Dr Patrick Hillery

I was an indirectly elected Member of the European Parliament at a time when Patrick Hillery [obituary by David McKittrick, 14 April] was European Commissioner with responsibility for Social Affairs, writes Tam Dalyell.

With Michael Stewart, the former Foreign Secretary and leader of a Labour delegation, I went to see Hillery as Commissioner on a number of occasions. On thorny issues such as rights for migrant workers, we found him both understanding and effective. He was determined to help them and did. This was particularly to his credit since he had to battle against his own Director-General for Social Affairs, Michael Shanks, with whom he had developed abysmal relations. Truth to tell, the relaxed Irish doctor of medicine and the thrusting Oxford-educated economist and business leader were like chalk and cheese.

Hillery stuck to his guns that he was there to help the people of the community, not business as such. In particular, Hillery believed in equal pay for equal work and championed the rights of women, when it was a less fashionable cause than now and though such a stand meant confronting his own government in Dublin. As the Irish Commissioner, he charmed his powerful colleagues, the Frenchmen Francois-Xavier Ortoli and Claude Cheysson, the Germans Guido Brunner and Willie Haferkamp and, in particular, the dour Dutchman Petrus Josephus Lardinois, hugely influential as the Commissioner for Agriculture, the main business and financial concern of the community in those days.

If Ireland is much favoured by the EU, the Irish owe Patrick Hillery a debt for the way in which he ingratiated himself with the Brussels hierarchy.