Brussels mourns EU pioneer

David Haworth, in Brussels
With the return to power in Rome of Silvio Berlusconi, Noisy Politics will also make a reappearance in the corridors of European Union power. The age of celebrity is such that it’s easy to overlook the possibility of a modest, exemplary life of achievement in what is often reviled as a “grubby trade”.

Outside Ireland, the recent passing of at 85 of Dr. P.J. Hillery – “Paddy” to his friends -was little noticed yet his achievements as a statesman were huge.

The son of a country doctor, he became a general practitioner himself but slipped, unobtrusively at first, into Irish politics.

His talents were quickly noticed, however, and he successively held the posts of Minister of Education, Industry, Labour and was Foreign Affairs minister for the four years up to 1973.

Having negotiated his country’s entry into what was then known as the European Community (it was the first time since its founding that the EC was enlarged from its original six member states), he was nominated Ireland’s first European Commissioner and was immediately made the Commission’s Vice President.

One of his first tasks was to spearhead a campaign to achieve equal pay between men and women.

He was one of nature’s gentlemen, as the saying goes, unvaryingly polite and modest to a fault. “Europe” was lucky to have had him and he achieved great prestige for his country, a place with which the continentals were not too familiar in those days.

A political upheaval in Dublin pitch forked him into the job as President of the Republic of Ireland, although he admitted he would have preferred to stay longer in the Belgian capital.

He served two terms, retiring in 1990. Hillery chafed a bit in his head-of-state role as he was not much given to pomp or formality but – never mind, he said – the job allowed him to improve his golf handicap no end.

And so this charming, diffident politician has now gone having rendered his country immense service.

He attracted one of the best compliments a public figure could have when one of his former colleagues said of him: “Paddy’s great strength as a politician was that he was much more interested in policies than in politics.”

Ah yes: if only there were more like him these days.