Sorry to hear today of the death of Justin Keating. Justin died just days short of his 80th birthday. Keating was the son of Sean & May Keating, 2 stalwarts of the radical left in the early 20th century. His father painted and his mother was also involved in the arts. Justin studied veterinary science at UCD and one of the few on the left who applied leftwing economics to agriculture in the 1960’s. He presented RTE’s agriculture programmes and received a Jacobs award for his pioneering work, the Irish equivalent of a BAFTA. Justin opposed Irish entry into the EEC, leading Labour’s acampaign in the 1972 referendum. His death removes from the stage the final intellectual pillar that Brendan Corish attracted to Labour in the 1960’s.
Justin was my local TD and he was strongly disliked by Fianna Fail. When he served as Minister for Industry and Commerce in the Cosgrave Coalition he was pilloried because he believed in regulation of prices. He was targeted by Fianna Fail because he believed that the state should play a role in developing our natural resources and that the economy should be planned. He imposed terms on exploration companies that would see royalties and taxes paid on prospecting and recovery of hydrocarbons within Irish waters and ensured that the state paid below world price for gas from Kinsale while also taking as take in the field. This ensured that NET, ESB and Bord Gais could expand in Cork Harbour when gas brought ashore. The conditions he set on oil companies were significantly reduced by Ray Burke at a major loss to the exchequer.
He had very little time for free market economics in industry or agriculture. While prices rose under his tenure, so too did wages and I don’t recall cross border trade impacting hugely on state finances at that time.
Shortly after he lost his seat in 1977, I remember walking home from mass with my father and a neighbour who was a strong FF supporter. Our neighbour rejoiced at the defeat of “that card carrying communist Keating”. This description intrigued me about the man who made a genuine attempt in his political life to share the wealth our society produced. A walk home from mass was something that Keating was a stranger to as he was a committed humanist, being President of the Irish Humanist Association. He was a strong opponent of Zionism calling for the occupied territories to be returned to Palestinian control.
Justin also served as a Senator and MEP. He also pioneered Sunday morning news broadcasting on RTE in the 1980’s after he left politics. He was a committed socialist and a genuine radical who made more than a contribution to our country. It’s sad that my first blog entry of 2010 is to mark his passing. My sympathies to his family.