A 'new wave' hero who got tangled in a political disaster, writes Liam Collins
Published 03/01/2010 | 05:00
Justin Keating, who died on New Year's Eve just a few days short of his 80th birthday on January 7, was one of the Labour Party's 'new wave', which also included Conor Cruise O'Brien and David Thornley.
The son of the well-known painter Sean Keating, he was born in Dublin and educated at Sandford Park School, UCD, and the University of London. He lectured in veterinary anatomy at UCD and later at Trinity College. From 1965 to 1967 he was head of RTE's agriculture programming, before returning to Trinity.
He became involved in the Labour Party and was elected to the Dail for the constituency of Dublin West in the 1969 general election.
In 1972 he led the Labour Party's unsuccessful campaign against Ireland's entry to what was then called the EEC. The following year he was appointed Minister for Industry and Commerce in Garret FitzGerald's Fine Gael/Labour Party coalition and ironically was also appointed as a member of the European Parliament.
Keating had made it quite clear that he took his responsibilities as a national politician very seriously and courted disaster by making it clear that he would not be follow the example of other politicians who spent their time looking after their constituents' needs. It was a brave but foolhardy stand.
For a man who had once denounced the "leopards of capitalism" he now found himself involved in one of the most dramatic and legally convoluted sagas in modern Irish business history. This was the opening of Tara Mines in Navan, Co Meath, and the alleged 'claim-jumping' by a rival firm called Bula, which was controlled by the controversial businessman Tom Roche who established what are now CRH and National Toll Roads, and his son-in-law, Michael Wymes.
In a controversial move, Keating's department paid the businessmen and two business associates a total of £9.57m so that the government could take a 25 per cent stake in Bula. (Another 24 per cent was given to the State as a gift). The money was paid free of all income tax, capital gains tax and a wealth tax. Not only did he lose a lot of support from within the Labour Party but in the Dail he was reduced to silence by the then Fianna Fail spokesman Dessie O'Malley, who accused him of making a series of "misleading statements" on the issue. He was also accused by political commentators of "going missing" for almost a year as he sought to become Ireland's European Commissioner, a mission at which he failed. He lost his Dail seat in the 1977 Fianna Fail landslide and he served in the Seanad until 1981 on the Agricultural Panel and from February to June, 1984 he was again a member of the Seanad panel.
He later retired to Ballymore Eustace, Co Kildare. He fronted a short-lived political programme on RTE, Keating on Sunday and in 1984 he was appointed as chairman of the National Council for Educational Awards (NCEA).
He also became a member of the National Union of Journalists and wrote for, among others, the Sunday Independent, where he did a weekly column on food. He was also President of the Irish Association of Humanists. Justin Keating foresaw the growth of the internet and believed passionately in government support for what he once termed the 'electronic cottage' -- enabling people to move away from cities and live and work in their homes.
With his son David he made a film about his father and their difficult relationship, called Sean Keating: Where Do I Begin. He revealed it was a stormy 'father and son' relationship, but concluded that he "had the vast good fortune of finding each other before he [Sean] died".
He is survived by two wives, Loretta Klenthous and Barbara Hussey, and his children Carla, Eilis and David.