Today is a sad occasion of reflection for the family of Paddy Power who have gathered here on what would have been his 85th birthday. I hope however what is no doubt tinged with a deep sense of loss for them is also a moment of pride in a lifetime’s work and enduring legacy. Paddy’s wife Kitty and his ten children J.J, Mary, Gerry, Brendan, Sean, Patsy, Tony, Enda, Rosario & Loreto can reflect on a life committed to a greater purpose. I am delighted that they have joined us here today in the people’s chamber where Paddy served the Kildare and Ireland for twenty years as we pay tribute to that life.
A big and burly character whose immense physical presence was matched with his oratorical power Paddy maintained a strong political niche for himself in some of the most turbulent political days the state has endured.
Born in the broad, wind swept plains of the Curragh he settled in his beloved village of Caragh where he first arrived as a primary school teacher in the mid 1950’s. Before he moved into national politics Paddy established a formidable reputation as a community activist. Perched on a hill that towers over the village of Caragh, the local church built in 1960 is a testament to Paddy’s work on the ground. A new primary school in the heart of the community formed his new teaching podium was also a product of his work.
In the lush, large field behind the school his lifelong love of GAA shone through as it was transformed into the nursery for the local Eire Og hurling team he helped found. Inside the classroom there wasn’t much academic objectivity as a Fianna Fáil view shone through in any political discussions.
Across Kildare he forged a reputation as a story teller, singer and raconteur. An Old Folks party from the bog of Allen to the Wicklow foothills wasn’t complete without his famed storytelling, a trait that made him popular within these walls.
Paddy was elected to Kildare County Council in 1967 and moved into national politics in 1969. His political life was characterised by his commitment to his constituency and deep sense of patriotism. A Saturday evening at the Power household became a part social, part clinic, part family night where a carnival of friends, constituents and family gathered around a door that was always open. His tireless work for the people of Kildare is the binding thread of his life’s labour.
He did leave his own inimitable mark on the international stage.
His brief tenure as Minister for Defence from March 1982 until the fall of the embattled government later that year was dominated by the international furore of the Falklands war and the fragility of Anglo-Irish relations at the time.
Ireland was sitting on the UN Security Council in 1982 adding weight to its role in the diplomatic swirl surrounding the escalating conflict. Our original support for the British stance changed after the now notorious sinking of the Belgrano, in parts thanks to the strident views of Paddy Power.
After the Belgrano was foundered on May 2nd 1982 Paddy stated at a Fianna Fáil meeting in Edenderry Co. Offaly that “obviously Britain is the aggressor now” , a comment that was subsequently printed in the Irish Independent and gained international attention. He was the first Government member in the Western World to publically criticise the sinking.
Apparently his name was chanted in the streets of Buenos Aires by the crowds after that intervention against Britain which probably remains the only time a Fianna Fáil CDC meeting has had such an international impact.
The then Taoiseach Charles Haughey summoned him to his office and demanded that Minister Power withdraw his comment which he deemed to be inflammatory but Paddy outright refused. Over the subsequent days as national opinion turned against the sinking of the Belgrano the Taoiseach shifted and backed up Power’s stance, becoming more critical of the Falklands invasion. On May 4th the Irish government called for an “immediate meeting” of the UN Security Council, to prepare a further resolution for an immediate ceasefire.
At the UN Security Council Ireland sought to give a mandate to the UN Secretary General to forge a diplomatic solution to the crisis with Charles Haughey quoted in media reports at the time as saying this was part of Ireland’s role as a “peace-loving nation”.
This stance was not without its cost and critics. It drew considerable ire from the British press and elements of the Irish media, among them the UK’s best-selling daily newspaper, The Sun, which in its entitled it’s editorial “Stick it Up Your Punt-a”.
Paddy stuck by his guns and was vindicated by history.
His life’s labours are now at a close. His final resting place is guarded by the old school house where he first taught. Around it is a transformed village and county that he was so besotted with. The political battles and arguments are faded away into memory. Instead the legacy of men and women like Paddy Power is their fundamental guiding commitment to the idea of public service. Those who answer the call to work for the greater good in public life can draw inspiration from the example of the noble endeavour of those who have gone before.
I trust that the Power family and his wide circle of friends draw strength from the knowledge of that lasting inheritance in the face of their personal loss.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.