Fianna Fáil politician made minister at time of political crisis

Noel Davern: Born: December 24th, 1945; Died: October 27th, 2013

Noel Davern, who died last weekend aged 67 years, was catapulted into senior ministerial office at a time of political crisis.

Noel Davern, who died last weekend aged 67 years, was catapulted into senior ministerial office at a time of political crisis.


Noel Davern, who died last weekend aged 67 years, was catapulted into senior ministerial office at a time of political crisis.

It was November 1991 and Charles Haughey was hanging on to the leadership of Fianna Fáil by his fingertips. An abortive heave by Albert Reynolds had seen Reynolds and Pádraig Flynn sacked from the cabinet. Davern, a backbencher and Haughey loyalist, was appointed minister for education in the cabinet reshuffle. Although a political unknown, he was to make his mark. He later served as a junior minister in the Department of Agriculture.

A native of Tannersrath, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, he was elected to the Dáil for Tipperary South in 1969, replacing his brother, Don, a parliamentary secretary (minister of state) in the then Fianna Fáil government. The family was steeped in Fianna Fáil. Their father, Michael Davern, served as a TD for the constituency from 1948 to 1965. Noel Davern was elected to the European Parliament in the first election to that body in 1979 and opted for Europe in the 1981 general election. He lost his European seat in 1984 and returned to the Dáil in 1987.

His appointment as minister for education was a surprise. In the early days of Charlie Haughey’s leadership, he was considered a loyalist, but he later grew disillusioned with the new leader. However, by 1991, he had returned to the fold and was a strong Haughey supporter.

“I did not expect it at all,’’ he said at the time of his appointment. “I never looked for it, but I am quite happy since it is a whole new challenge for me.’’

Mixed views
There were mixed views on the new minister. One commentator asked if the real Noel Davern would please stand up. An ignoramus? A nice guy? A card- carrying member of the Fianna Fáil backwoodsmen? A very nice guy?

As it happened, his stay in education was short-lived. Reynolds succeeded Haughey in February 1992 and he was sent to the backbenches.

He had made his mark, according to Irish Times education correspondent John Walshe at the time. “Noel Davern may have been minister for education for only 90 days but he could yet have a major impact on what many Leaving Cert students study and, if the experts are correct, on economic development,’’ he wrote.

Walshe noted that Davern had steered a Green Paper in the direction which an industrial policy review group wanted at the time. “Surprising stuff indeed from a short-lived minister dismissed as an ignoramus on his first day in office,’’ wrote Walshe.

Consigned to the backbenches under the Reynold’s leadership, he was to see ministerial office again under the leadership of Bertie Ahern. A farmer from near Clonmel, he was ideally suited to the Department of Agriculture where Ahern appointed him minister of state for food and forestry, with special responsibility for livestock breeding and horticulture.

He took to the portfolio with relish and was seen as competent and innovative. Presenting the 1997 family farm of the year awards, he strongly supported the retention of the family farm as a viable economic entity.

He said it was four times cheaper to subsidise and maintain a farm family on the land than to subsidise them in a new urban environment. He added that the task of stabilising and revitalising rural areas, which had suffered significant population loss, was very urgent and one to which the government was very committed.

He went to the backbenches after the 2002 election and retired from the Dáil in 2007.

Amiable and witty, he was well liked in Leinster House. He could be self-deprecating, remarking that his date of birth, Christmas Eve 1945, was the worst possible day for anyone to have a birthday, given that “one present is all you get’’.

Davern is survived by his wife, Anne Marie Carroll, two sons and one daughter.