Former minister for foreign affairs James Dooge (88) dies

Sat, Aug 21, 2010, 01:00

FORMER MINISTER for foreign affairs James Dooge, who has died aged 88, was a leading member of the Seanad for almost 30 years and played an important role in the development of the European Union.

He was the last senator to be appointed to the cabinet and just one of a handful of members from the Upper House to have that distinction in the history of the State.

Prof Dooge also had a distinguished career as an academic and had a worldwide reputation for his work on hydrology (the study of water and water resources).

James Dooge was born in Birkenhead, England, in 1922 and went to school first in Liverpool and later at Dún Laoghaire CBS. He went on to UCD where he qualified as an engineer.

He worked for the ESB and the Office of Public Works before doing postgraduate studies at the University of Iowa in the US.

He was a research associate at the Department of Civil Engineering there before returning to Ireland in 1958 as Professor of Civil Engineering at University College Cork. He moved to the same position in UCD in 1970.

Prof Dooge became involved in politics at an early age and was elected to Dublin County council for Fine Gael in 1948 and was twice elected chairman of the council, in 1950 and 1953.

He was first elected to the Seanad in 1961 and continued to serve in the Upper House until 1987. He was Cathaoirleach from 1973 to 1977 during the Fine Gael-Labour coalition led by Liam Cosgrave.

Prof Dooge was a friend and close political associate of Garret FitzGerald from the 1960s onwards and was heavily involved with the Just Society wing of Fine Gael. When Dr FitzGerald became leader of Fine Gael in 1977, Prof Dooge was one of his closest policy advisers.

He was one of the Fine Gael team who negotiated the coalition deal with the Labour Party in June 1981 and was appointed minister for foreign affairs by FitzGerald.

Prof Dooge was widely regarded as an inspired choice for the post but his appointment was relatively short-lived because the government lasted only 18 months. He was not reappointed to the cabinet in Dr FitzGerald’s second coalition although he was re-elected to the Seanad.

However, he was given a significant role in the development of the European Union during the Irish presidency of 1984. He chaired what became known as the Dooge committee which drew up a report to the European Council on the framework for institutional reforms.

This was a crucial step on the road towards agreement on the Single European Act which led to agreement among the members of the European Economic Community to form the European Union.

Prof Dooge returned to academic life after retiring from politics and was elected president of the Royal Irish Academy.

Chancellor of the National University of Ireland Maurice Manning in a tribute to Prof Dooge last night described him as “a towering figure in Irish academic life for over half a century.”

Dr Manning said that Prof Dooge’s “contribution to public life was one of integrity and great intelligence as a minister, senator and adviser to a number of Fine Gael leaders”.