Justin Keatin was among a group of notable academics and intellectuals who secured seats for Labour
JUSTIN KEATING (79) who died at his home near Ballymore Eustace, Co Kildare, on New Year’s Eve, had a varied career as a politician, academic, television personality and humanist.
He was best known as a Labour minister for industry and commerce in the 1970s, having been one of a number of intellectuals and academics who successfully contested Dáil seats for the party in the late 1960s.
Born in Dublin, he was the son of the artist Seán Keating and May Keating, who was to influence his radical politics.
He was educated at Sandford Park School, UCD and London University, becoming a lecturer in the UCD veterinary faculty in 1955.
He moved to Trinity College Dublin in 1960, where he was a lecturer in veterinary anatomy.
When he contested the 1969 general election for Labour, in the then Dublin North County constituency, he was already a national figure, having been head of RTÉ’s agricultural programmes and a familiar face on screen.
He was among a group of notable academics and intellectuals, including Conor Cruise O’Brien and David Thornley, who had secured Dáil seats in the heady expectation that Labour was about to make a significant electoral breakthrough.
That did not materialise, and Labour reversed its opposition to coalition, joining Fine Gael in government in 1973.
In the previous four years, he had served as a frontbench spokesman in the Dáil and as a nominated member of the European parliament between January and May 1973.
Mr Keating was appointed minister for industry and commerce in the Liam Cosgrave-led government, which ended 16 consecutive years of Fianna Fáil rule.
An oil crisis led to spiralling price increases and the then minister’s inevitable unpopularity with the public.
He was also the subject of opposition and internal party criticism because of the co-operation between the State and private interests in the development of Tara mines.
Mr Keating lost his seat in the new constituency of Dublin West County in the 1977 general election, when a swing nationally to Fianna Fáil yielded it a 20-seat majority.
He was elected to the Seanad, but his career in frontline politics was effectively over. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the European parliament in the Leinster constituency in 1984.
When his political career ended, he returned to his other interests, including agriculture, and retained a public profile, expressing his views on various issues.
A life-long secularist, he served as president of the Humanist Association of Ireland and contributed to its journal.
Writing in the Irish Humanist magazine in 2004, he said that celibates should be kept away from education.
“The terrible conclusion that I draw is that the proportion of people who are undamaged by enforced celibacy is sufficiently low for us to keep all celibates, good and bad, away from our children,” he added.
He served as chairman of the National Council for Educational Awards, and he used his knowledge of education and agriculture in the development of an innovative course in equine management at the University of Limerick.
He was critical of the failure to publish the report of the Monaghan and Dublin bombings, which occurred when he was a minister.
One of his last public appearances was at the Hunt museum, in Limerick, at the opening of an exhibition of his father’s paintings.
He married Loretta Wine, an accomplished music student, after the second World War, and they had three children, David, Carla and Eilis. They later divorced.
In 2005, he married Barbara Hussey, a solicitor specialising in family law.