Peter was buried in Athboy, Co. Meath yesterday. He was in his mid-30s and had been ill, coping with cancer.
It did come as a shock to hear the bad news. We had been out of touch for a while, although we met (by chance) during the summer, and arranged to meet at the start of the new term, with a few emails going back and forward since then.
He was a man who was very generous with his time, advice, and support. After studying at Trinity College, he went on to serve as Education Officer (93/94) and then President (94/95) of the Students’ Union. In his later years he was heavily involved in the Labour party, including constituency work in my area of Dublin South East, and indeed sitting on the National Executive Committee for the last three or four years. (Many people in Labour circles will remember his chatty, informal updates on what happened at NEC meetings, sent out diligently since his first meeting).
I spent a nostalgic hour on Tuesday night reading through old emails (I’m a compulsive archiver; some would say hoarder). It was a nice reminder of the Peter I knew; always willing to explain how things ‘really worked’, to encourage you to think about politics in a less superficial fashion, and to get people (especially new volunteers) up and out to do something. I found an exchange of mails that culminated in him successfully persuading an unwilling me (and another friend) to leaflet with him at 7.30am outside Tara St. DART station – days before exams! From memory, I know this wasn’t the only time. He had that way of making the link between talking about policy (Peter was teaching and writing a PhD in political science) and the practical side of the political game. He was also a great emailer, I could see, with an ongoing conversation on Irish politics that stretched across most of my year in Canada. In person, he spent a good deal of time – for no reason other than his genuine belief in Labour ideas – talking me through the most basic to Byzantine of party rules, procedures and personalities, in the year that I chaired the college branch – due, in no small part, to his encouraging me to do the job and that it would be a great eye-opener. He wasn’t wrong.
His Students’ Union days weren’t forgotten. He strongly encouraged me to seek election to the Executive, even coming up with ideas for a speech (that ultimately was never delivered, despite all his help). When I was lucky enough to succeed (later) to the same position of Education Officer 11 years after his term, I found some fascinating files (with a detailed filing structure!) from his time – as well as great press and satirical clippings on his many battles with the begrudgers – right and left. His file on semesterisation and modularisation was of great help when the issue came back on the agenda, proving once again that student politics never changes – just the people. Peter is no longer with us, but the many, many people he influenced, cajoled, convinced, laughed with and supported will not forget him, nor the political and social causes he was passionate about. The election in 2007, not to mention the Labour party in this area and in general, will be different without Peter.