A man who saw socialism as both essential and adaptable to change
Published 02/01/2010 | 05:00
JUSTIN Keating, the former cabinet minister, TD, senator and member of the European Parliament, who has just passed away, was one of that exceptional group of academics who crossed the bridge to the public world at the end of the 1960s to become active in electoral politics and stand as candidates for the Labour party.
Standing successfully for Labour in 1969, Justin was exceptional in another sense. Through his powerful talent at communication he had become a household name in Irish rural homes with Telefis Feirme (a TV farming series), which was quietly revolutionising Irish agricultural practices. The programme also had a huge urban audience. Justin was simply a brilliant communicator.
His respect for the human labour, of hand and head, put into the production of objects, was revealed in such documentaries as the series on 'Hands'. In his biographical programme on his father, the artist Sean Keating, Justin recorded not only the source of his visual sense but also his sensitivity to the complexity of father-son relationships.
With a political background from his mother that was radical left, Justin embraced Labour and left politics so that the principles remained steadfast, but the tactics had to respond to new and changing conditions.
As minister with responsibility for, among other things, natural resources, he faced criticism from both left and right.
The former felt he should have pursued a nationalisation model with a State industry. The right wanted exploitation with minimal state involvement or regulation.
The model Justin proposed gave royalties, a share in rights, partnership in ownership and, above all, full access to the people through the State. After he left office his scheme was abandoned by the Fianna Fail governments that succeeded him -- leading to the chaos and confrontations we have today in relation to the Corrib gas field.
Justin was an advanced environmentalist before his time. Travelling with him in the European campaign in Connaught-Ulster -- in which I was the candidate without much prospect -- his penchant for remarking on the changes in the colour and shape of the fields, the hedges and rushes and thistles too, in Roscommon and Leitrim, made me impatient at the time.
His Labour commitment brought him to the Euro constituency with the least prospects, but his personal generosity of spirit is what I retain as a valuable and humorous memory.
He brought from his academic life an insistence on science and its rational base. He was not just a humanist by conviction, he practised it also.
His was a life rich in the integration of science, nature and society, delivered within a socialist vision that he saw as both essential and adaptable to change.
Michael D Higgins is a Labour TD for Galway West and former minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht
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