Tricolour at half mast as parties pay their tributes
THE Tricolour flew at half mast at Leinster House yesterday as TDs across the political divide paid tribute to their colleague Theresa Ahearn.
The Fine Gael TD had been ill with cancer for a considerable time.
Her party's leader John Bruton said the deputy's death was ``a tragedy for her beloved family, her friends throughout South Tipperary and the Fine Gael party.''
Theresa bore a long and trying illness with dignity and courage, he added. Coming within hours of the road accident that claimed the life of Gobnait O'Connell, special adviser to Health Minister Micheal Martin, Mrs Ahearn's death left Leinster House in sombre mood and led to the cancellation of scheduled business.
Taoiseach Bertrie Ahern said the deputy battled serious illness with great courage and dignity. ``She was respected on all sides of the political divide as a very committed and hard-working politician who was passionate in her beliefs,'' he added.
``She was a tireless worker on issues of concern to the community in her native Tipperary, who now mourn the passing of another of their public representatives.'' (Michael Ferris TD, also based in South Tipperary, died in March).
Mr Bruton said Mrs Ahearn to the very end retained a lively interest in the causes she served in her public and private life. ``Her devotion to her husband Liam and her sons was evident to all those who visited her in recent weeks. She also retained a lively and incisive interest in the cause of the Fine Gael party and enhancing its prospects for success.''
Her commitment was most visibly evident during the recent by-election campaign in South Tipperary, said Mr Bruton. Its understood Mrs Ahearn asked specifically for an early by-election in the constituency following her own demise.
Mr Bruton: ``Theresa Ahearn's commitment to the success of the campaign of her colleague Tom Hayes was inspiring to all of us who worked alongside her in that campaign. Her selfless commitment guaranteed the maximum effort from all.''
Mrs Ahearn was the only female FG deputy representing a rural constituency in the Dail. She won her seat unaided by any family political connection, Mr Bruton pointed out, adding: ``This was a tremendous achievement and recent elections saw Theresa's vote increase steadily.''
At the time of her death Mrs Ahearn was party spokeswoman on issues affecting those with special needs, illness or disabilities. She also spoke on higher education and was a member of Fine Gael's national executive. A trustee of the party, she was the first woman to hold such a position since FG's foundation.
Labour leader Ruairi Quinn said he learned of the death with great sadness, adding: ``Theresa will be dearly remembered for the dignity and personal courage she displayed in coping with serious illness while at the same time managing to serve her constituents.
``She will be deeply missed by the people of Tipperary South, who have lost two deputies in the space of a year, and will be sadly missed by the many friends, across all benches, she made during her time in Leinster House.''
Tanaiste Mary Harney said Theresa was ``an outstanding public representative.'' Her presence in the Dail would be sorely missed.
``She showed that women, against all odds, could forge successful careers in national politics and make a real difference in the process,'' added Ms Harney. ``She showed remarkable courage and was an inspiration to anyone faced with the reality of coping with serious illness.
``She will remain long in my memory as an articulate and socially concerned politician who was never slow to speak her mind.''