John Bruton was ‘a deeply committed politician’: President Higgins leads tributes to former taoiseach

Leo Varadkar says former Fine Gael leader ‘one of the reasons I became involved in politics’

President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to former taoiseach and Fine Gael leader John Bruton, who died on Tuesday aged 76.

Mr Higgins said it was “a privilege to serve as a member of Dáil Éireann and of Cabinet with John and, in particular, when he served as a very energetic Taoiseach from 1994 to 1997″.

“John Bruton was a deeply committed politician, who demonstrated a life-long interest and engagement in public affairs and public service both in Ireland and internationally,” he said in a statement.

“His contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process during his time as Taoiseach was very significant. In this work, he brought a particular sensitivity and a generous approach to inclusion with regard to the perspective of the ‘Other’.”


The President said it was “a mark of John Bruton’s interest in politics” that while his term as taoiseach included an emphasis on the local, and in particular the ongoing issues with regard to Northern Ireland, “he was always a strongly committed promoter of politics in the European Union”.

He said Mr Bruton was “very open and forthright in his opinions” and had a great sense of humour “which was a great help in ensuring a sense of collegiality and that small issues would never be allowed to defeat what was important in relation to the things that mattered most”.

Mr Higgins extended his deepest sympathies to Mr Bruton’s wife Finola, his children Matthew, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, and all of his family.

Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar said he was “devastated” to learn of Mr Bruton’s death, describing him as “one of the reasons I became involved in politics and joined Fine Gael”.

“He was always encouraging and supportive on a personal level, from my time in Young Fine Gael to my time as Taoiseach. We kept in touch and his knowledge and experience were particularly helpful during Brexit and during Coalition negotiations,” he said in a statement.

“John was doer and a philosopher. He was passionately pro-European in Government and in Opposition, and was well-liked and respected among colleagues in Europe and in the European People’s Party in which he served as Vice-President. He knew that Ireland’s place and destiny was at the heart of Europe and made the case for it eloquently.”

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern said Mr Bruton was “a formidable politician who devoted his life to the service of our nation”.

“Mr Bruton’s dedication and distinguished service, encompassing roles as a TD, Minister, and Taoiseach, have left a significant mark on the political landscape of Ireland,” he said in a statement.

“Throughout his tenure in politics, Mr Bruton implemented policies that significantly shaped the trajectory of our country, demonstrating a keen understanding of governance and a commitment to the betterment of the lives of our citizens.”

Former taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said Ireland had lost “a true patriot” and “we have all lost a good friend”.

“I had the privilege to serve with John in Dáil Eireann and in Government over many years. He was a distinguished parliamentarian who became a great Taoiseach, always guided by his passion for social justice. As Taoiseach, he laid much of the groundwork for future positive progress in the Northern Ireland peace process,” he said in a statement.

“John will be remembered by most as an honourable person with great resilience and a wonderful sense of humour, who always put his country first. He was outstanding in his commitment to the European Union and excelled in explaining the EU to American politicians from both parties.”

Tánaiste and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he learned of the passing of Mr Bruton with great sadness.

“A committed politician full of ideas and energy, John worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland,” he said in a post on X. “A passionate European and clear about Ireland’s place in the EU, John believed in public service and was a true patriot. My deepest sympathies to his wife Finola and all the Bruton family.”

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he served with Mr Bruton in the Dáil from 2002 to 2004 “and remember him as being gregarious, and a larger than life character who was always helpful, insightful and friendly”.

“He was a true Statesman over several decades to the great benefit of the country, Irish politics and diplomacy,” the Minister for Transport added.

The Irish Farmers’ Association said Mr Bruton “displayed a deep insight into farming issues and recognised the importance of the agriculture sector to the economy”.

“He was always accessible to IFA and he was receptive to our policy proposals for the future development of the sector,” association president Francie Gorman said. “His contribution to Irish politics will be remembered as having made a difference.”

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said he passed on his deepest sympathies on behalf of the Houses of the Oireachtas to Mr Bruton’s family, including his brother, Dublin Bay North TD Richard Bruton.

“John Bruton gave nearly four decades of dedicated service to the people of Ireland as a Member of the Dáil from his first election in 1969 to his retirement in 2005,” he said. “As a TD, Minister and ultimately Taoiseach, John brought total commitment to democracy, absolute integrity to politics and dedication to public service. This will be his legacy.”

In a post on X, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said: “Very sorry to learn of the death of John Bruton. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this sad time. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.”

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said Mr Bruton was an “honest, fair, and gifted person who contributed immensely to Ireland, Europe and the world” throughout a half-century of political leadership.

“Thousands of people in Co Meath and beyond will mourn a completely genuine person, who devoted his life to his family and to improving our country and our world,” the Meath East Fine Gael TD said.

Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell described Mr Bruton as “a man of deep conviction and profound Christian faith” who “realised from an early age that the future of Ireland and the future of Europe were inseparable.”

He said the former taoiseach “embodied some of the finest qualities of political leadership, qualities without which offices of State risk losing necessary commitment to, and work for, the common good”.

Archbishop Farrell was parish priest of Dunboyne, Mr Bruton’s parish, for 11 years, from September 2007 until 2018.

Expressing “profound sadness” on Mr Bruton’s death and extending sympathy to Finola Bruton and their children, he said Mr Bruton had also “bore witness to what the recently deceased Jacques Delors frequently called Europe’s soul: a shared sense of values and grounded in a spirituality. Every people and every country need contact with its heart and its soul. In John Bruton we had someone who was a sure guide on that journey.”

Bishop of Meath Tom Deenihan described Mr Bruton as “a man of principle and virtue” who was also “a man of faith who recognised the notions of service and the common good in his career as well as the importance of faith and parish. John was a valued and active member of the Dunboyne parish community.”

Also sympathising with the Bruton family, he said “the people of Meath have always been proud of John’s leadership as both taoiseach, and as European ambassador to the United States, roles that he served with distinction.”

His “legacy to our society is that of a committed Christian, a patriot, a selfless public servant who innately understood that sacrifice was a perquisite to the common good.”

The Bar Council and members of the Bar of Ireland also extended sympathies to the Bruton family.

“His keen understanding and insights on how Ireland, and indeed its legal services, could be positioned on an international stage will be a lasting legacy, alongside so much more that he achieved during his lengthy and hugely successful political career,” said Sara Phelan SC, chair of the Council of The Bar of Ireland.

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