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Death of Former Member - Expressions of Sympathy

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

"I welcome the members of the Robb family. It is an absolute privilege and a pleasure to be part of this today to remember a man who certainly was a great ambassador for Northern Ireland. It is lovely to have the opportunity to pay tribute to someone who was charismatic, who was confident and, obviously, a very considered individual. He was a visionary and he certainly was an ambassador for the province and for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

He was a man I never had the fortune to meet but I have learned about him from colleagues, from people who worked with him, from people who served with him who have given testimonies to him, and some of what I have read about him, and people who touched briefly with him in social gatherings. He certainly has left his mark on everyone.

Interestingly, John Robb was, like myself, a Protestant - a Presbyterian from Northern Ireland. He challenged many of those stereotypes and many of the preconceptions about who he was. He was a man certainly defined by his career as a very successful surgeon through a horrible dark time in Northern Ireland's history and by his service and his contribution to this House. Interestingly, and something which I have great admiration for, as an adult, as a mature male, he learned Irish. I am still struggling with English and I take my hat off to someone who could do that late in life because it certainly gets more difficult as one gets older.

As fellow Senators have said, he was nominated by successful Taoisigh, who obviously saw a quality and something unique in this man. John Robb was a man who presented no threat to these Houses or to Northern Ireland. In fact, quite the opposite, John Robb was a man who was completely comfortable with his own identity and his culture and who was prepared to challenge and to establish the thinking and to further the ambitions that he firmly believed in. Interestingly, we all need to learn and understand this because many think they understand people and culture and they actually do not. It is about respect and about not believing the preconceptions one has and not believing often what one learned about people. I found in this House that when one sits down and talks to and engages with people, nine times out of ten they will say, "We did not think you thought that. We did not think you had that opinion." That is the reality. It is about sitting down and learning about other people.

It has been a privilege and a pleasure for me to serve in this House and to follow such a man as Dr. John Robb. Sometimes we need to take calculated risks and be able to see the bigger picture. This was an individual who definitely saw that bigger picture. Often a prophet is never recognised in his own land, and Dr. John Robb was one of those prophets. He certainly had a vision and it is still alive today. It is as relevant today as it was in the 1980s when John Robb was here.

He was here when Northern Ireland was going through very difficult times. Hopefully, we have left those times behind. Hopefully, we will never go back to those times. I would urge everyone, in this House today, and especially the leadership in Northern Ireland politics, to reflect on John Robb's contribution to this House, to this country, to Northern Ireland and to the Republic of Ireland, and to learn and take inspiration from him. If we look at an example of leadership, if we are to be leaders and if we are in a position to lead, it needs to come with the thinking that one will take and embrace calculated, measured risks."

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