
Senator Dan Boyle: It is poignant that we are marking the passing of a fine public representative. However, we do so in the spirit in which he lived his life. I welcome the opportunity to mark his passing in this House.
Senator Fiona O’Malley Senator Fiona O’Malley
Senator Fiona O’Malley: It is a sad honour to remember the man Senator Boyle correctly described as a fine public representative. It was a delight to serve with Joe Sherlock in Dáil Éireann during the last parliamentary term. He was a dedicated, decent man and a true republican. He was a man of and for the people, a person who never forgot his roots. He truly brought great distinction and honour to the profession of politics. It is a pity there are not more like him. It is sad to consider that he did not get to enjoy his retirement for any length of time. I heard of his death during the summer with great sadness. As a man who had given so much time to public service, it seemed only fair that he should now enjoy the next period of his life in the knowledge of the contribution he made to advancing the country he loved so much. Sadly, he did not live to enjoy the fruits of his labour.
I am sure it was a cause of great delight for him and his party to see his son, Deputy Sherlock, succeed to his seat. I wish the latter well in his endeavours. It will be difficult for him to go forward in seeking to hold the seat for his party without being able to rely on the guidance and advice of his father. It was a privilege to have worked with Joe and I remember him fondly today.
Senator Paul Bradford Senator Paul Bradford
Senator Paul Bradford: I join in the words of tribute to the late Joe Sherlock and extend my condolences and sympathy to his family, all of whom I know personally. I knew Joe Sherlock politically and personally for more than 20 years. The word I most associate with him is “determination”. If Joe had not been so politically dedicated, my own political career might have been smoother. However, I hope we drew the best out of each other. While we were electoral rivals for many years, there was never a cross word between us. There were several occasions on which I offered electoral sympathy to Joe and vice versa.
In advance of the November 1992 election — in which, unfortunately, he lost his seat — I recall Joe was in hospital in Dublin to undergo heart surgery. I visited him there and we conversed about life and politics. We agreed there were greater battles than a political election. Fortunately, Joe came through that surgery and enjoyed a good quality of life for many more years.
People generally associate Joe with Mallow, where he was central to political life for almost 40 years. He came from the village and parish of Kildorrery, which was his first love geographically. Whether it was a GAA match in which Kildorrery was playing or the annual Kildorrery carnival, Joe always loved to go back to his home village.
He has many political monuments and people have mentioned the hospital and sugar factory in Mallow to which he dedicated much of his political career. He served for almost 40 years in local government and was the chairman of Mallow Town Council on many occasions. He also served on Cork County Council and in both Houses of the Oireachtas.
The political role with which he enjoyed being deeply involved was the old Southern Health Board. I imagine he was a member of that board for almost two decades, being one of the strong voices when it had a real role in the health services in north Cork and throughout the region. Whether it was a hospital in Mallow, Cork county or Kerry, or a query from a constituent from the health board region, he attended very sincerely to his duties. The legacy he has left to Mallow, Cork East and the province of Munster is one of simple service, dedication and commitment.  Standing the political tests of four decades is a monument in itself.
Deputy Sherlock had a significant interest in local government and on numerous occasions he raised the question of the charter of local government. He was very happy at the time of the 1999 referendum which put local government on a statutory footing, a campaign with which he was very involved.
I have the fondest of political recollections of my political neighbour, Joe Sherlock. My office was only 200 yards from his front door and we met and spoke frequently. As is the case with rural and political life, we were political rivals but I hope we were political colleagues and friends. I will long and fondly remember him, as will all the people of Cork East and County Cork.
Senator Peter Callanan Senator Peter Callanan
Senator Peter Callanan: I join with the tributes being paid to the memory of the late Joe Sherlock. I can only endorse the fine words which have been expressed about him. Without going into repetition I can say that Joe Sherlock was a man with a mission who served his people well. He took pride in this for as long as we were together on Cork County Council. My colleagues from Cork County Council will understand that when Joe Sherlock started a sentence with “By Christ, Chairman”, council members and the county manager would know very well he meant it.
My comments on Joe Sherlock would be rather personal but I endorse everything said about him tonight. I served with him for many years on Cork County Council and a person who serves that length of time as a public representative endorsed by the people election after election has something special. He represented the people well.
I recall when he became ill a number of months back and he rang me to discuss the problem, which we did. I called to his house and we talked about it. He bore his illness well and with great distinction and courage. The moment of greatest joy for Joe Sherlock was when his son, Seán, was elected and took the seat in the constituency. I will finish by stating that one of the first telephone calls I received when I was elected to the Seanad recently was from a man called Joe Sherlock.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Senator Michael McCarthy Senator Michael McCarthy
Senator Michael McCarthy: I rise to pay tribute to the late Joe Sherlock, former Deputy, Senator and councillor. I had the experience and privilege of serving on Cork County Council with the late Deputy Sherlock, as did Senators Callanan and Bradford. I quickly became very much aware of his true devotion and vocation in life, which was to be in politics to represent those who are less well-off than others.
Joe Sherlock was first elected to Mallow Urban District Council in 1967 and it was not until 1974 that he won his council seat. He kept contesting election after election to become the sole Sinn Féin the Workers’ Party Deputy in Dáil Éireann in 1981. With that election came significant responsibility as there was much political instability at the time. A Government headed by the late Charles Haughey depended very much on his support and it was not easy for somebody without the resources of a modern day parliament and a large party to represent his constituents and chart a path in public life which was very cognisant of the political instability of the day.
His political career spanned over five decades and my experience of Joe Sherlock was that if he had an issue, or a bone, he would chew on it. Senator Callanan repeated the mantra that we heard so often on Cork County Council, “By Christ, Chairman”. The officials stood up and listened at that stage. If they did not, there was a “By Christ, Chairman” statement before the fortnight was out. By Christ, the results were obtained.
His political path took him from Sinn Féin to The Workers’ Party to the Labour Party. He was always a beacon of representation for left-of-centre politics. His trade union background ensured he was always in the broader Labour family and he was always associated with those who were less well-off. He deplored pomp, officialdom and ceremony.
I was not aware he smoked a pipe but smoke may have come from his famous temper rather than from a pipe. When the merger of the Labour Party and Democratic Left took place in the 1990s, there were two Dáil candidates in Cork East, John Mulvihill in Cobh and Joe Sherlock in Mallow. Both had held that Dáil seat on occasion and when they clashed swords on Cork County Council, by Christ there was much smoke.
It was an honour to serve on Cork County Council with Joe Sherlock and it certainly was an experience. We will never see another public representative like him. He kept fighting elections until he was successful and he kept fighting on behalf of his constituents until he obtained results for them. Ultimately, Joe Sherlock will be known for public service and his commitment to the people of north-east Cork. First and foremost he was a Kildorrery man loyal to his constituents and constituency. I extend my sympathy and that of other Members to his family.
It is a great source of pride to the Sherlock family that Seán is taking up the mantle in Dáil Éireann. It is a great monument to Joe Sherlock’s memory that his son now holds that Dáil seat in Cork East. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Senator Eoghan Harris Senator Eoghan Harris
Senator Eoghan Harris: I was very moved by the tributes to Joe Sherlock from his political colleagues here. I did not really know him in that capacity and my knowledge of him is very different. The Joe Sherlock I knew was much more steely, as he helped the republican movement come out of a cul-de-sac and into the broader stream of the socialist and constitutional struggle.
I knew him through ten years of very bitter struggle within the republican movement after the split and he was a man of steel in setting his face like flint against the northern campaign of the Provisional IRA. He never feared to stand up to them or say what a real republican should be, a man who wanted to unite Protestant and Catholic in the centre.
I do not wish him to go to his grave without reminding people that behind the warm public representative, the great man of the soil and the spalpeen — he came from the labouring class — was a man who played a crucial role in Irish politics by helping to bridge the great republican movement away from force. That has only reached its final days in the very welcome decision of the Provisional IRA to call off its campaign and do business in Northern Ireland. In that great, long, tortured, difficult and very noble project, Joe Sherlock played a significant part. I pay tribute to that side of his legacy.
Senator Jerry Buttimer Senator Jerry Buttimer
Senator Jerry Buttimer: Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom mo chómhbhron a ghabháil le bean chéile agus clann Joe Sherlock.
I had the pleasure of knowing Joe Sherlock politically and personally through my involvement with organisations in Cork. As previous speakers said, he was a vigorous campaigner and, in many ways, was probably ahead of New Labour in that he invented the term “socialism” in a different dimension. He was a very caring considerate man. I would like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to his family.
He worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Cork. I was particularly struck by his ability to work below the radar on behalf of many organisations to deliver results. Unlike perhaps many of us who seek publicity for some of our efforts, he worked quietly to secure results for people with disabilities and with learning support issues, with which I am familiar.
As alluded to by Senator McCarthy, he gave his view forcefully on occasions. Shortly after my election to Cork City Council in 2004, I met Joe in the front corridor of the County Hall. He called me aside and I will never forget the words he said to me. He said:
Now listen son, you may think you are on top of the world today, but you are only a very small way from being beaten again. Never lose touch with the people who put you in here. Always respect them and, more importantly, never forget from where you came.
I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the late Joe Sherlock. May he rest in peace.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: I would like also to be associated with the tributes to the late Joe Sherlock who, as has been said, was a Member of this House from 1993 to 1997, having been elected to the Labour Panel. During his many years of public service at local and national level, Joe made a major contribution to Irish political life. He will be sadly missed by all his colleagues in the Oireachtas and especially by the people of east Cork whom he represented so loyally for so many years. He was one of life’s gentlemen.
I extend my sincere sympathy to his wife, Ellen, his sons, Joe and Seán, and his daughter, Úna, on their sad loss.
Seanad Éireann 187 Death of Former Member: Expressions of Sympathy.