This morning, I was devasted to learn that John Bruton had passed away. John was one of the reasons I became involved in politics and joined Fine Gael.
He was always encouraging and supportive on a personal level, from my time in Young Fine Gael to my time as Taoiseach. We kept in touch and his knowledge and experience were particularly helpful during Brexit and during coalition negotiations.
We last spoke just before Christmas when he was unable to attend the Council of State due to his illness. I spoke to his wife Finola and brother Richard this morning to pass on my condolences.
John was doer and a philosopher. He was passionately pro-European in Government and in Opposition, and was well-liked and respected among colleagues in Europe and in the European People’s Party in which he served as Vice-President. He knew that Ireland’s place and destiny was at the heart of Europe and made the case for it eloquently.
On the North, he strongly opposed violence as a means to advance political objectives and believed in unity through consent. He made a particular effort to reach out to the Unionist community. He advocated a new patriotism and opposed narrow nationalism. While these views are now held by the majority of people, that was not always the case and he was willing to lead, even when it meant going against the grain.
John believed in an enterprise economy and responsible management of the public finances. I am convinced that the decisions made by the ‘Rainbow’ Government which he led from 1994 to 1997, comprising Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left, laid the foundation for much of the economic prosperity we have enjoyed since.
A believer in individual rights and responsibilities and social justice, John was born from the Christian Democratic tradition of European and Irish politics. He was conservative but always compassionate and caring. He played a crucial role in the Divorce Referendum of 1995 in convincing middle-ground voters to vote Yes in what was a very tight referendum. Above all, I believe John Bruton possessed real dignity and imbued compassion and patriotism. The whole Fine Gael family mourns his loss, and he will always be remembered for his service to our Party and to the Irish State.