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'A true public servant': Politicians pay tribute to 'national treasure' Gay Byrne

A moment silence was held in the Dáil this afternoon as TDs, ministers and the Taosieach paid tribute to Gay Byrne.

Tributes to Gay Byrne were held in the Dail today.
Tributes to Gay Byrne were held in the Dail today.
Image: Sam Boal

A MOMENT OF silence was held in the Dáil this afternoon as TDs, ministers and the Taoiseach paid tribute to Gay Byrne.

Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Fearghaíl said there had been a national outpouring of respect and recognition for the broadcaster, and announced that a book of condolences was to be opened in the main foyer of Leinster House for Byrne, who died yesterday, aged 85.

“Gay Byrne was the most influential broadcaster in the history of the State, and a much-loved figure who changed Ireland for the better in many ways. Gay had a central place in Irish homes for many decades on both radio and television. The story of his remarkable contribution to Irish life is the story of how we changed and evolved for the better as a nation over the past 60 years. A consummate entertainer, he also provided an outlet for all of those who had been silenced or were afraid to speak up,” said the Taoiseach.

“He enabled us to confront things that needed to be challenged in our society. Many things did not exist, or were not talked about, in Ireland before The Late Late Show, but it is good that they were talked about,” added Leo Varadkar.

As chairman of the Road Safety Authority for almost a decade, Byrne’s campaigning helped to save many lives, said Varadkar.

“I found him to be a wonderful, truly public-spirited person who undertook his responsibilities at the Road Safety Authority with the utmost seriousness and concern. He also spoke up for the whistleblowers who exposed the abuse of the penalty points system, thereby helping to bring about change in that system.

“For generations of Irish people he was “Uncle Gaybo”; a welcome presence in every home and someone who led change because he listened and he cared. We have lost a change-maker and a force for good. Today a national treasure is gone,” he said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin also paid tribute to Byrne, stating that he was Ireland’s first citizens’ assembly and an “iconic Irish institution who left an indelible imprint not only on Irish broadcasting, but on Irish society itself”.

Martin said he had a profound impact on the evolution of modern Ireland.

“He was part and parcel of every Irish home for decades. His warmth resonated with so many people. His intellect and emotional intelligence were unparalleled and his ability to sensitively approach delicate and sometime controversial issues set him apart from other presenters.What really separated him was his capacity to listen while doing interviews; he was a great listener as well as contributor to interviews and debates,” he said.

Calling Byrne “a true public servant”, Martin said he was “a rare national treasure who touched the lives not only of his own family and friends, but those of the hundreds of thousands of people who welcomed him into their homes on radio and television”.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said his “voice narrated the story of the State for more than three decades”.

“It is a testament to his talent and his ability that even at times when one did not agree with him one could still recognise the importance of the work he did,” said the party leader.

Labour’s Brendan Howlin said “he was the authentic voice of all the internal discussion and complexity of a maturing Ireland, and the certainty of voices coming to different conclusions”.

“His loss is felt by all but clearly, none more than his beloved wife Kathleen, his daughters Crona and Suzy, and his many friends throughout Ireland and especially in his former workplace of RTÉ,” he added.

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