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Speech by the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, at the Funeral of the iar-Thaoiseach, John Bruton Saturday, 10 February 2024

10th February 2024 - Leo Varadkar, TD


‘There are three things that last: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love’.


The words of St. Paul to the Corinthians have a special resonance today as we mourn the loss of our friend and colleague – our once and always leader – John Bruton.  This is our opportunity to pay tribute to a statesman of unshakeable integrity and moral conviction who led our country with distinction at home and on the world stage.


John Bruton’s life was defined by love – love of family, love of county, love of politics, love of our party, love of country.

The centre of his life was Finola, and their children Matthew, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth.  Later, he found so much love and joy with his grandchildren, Ophelia, Hugo, Oliver and Robin.  We offer you our deepest condolences, and also extend them to his brother Richard, our colleague and friend, and his sister Mary.


John loved Meath. He was grounded in the land around us.  He understood farmers – small and large – and cared deeply about the future of rural Ireland.   He was an early proponent of balanced regional development and in Government established the Western Development Commission.


He loved politics and believed it was the best way to achieve real and lasting change for the good.  His core principle was that ‘every person counts’ and he put that into action in every single role and office he held.


He loved Fine Gael, even when we disappointed him.  In 1999 I was thrilled to receive a phone call from him when I was running in my first election.   It meant a lot at the time, but it meant even more when he called a second time after he heard I hadn’t been elected, encouraging me to stay involved and to stay the course. He told me – Your time will come, don’t give up, fall forward.


A couple of years later, I travelled to Berlin to attend my first EPP Congress, and my fellow youth delegates from other countries were astonished that the party leader not only knew my name, but was happy to come and chat with us and share our plate of cocktail sausages.


John was an inspiration to me throughout my career.  There was so much that I looked to his example for guidance, including how it was possible to lead a three-party Government successfully and to keep it together.


Two years ago, I invited him to speak at our Party Think-In in Trim and was delighted he accepted.  All of us gathered there were inspired by his reminder that while other parties might suffer from an identity crisis from time to time, that wasn’t a problem for us.  We were the party that founded the State and would always stand by it and its citizens.


John loved Ireland, and it was a real love, not defined by dislike or fear of others, but by a genuine love of our country and what we could be. It was a noble, true and modern patriotism.


When others sullied our flag by carrying out terrorist atrocities in its name, John was a beacon of courage and integrity who offered a vision of an inclusive and peaceful island.


John had seen close-up the devastating effects of The Troubles when Senator Billy Fox, who had shared an office with him in Leinster House, was murdered in his farmhouse in Co. Monaghan in 1974.


This only made him more determined to bring about an end to violence, and find a just and lasting solution.


In the framework document that he negotiated with the British Prime Minister John Major, we see many elements of what later became the Good Friday Agreement. He reached out to the unionist community because he genuinely believed that this should be a shared island in which all identities would be respected and accepted.


John was a man of hope.  He believed we could create a fairer, more peaceful, and more prosperous future for us all.


When he started in politics there were only 1 million people in work.  Today we have 2.6 million.  The Rainbow Government he led created 1,000 jobs every single week, built houses at a record pace, and brought inflation down to the lowest in decades.


John was a man of ideas, and his greatest idea was that we could arrest our decline, and become a prosperous, successful country.  His drive and optimism helped make that vision a reality.


John was a man of faith.  He had faith in politics and faith in people.  He believed that working together we could change the world and achieve anything.


He had faith in the European Union, as the greatest example of international co-operation and peace, and served with distinction as its Ambassador to the United States.  He saw it as a way of taking our place among the nations of the world, and achieving our destiny as a free and independent country. It was fitting in the Church today that the European flag flew alongside the Tricolour.


John had a deep personal faith, and it taught him the power of forgiveness and the importance of compassion.  We saw that compassion in action as he helped navigate the country through some transformative changes as Taoiseach, changes which helped make Ireland a kinder and better country.


John was pro-life and believed in the sanctity of life.  During all the debates that took place, he presented his positions with eloquence and sincerity and never broke with his colleagues, even when he disagreed strongly with them.

He believed that political parties could be a broad church and a big tent, especially on issues of conscience and faith.


Today we miss John terribly and would give anything to hear his great, booming laugh one last time.


So, perhaps it is only fitting that I end my reflection with his own words, an Easter reflection he included in his book Faith in Politics:

‘Our faith tells us that there is a God, that we are not alone in the universe. We should not be arrogant. We should respect His creation. We should leave the earth in a better condition than we found it. Our faith tells us that there is a life after our death, we do not simply pass away into nothingness.  We have to give an account of ourselves.’


John Bruton did so much more than simply give an account of himself. He changed Ireland and he changed it considerably for the better.  He changed us for the better too.


Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal agus dílis.  Slán agus beannacht, a sheanchara.

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