Mr O’Higgins, who was 86, was one of the most respected political and judicial figures both in Ireland and abroad.
He was narrowly defeated as a presidential candidate in 1966, when he came within half a percent, or 10,000 votes, of unseating President Éamon de Valera. He introduced the health insurance system when minister for health. Former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald said the former deputy Fine Gael leader’s humanity, humour and intelligence combined to make him a great public servant as a politician, lawyer, and in later years, as a judge in Ireland and in Europe.
“He was a wonderful man, a man of character and humanity and high principles. He was incapable of bitterness, which is important in politics, and had a powerful sense of public service,” he said. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he had given 40 years of outstanding public service to the country and that the State owed a huge debt to a man of great intellect, ability and energy.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny echoed these sentiments.
Mr O’Higgins never forgot his roots and had the frequent pleasure of meeting with him in Pontoon, Co Mayo. Tom O’Higgins’ political roots go back to the foundation of the State. His uncle was Kevin O’Higgins, a minister for justice and external affairs, in the first Irish government. His father was minister for defence in the first inter-party government.
* The removal to St Patrick’s Church in Monkstown will take place at 5pm today. The funeral Mass will be held tomorrow at 11am, followed by the burial at Shanganagh cemetery.