SEYMOUR

26 October 2018 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Shakespeare has Mark Antony pay a memorable funeral eulogy to the fallen Julius Caesar. While the speech’s primary intent is masterful political manipulation, Antony’s regard for his dead leader is palpable. Eventually, “the plain, blunt man that doth love my friend” declares to the crowd he has impassioned, “Here was a Caesar, where comes such another?”

The former Fine Gael TD for Cavan/Monaghan Seymour Crawford would, with characteristic modesty and a selfdisparaging wave of his large hand, undoubtedly have dismissed any Caesarean comparison. But the high standards he set for himself in the exacting political disciplines of integrity, probity, diligence and service, and the universal regard his enactment of them commanded, make the evocation of Antony’s words somehow apposite as his death at the age of 74 on Saturday last following quite a long and bravely borne illness settles into our county’s consciousness this week.

Deputy Crawford retired from public life in 2011 and the intervening period has seen quite considerable political and social changes in this country, which has moved through austerity to a developed degree of economic renaissance and passed a number of liberalising referendums. His Fine Gael party too has undergone transformation, with a new leader and a new direction and an extended period at the helm of government, and his political successor Heather Humphreys exercising an increasingly important Ministerial input into Brexit preparedness and job creation.

Such change might place some politicians of even such a recent former era firmly in the category of yesterday’s men, but not so with the former Deputy Crawford – events since his departure from front of stage seem rather a summation and culmination of many of his political ideals and preoccupations. And, of course, Seymour never really went away – his passion for politics, and for helping people, was too strong for that, and he was ever-available as a guide and adviser to former constituents and a sage and mentor to former colleagues.

He came relatively late to the arena of elected politics, but had proven himself as an eloquent and ardent advocate of the rural interest through his distinguished contribution to the Irish Farmers Association which saw him hold a number of important national-level offices. He took quickly to the stimulating and sometimes combative arena of Monaghan Co Council where, although sometimes disappointed at a debate’s descent into adversarial political posturing, he could defend his corner with a sharp withering wit.

Local politics gave him an enhanced outlet to channel the altruistic motivations that no doubt first drew him from dairy farming to farming representation and which, nurtured by his steadfast religious faith and strong sense of the value of community, governed his approach to public life. He transitioned impressively to the national political stage in 1992, winning the Monaghan Fine Gael seat in what came down to a tense battle with the party incumbent Bill Cotter, and going on to defend it successfully at the General Election of 1997, 2002 and 2007 before his 2011 retirement.

The strong constituency base he built proved largely impervious to the tides and turns of his party’s national fortunes, constructed as it was on the sturdy foundations of working long and hard for those who elected him and equally assiduously for those who didn’t, and a combination of unwavering political high principle and street-smart political savvy that allowed him to anticipate opportunity and sidestep pitfalls with equal adroitness. His entry into national politics had coincided with a time of internecine currents in the FG political machine in Co Monaghan but he was able to sometimes quell and sometimes surf these to his own political advantage, and ultimately the advantage of his party in the constituency – thanks in no small measure to his preference for conciliation over confrontation and a knack for being able to express strongly held principles in a soft-spoken and sometimes highly persuasive language.

The opportunities for national political advancement that have come the way of Heather Humphreys remained tantalisingly beyond Seymour Crawford’s grasp during his Dáil career. Minister Humphreys told this newspaper this week that Seymour was described at his retirement function as ‘the best Minister for Agriculture we never had’, but while his passion for and knowledge of farming concerns were undeniable, one never sensed that missing out on this or any other Government portfolio was of any deep concern to him.

Perhaps this was because he found the perfect outlet for his political ambitions through his membership of the British Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body that played a key negotiation role in the talks prelude to the historic Peace Process agreements. As a Presbyterian from a rural Border community he brought valuable insights and perspective to the discussions, manifesting in contributions that foregrounded respect for the island’s two traditions, an abhorrence of violence and a profound belief that bonds of neighbourliness and mutual support could make religious, political and physical divisions an irrelevance in the lives of the ordinary people of the area to which he belonged. His quiet, insistent passion for peace was respectfully remembered this week by his Inter-Parliamentary Body colleague Brendan Smith TD and former FG leader and Taoiseach John Bruton.

The realisation of the Peace Process was a source of great pride to Seymour Crawford, although he rarely made much public mention of his own contribution to it. While he could move with affable authority across the grander stages that national politicians have access to, he always seemed most comfortable ensconced in his constituency office in the Diamond in Monaghan Town, bulging files rising in little hills of teetering order about him, grappling with small issues of immense importance to the person depending on him to come to their aid.

That aid was never refused and the many little triumphs that reward politicians for the multitude of small, hard battles they wage away from the public gaze delivered for him, one suspected, more satisfaction than the noise and tumult of the grander stages could yield.

Seymour Crawford’s contribution to local and national politics has bequeathed an enduring legacy which is broadly delineated in the many tributes paid to him on his passing by the great and good of Irish church and State. But the stories of gratitude for help received recalled with fond appreciation in homes and at firesides throughout Monaghan and Cavan this week, and smile-making memories of a man who demonstrated that nice people can sometimes prosper in the killing fields of politics, is the legacy that Seymour Crawford would most have prized. And it is a rich one, indeed.

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