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Dáil hears 20 minutes of tributes to Gay Byrne

The Dáil has held a minute's silence in tribute to the late broadcaster Gay Byrne, who died on Monday, aged 85.

Before the commencement of normal business, the Dáil heard 20 minutes of tributes from political leaders led by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Mr Varadkar said Mr Byrne was the “most influential broadcaster in the history of the State”, and a much-loved figure who changed Ireland for the better in many ways.

“Gay had a central place in Irish homes for many decades on both radio and television. The story of his remarkable contribution to Irish life is the story of how we changed and evolved for the better as a nation over the past 60 years. A consummate entertainer, he also provided an outlet for all of those who had been silenced or were afraid to speak up,” he said.

Mr Byrne enabled us to confront things that needed to be challenged in our society. Many things did not exist, or were not talked about, in Ireland before The Late Late Show, but it is good that they were talked about, the Taoiseach said.

Mr Varadkar also paid tribute to Mr Byrne's work as chairman of the Road Safety Authority.

“I found him to be a wonderful, truly public-spirited person who undertook his responsibilities at the Road Safety Authority with the utmost seriousness and concern. He also spoke up for the whistleblowers who exposed the abuse of the penalty points system, thereby helping to bring about change in that system.

For generations of Irish people he was “Uncle Gaybo”; a welcome presence in every home and someone who led change because he listened and he cared. We have lost a change-maker and a force for good. Today a national treasure is gone.

Explaining the decision to delay normal business in the Dáil, Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Fearghaíl referred to what he called a “national outpouring of respect and recognition” for the broadcaster.

He announced he had opened a book of condolences in the main lobby of Leinster House.

In his comments, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Mr Byrne was an “iconic Irish institution who left an indelible imprint not only on Irish broadcasting, but on Irish society itself”.

“He was part and parcel of every Irish home for decades. His warmth resonated with so many people. His intellect and emotional intelligence were unparalleled and his ability to sensitively approach delicate and sometime controversial issues set him apart from other presenters.What really separated him was his capacity to listen while doing interviews; he was a great listener as well as contributor to interviews and debates,” he said.

Mr Martin said the legendary broadcaster was “a rare national treasure who touched the lives not only of his own family and friends, but those of the hundreds of thousands of people who welcomed him into their homes on radio and television”.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Byrne's voice narrated the story of the State for more than three decades”.

“It is a testament to his talent and his ability that even at times when one did not agree with him one could still recognise the importance of the work he did,” she said.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin said Mr Byrne was the authentic voice of all the internal discussion and complexity of a maturing Ireland, and the certainty of voices coming to different conclusions”.

“His loss is felt by all but clearly, none more than his beloved wife Kathleen, his daughters Crona and Suzy, and his many friends throughout Ireland and especially in his former workplace of RTÉ,” Mr Howlin told TDs.