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Tributes pour in for respected, 'extremely talented' politician
by Michael Brennan, Political Correspondent, Irish Independent, January 02 2010

FIGURES from across the political spectrum paid tribute to the late Labour Party minister Justin Keating last night.

He was one of the first politicians to personally apologise to victims of the industrial school system for the abuse they had suffered.

He was described yesterday as a man of "deep conviction" who worked for the betterment of others, after it emerged he had died at home at the age of 79 following a long illness.

Mr Keating went public in 2000 in the wake of the broadcast of the RTE 'States of Fear' documentary. He said that fellow members of the 1973-77 Fine Gael-Labour government knew about the starvation, ferocious physical deprivation and child sexual abuse in the industrial schools.

He apologised to victims for doing nothing and called on other members of that government to apologise as well.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore yesterday paid tribute to Mr Keating as an exceptionally talented individual.

"He was one of the new wave of TDs, first elected in 1969, who brought new life and vigour to Irish politics. On behalf of the Labour Party, I wish to extend my deepest sympathy to Justin's family and friends," he said.

Mr Keating was the son of Limerick artist Sean Keating, who was renowned for paintings such as 'Men of the South' which focused on the War of Independence and the Civil War.

He had a distinguished career as a senior lecturer in veterinary medicine in UCD. He rejoined the Labour Party at a time when its then leader Brendan Corish was promising that the "70s would be socialist".

Just like Fine Gael's George Lee today, Mr Keating had the advantage of a strong national profile because of his broadcasting work as RTE's head of agricultural programmes for two years.

After being elected to the Dail in 1969, he became Minister for Industry and Commerce in the 1973 coalition government. He had responsibility for natural resources and famously clashed with then Labour TD Noel Browne over his plans to change the royalty payments for the State's offshore gas and oilfields.

One of his ministerial staff was former Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton, who yesterday paid tribute to him as a man of deep and sincere conviction.
"It was my privilege to serve as his parliamentary secretary from 1975 to 1977," he said.

"He was a considerate and fair person to work for, and he was always willing to give a hearing to views other than his own."

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said yesterday that he "deeply regretted" the passing of Mr Keating, who had helped him on the canvassing trail in the then West Mayo constituency in the 1970s.

Mr Keating was said to have been deeply disappointed by the defeat of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government in the 1977 general election and the loss of his own seat in Dublin. He had served as Labour MEP for Leinster for a short time in 1973 and served again briefly in the European Parliament from February to June 1984 when he replaced Seamus Pattison, who had been made a minister.

In 2003, he suggested that former FF education minister Michael Woods had brokered a Church-State indemnity deal beneficial to religious orders because he was a member of Opus Dei. Mr Woods said the suggestion was "utter rubbish".

Mr Keating, who was previously married to Loretta Keating, is survived by his second wife, Barbara, and three children.

- Michael Brennan Political Correspondent