One of Ireland's foremost scientists and a statesman of great distinction
The late Jim Dooge played a highly influential role in Irish and European politics, writes GARRET FITZGERALD
THE LATE Jim Dooge combined several totally disparate careers with great distinction. In the first place he was one of Ireland’s foremost 20th century scientists, with a global reputation. But in the course of his life he also played a highly influential role in Irish and European politics, serving in quite distinct roles during three separate periods of the second half of the last century, including an all too brief period as minister for foreign affairs and then as the prime mover in the creation of the Single European Market.
Graduating as an engineer in UCD in 1942, he served in the Office of Public Works and the ESB, before taking leave of absence for two years to become a research associate in the civil engineering department of the University of Iowa, where he received an MSc in fluid mechanics and hydraulics. That period abroad interrupted his first political career, for in 1948, just half a century after his great-grandfather had become chairman of the first democratically elected Borough Council of Dún Laoghaire, then Kingstown, Jim Dooge had, at the age of 25, been elected to Dublin County Council (of which within two years he became chairman) and then also to Dún Laoghaire Borough Council
In 1958 he was appointed professor of civil engineering in UCC, and three years later started his second political career by standing successfully for the Senate in 1961, where thereafter he played a very constructive part in all its debates. He had a strong belief in the party political system, which he saw as providing both important opportunities for the development of new policies and, through vigorous parliamentary debate, especially in the Senate, for the improvement of the quality of legislation. Jim Dooge might never have been entirely comfortable in the Dáil – but was in his element in the more serious atmosphere of the Senate, where he helped to demonstrate the contribution that House makes to our democracy. Moreover, because of his qualities of judgment he was hugely valued in the counsels of his chosen party, Fine Gael – but was also greatly respected and universally admired by those in other parties who knew him and enjoyed his company, including his effervescent sense of fun.
While he greatly enjoyed his time in University College Cork, where his immense energy, rapidly growing research reputation, teaching skills and innovation were greatly appreciated, he remained a Dubliner, and when in 1970 the post of professor of civil engineering in UCD became vacant, he applied for this position. As I remember these events of 40 years ago, those appointed to assess the merits of the candidates were deeply impressed by the fact that from the Soviet Union and Hungary came assessments that he had been responsible for one of the three great developments in the science of hydrology in the 20th century. From major universities in the US and Australia there were also statements that they would have been happy to have had him as dean of their engineering faculties.
These assessors recommended Jim Dooge for the post, adding that he was the only qualified candidate. How did UCD respond to this? My recollection is that, for reasons that we can only imagine, he was rejected by the governing body by 22 votes to six! Happily for UCD, in those days the final voice on professorial appointments still rested with the Senate of the National University, which had no compunction about reversing the governing body’s vote. As professor he brought distinction to the college until his retirement in 1984 – after which he chose to continue to work, first in NUIG and after 1988 again in UCD. From 1987 to 1990 he was also president of the Royal Irish Academy.
From the early 1970s onwards he had been deeply engaged with the issue of global warming, serving throughout the 1980s as chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the World Climate Impact Advisory Committee and, on behalf of the UN secretary general, on the International Decade of Natural Disasters Advisory Board. Between 1980 and 1986 he was president also of the International Council of Scientific Unions.
In 2005 President Mary McAleese presented him with the Royal Irish Academy’s Gold Medal. One of the many other international honours conferred on him was the Duke of Edinburgh’s Medal of that same year.
In 1977 his very heavy scientific engagements had led him to stand down from the Senate, but in 1981 as taoiseach I secured his agreement to his reappointment to that body, so that he might become minister for foreign affairs – only the second senator under our Constitution to have held ministerial office. Part of my reason for this decision was my wife Joan’s wise advice to the effect that only the closeness of my views and Jim Dooge’s on key issues such as Europe and Northern Ireland would prevent me from trying to go on being my own foreign minister!
In this new role he impressed his European colleagues, but when, after our nine-month opposition period in 1982, I approached him about reappointment to this office, he told me that, with the sight in one of his eyes already gone, his doctor had advised him not to risk the sight of the other by taking on once again a very heavy post. There was no answer to that. But he remained in the Senate until 1987.
In June 1984 French president François Mitterrand effectively told the European Council that he was prepared to drop the de Gaulle veto on the completion of the freeing of intra-European trade and invited me to appoint a committee of representatives of heads of state and government to prepare
this process. After consulting my colleagues in the European Council, and having secured Jim Dooge’s assent, I announced his nomination to the chair of this committee. The German government, which, with all the others, had agreed to his nomination to that position, then asked me to withdraw his name as chairman and to substitute that of the retiring president of their state, which I flatly refused to do.
Jim Dooge, aided by Katherine Meenan whom I seconded from my staff, applied his remarkable diplomatic skills to securing an agreed report within a few months, which led the European Council in June 1985 at Milan to vote by seven votes to three (with Margaret Thatcher, the Danes and Greeks in opposition) to call the inter-government conference that implemented the skilfully worded Dooge report by finally establishing the European Single Market, which in turn hugely boosted our economy.
Others have written of his closeness to his late wife, Roni, and of his family life. I can fully endorse this but do not need to add to what they have said. I have simply wanted here to ensure fuller recognition of the scale of his contribution to Ireland, to Europe, and also to the globe about which he cared so much.