Former tánaiste John Wilson dies


Former tanaiste John Wilson at the Fianna Fail ardfheis in 2002. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
Former tanaiste John Wilson at the Fianna Fail ardfheis in 2002. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Former tánaiste and Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan Monaghan John Wilson has died, aged 84.

Mr Wilson was elected to the Dáil in the Cavan constituency in 1973 and held his seat in what later became the Cavan-Monaghan constituency at every election until his retirement in 1992.

He served in a number of ministerial posts, including the education, transport and communications portfolios.

Born in Cavan on July 8th, 1923, Mr Wilson was a secondary school teacher at Gonzaga College and also a university lecturer. He won two All-Ireland medals as a footballer for Cavan and five Ulster Football Championship medals.

He was appointed Irish Victim Commissioner by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to liaise with the IRA in efforts to locate the bodies of the "disappeared" who were murdered during the Troubles.

The Taoiseach expressed his "deep sadness" at Mr Wilson's death and said he was privileged to work with him on victim's issues.

In a statement, Mr Ahern said: "His contribution was an important contribution to the peace process. The Wilson report in 1999 led to a number of important initiatives, including the inquiries into atrocities that occurred in the South and the provision of a dedicated fund to support victims. He went on to serve as a commissioner in the search for the location of the bodies of the disappeared.

"John Wilson was a sportsman, a scholar and a politician who served Cavan and Ireland through decades of endeavour in many fields," Mr Ahern added.

"I regret the passing of a loyal friend, a wise colleague and a man who used his abundant ability in the service of his country."

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny recalled the "extremely valuable" work Mr Wilson had done as Victims' Commissioner.

He said one of his clear memories of Mr Wilson were his "verbal jousts" with Opposition spokesman Richard Bourke when he was Minister for Education - often in Latin or Greek.

"He was a no nonsense footballer who won two All-Irelands with Cavan. John also brought that no nonsense approach to representing the interests of his constituents in Leinster House or fighting his corner on behalf of Fianna Fáil. There were few better equipped in this regard."

Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte said Mr Wilson was a "multi-talented man who made an enormous contribution to Irish public life across an exceptionally wide range of areas - politics, education, sport, culture - and most recently as Victims' Commissioner".

"He was a great parliamentarian who served with distinction as a Minister in a number of key departments.

John Wilson was deeply committed to the Fianna Fáil party but he always dealt with his political opponents in a civil and courteous manner," Mr Rabbitte said.

GAA president Nickey Brennan said Mr Wilson was "an outstanding GAA man, politician and person".

He added that throughout his political career, Mr Wilson had remained a great friend of the GAA and would be remembered with fondness by all in the GAA family.