Taoiseach Micheál Martin has paid tribute to the late Cabinet minister, senator and European Commissioner Michael O’Kennedy as “a true servant of the Irish people and “an Irish patriot who devoted his life to the long and distinguished service of his community and his country.”
uring his funeral oration at St Mary of the Rosary Church in Mr O’Kennedy’s home town of Nenagh, Tipperary today, the Taoiseach described the Fianna Fáil stalwart as “one of the major figures of Irish public life across four decades.”
Mr O’Kennedy died at the age of 86 last Friday following a brief illness. He is survived by his wife Breda and children Brian, Orla and Mary as well as grandchildren and extended family.
The qualified barrister held numerous cabinet posts under former Fianna Fáil Taoisigh, Seam Lemass and Charles Haughey, including Minister of Labour, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister of Finance, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Transport and Power.
He also served as the European Commissioner for Personnel, Administration and the Statistics Office in his long career in politics spanning almost four decades.
“He held some of the most senior posts in the government of this free republic and excelled as a scholar and as lawyer. He was known internationally and met with many of the great leaders of the late twentieth century,” Mr Martin said.
“Yet wherever he was in the world and whatever high position he held, Michael O’Kennedy was always defined by the values he learned here in Nenagh.”
He added, “it was clear that he was destined to make a mark,” from his early days as a promising student at UCD who won “prestigious scholarships” and completed a “Masters thesis when this was a relatively rare achievement”.
He said Mr O’Kennedy went on to become “both a representative and a leader of a new rising generation” during the Lemass regime when “in those days new TDs only very rarely could expect to be appointed to office, but Michael’s qualities were recognised by his leaders and he was soon appointed as a parliamentary secretary and then a member of Cabinet.”
He said Mr O’Kennedy’s appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1977 “signalled a significant stage in Ireland’s international standing and involved the management of profoundly difficult challenges”.
He recalled his stint as an EU Commissioner as one in which Mr O’Kennedy “immediately set about building strong connections for Ireland in the European institutions and with other governments.”
He said that after Mr O’Kennedy returned to the Dáil as a TD for Tipperary North for nine years, “he continued to be an important figure in our national politics.”
“For us in Fianna Fáil, Michael was a trusted and admired colleague – who late in his career was willing to serve in the vital role of party trustee,” he said, adding Mr O’Kennedy was also widely respected by other political parties, noting “the tributes which have been paid to him in recent days by President Higgins, John Bruton and many others are testament to both his decency and the fact that his was no ordinary career.
“This son of Nenagh and Tipperary served his community and his country with great distinction at home and abroad,” he said.