Friday 19 January 2018

John Drennan: Padraig Faulkner

Forward-looking minister who tackled our lack of telephones and helped bring the Dart on track, writes John Drennan

Former Fianna Fail minister Padraig Faulkner , who died on Friday, lived through and played a key role in some of the most dramatic events in the history of the State. Having first run for FF in the 1954 by-election when De Valera was still leader, Faulkner was elected to the Dail in 1957 and remained a TD until 1987.

His appointment, firstly as a junior minister for the Gaeltacht, was a tribute to his abilities seeing as he shared the four-seat constituency of Louth with the civil war veteran Frank Aiken.

As minister for the Gaeltacht, Faulkner prioritised the task of bringing industry and employment to the Irish-speaking areas. In 1968, following the death of Donagh O'Malley, Faulkner was appointed to the cabinet as minister for lands.

Under Jack Lynch he served as minister for education, minister for posts and telegraphs and minister for tourism and transport. In education he prioritised issues such as the need for more teachers and more school transport.

As minister for posts and telegraphs Faulkner established the two semi-state companies of An Post and Telecom Eireann. He also began the process of reforming the debacle where Ireland had the lowest number of telephones per head in Europe. As minister for transport he was also responsible for the decision to build the Dart.

During the Arms Crisis he was a Lynch loyalist who helped organise the assembly of FF TDs, ministers and senators that greeted Jack Lynch in a show of strength on his return from America just after Haughey had been acquitted in the Arms Trial.

The arrival to office of Charles Haughey essentially ended the cabinet career of Faulkner. Though Haughey retained him in his first cabinet as minister for defence, in 1980 Faulkner was appointed ceann comhairle. A measure of the esteem in which he was held was provided by Garret FitzGerald who praised "the calmness, coolness and judgments which Deputy Faulkner has applied in office . . . always with dignity and courtesy, (that) have commanded the respect of this House over the years''.

After further compliments from Frank Cluskey, Padraig Faulkner wryly noted that he had difficulty recognising the person the opposition was describing.

In 2005 Faulkner returned to public attention via the publication of his autobiography titled As I Saw It. In a warm address, at its launch, the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern noted he had been particularly taken by "Padraig's distressing account of the poverty he saw in my native Drumcondra in the late 1930s while he was training as a teacher in St Pat's and was active in the St Vincent de Paul.

Padraig wrote: "It was only when I joined a branch of the St Vincent de Paul Society in the college that I realised what real poverty meant. Social welfare payments were almost non-existent at that time and in one house 17 families lived there, each occupying a single room. I used to visit a family every Sunday morning and present them with dockets for food and clothing. They lived and slept in a basement room and none of the family was employed."

On a happier note Mr Ahern also pointed out that on the day Lemass first appointed Faulkner to office, when told that the Taoiseach was looking for him, Faulkner thought it was a wind-up and refused to go to unless he was accompanied by a colleague. Ahern noted that it was only when Faulkner was actually "bundled through the door that he realised he was actually in line for a job''.

After leaving politics in 1987 Faulkner was appointed to the Council of State by Patrick Hillery in 1990.

Padraig Faulkner is survived by his wife Kitty and four children: Tom, Bartie, Mary and Pat.

Sunday Independent

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