Thursday 14 December 2017

Obituary: Peter Mathews

The financial expert and politician was also an inveterate writer and regular television panellist

Tributes: Peter Mathews
Tributes: Peter Mathews
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Although he had a short-lived, if principled, political career, Peter Mathews, who died last Monday at the age of 65, was a well-informed economic commentator whose main political objective was the cancellation of the €25bn promissory note which Ireland had signed with the European Central Bank to save bondholders in the banks.

He was also an inveterate writer and panellist, appearing as a banking expert following the economic collapse of 2009, quickly carving out a position for himself. He wrote for the Sunday Independent among other publications and appeared regularly on Vincent Browne's late-night TV3 show, where he was often gently mocked by the host.

This publicity provided a springboard for the political career which was to follow, although one family member said last week that politics "wasn't something he or anybody ever considered as a career". But he relished this second calling as a TD and was not afraid to take on the party hierarchy or break ranks when he thought fit.

"This week Ireland lost a great citizen, a man of great moral courage," the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop John Brown, told his funeral mass, which was attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and members of the Cabinet, last Friday.

"He made decisions that were very difficult and caused havoc on his own life," said the celebrant Fr Conor Harper SJ. "He was a man of honour and integrity; he had the courage to do the right thing, even when it was not politic to do so... Peter Mathews leaves a great legacy to this country as well as to his family."

Peter Mathews was born on August 5 1951, the eldest of a family of seven. His father Brian, who died in 2010, was a well-known Dublin insurance broker and the family lived on Stillorgan Road in Dublin 4. He attended the Jesuit-run Gonzaga College and for the rest of his life adopted the school motto: 'Faithful always and everywhere.'

He studied Commerce at UCD and later became a chartered accountant, working for Coopers & Lybrand (later PwC) and the Industrial Credit Corporation (ICC) where he spent 20 years before leaving to become a financial consultant.

"He was a true gentleman, he had courage, a great sense of fun and he was a wonderful son, brother, husband and father," said his sister, Raphael. He liked jazz and blues music and became passionately involved in whatever cause he adopted.

He remained a conventional Catholic and "a man of great faith" who, up to his final illness, sang in the choir in St Theresa's Church near his home in Mount Merrion, and undertook occasional pilgrimages to Lough Derg.

Originally a member of the Progressive Democrats, he was added by party headquarters to the Fine Gael ticket in the Dublin South constituency in 2011, joining the two selected candidates and sitting TDs Alan Shatter and Olivia Mitchell. He went on to poll an astonishing 9,053 first preference votes and came in above Shatter, which was regarded as a good outcome by some senior party figures.

But he soon established himself as an independent figure, popular across the political spectrum, denying that he was "a celebrity economist" although one constituent said of him, "he does go on a bit".

Mathews was regarded as unusual because of his sincerity and perceived lack of guile in the turbulent political world he now inhabited. This was confirmed when he tabled a proposal to compel the Governor of the Central Bank to attend the Finance Committee of the Oireachtas, which he then voted against because of the absence of many of his colleagues, but which nevertheless led to the defeat of the government when put to a vote. He also told an interviewer that he believed Finance Minister Michael Noonan was "very light in terms of banking expertise" which did not go down well in the upper echelons of the party.

In October, 2013 Taoiseach Enda Kenny staked his leadership of Fine Gael on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, with a warning to dissidents that if they voted against it' they would lose the party whip and have to contest the following election as independents. Despite this, Peter Mathews was among those who voted with their conscience and he was expelled from the parliamentary party.

He then resigned from Fine Gael and became a member of the loosely organised Reform Alliance, but declined to join the ill-fated Renua. He contested the re-drawn Dublin South constituency in 2016 as an Independent despite being ill with oesophageal cancer and receiving treatment in St James's Hospital between bouts of canvassing.

With a little over 2,000 votes, he learned the hard realities of party politics in one of the most volatile constituencies in the country.

He learned two months ago that his illness was terminal.

Chief mourners at his funeral in the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook, were his wife Susan and their four adult children, James, John, David and Maria, and his brothers and sisters Mark, Raphael, Gareth, Adrianne, Miriam and Stephen. His mother Clare was unable to attend due to illness.

Among the large attendance were former colleagues in the Reform Alliance Billy Timmins, Lucinda Creighton and Paul Bradford; Terence O'Rourke of KPMG; former Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery; commentator Paul Sommerville, businessman Carl McCann, former MEP Avril Doyle, Stephen Donnelly and Eoghan Murphy TDs, former banker Bob Ryan, ministers Shane Ross, Paschal Donohoe and Simon Harris.

Sunday Independent

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