The distinguished political career of Tom Hayes came to a close on Tuesday when he announced his decision not to contest the next general election and withdraw his name from the Fine Gael selection race.
The former government minister and the FG standard bearer in the former South Tipperary constituency made his decision known days in advance of the visit to Clonmel of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the FG parliamentary party at the Hotel Minella for their two day think-in.
In public life since he was elected to South Tipperary County Council in 1991, Tom Hayes was expected to lead the FG charge to try and win back the party seat lost in the 2016 election in the new Tipperary amalgamated constituency and his decision came as a shock to the party.
Tom Hayes, who topped the poll in the South Tipperary constituency in three successive general elections in 2002,2007 and 2011, informed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of his decision before making his announcement on Tuesday.
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Tom Hayes,appointed Minister of State for Food,Horticulture and Food Hygiene in June 2013 by Enda Kenny, said he was devastated to lose his seat in 2016 in the new amalgamated Tipperary constituency and said it was always his intention to put up a fight to win back the seat if another general election came around quickly.
“ I did put forward my name as a contender about four months ago but there is no sign of the election happening and I think now it is time to leave the race and pass on the baton.The party has a great choice of candidates available and Tipperary is crying out for a government TD” said Tom Hayes.
Tom Hayes said he would fully support whoever the party put forward in the next general election and it was his intention to remain actively involved with the party.
“It has been an amazing journey for me really, when I started off I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would become a government minister” said Tom Hayes.
The oldest in a family of ten Tom Hayes decided to enter public life in 1991 to contest the County Council election in the Cashel electoral area in an election he could not vote for himself.
He won the seat left vacant by Cllr.JP ‘Hanna’ Ryan to kick off a long career in politics.Just six years later he became a member of the Oireachtas when he was elected to Senead Eireann on the agricultural panel and he became the party spokesperson on agriculture.
An opportunity to enter Dail Eireann arrived in 2000 with the passing of Labour TD Michael Ferris.Tom Hayes lost that by -election but the vote he received gave him great encouragement for the future.
“In that by election nobody gave me a hope but I was very happy with the vote and I realised there was a warmth among the people towards me and I was determined to go again” he said.
That he did the following year when FG TD Theresa Ahearn passed away and Tom Hayes was elected to the 28th Dail after he won the by election.
“For me that was an incredible honour because in a by election only one person is elected and it was a real privilege for me to be chosen by the people” he said.
He went on to prove himself to be one of the most powerful vote getters in the country for the party topping the poll in three general elections in a row in 2002,2007 and 2011.
For most of that period (2002 to 2010) he held the position of chairman of the Fine Gael parliamentary party,becoming the longest serviing parliamentary party chairman in the history of the party.
It was no surprise then when he was appointed Minister of State and he enjoyed the challenge of working with Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney.
“ When I started out in politics becoming a minister or a member of the Dail never crossed my mind. As the years past it evolved and I found myself taking on the challenges of higher level because I felt that it would enable me to represent the people of Tipperary and have a greater influence on their behalf” said Tom Hayes.
Reflecting on his career Tom Hayes said it gave him tremendous satisfaction today, that while the health services nationally are not in good condition, the acute hospital services and in particular the maternity services available in South Tipperary General Hospital had not only survived but had been enhanced.
“Over the years there were many threats to the maternity services, I played a strong role in preventing their closure and it is very pleasing to see those services thriving in Clonmel today” he said.
He was also pleased with the role he played in securing new industry for Cashel and Fethard following devastating closures and he was pleased that there was now a long term plan in place for the Kickham Barracks in Clonmel.
“The closure of the barracks was a big blow, everything was done to try and save it but it was a national decision with stations closed around the country.I am delighted to have made a contribution to ensuing the site remains an important one with a new garda station now approved and the transfer of LIT to take place” he said.
He is also very proud of the fact that he helped out so many clubs, voluntary organisations and groups around the country with funding including the Community Centre/GAA facilities in Golden.
Tom is married to Marian and they have three sons Padraig , Ronan and Cathal.
“After the last general election family and the network of friends I am fortunate to have was very supportive and that was very important for me” said Tom.
Bowing out this week Tom thanked the people of Tipperary who voted for him and said their support was humbling and something will always treasure.