Friday 28 July 2017

Popular TD Mathews made his name as a scourge of FF-Greens coalition

Peter Mathews and wife Susan at Leinster House in 2011 Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Peter Mathews and wife Susan at Leinster House in 2011 Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
John Downing

John Downing

Peter Mathews, who has died after a short illness, was a most unusual politician for all of his short career in public life.

He came to politics by an unusual route at a very unusual juncture in Irish history.

He had made something of a name for himself as an economic commentator, and scourge of the Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition's response to the banking collapse and the deepening recession.

Fine Gael nominated him to stand for the Dáil in five-seat Dublin South in February 2011.

He polled more than 9,000 first preferences and, at the age of 59, was one of three TDs returned for that leafy constituency.

In the Dáil, he remained a strident critic of the new Fine Gael-Labour coalition's banking policy, and he irked Finance Minister Michael Noonan, among others.

On one occasion, Mr Mathews advised the minister to beat his shoe on the EU conference room table, in a reference to a tactic adopted by the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, at the United Nations in 1960.

Persuasion

Mr Noonan replied that quiet persuasion in the margins of Brussels meetings was a better approach.

Mr Mathews was among five TDs who parted company with Fine Gael after the July 2013 Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act.

He had unsuccessfully campaigned for a "free vote" and strongly argued that younger TDs and senators had been pressured into going against their consciences.

He then learned the bitter realities of party politics as he was unceremoniously moved from his office on the party corridor and lost his committee memberships.

For a time, he was associated with Lucinda Creighton's 'Reform Alliance' but he did not join in the formation of the ill-starred 'Renua Ireland' party which grew out of this.

Being an Independent TD seemed a much better fit. But the knowledge that a constituency re-draw reducing his constituency, newly named Dublin Rathdown, to just three TDs, did not bode well.

In early 2014 he seriously considered a Fianna Fáil offer to stand for the party in that year's European Parliament election for the three-seat Dublin constituency.

But this did not happen either and he continued his work as an Independent TD.

His 2016 bid for re-election failed when he got just over 2,000 votes.

He had waged a battle with oesophageal cancer with great courage and announced his determination to win. But, alas, it was not to be.

He was much-loved by all sides for his unfailing courtesy and good humour.

He was also admired for the passion and honesty he brought to politics at a time many citizens feared these qualities were lacking more generally.

But this 65-year-old former TD also struggled to achieve brevity in his contributions to debate and indeed in social conversations.

This meant that he also at times strained the patience of more experienced colleagues and some political journalists in the sometimes frenetic environment of Leinster House.

Perhaps the truest tribute to his memory came in the genuine displays of sadness by so many different people in the national parliament precincts yesterday, when news broke of how he had lost his short but hugely determined battle with cancer.

His foibles were remembered with as much affection as were his great human qualities.

Irish Independent

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