Friday 28 October 2016

Committed and provocative news man who made a 'lasting imprint'

Published 22/04/2016 | 02:30

Michael D Higgins. Photo: Mark Doyle
Michael D Higgins. Photo: Mark Doyle

President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to the late James Downey, one of Ireland's "most committed journalists and editors."

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In a statement, the President, inset below, sent condolences to the Downey family, saying: "It is with sadness that I have learned of the death of James Downey.

"He will be remembered as one of Ireland's most committed journalists and editors and as having made a lasting imprint on journalism through his deep knowledge of the world of news and public affairs.

"In his career as a journalist in Leitrim and Dublin, James Downey showed a continuing concern for the public interest and transparency.

"He was driven by the strong belief in the power of information and the need for critical analysis to further political accountability," said the President.

"Sabina and I extend our heartfelt sympathy to his wife, Moira, his daughters Rachel and Vanessa, his siblings and family and his large circle of friends."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny paid tribute to the long-serving political commentator.

He said: "James was a man with a long, varied and very distinguished career. He was a man of singular abilities and was never afraid to say what was on his mind."

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan also expressed sadness, adding that his political observations had been "refreshing and independent."

Editor of the Irish Independent Fionnán Sheahan described Jim's passing as "a sad occasion for hundreds of journalists who worked in the Irish Independent over the past three decades, to whom he was a thoroughly generous mentor".

"His commentary was incisive, intelligent and always sharp," he said.

"Jim's passion for politics and current affairs continued right up to his death. Despite his ill health, his commitment to journalism meant he was still writing his column until last week," he said.

"He had a belief in the import of political leadership and its ability to improve the fortunes of the citizens of the country. Jim was one of the foremost commentators of our times. The readers of the Irish Independent will miss the authoritive perspective he brought to affairs of State as they were able to rely on him to guide them through complex political developments."

Séamus Dooley, Irish Secretary of the National Union of Journalists described Mr Downey as "a journalist of formidable intellect, style and wit who believed passionately in the right of journalists to ask difficult questions."

Mr Downey was a "provocative columnist. He had an unrivalled knowledge of Irish politics," he said.

"He was the best of company and will be missed as a friend and mentor," he said.

Former Labour Minister, Barry Desmond, said that he had "an extraordinary longevity" as a political columnist and had effectively participated in every election since 1960.

He ran in the 1969 election for the Labour Party but eased away from party membership in the early 1970s, when he ended his association.

"He was not at all happy going out and knocking on doors, he was very much the political commentator - far happier writing about politics," commented Mr Desmond.

Willie Penrose, Labour Party chairman, recalled James's courtesy to him as a young TD.

"He made sense of politics - even for politicians," he said.

Irish Independent

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