Tributes paid following death of former TD and Minister for Education Niamh BhreathnachPadraig Conlon 07 Feb 2023
Warm tributes have been paid to Niamh Bhreathnach, a former Labour Party TD for Dún Laoghaire, following her death yesterday at the age of 77.
Ms Bhreathnach, who was the Minister for Education who abolished third-level fees in 1996, was first elected to the Dail in 1992 and served until her defeat at the 1997 general election.
In January 1993, she was appointed Minister for Education on her first day in the Dail in the Fianna Fáil–Labour Party coalition government, serving until Labour left government in November 1994.
She was appointed to the same post in December 1994 in the Rainbow Coalition, serving until June 1997.
During her time as minister, the first white paper on Education was published, tuition fees for third-level institutions were abolished, and the regional technical colleges were upgraded to institutes of technology.
She also brought in the legacy posts, extra teaching positions for disadvantaged schools.
She introduced the University Act 1997, which made universities accountable for the public money they receive.
President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to Ms Bhreathnach.
“It is with a deep sense of sadness that so many people, former colleagues and particularly those who will have benefited from the inclusive reforms she initiated in terms of our education system, will have learnt of the death of Niamh Bhreathnach.
“Niamh became Minister for Education on the same day that I became Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and we were two of a number of people appointed to first Ministries on that day. I can recall that we were all possessed of a great sense of anxiety that we must take our opportunity to get changes done and Niamh set about that task with gusto.
“Niamh was the first Labour politician to hold the post of Minister for Education, something which had historical significance in its own right. In her time in office she would go on to leave an extraordinary legacy of educational reform.
“That legacy includes the abolition of third-level undergraduate tuition fees and significant increases in education spending, the introduction of the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme, and making the Transition Year Programme available to all second-level schools, any of which one their own would reflect a significant term of office.”
Labour Party Leader Ivana Bacik also expressed her deep sadness and shock on hearing of the death of her friend and comrade, former Labour TD and Minister Niamh Bhreathnach and extended her sympathy to her family, friends and comrades in Dun Laoghaire Labour.
“I am so sad to hear of Niamh’s death and I want to extend my deepest sympathies to her husband Tom, their children Cliodhna and Macdara, and their wider family and friends,” Deputy Bacik said.
“Niamh was a true feminist and socialist, and an unstoppable campaigner for equality, and even in retirement she never stopped supporting Labour, including myself personally at the recent Dublin Bay South by-election. Niamh was always a wonderful personal friend and it was my great pleasure to work with her over many years.
“She served our country with pride as a Councillor in Blackrock, a TD for Dun Laoghaire, and made history being appointed Minister for Education on her first day in the Dáil. She played a critical internal role in the growth and transformation of the Labour Party through the 1980s and 1990s serving as Party Chairperson in the early 90s. Further, she played a vital role with Labour Women and was a passionate advocate for gender equality in our politics.”
Tánaiste Micheál Martin also paid tribute.
“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Niamh Bhreathnach, the former Minister for Education.
“Throughout her political life, Niamh was dedicated and committed to education, particularly in the area of reform.
“She had a focus on addressing disadvantage through the Breaking The Cycle scheme, and the Leaving Cert Applied programme.
“Niamh was a committed Labour party member, and as shadow spokesman on education, I enjoyed our many exchanges in the Dail.
“Niamh was always courteous and kind, and thoroughly committed to public service.
“My sympathies to her husband Tom, her children, family and friends.”