Friday 16 November 2018

Ex-Tanaiste was 'sportsman, scholar and a wise adviser'

Gene McKenna

TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern has led the tributes to former Tanaiste John Wilson, who died yesterday.

Mr Wilson died on the day after his 84th birthday at St James' Hospital, Dublin, following a short illness.

"John Wilson was a sportsman, a scholar and a politician who served Cavan and Ireland through decades of endeavour in many fields," said Mr Ahern. "A fine orator and a classics scholar, he was a popular deputy across the house who contributed with knowledge, wit and courtesy across a broad range of issues.

"As Taoiseach, I was privileged to work with John Wilson on victims' issues. His was an important contribution to the peace process. The Wilson report in 1999 led to a number of important initiatives, including the inquiries into atrocities that occurred in the South and the provision of a dedicated fund to support victims.

"Through decades of activism in the sporting, cultural and political life of the country, John Wilson contributed his talents to his students and teaching colleagues in the sphere of education and to the community from which he came and which later elected him to political office."

Mr Ahern said Mr Wilson was held in affection and respect by his colleagues in Fianna Fail and was "an effective minister and wise counsellor in all the governments he served".

Minister of State Brendan Smith, who worked as personal assistant to Mr Wilson in seven departments and succeeded him as TD for Cavan-Monaghan, described him as "an icon" looked up to by to younger colleagues from all parties.

"He was a father figure to young TDs and Senators and always gave them very wise counsel," he said.

Mr Wilson had contributed a great deal to the drive for peace in Northern Ireland, he said. "He was a man who saw the great need for normal politics and for basic civil rights to be granted to everybody in Northern Ireland.

"He was a man who never courted or used the media but he left a great record of delivery in all the departments in which he served," he said.

Former Ceann Comhairle and constituency colleague Dr Rory O'Hanlon said he was sorry to hear of Mr Wilson's death and sympathised with his family.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny described him as "a striking figure" as well as "a brilliant academic and a politician who mastered any brief that he was working on. "He was a fluent Irish speaker and my clear memories of John were his verbal jousts when Minister for Education - often in Latin or Greek - on the floor of the Dail chamber with his Opposition spokesman on education, Richard Burke."

Mr Kenny said Mr Wilson was a "no-nonsense footballer" who brought a similar approach to representing the interests of his constituents in Leinster House or fighting his corner on behalf of Fianna Fail.

Health Minister Mary Harney spoke of her "deep sadness" at the death of Mr Wilson. "I first met him while I was a student in Trinity College and developed a sustained respect for him. John Wilson was very bright and very well-read man and was also widely respected as a fine teacher."

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland expressed its condolences at the death of Mr Wilson, who served as ASTI President from 1959 to 1960.

Mr Wilson is survived by his wife Ita, son John, daughters Claire, Siobhan, Lucy and Maria, and grandchildren, brothers and sisters. His nephew, Diarmuid Wilson, is a Fianna Fail Senator.

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