TRIBUTES have been paid to former Agriculture Minister and west Cork TD Joe Walsh who died after a brave battle against illness.
Mr Walsh (71) was hailed as one of Europe's outstanding farm ministers given his commitment to modern food production and marketing, R&D and, in particular, his skilled handling of such crises as Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and BSE/Mad Cow.
His handling of the FMD crisis earned him the French Legion d'Honneur - one of only a handful of Irish nationals to receive the honour - and the Spanish Grand Cross.
The Clonakilty-based politician was the driving force behind the creation of the Irish food board, An Bord Bia, and a key figure in successive EU Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) talks.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, who served alongside Mr Walsh in Cabinet, described him as a tremendous colleague and a hugely talented politician.
"Joe was a man of vision who had a profound impact on the development of Irish agriculture and food over a number of decades," he said.
"His expertise in agriculture and food saw him entrusted with responsibility in the area by three Taoisigh."
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton said Mr Walsh was a hugely respected politician who will be remembered for his "decisive and successful management of the FMD crisis in Ireland in 2001."
Tributes were also paid by farm groups including the IFA, ICMSA and ICSA.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney praised his predecessor for providing "calm and steady leadership" during difficult times in European farming.
In the 1980s, Mr Walsh was one of the key figures who opted to remain within Fianna Fail despite concerns being raised over the leadership style of Charles Haughey.
He later proved a key figure in helping negotiate the first FF-PD coalition.
Bank of Ireland chairman Archie Kane said Mr Walsh, a former director, was "a wise counsel".
"Joe became a member of the board in January 2009 and served during a critical time for the bank as we restructured, secured new investors, repaid the taxpayer and laid the foundations for the return to profitability and growth.
"Joe made a substantial contribution to securing the future of the bank and his wise counsel was greatly valued by me and my fellow directors."
A native of Ballineen in west Cork, Mr Walsh was elected to Cork Co Council in 1974.
He was first elected to the Dail for Cork South West in the Jack Lynch-inspired FF landslide election of 1977.
He served as Junior Minister in the Department of Agriculture from 1987 and was promoted to full Agriculture Minister in February 1992.
Mr Walsh retired from the post in 2004. He stepped down as a TD in 2007. He is survived by his wife Marie and children Ronan, Denise, Killian, Brian and Kate.
He will be buried after 1pm Requiem Mass tomorrow in Clonakilty Parish Church.
I KNEW Joe Walsh for many years, and he was always a larger than life character with a very wry sense of humour. He was a dedicated family man and had an innate sense of what his community in West Cork wanted in their public representative.