Industrious and loyal Fine Gael politician
SHANE McENTEE:Shane McEntee’s outspoken and sometimes confrontational public persona all too often concealed the sensitive and compassionate side of a politician whose life was rooted in community service.
As TD for Meath East and Minister of State for Agriculture, he was known to be personally affected by some of the many local and national problems that landed on his desk.
He occasionally spoke out on various issues when the conventional political wisdom would have been to wait and choose his words carefully in the hope of broader public acceptance.
Although colleagues observed evidence of the strains of public life in recent times, they were stunned when they heard, on the Friday before Christmas, that he was found dead after taking his own life.
The shock and sympathy was cross-party. McEntee (56), although capable of engaging in the usual cut and thrust of politics, was universally liked and respected.
The grief of Taoiseach Enda Kenny at his funeral reflected the close personal and political association between the two men.
It was McEntee’s victory in the 2005 Meath East byelection that primed Fine Gael’s recovery from the low of 2002 when Kenny took over the leadership of a shattered party. And it was McEntee who made a typically emotional and robust speech at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting in favour of Kenny during a leadership heave in 2010.
He was a native of Nobber, Co Meath, and was educated at St Finian’s College, Mullingar, Co Westmeath. McEntee was a farmer, agricultural salesman and publican. He was rooted in rural life and once remarked that, apart from his family, his main interests were “football, farming and politics”.
He had a strong involvement in the GAA, training various teams, including the Meath minor football side. His brother, Gerry, a Dublin-based surgeon, was a star with the county senior team in the 1980s.
Although he had not served the traditional local authority apprenticeship, McEntee’s involvement in the GAA and community groups secured him the nomination to contest the Meath East byelection following the appointment of former taoiseach and local TD John Bruton as EU ambassador to the United States.
McEntee’s spectacular victory, securing 34.13 per cent of the vote, made it the first time since 1927 that Fine Gael outpolled Fianna Fáil in the constituency.
McEntee was emotional on his first day in the Dáil: “I love my history; I love my country.” He was re-elected in 2007 and appointed deputy spokesman on transport, with special responsibility for road safety. Later, he was made deputy spokesman on agriculture, with special responsibility for food and fisheries.
McEntee was an early and deeply committed Kenny supporter when Richard Bruton and his supporters challenged for the leadership. He told colleagues it was time “for standing your ground and not running”. When Fine Gael secured power after the last election Kenny rewarded him with the junior post in the Department of Agriculture.
McEntee appointed public relations consultant and former RTÉ journalist Liam Cahill as special adviser and took to the job with gusto.
He confronted the threat from ash dieback disease, signing new legislation, in conjunction with Northern Ireland, banning the importation of ash timber unless certain conditions were met.
He warned big retailers that they needed to show more respect for producers if the Irish horticulture sector was to survive. He strongly argued on behalf of those living in pyrite-affected houses.
He was also involved in controversy when he said young people should not be entitled to receive social welfare unless they were in some form of employment or participating in a work scheme. “I see young lads queuing for the dole on Thursday and then walking out of the off-licence with a slab [a case containing 24 cans] of beer,” he said.
Fine Gael colleague John Deasy TD described the comment as “moronic”. McEntee refused to respond publicly and privately admitted that he expressed his concern about youth unemployment in confusing language.
He provoked further controversy when, after cuts to respite care in the budget, he was quoted as saying that “you could stay in a top hotel for €700 a week” and “people just have to get on with it”. He later said he was sorry for the comments.
Those who knew him well were aware that, as always, his heart was in the right place.
He is survived by his wife, Kathleen, daughters Aoife, Helen, Sally, son Vincent, grandchildren, mother Madge, brothers, sister and extended family.
SHANE McENTEE:Born December 19th, 1956 Died December 21st, 2012