Irish premier Leo Varadkar has paid tribute to former taoiseach John Bruton as “a statesman of unshakeable integrity and moral conviction” during a graveside oration.
Mr Varadkar said the former Fine Gael leader “loved Ireland”, not in a way that was “defined by dislike”, but in a form of “noble, true and modern patriotism”.
Full state funeral honours were accorded to Mr Bruton, with Irish soldiers carrying his coffin out of the church in Co Meath before it was taken on a gun carriage to the cemetery.
A military guard of honour lined the grounds at Rooske Cemetery for the arrival of the procession, with emotional family members following behind.
A volley of shots was fired after the eulogy from Mr Varadkar, who said Mr Bruton was an inspiration to him and had given him advice on how to lead a three-party coalition.
“When he started off in politics, elected to the Dail at the age of 22, there were only one million people at work in Ireland at the time. Today, we’ve 2.6 million,” Mr Varadkar told mourners.
He said Mr Bruton’s government built houses “at a record pace”, oversaw an increase in foreign direct investment, and “brought inflation down to the lowest in decades”.
“John was a man of ideas, and his greatest idea was that we could arrest our decline and become a prosperous and successful country. His drive and optimism helped to make that vision a reality.
“While others sullied our flag by carrying out terrorist atrocities in its name, John was a beacon of courage and integrity, who offered a vision of an inclusive and peaceful island.”Ministers, TDs and parliamentary ushers were among those who attended the service at Saints Peter and Paul’s Church in Mr Bruton’s home town of Dunboyne.
Former taoisigh Enda Kenny, Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern were in attendance, with Mr Kenny describing Mr Bruton as a “political icon” in Co Meath and Mr Ahern reminiscing on their work together to represent Ireland during Brexit debates.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly were also in attendance.
A small crowd gathered at a big screen outside the church to watch the funeral.
Mr Bruton was taoiseach of the “rainbow coalition” government between 1994 and 1997, overseeing a referendum that legalised divorce in Ireland and contributing to the Northern Ireland peace process through the launch of the Anglo-Irish Framework.
He died on Tuesday aged 76, surrounded by his family in hospital after a long illness.
He is survived by his wife Finola, children Matthew, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, his grandchildren and his younger brother, former government minister Richard Bruton, who read a prayer of the faithful during the funeral.
Their sister Mary Bruton spoke to thank friends for their kindness during the family’s grief.
In the homily, Father Bruce Bradley described Mr Bruton as “an exceptionally good man”.
“John was honest and honourable, patient and persevering, courageous and committed, ‘willing to lead even when it meant going against the grain’, as the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said, humble and unassuming, a man of integrity and truth.”
Mr Bruton’s daughter Emily Bruton Iniekio read the poem Death Is Nothing At All by Henry Scott Holland, and her sister Mary-Elizabeth Bruton gave the second reading.
Bishop of Meath Tom Deenihan said Saints Peter and Paul’s Church had been important to Mr Bruton, and they had met at Sunday Masses.
“Faith was important to him and the Christian ideal,” Bishop Deenihan said, adding that aspects of the late taoiseach’s religious beliefs “informed his political thinking”.
“He was not, and rightly so, an advocate of a theocracy but was, in the best sense of the term, a Christian democrat.
“The Christian principles of co-operation, dialogue, equity and respect – central to the teachings of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount – are also evidenced in his work in relation to Northern Ireland and Europe.”
The bishop said the description of Mr Bruton since his death as “a decent man” is “the supreme accolade in rural Ireland”.
Senior political figures chatted together after the funeral mass, including Mr Ahern speaking with former Northern Ireland deputy first minister Mark Durkan, and Ms Little-Pengelly expressing her condolences to Mrs Bruton.
Ukrainian ambassador Larysa Gerasko and US ambassador Claire Cronin were also at the funeral.