Muintir Fitzpatrick, agus a chairde Gael.

Is le fíorbhrón go mbailímid le chéile inniu chun slán a fhágáil lenár gcara Michael.

Is lá brónach é seo do Mhaureen, do Dharagh, do mhuintir Chill Dara agus do mhuintir Fhianna Fáil.

Ina shaol, bhí Michael uasal, cróga, lách, cineálta agus stuama.

Agus cuimhneoimid ar na tréithe sin inniu agus sinn ag fágáil slán lenár seanchara.

Agus is leis na tréithe céanna seo a thug Michael seirbhís iontach do Chill Dara agus don tír ar fad thar blianta fada.  

 

I am honoured to have been asked to say a few words in tribute to Michael Fitzpatrick today.

Michael meant so much to so many, many people.

Therefore it is a real privilege to be asked to speak in his memory in front of you – his family, his friends and the community he gave a lifetime of service to.

No words – no matter how eloquent – can adequately do justice to how fine a man Michael was. 

But he was quite simply a man of true decency, integrity and of real humanity.

He was to me and to many others in our party, a good colleague and a friend.

But he was also a person who was immensely respected and admired across the political spectrum in Dáil Éireann.  And that was deeply appropriate.

Because through a long and distinguished career – indeed an entire lifetime – of public service, Michael Fitzpatrick in his own quiet, unassuming way was a shining example of all that is good in politics and in Irish community life. 

We live unfortunately in age where many people are sceptical about the motives and the abilities of people in public life. 

Michael Fitzpatrick’s whole life-story is an antidote for such cynicism. 

He was a community activist who was dedicated, dependable and selfless in his commitment to helping people. 

He was a politician entirely motivated by the common good. 

And he was in it not for what he could get but, solely for what he could achieve on behalf of his community, his neighbours and local residents. 

He loved politics because he saw it as vehicle to get things done and to improve the life of local people. 

Serving the community was his credo.

I feel it is important that that essential factor of Michael’s career is recorded and acknowledged today as an inspiration to others.

It is a theme I will return to later in my few words today. 

But before I speak more fully of Michael Fitzpatrick, the public man, it is important to say that at the centre of Michael’s universe was his family.

First and foremost, he was a private, caring family man.

The people of Kildare have lost a distinguished pillar of the community but the greatest loss belongs to those who knew Michael best and loved him most. 

He was a loving husband, father and brother who will be deeply missed by his family who were rightly so proud of him. 

And I know from our conversations over recent years how much Michael cherished and appreciated the support his wife Maureen and his son Daragh gave him in his chosen career of politics.

I want to again extend my deepest sympathies to Maureen, to Daragh and the extended Fitzpatrick family. 

On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party as well as the community which Michael served so enthusiastically and ably, may I also thank you for your great generosity in sharing Michael with us and supporting him in his work over so many years.

The great American President Franklin D Roosevelt said there is no greater calling than public service. 

It is a sentiment that Michael Fitzpatrick would have agreed with. 

 

Public service was his calling and it characterised his life’s work.

Michael’s life was also informed by his great sense of place – Cavan, Kildare, this country – were all places he loved deeply – not in some abstract pseudo-patriotic way – but because of the people.

He was intrinsically a people-centred person.

And he served the people every day of a working life that was defined by and never deviated from the noble values of community, commitment, courage.

Those values – community, commitment and courage – were central to Michael Fitzpatrick’s life.

These were values Michael learnt as a young man growing up in Cavan and values that were further nourished by his decision to join the Garda Siochana.

 

I know that Michael always maintained that this period in his life underpinned his lifelong commitment to public and community service.

It was as a Garda that Michael first came to Kildare to live and set out on a journey which was to make him one of this county’s favourite adopted sons. 

He was based in Robertsown in the early 1960s and he immediately immersed himself in the life of the community and in local development groups. 

 

He took a real pleasure – a pleasure that never left him over the years – in being able to work to enhance the local facilities and services which people depended on for their quality of life. 

Towards the end of 1960s, Michael left the Gardaí. 

Again community needs were at the core of his decision. 

He decided to take up a new challenge as the Manager of Robertsown community sponsored initiative to develop tourism and bring investment to the area. 

From this point on, Michael was to all and intents and purposes a full-time community worker.  His efforts to help people locally saw him involved and associated with numerous charities and local groups.  Inevitably too he drifted towards politics. 

By tradition, he was a Fianna Fáil supporter and he was also attracted by the core values of the party of investing in community and educational opportunity.

Party rivalries held no interest for Michael.  It is important to note of Michael that he was in politics to serve the community first and last.

He was not in it for influence or to wield power; he was there to get things done locally. 

The pleasure for him was in helping people and achieving things for his locality.

He was devoid of ego; he was unassuming and modest.

But he could be always relied upon to deliver and – I know from firsthand experience – he could be very, very persistent when a key local issue was at stake. 

His personality was that of a gentle giant but no-one could fight their corner better when it came to representing his own constituents.

He was an extremely effective local politician with a great grasp of detail and a capacity to get the needs of his local community on the agenda. 

He was never too bothered about votes and he certainly didn’t go in for self-publicity.  He was always more interested in getting things done than getting the credit. 

He ran a number of times for Kildare County Council before he was elected but he persevered. 

Part of the reason, Michael may have initially struggled to get elected was he spent as much time doing work for people outside his own local authority area as for voters in his own area. 

For some politicians, this would have been considered a bad use of time, but not Michael.  He felt he was there to help irrespective of whether a local person was in his council ward or not. 

People and their concerns, not votes, mattered most to Michael Fitzpatrick.

He was first elected in the local elections of 1999 and I know that subsequently when he became Mayor of Kildare he regarded this as one of his proudest days. 

He was a politician of immense patience and he was always happiest when dealing with local needs that would benefit the people of Kildare. 

He was for many years associated with Charlie McCreevy and they were a great team. 

I first really got to know Michael when he was Charlie’s constituency manager. 

This was a position Michael took up after Charlie McCreevy was first appointed to the cabinet in 1992.

Charlie was always fulsome in his praise of the work that Michael did locally and rightly so. 

I like the story that Charlie tells about Michael in the aftermath of the fall of Albert Reynolds Government in late 1994. 

As a result of the Government’s collapse, Charlie was no longer a minister and all his politically appointed staff, including Michael, were no longer in employment. 

This was not enough, however to stop Michael Fitzpatrick. 

He continued to report into work every single day and to do what he had always done as Charlie’s constituency manager.

He continued to diligently and without fuss deal with the concerns of the people of Kildare. 

He did this because he genuinely enjoyed community and constituency work – in fact he revelled in it. 

He was not interested in monetary reward.  The reward for him was in being of quiet assistance to the people of his community.

And this was something he did time and again with distinction as a community activist, a constituency worker, a councillor and a TD.

Michael leaves behind him a legacy of immense achievement across Kildare. 

He has been involved in and central to countless number of projects that will benefit this community for generations to come. 

Today, I will mention just two projects which I think exemplify the type of pragmatic politician he was and for what he stood.

Firstly, I want to refer to the work Michael did in promoting and developing Donadea Forest Park which is a tremendous resource locally and nationally.  Significantly, Michael was also the driving force behind the New York Twin Towers memorial at the Forest.

These memorial stones, which are engraved with the names of the 402 public officials who died in the attack on the towers on September 11th 2001, was inspired by the story of one of a young Donadea emigrant who, as a fire-fighter, lost his life in the North Tower.

Michael’s persistence ensured that the sense of duty and public service – values always close to Michael’s heart – shown by that fire-fighter and other public officials will always be remembered in Kildare.

The other project of Michael’s which is worth highlighting is here in Allenwood. 

After the closure of the ESB plant, which was the biggest employer here for 40 years, Michael moved might and maim to establish in the early 1990s a Community and Development Centre for the area. 

He succeeded in that objective and that community resource has stood the test of time generating employment and enterprise and is still contributing massively to the local quality of life. 

That in itself is testament to Michael Fitzpatrick and his good work.

In a funeral oration, it is often customary to quote some piece of literature or scripture which has resonance with the life of the deceased and which can provide inspiration. 

Today I think there are no more fitting words to reflect on than those of Michael himself. 

He was a man of immense moral strength and when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease he gave one of the bravest interviews I have ever read. 

He told the Irish Times:

“I know this condition is incurable and terminal, but I think of living all the time, not dying . . . I’m not scared of death per se. I’m a practising Catholic. I attend Mass at least once a week, I pray and I have faith. My faith is what is keeping me going as well as everything else.”

Michael was a man of faith and courage. 

Despite his terminal diagnosis, his sense of duty and his great commitment to his constituents meant that he continued on with his work as assiduously as ever. 

He never faltered or complained and he was his usual courteous and effective self. 

I remember vividly when I heard of Michael’s illness. 

It was a dark time and our parliamentary party had already been rocked by the news of Brian Lenihan’s serious illness.

Michael, like Brian, was courage personified.  He was never one for drama and it is a measure of the man that his greatest concern was for others. 

I recall him saying: “There is no use going into a corner and sulking because you only upset other people by doing that.”

Michael Fitzpatrick never gave up and he was true to his own words of not letting his illness stop him thinking about living and getting on with things as best he could. 

One of my abiding memories of Michael is when he came to see me in the days immediately after my election as leader of Fianna Fáil.

A General Election was imminent and we all knew it was going to be an uphill struggle for our party. 

I could not have blamed Michael if he told me he wanted to walk away and not contest the election.

But this was never going to be Michael Fitzpatrick’s style.

I remember the look of determination in his eye as he told me that he was intent on standing again for election and determined to keep working on behalf of his community as long as he could.

I was moved that day by Michael Fitzpatrick’s immense loyalty, bravery and resilience.

And I was so proud that this quiet, unassuming hero was my friend.

Ni bheidh a leithid aris ann.  Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.

Well done Michael, your work is done.

But your inspiring legacy of community, commitment and courage will live on.