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Political maverick who will never be forgotten

Sean Dublin Bay Rockall Loftus was a man ahead of his time. Long before green issues became popular or profitable, he fought a lonely campaign to persuade the Irish public we needed to start taking better care of our natural heritage. Like many visionaries, he was often mocked as an eccentric and a trouble-maker -- but happily, he lived long enough to prove his critics wrong.

During his 82 years, Loftus held many grand titles -- barrister, councillor, alderman, TD and Lord Mayor of Dublin.

The only job he really wanted, however, was to be a permanent thorn in the side of the political establishment. "I refused to take the shilling," was one of his favourite sayings, meaning that as an independent he was always free to speak his mind.

Changing his name by deed poll, he admitted, was just a PR stunt designed to ensure that voters would always associate him with his two favourite causes.

Appropriately, the last few weeks of his life produced a couple of developments that showed those causes to be as relevant as ever.

In 1972, the Dublin Port and Docks Board proposed the building of an oil refinery in Dublin Bay, which Loftus strongly opposed on the grounds that it posed a serious risk of pollution.

Thanks to his campaign, the refinery was never built. He remained active as a member of Dublin Bay Watch and recently led opposition to a 2002 application to fill in 52 acres of the bay.

Last month, the application was rejected by An Bord Pleanala -- a fitting tribute to a man who at that stage was in hospital recovering from brain surgery.

The Rockall part of his name referred to a tiny bare rock 430km north of Donegal, which nobody cared about until oil was discovered near there in the 1960s.

After Britain claimed ownership in 1972, Loftus led a battle to seize the rights for Ireland.

Last week Micheal Martin told the Dail that the dispute is still ongoing, with Denmark and Iceland now making it a four-way fight.

The eldest of seven children born to a Dublin doctor, Loftus became an environmentalist by a highly unusual route.

As a visiting law lecturer in the US, he attended a horticultural show where the first prize was given to some beautiful-looking carrots.

Afterwards, he was disgusted to learn that the winning vegetables had actually been grown in a test tube and painted orange on the top of a New York skyscraper.

In 1981, after six failed attempts, he was elected as a TD for Dublin North East. Within months, however, he had helped to force another general election by voting against John Bruton's notorious "VAT on children's shoes" budget.

This proved to be particularly selfless decision, since he lost his seat and never made it back to the Dail despite seven more runs.

Instead, he continued to campaign from his Clontarf home overlooking Dublin Bay, where over 10 years of National Geographic magazine were stacked in the hallway. A Christian, Gaeilgeoir and champion Irish dancer, he received invaluable support from wife Una. He paid tribute to her during his first Dail speech and was taken aback when several TDs guffawed at the thought of thanking a wife -- yet another moment when he was happy to stand out from the crowd.

In an increasingly grey political scene, Sean Loftus provided a welcome splash of colour. Dublin has lost one its great characters -- and a man who will be remembered long after most of his critics have been forgotten.


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