The Tanaiste and Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore led the graveside tributes to former Nenagh councillor, TD and Senator John Ryan, who died last Thursday.
In his graveside oration, Mr Gilmore said they were gathered to say goodbye and pay tribute to a great man, a great Nenagh man, a great Tipperary man, a great Labour man.
“John Ryan was much loved by his family – his wife Ina, his son Gerry, his daughters Diane and Paula. He was much liked and respected by the people of his town of Nenagh and his county of Tipperary. He was a great friend and colleague to the members of the Labour Party both here in Tipperary and throughout the country. We shall all of us miss him enormously,” he said.
Mr Gilmore recalled that Mr Ryan worked for the railway in his early years. He cut his teeth in politics as a member of Nenagh Urban District Council before being elected to North Tipperary County Council. He was first elected to the Dail in 1973 and held the seat at every general election until 1987.
“Political life in North Tipperary was never easy. The competition was legendary and often very fierce. For much of John’s time there were four strong candidates for three seats. As a result John needed the best part of a quota in first preference votes in order to secure the seat, something which very few politicians can muster. The fact that John pulled off this feat on six different occasions, including the three turbulent elections of 1981/82 is a fantastic tribute to his hard work, his commitment and his tenacity,” said the Tanaiste.
However, he said that perhaps Mr Ryan’s greatest achievement at national level was as leas-Cheann Chomhairle. He was appointed by Dick Spring as a recognition of his service to the party and the Dail and quickly earned the respect of colleagues in all parties. He was fair and respectful to all and his leadership enhanced the standing of the Dail as a place where the business of the people is done.
Mr Gilmore reminded the gathering that John Ryan lost his seat in 1987 and said at the time that he would retire to the subs bench but he would be back in the game no matter how long it took.
“It is a measure of John’s dogged determination that in 1992 he achieved his goal regaining the seat which he held until he retired. A lesser man might have walked off the pitch in 1992 and he could honourably have done so after many years of distinguished service. But he wanted to prove that he could still win and so he did,” he said.
The party leader described Mr Ryan as “an honourable politician, a modest man, a man of great integrity”.
“At a time when trust in politics and politicians was often on the wane John enjoyed and commanded the trust of his people in a way that few others could. He was well known for his personal handwritten letters. He would spend hours after constituency clinics writing up the representations. He developed strong friendships with his supporters, and they supported him loyally over many years, People like Liam O’Byrne, Noel Clifford, Frank Lewis, Sally Gardiner and Mick Guiry, all of them now sadly passed on,” said Mr Gilmore.
He said that Mr Ryan was an inspiration to the local politicians who came after him, particular his friend Alan Kelly
“I know that John and Alan were friends right up to John’s death. Alan visited John regularly and sought his advice, something which John was happy to give,” said Mr Gilmore.
However, Mr Ryan didn’t just fight for his constituents, he said. “He fought for his beliefs. He believed passionately in fairness and social justice. He had a strong sense of right and wrong. He fought for the underdog, the less privileged. He helped people in Tipperary to assert their rights and entitlements. He worked tirelessly in the Dail to advance the cause of Labour.
“John Ryan was Labour to his core. It was part of what made him the man he was. And his contribution in turn helped to make the Labour Party. We salute him; we thank him for his work, his loyalty.
“On my own behalf and on behalf of the party, I want to thank Ina and his children, Gerry, Diane and Paula. Thank you for sharing him with us. As we shared in his life’s work we share now in your sense of loss.
But we also share in your sense of pride. We are proud of John’s achievements; proud of John’s contribution to our party; proud of John’s service to our country,” he said.