06 October 2023

An era comes to
an end in Wexford
as Brendan Howlin
decides to stand down

With President Michael D Higgins and Brendan Howlin at the launch of the Wexford Ambassadors programme in Iveagh House in 2011

Patrick Comerford

I felt a tinge of sadness this morning as a read the announcement by George Lawlor that Brendan Howlin is to retire as a TD for Wexford at the next general election in Ireland.

Brendan Howlin has been elected member of Dáil Éireann continuously since 1987, and before that was a Senator from 1983. During those years, he also been Leader and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. He has been a Cabinet Minister in three governments, he has witnessed the positive transformation of Ireland, both economically and culturally, and he has had the opportunity to introduce into law many important and transformative pieces of legislation.

Brendan Howlin was born in Wexford in 1956. I first got to know him during the 1973 general election, when I was living on High Street, Wexford. His father, John Howlin, one of Wexford’s best-known trade union activists, was the election agent for the Labour leader, Brendan Corish. Indeed, Brendan Howlin was named after Brendan Corish. John Howlin was the secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in Wexford, for 40 years, working from the Corish Memorial Hall.

Our friendship continued in the 1970s and 1980s when he was active in the movement against plans for a nuclear power station at Carnsore, Co Wexford, as chair of Nuclear Opposition Wexford (NOW). Later he was also involved with me in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

In political life, he was has the Minister for Health (1993-1994), Minister for the Environment (1994-1997), Deputy leader of the Labour Party (1997-2002), Leas-Cheann Comhairle (2007-2011), Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (2011-2016), and Leader of the Labour Party (2016-2020).

We continued to meet in Wexford over the years. He launched the Wexford Ambassador programme in Iveagh House in 2011, alongside the chair of Wexford County Council, Councillor Michael Kavangh.

Four well-known Wexford personalities have been appointed as Wexford Ambassadors – the authors Colm Tóibín and Eoin Colfer, the Irish rugby international star Gordon D’Arcy and the Irish soccer international Kevin Doyle.

The ambassadors’ programme honours the achievements of Co Wexford’s iconic ambassadors, supports young and emerging Wexford talent and promotes the culture and heritage of the county.

The variety of Wexford people at that launch included the playwright and author Billy Roche and his wife Patti recalled poetry readings in the 1970s in Wexford YMCA. The writer Colm Tóibín hitched to from Enniscorthy as a schoolboy that night to an event that paved the way for the foundation of the Wexford Arts Centre.br />
That evening, Brendan’s brother, Ted Howlin, and another former Mayor of Wexford, George Lawlor, recalled John Howlin, Brendan Corish and some other politicians we knew and worked with, including Des Corish, who had died earlier that month.

With former Wexford Mayor George Lawlor

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