Tributes paid to ‘most radical finance minister ever’ Richie Ryan

Former TD, who has died aged 90, steered fiscal policy during turbulent economic period

Former minister for finance Richie Ryan who died aged 90. Photograph: Peter Thursfield

Former minister for finance Richie Ryan who died aged 90. Photograph: Peter Thursfield

 

Tributes have been paid former minister for finance Richie Ryan who has died aged 90.

Mr Ryan, a Fine Gael minister during one of the toughest economic periods in the history of the State, was described by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as having given “distinguished and selfless service” during his career.

Former taoiseach John Bruton said Mr Ryan was “the most radical minister for finance ever. His commitment to social justice was realistic, rather than rhetorical.

“The changes he made in extending the tax base, through capital and other taxes, and his simultaneous widening of social welfare coverage, were not equalled by any other minister for finance.

“To have undertaken such changes at a time of economic contraction due to the aftermath of the 1973 oil crisis, was truly remarkable.”

Mr Ryan was a solicitor by training but combined it with a political career that culminated with taoiseach Liam Cosgrave appointing him to the key finance portfolio in the 1973 coalition.

The four-year term of government coincided with a period of austerity brought about partly by an oil crisis coupled with retrenchment of the Irish economy. He introduced hair-shirt budgets that resulted in him being parodied as “Richie Ruin” in the popular satirical programme Hall’s Pictorial Weekly. He was also called “Red Richie” for having introduced a wealth tax in 1976, as well as increases in VAT and in excise duty.

Mr Ryan later became a MEP as well as Ireland’s representative on the Court of Auditors in Luxembourg. His four years in charge of the finance portfolio was a short period in a long and distinguished career, in law and in politics.

Tough approach

While Fine Gael colleagues of the time strongly defended the tough approach Mr Ryan adopted to the State’s finances as necessary, he and the party found it difficult to shake the “Richie Ruin” portrayal.

Paying tribute to Mr Ryan at the weekend, Mr Bruton said: “He managed to turn the economy around, and growth had returned by 1975. But the political dividend from growth was, as to be expected, delayed. It was not reflected in the result of 1977 election. Richie Ryan did not get the credit he deserved, at the time, or since.”

Educated at Synge Street CBS and later at UCD, he distinguished himself in law, as well as a champion debater. He qualified as a solicitor and established his own practice, which was involved in several important constitutional cases during the 1960s, including an important challenge to a decision to fluoridate Dublin’s public water supply.

He also began a political career, being first elected to the Dáil in a byelection in 1959 in Dublin South West. He was re-elected at every election he stood in until his retirement from politics in 1986.

During his time in Fine Gael he was a frontbench spokesman on foreign affairs twice. He was first elected to the European parliament in 1973, and was later Ireland’s appointee to the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg – Barry Desmond and Máire Geoghegan-Quinn were among his successors in that role.

Direct elections

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar led the tribute to the former TD and Minister.

“During the 1970s oil crisis and the years that followed, Richie proved himself a capable and steady pair of hands during a turbulent economic time,” he said.

“Having represented Ireland at European level, he went on to top the polls during the first direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979 and again in 1984.

“He served as a member of the Court of Auditors from 1986 to 1994 and following retirement he continued in a number of public service roles.

“Though not having had the privilege to serve alongside Richie, the legacy of distinguished and selfless service he gave Fine Gael, his constituents and the country remains a benchmark for those of us in public service today.”

Among the organisations with which Mr Ryan continued an active role were the Commissioner of Irish Lights as well as the Irish Red Cross.

Mr Ryan, who lived in Terenure, was pre-deceased by his wife Maireád, and his three brothers and one sister. He is survived by his five children, by his three surviving brothers, by grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was also pre-deceased by his great-granddaughter Angela.

The funeral of Mr Ryan will take place on Wednesday at 10am in the Church of St. Thérèse, Mount Merrion, Co Dublin followed by burial at Newland’s Cross Cemetery.