Fianna Fáil stalwart who served under four leaders

 

PÁDRAIG FAULKNER: PÁDRAIG FAULKNER, who has died at the age of 94, was a Fianna Fáil politician and government minister who served under four party leaders and had a significant date with history during the arms crisis of 1970.

In his 2005 memoir, As I Saw It, he described how the cabinet of which he was a member decided, on the outbreak of the Troubles in August, 1969, to authorise minister for finance Charles Haughey to make funds available to relieve the distress of victims in Northern Ireland. Faulkner was appointed to a subcommittee on the North with Haughey and minister for agriculture Neil Blaney, but it met only once.

The following May, taoiseach Jack Lynch told his cabinet that Haughey and Blaney had been accused of attempted gun-running to the nationalist community in the North. Within days, the two ministers were dismissed, minister for local government and social welfare Kevin Boland had quit in sympathy and minister for justice Micheál Ó Móráin, who was in hospital, had resigned at the taoiseach’s request.

Faulkner described how his “mind was in turmoil” and he “felt an element of fear for the country and the party”. But from the outset he stood by his taoiseach as “a leader with the strength of character, judgment and firmness of purpose to take the right decisions in the interest of the nation”.

Charges against Blaney were dropped but Haughey and three other defendants were brought to trial. When they were acquitted in late October, Lynch came under pressure in the party, as Haughey and Blaney called for his resignation.

Lynch was due back from a visit to New York two days later and Faulkner, George Colley (whom he had supported for the leadership four years earlier) and others arranged for the overwhelming majority of the parliamentary party to greet him in a public display of support at Dublin airport on his return.

“When many believed that the Taoiseach’s reign was about to end, I am, now, convinced that this episode was the turning-point in the struggle,” wrote Faulkner.

Pádraig Faulkner was born in Dundalk, Co Louth, in 1918 and was educated at Dundalk Christian Brothers School and St Patrick’s College of Education in Drumcondra, where he qualified as a primary school teacher.

He began his teaching career in Clogherhead National School, Louth, in 1938, and from the outset used Irish as the language of the classroom. He later became principal of Phillipstown National School. In September 1948 he married Kitty Landy who, like himself, had grown up in Dunleer.

In 1950 he was co-opted to the committee of the celebrated Irish summer college at Rann na Feirste (Rannafast) in the Donegal Gaeltacht, which he did much to establish and develop over the years.

His father was a Fine Gael supporter, but his mother’s sympathies were with Fianna Fáil. Having decided to join Fianna Fáil, he stood for the party in the Louth byelection of 1954 where he came a close second to successful Fine Gael candidate George Coburn and well ahead of Labour’s Roddy Connolly, son of the 1916 leader.

He was successful in the general election of 1957 – the last under de Valera’s leadership – and joined sitting TD and founding figure of Fianna Fáil, Frank Aiken, in the Dáil as a Louth representative.

Eight years later, in 1965, then-taoiseach Seán Lemass recognised Faulkner’s devotion to the Irish language when he appointed him parliamentary secretary (equivalent of today’s minister of state) to Ó Móráin as minister for lands and the Gaeltacht.

Lemass’s successor Jack Lynch appointed Faulkner to Ó Móráin’s job in 1968 when the latter took over the justice portfolio. The Louth TD moved on to Education after the 1969 general election where he served until the party lost office in 1973.

When Fianna Fáil returned in a 1977 landslide, Faulkner was put in charge of two departments as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and Tourism and Transport.

He had sided with Lynch in the arms crisis and backed Colley in the 1966 and 1979 party leadership votes. However, when Haughey took over as taoiseach in December 1979 he was retained in cabinet, but moved him to the department of defence.

Faulkner later wrote that defence was his preference and also rejected claims that the appointment stemmed from a Colley “veto” over the allocation of the defence and justice portfolios.

The following October he was elected ceann comhairle of Dáil Éireann, following the death of incumbent Joseph Brennan. But His term was short-lived as Fianna Fáil went into opposition the following June, although Faulkner, as outgoing ceann comhairle, was returned unopposed to the Dáil.

He was re-elected on a further two occasions as a TD for Louth and retired in 1987, shortly before his 69th birthday.

In his final years in the Dáil he generally opposed Charles Haughey’s leadership, apart from a crucial intervention after the February 1982 general election in which he appealed for party unity and Des O’Malley withdrew his challenge.

Paying tribute to Faulkner’s command of a ministerial brief, a Fianna Fáil statement after his death noted: “As minister for education from July 1969 to March 1973 he introduced the regional college concept, which has made a major contribution to the development and expansion of education in Ireland. Known now as institutes of technology, these colleges care for tens of thousands of students annually.

“As minister for posts telegraphs July 1977 to December 1979 he brought forward legislation to establish two commercial semi-State companies, An Post and Telecom Éireann. This move brought a new developmental dimension to sectors in urgent need of reform.”

In his memoir, Faulkner writes: “It was to be quite some time after I left the department of education that I first heard the word ‘paedophile’. During my time as Minister I hadn’t an inkling that child sex abuse existed.”

When the late Mary Raftery’s documentary series, States of Fear, on RTÉ, he was “shocked and saddened by its contents”.

During his time in education, Dr Ed Walsh returned from the US to become founding director of Limerick’s Institute of Higher Education in 1970; Walsh soon added the word “National” to the title.

Although Walsh was probably in too much of a hurry for Faulkner’s liking, the minister did not stand in his way and the college opened its doors in 1972, eventually becoming the University of Limerick in 1989.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he was “a great gentleman of Irish politics” and “a man of decency, of good humour and of integrity”.

Faulkner was appointed to the Council of State by president Patrick Hillery in 1990.

He is survived by his wife Kitty and four children: Tom, Bartle, Mary and Pat.


Pádraig Faulkner: born March 12th, 1918; died June 1st, 2012