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Leinster Leader December 7th 1963
The sudden death of Mr. William Norton, T.D. at his home in Dublin on Wednesday night, has shocked County Kildare where he headed the poll at the last General Election in 1961. He was 63, and had been a Deputy for Kildare since 1932.
Mr. Norton was a distinguished politician, a great parliamentarian. He was one of the most astute and ablest of deputies and his passing will be a profound loss to Irish politics, the Labour Party, of which he was a life-long member and long-time leader, and the constituency he served so long and so well.
For a man who played so important a role in the Irish Parliament he never neglected the people whom he represented and he travelled widely throughout the county to Labour Party Branch meetings. He rarely missed a meeting of Kildare County Council and was present at Monday’s meeting.
Felt Unwell
He had been attending to his parliamentary duties with his usual vigour up to last weekend. Then he felt unwell and decided to rest at his home in Merlyn Park, Ballsbridge. Although his health had not been too good for some time, his unexpected death on Wednesday night came as a big blow to his family and friends. R. Norton was born in Dublin in 1900, the eldest of a family of eight. He left the national school in Rathmines before he was thirteen years old and took a job as a telegraph messenger at 3s 6d a week. He progressed, by self-education, through examination to sorting clerk and telegraphist. He had long realised the importance of trade union work and after holding several positions at branch level in the Post Office Worker’s Union, became General Secretary of the union at the age of 23.
On Council
He led his union with great success and within a few years became an executive member of the Irish Trade Union congress. He began to take an active interest in politics and was elected a member of Rathmines Urban Council. In 1926, at the age of 26, he was elected a T.D. for Dublin, in a bye-election, but lost the seat later.
In 1932, the year he was elected first for Co. Kildare, he became Leader of the Labour Party, a position he was to hold until 1960. Mr. Norton was one of those responsible for the participation of the post office staffs, then under British administration, in the two day strike in April, 1920, as a protest against the executions of I.R.A. men in Mountjoy prison, and also in a further strike in 1921 in sympathy with those on hunger strike in Mountjoy.
He served on several Government Commissions and was a member of the Public Accounts Committee and of the Committee of Procedures and Privileges of the Dail. He was given credit in many quarters as the principal planner of the first Inter-Party Government in 1948, when under Mr. John A. Costello he was appointed Tanaiste and Minister for Social Welfare. He later became Minister for Local Government temporarily, on the death of Mr. T. J. Murphy, and served for a short time as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs during the illness of Mr. Everett. Earlier Mr. Norton was made a member of the Postal Telegraph Telephone International and represented Ireland at many international conferences. He was President for two years of the International Letter Carriers Association and in this capacity travelled to many parts of the world, including Australia. While serving as Tanaiste he headed the Irish delegation to the Council of Europe at Strasbourg and was a member of the permanent executive. In an early session of the Council he delivered a most eloquent plea for the unity of Ireland. He spoke against Mr. Churchill’s proposal to set up a European army “to defend peaceful peoples against aggression,” and declared that the proposal would be sincere if Britain ended her aggression against Ireland.
Party Crisis
During the war a crisis came for the Labour Party. At a trade union conference in Britain, Irish delegates adopted a line which some people at home regarded as not strictly neutral. The result brought a split in the Labour Party. This was spotlighted in the Dail when four in the party broke away from Mr. Norton’s leadership and formed the National Labour Party. Further set-backs to Labour came in the 1944 General Election when the Party suffered heavy losses.
Social Security
But under Mr. Norton’s dynamic leadership Labour made a fairly strong comeback in 1948 and became the second largest party in the country’s first Inter-Party Government under Mr. John A. Costello, Fine Gael. One of his greatest ambitions was to implement his White Paper on Social Security, an ambitious plan for the Welfare State in Ireland, but he was unable to do so either in the first or second Inter-Party Government. The introduction of the Social Welfare Bill of 1948 had reached the Committee Stage when the General Election of 1951 intervened. The Bill was then shelved and was replaced by Dr. Ryan’s Social Welfare Act, which came into force the following year. Mr. Norton was also prominently involved in the repeal of the External Relations Act and the institution of the Republic of Ireland. During this time he did not lose contact with the trade union movement and when the first Inter-Party Government was defeated he resumed as General Secretary of his union and returned as leader of the re-united Labour party in the Dail.
Tanaiste Again
With the defeat of Fianna Fail, the formation of a new Inter-Party Government was undertaken in 1954. Fine Gael and Labour were supported by Clann na Poblachta, Clann na Talmhan and Independents. In June of that year Mr. Norton was again appointed Tanaiste and Minister for Industry and Commerce. He was keenly interested in the development of industry and in 1956 made a month long tour of the United States. He carried on negotiations with Canadian mine experts on the Avoca Mines and persuaded them to work the mines. In 1959 he was receive in private audience by Pope John XXIII. Earlier he had become the first Irishman to be elected President of Postal, Telegraph and Telephone International, and he presided at the Triennial Congress of the organisation in Vienna.
It was in February, 1960 that Mr. Norton resigned from leadership of the Labour Party. Earlier he had intimated his desire to relinquish the post but he had been prevailed upon to stay on. In 1959 he was appointed a director of the General Electric Company of Ireland. Mr. Norton is survived by his wife, four sons, Messrs Patrick, William, Brendan and Kevin Norton, and his daughter, Mrs Eileen McCarthy, Glenview, Wicklow. He is also survived by his mother, by his brother Kevin and by sisters, Mrs Margaret Roche, England, and Miss Nellie Norton, Dublin. Removal of remains to the Star of the Sea Church, Sandymount, Dublin, was on Thursday evening, and the funeral takes place this (Friday) morning, after Requiem Mass at 10 o’clock, to Deans Grange Cemetery.

The Leinster Leader of December 7th 1963 reports on the long and successful political career of William Norton on the occasion of his sudden death.

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