Tuesday 22 October 2019

Tributes paid to well-known writer and barrister Noel Whelan (50)

Barrister and author, Noel Whelan. Photo: Dave Conachy.
Barrister and author, Noel Whelan. Photo: Dave Conachy.

Gabija Gataveckaite

Tributes are being paid following the death of writer and barrister Noel Whelan (50) who died yesterday evening.

Mr Whelan was a well-known political writer, barrister and a former political advisor to Fianna Fáil.

It is understood that he died yesterday evening after a short illness.

This morning, social media is awash with tributes for the Irish Times columnist.

"So sad to hear that Noel Whelan has passed away," Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wrote on Twitter.

"We come from different party backgrounds but I feel this morning like Ireland has lost a friend. Such a sharp intellect. So articulate and effective on marriage equality."

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty wrote; "Aside from his obvious talents, Noel was a thorough Gent - such sad sad news."

"Terribly sad news," Green Party Councillor Una Power wrote on Twitter this morning.

"Noel was a huge supporter of Women for Elections and gave us tremendous support when I was working there during the general election in 2016. Thoughts with his family today."

"What an immensely decent man that we have lost much too soon," Social Democrat Councillor Gary Gannon wrote.

"A giant of political discourse who was always available to offer advice and direction."

In a statement, the Council of the Bar of Ireland extended its deepest sympathies to Mr Whelan’s family and friends.

Bar Council chairman Michéal P O’Higgins SC said: "Noel was a highly respected and popular member of The Bar of Ireland, and was widely known for his generosity with his legal colleagues, his clients and his many friends.

"As well as playing a leading role in public and political life, Noel commanded an impressive legal practice in Dublin and Waterford for a number of decades.

"He was an all rounder with a particular expertise in criminal law, electoral law and constitutional law, in which fields he excelled. He took silk last year but sadly his illness has cut short his stellar career."

Mr O’Higgins said he was privileged to get to know Mr Whelan in his college days.

"From early on everyone knew he had star quality and was a gifted communicator. His ability to explain complex issues concisely, and break legal issues down to their essentials, made him a skilled and persuasive advocate, both in court and in the media," said Mr O’Higgins.

"Noel’s point was always reasonable and measured and invariably interesting and persuasive."

He said Mr Whelan sometimes came across as a shy person, but in conversation his warmth and humour, and sense of mischief, would shine through.

"Noel’s contribution to national and political affairs was immense. A regular columnist for the Irish Times he was a frequent contributor on radio shows, television, speaking engagements and conferences. His breadth of knowledge and books, on all topics, was inspiring and came across in conversation, and also in his insightful contributions on air," said Mr O’Higgins.

"Never one to hurl from the ditch, Noel never shied away from standing up for what he thought was right in the courtroom, in the political trenches or when campaigning for social change. Ireland is the better for that today, in so many ways."

Mr Whelan was married to Sinead McSweeney and the couple have a son, Séamus.

Originally from County Wexford, his father Seamus was a Fianna Fáil councillor. His brother Michael followed in his father’s footsteps of becoming a councillor and Michael still serves in Wexford.

Mr Whelan was a former advisor for the party. He practised as a barrister for 19 years and became senior counsel just last year.

He was a well-known commentator and took part in the campaign to introduce same sex marriage and the referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment last year.

He considered running in the presidential race last year, but decided against it after Michael D Higgins announced he would be re-entering the race. 

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