Born November 30th, 1943
Died November 11th, 2023
There are some TDs who never make it to the front rank of politics yet leave a more lasting impression on their contemporaries than many in Cabinet. Louis J Belton was one of those.
The genial Longford man, who served as a TD and senator between 1989 and 2002, enlivened many a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting with his mordant wit and entertained journalists and colleagues of all parties in Leinster House with penetrating and humorous insights into the great, and small, issues of the day.
One of the stories recalled after his death was a conversation he had with fellow TDs Gerry Reynolds and Charlie Flanagan while walking back to Leinster House from the launch of the Fine Gael general election manifesto in 2002. “How do you think it will go, Louis?” asked one of them. “It will be just like the Somme. We’re going to be mowed down and flung into a mass grave,” he said. All three of them would lose their seats in that disastrous election for Fine Gael.
John Bruton, in a tribute after the death of his old friend, remarked on the distinctive style Belton brought to politics. “His contributions at meetings of the Fine Gael parliamentary party were particularly noteworthy. He mixed self-deprecating humour with the fruits of serious reflection on the political issues of the day. He was a formidable grassroots campaigner.”
The former taoiseach wrote a letter to Belton a few weeks ago recalling some of the exchanges that enlivened Fine Gael parliamentary party meetings during his time as leader. He particularly remembered one at which a string of TDs demanded new legislation covering a wide range of issues. Just before the meeting ended, Belton got to his feet and declared: “It’s all very fine to have more laws, but what about order? If we don’t have order the laws won’t matter.”
A proud boast was that he was the last person in Longford to be suspended by the GAA county board for attending “foreign games”
He had a tendency to always look on the bright side of life. Crossing Kildare Street on one occasion, he was hailed by a potentially troublesome Longford constituent, who loudly asked how he was getting on in Dublin. “I’ve a bed in Buswells, a seat in the Dáil and a pay cheque at the end of the month, so it couldn’t be better,” he replied with a grin.
He was always impeccably turned out, particularly on big occasions of State when he would appear in a well-tailored suit and matching tie, sporting a bright handkerchief in his breast pocket.
Belton was born in the village of Kenagh, about 13km south of Longford town. His family, who had been in the village for a number of generations, ran the local post office. He was educated at St Mel’s in Longford.
He loved sport and as a young man was a fine footballer. He was a member of the juvenile team that won Kenagh’s first county title, and he repeated the feat with the parish under-21 and intermediate teams. His last public outing was just three weeks before his death when he attended the county intermediate football final and joined the Kenagh captain Shane Doyle on the podium for the presentation of the cup.
Although he loved Gaelic football, he followed all sports and supported the Longford town soccer team and the local rugby club. A proud boast was that he was the last person in Longford to be suspended by the GAA county board for attending “foreign games”.
The Belton family has a long history in Irish politics, and he was the seventh member to be elected to the Oireachtas
When he finished school, he worked for a building society before setting up an auctioneering business. However, his first love was politics and he threw himself into working for the local Fine Gael organisation and the party’s TD, Pat Cooney.
He made his first foray into electoral politics in 1979, winning a seat on Longford county council. He was elected to the Dáil for Longford-Westmeath in 1989 but lost his seat in 1992 when Longford was added to Roscommon to create a new constituency. He served in the Seanad from 1992 to 1997 before he regained his Dáil seat. He lost it again in 2002 and bowed out of national politics. His brother Paddy succeeded him on Longford County Council until his untimely death in 2013.
The Belton family has a long history in Irish politics, and he was the seventh member to be elected to the Oireachtas. A grand-uncle, Paddy Belton, was elected to the Dáil in 1927. His sons Paddy and Jack were subsequently elected to the Dáil while their brother Richard was elected to the Seanad, as was a cousin, Luke. Richard’s daughter Avril Doyle was a senator, a TD, a Minister and an MEP.
For the past two decades Belton lived in Longford town with his partner, Anita Kelly. He is survived by Anita, his sister Maureen and wider family.