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President leads tributes following death of former minister Niamh Bhreathnach

President Michael D Higgins has paid tribute to former education minister Niamh Bhreathnach, who has died aged 77 (Niall Carson/PA)
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

President Michael D Higgins has led tributes following the death of former education minister Niamh Bhreathnach.

Ms Bhreathnach, who was 77, was formerly a Labour Party TD for Dun Laoghaire.

She was best known as the minister for education who abolished third-level fees in 1996 and for being appointed a senior minister on her first day in the Dail.

Mr Higgins said she had left “an extraordinary legacy of educational reform”.

The president said: “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.”

Mr Higgins added: “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.”

Tanaiste Micheal Martin said: “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.”

Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik paid tribute on social media.

She tweeted: “Deeply sad at the loss of our dear friend, comrade and ally Niamh Bhreathnach.

“She leaves a tremendous legacy, and we will all miss her so much.”

Ms Bhreathnach is survived her her husband Tom Ferris and her children Cliodhna and Macdara.

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