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Irish politicians pay tribute as European Parliament president David Sassoli dies aged 65

The Italian had been in hospital for over two weeks due to a dysfunction of his immune system.

LAST UPDATE | 11 Jan 2022

IRISH POLITICIANS HAVE paid tribute to the President of the European Parliament David Sassoli, who died early this morning in hospital in Italy.

The 65-year-old Italian had been seriously ill in hospital for more than two weeks due to a dysfunction of his immune system.

“David Sassoli passed away at 1.15am on 11 January at the CRO in Aviano, Italy, where he was hospitalized,” his spokesman Roberto Cuillo tweeted.

“The date and place of the funeral will be communicated in the next few hours.”

The former television newsreader had been in hospital since 26 December due to “a serious complication due to a dysfunction of the immune system,” Cuillo had said yesterday, announcing the cancellation of Sassoli’s official activities.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was “deeply saddened to hear of the death of David Sassoli, a committed European who leaves a significant legacy in his presidency of the European Parliament”. 

“His passion and leadership in the promotion and defence of European values will be sorely missed,” Martin said. 

In a statement this afternoon, President Michael D Higgins said: “Mr Sassoli had a distinguished career journalist and carried his ideals and experience from that time into his work in politics, where he made a valuable contribution in highlighting the importance of the European Union being closer to the people of Europe. 

“I would like to extend my sympathies to his family and friends, as well as to all members of the European Parliament, who I know will be deeply saddened by his passing.” 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he was “very sad to hear of the death of David Sassoli”. 

“A true European and a friend of Ireland throughout Brexit,” he tweeted. 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney also paid tribute to Sassoli, saying he was an “outstanding representative and a committed European”. 

“He will be remembered for his warmth and humanity, traits which served him well especially over the last two years as he effectively oversaw significant changes necessitated to the Parliament’s operations as a result of the pandemic,” Coveney said. 

“My thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.” 

Irish MEP Frances Fitzgerald said on Twitter: “We have lost a true champion of the European ideals of peace and democracy. He will leave an important legacy for this Parliament and for Europe. My thoughts are with his family. Rest in peace, David.”

Irish MEP Billy Kelleher tweeted: “Sincerely saddened at the passing of David Sassoli – a committed democrat and European, David was a warm, energetic yet tough EP President. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dhílis.”

Sassoli was previously admitted with pneumonia for several weeks last September.

The European Parliament sits for a five-year term between elections, but the president of the body serves for half that time. Elected in 2019, Sassoli had already indicated that he would not seek re-election.

He was born on 30 May 1956, in Florence.

Sassoli’s CV

italy-tuscany-region-august-11-2021-david-sassoli-president-of-the-european-parliament-participates-in-an-electoral-initiative-in-montepulciano Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, participates in an electoral initiative in Montepulciano. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

After a three-decade career as an Italian journalist, starting out in newspapers then moving to television and becoming a nationally known anchor, Sassoli became a member of the European Parliament in 2009, and speaker in 2019.

He was a member of the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the second-biggest grouping in the parliament after the centre-right European People’s Party.

Although his role was that of speaker, he had the title of president of the European legislature; his arrival in the chamber was traditionally announced in Italian as “Il Presidente”.

In that role, Sassoli pushed the European Commission to provide funding for young people in the aftermath of the pandemic.

In response to a question from in 2020, Sassoli said:

If [the EU's response is] not going to be sufficient, then yes indeed, this is going to endanger the future of our young people.
We are taking out debt, but we need to do it to give our younger generation a greater capacity and more opportunities. If we get into debt, but we don’t provide anything that will build a future for the younger generations, then yes indeed, it will be simply stealing resources from future generations.

Unlike some EU officials, who speak in English and French in public appearances, Sassoli had made a point of using Italian.

On Tuesday next week, MEPs are expected to hold the first round of voting for his successor.

With reporting from Hayley Halpin and © AFP 2022

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