Saturday 17 August 2019

Noel helped change Irish society for better

Integrity. Giant. Ideas man. Extraordinary.

These were just some of the words used to describe barrister Noel Whelan, who died tragically young on Wednesday night having lived a life of great ambition, generosity and public service.

Several household names paid warm tributes to the 50-year-old Ballycullane man in the hours following his passing in a Dublin hospital.

The team behind the Kennedy Summer School, which was founded by Noel offered a tribute to his memory.

Co-directors of the 2019 Summer School Larry Donnelly and Bob Mauro, along with chairman Willie Kielthy and CEO of the JFK Trust Sean Connick and team members Eileen Dunne, Carmel Delaney, Emma Lane and Brian Murphy said they are devastated by the loss of their colleague Noel and are determined to continue the legacy of the summer school that he created.

'We are devastated by the very sad news of Noel's death. He was only 50 years of age. Noel was a national figure especially in his work on the Marriage Equality Referendum and Repeal the 8th Amendment. Noel was from Ballycullane and was very proud of his Wexford heritage.

He was very interested in his local town and district of New Ross and despite his very busy schedule, he found time to chair the JFK Trust in 2013/14. 'In 2012 he founded the Kennedy Summer School and has been ever since an integral part of its success. He was an ideas man always looking for new angles on how to make it better.

'Only last week we were finalising the program for this year in which he had, as usual, put a great deal of effort and time. It's a project he thoroughly enjoyed. His passing is a great loss to us all in New Ross and his legacy will continue long into the future. At this sad time, our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Sinead, his son Séamus, his mum Myra, his brothers and sisters. Wexford has lost a great ambassador. May he rest in peace.'

President Michael D Higgins said: 'Propelled by his social justice values, Noel was not only a commentator but a driving force in some of the most important political campaigns of recent times.'

Fianna Fáil party leader Michael Martin said: 'We are all in shock. I think Noel was an extraordinary individual who packed an enormous amount into his life. A barrister, author, columnist, political commentator; more importantly he made a great contribution to changing Irish society; making it a better and kinder place.'

Mr Martin said Noel's work on the Marriage Equality Referendum and on the Repeal the 8th Campaign and on ensuring the Seanad was kept intact all had a hugely positive impact on Irish society.

'We will miss him in Fianna Fáil. His late father Séamus was a Fianna Fáil councillor and his brother Michael is a councillor. That Wexford background was an integral part of his make up and influenced how he influenced others.'

Dunbrody Experience Visitor Centre CEO Sean Connick described Noel as a giant of political discourse, adding that Ireland is a better place thanks to his work.

Social media site Twitter, which Noel used daily, was filled with tributes to him on Wednesday night and in the days following his passing.

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

'Terribly sad news,' Green Party councillor Una Power wrote. '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.'

Social justice campaigner Colm O'Gorman said: 'Terribly sad news. I'm shocked and saddened. Noel was a thoroughly decent, generous, loving man. My heart goes out to Sinead and Séamus and all who loved him. Noel was above all someone passionately committed to Ireland, to the idea of a just and equal republic and to the power of ideas and public discourse. He contributed so much, and his death is a terrible loss.'

Broadcaster Matt Copper said: 'Awfully sad and upsetting news about the premature passing of Noel Whelan. As well as his obvious skills as a political commentator - for which he was well known - he was a man of enormous integrity and also of great personal generosity. So terrible for his family.'

In a statement, the Council of the Bar of Ireland extended its deepest sympathies to Noel'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 Noel 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 Noel 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.'

New Ross Standard