The death of former President Dr Patrick Hillery was an end of a political age, the Dáil heard tonight.
Paying tribute to the late Fianna Fáil man, political colleagues and opponents remembered one of the most important and influential figures in public life for almost 40 years.
Before attending Dr Hillery’s removal at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral, members of the Dáil and Seanad met at the Oireachtas for expressions of sympathy on his passing.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the occasion was a final tribute to Paddy Hillery as one of this House’s finest sons.
“The passing of Dr Patrick Hillery, our former colleague in Dáil Eireann, our first European Commissioner and our sixth President is not just the end of a life, or even the end of an era. It is the end of a political age,” he said.
Mr Ahern said Dr Hillery gave outstanding and unrivalled service to the State and to the Irish people.
“Paddy Hillery defined loyalty,” he continued.
“He embodied integrity. He was both clever and wise. But most of all, he was a people’s person, a Clare man proud of his heritage and at home with his people.”
Mr Ahern said even in the darkest of days, Dr Hillery had a great ability to make the people feel good about ourselves and we were always very proud to be represented by him.
“Patrick Hillery was an exemplary President,” he added.
“He brought stability to the office when it was needed. In volatile political times, he was a cool head, who exercised his powers wisely, and assiduously protected the independence of Ireland’s highest office.
“Patrick Hillery won fame, but he never lost his sense of modesty. He gained power, but he never lost his respect for others. He attained the highest honour this Republic can bestow but his dignity came not from any office he held but from the spirit of public service with which he fulfilled every position in which he served.”
Labour Party Leader Eamon Gilmore said when Dr Hillery emerged during the 1950s and 1960s, he provided a link between the men and women who fought for Irish freedom and established an independent state and the modern generation of political representatives.
He said it was inevitable that such a talented and capable man would rise through the ranks.
“If I were to pick four words to sum up the public career of Dr Patrick Hillery, they would be dignity, duty, commitment and honour,” he added.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny told peers the former president was a man of the highest integrity, the utmost probity and a signal patriotism.
“He did not talk much about his patriotism, instead he lived it.
“That patriotism was so real, so ordinary and so natural that one could touch it.
“It did not require any interpretation or explanation.
“It was there in every choice, word and action of a long and distinguished public life that was, at the same time, ordinary and unassuming.
“Paddy Hillery’s plain and flaming patriotism made him an exemplary man, an exemplary politician and an exemplary servant of Ireland and the Irish people.”
The Dáil has been adjourned until Thursday morning.