Tuesday 25 June 2019

A life noted for a sense of fairness and integrity

Maurice Hayes, who died yesterday, was measured in pursuit of peace in Ireland, writes Jody Corcoran

PAINTING: Celebrated Co Down-based artist Colin Davidson recently completed this portrait of Maurice Hayes, which was presented to the former senator and his family just a few weeks ago
PAINTING: Celebrated Co Down-based artist Colin Davidson recently completed this portrait of Maurice Hayes, which was presented to the former senator and his family just a few weeks ago
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

Maurice Hayes, whose death has occurred aged 90, was a writer, author and commentator, twice appointed by the Taoiseach as an Independent nominee to Seanad Eireann, who was noted as an even-handed observer and a man whose temperament, integrity and sense of fairness marked him out as an astute contributor to major policy initiatives and public life in Ireland.

A former and the first Catholic Northern Ireland Ombudsman, Dr Hayes, who completed a PhD in English at the Queen's University of Belfast, was a career-long civil servant in Northern Ireland, where he was Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health and Social Services. Having taught at St Patrick's Grammar School, he first entered the Northern Ireland civil service when he succeeded his father as Town Clerk in Downpatrick in his native Co Down.

After retirement, he lived a full public life which reflected his varied interests in the worlds of academia, politics, journalism and sport.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern twice appointed Dr Hayes to the Seanad, from 1997 to 2002 and 2002 to 2007, where he made significant contributions as an Independent senator in relation to events arising out of the peace process.

He was also a member of the Royal Irish Academy and the Research Ethical Committee of Queen's University medical school, and a governor of the Linenhall Library, Belfast.

Dr Hayes was a long-serving member of the Scholarship Board of the O'Reilly Foundation. He was a non-executive director of Independent News & Media Plc, and a frequent contributor of journalism to the Irish Independent, particularly in relation to the peace process. He was also chairman of The Ireland Funds in the Republic of Ireland. He was the author of three books of memoirs, Sweet Killough: Let Go Your Anchor; Black Puddings with Slim: A Downpatrick Boyhood; and Minority Verdict: Experiences of a Catholic Civil Servant. He is also the author or editor of works on conflict research, community relations and Irish writing.

Born in Killough, Co Down on July 8, 1927, Maurice Hayes was a keen sportsman who played inter-county hurling for Down in the 1950s and was Down GAA County Secretary when a 10-year plan for the Gaelic football team was put in place, which saw Down win its first All-Ireland football final within five years in 1960.

In a distinguished public life post-retirement, Dr Hayes also served, at the Taoiseach's request, as Chairman of the National Forum on Europe in the Republic of Ireland where he devised an approach subsequently adopted by other European countries, and also was asked by Mary Harney, when she was the Minister for Health, to conduct a review into a scandal in the radiology department at Tallaght Hospital. A life-long Irish speaker, Dr Hayes retained an active interest in events in Northern Ireland, last summer describing as "an awful thing to sink the ship on" the collapse, over the Irish Language Act, of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont. In that regard, he criticised the DUP for its "general lack of respect".

But in an indication of his measured approach, in 2014 he said that the Good Friday Agreement was invoked by nationalists, along with sundry human rights documents, as a safeguard for the recognition and public expression of their Irish cultural identity, while all too often, on the slightest whiff of provocation, demanding that Orangemen suppress theirs.

At the MacGill summer School in Glenties that year, he cited the last published interview of Seamus Heaney in relation to the loyalist flag protest in Belfast, in which the Poet Laureate said "Let them fly what flags they like" before adding, almost sotto voce, that there wouldn't be a united Ireland anyhow.

Dr Hayes described Seamus Heaney's comment as an echo of the more strident and acerbic strictures addressed to unionists by Louis MacNeice a generation and a half before: "Put out what flags you will/It is too late to save your souls with bunting."

He also told the Fourteenth Annual John Hume Lecture that Republicans "should be careful what they wish for". A united Ireland, in the traditional form, may be "neither attainable nor desirable", he said. "It is perhaps encouraging that some of the wiser voices are beginning to talk in terms of an 'agreed Ireland' rather than the starkly irredentist language of old."

He said the concept of absolute sovereignty had "taken a beating since the hey-day of the nation state". The Good Friday Agreement had the "emancipatory merit" of unhitching the nation from the state, allowing national identity to flow across political boundaries, which became less significant.

It could also open the way to more imaginative ways of accommodating the aspirations and the mores of competing cultures on the island. In that talk, Dr Hayes also displayed insight into the political effects of the recent recession in Ireland.

Commentators, he said, have variously explained election results, and current polls, as signifying the impending demise of the party system, or as simply a sort of super by-election in which the stakes being low in proportion to the satisfaction of giving authority a kick in the pants, the electorate indulges itself in protest without actually willing radical change.

"The signs are that it was more than that - not classic alienation, given the level of participation, not apathy either, but certainly more than gesture politics - if not an expression of complete disgust at the performance of all the current actors.

"Sinn Fein certainly profited from a protest vote, from the general dissatisfaction and the feeling of being hard done by in a prolonged period of belt-tightening and austerity, but the level of support across the country also, more substantially, reflects consistent hard work at constituency level on local and national issues, and some stellar parliamentary performances in Opposition as the Government gave a master class in self-abuse in the weeks before polling. It all goes to show what a trendy political brand can achieve without an economic policy which is endorsed by any serious economist or a fiscal policy in which the sums actually add up.

"The emergence of independents in such numbers and so widely distributed is a much more interesting phenomenon as a symptom of the malaise in the body politic. Elected as they are on so many issues, some intensely local, some shared more widely, it is hard to see any pattern of coherence, any signpost to effective collective action. Independents, by definition, are independent even of each other, and it is hard to see how a government or even a convincing and constructive opposition could be constructed from a Dail dominated by independents. If they do manage to coalesce to the extent of having agreed policies and programmes, they cease to be independent and begin to look suspiciously like the political parties they condemn.

"A more serious danger is that the rise of independents on what is largely an incoherent protest vote; partly a cry of pain, partly an expression of anger at the perceived incompetence of government might be repeated or exceeded in a general election. But the answer to poor administration is not no government at all, and there is a danger that in an atmosphere of despair and confusion, a vacuum of power can provide a point of entry for the demagogue who promises certainty and salvation at minimal cost. I am not suggesting, nor am I aware that any such lurks in the wings ready to come on stage, but voices crying in the wilderness can often raise expectations that there is a Messiah round the next corner.

Maurice Hayes is survived by his wife Joan and children Clodagh, Margaret, Dara, Garrett and Ronan and eight grandchildren.

Requiem Mass will take place at St Patrick's Church, Downpatrick on Wednesday, December 27 with burial at Down Cathedral.

Tireless servant of peace and reconciliation -  McAleese

Former President Mary McAleese last night paid tribute to her close friend.

"Maurice was an eminent public servant but so much more. A tireless servant of peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, a champion of the work of the Ireland Funds, and of course, a consummate Down man - one of the architects of Down's historic All-Ireland football victories in 1960 and 1961.

"Maurice created enough legends to fill a shelf of volumes. We could never repay him in words no matter how lavish, but we owe him a debt best repaid by relentlessly pursuing his vision for a reconciled and peaceful island.

"Ar dheis De go raibh a anam uasal."

Sunday Independent

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