Ray Mac Sharry is well known to all of us as a very successful national politician, and more recently as Ireland's member of the European Commission with special responsibility for Agriculture and the Common Agricultural Policy.
Ray Mac Sharry was born in Sligo in 1938, and rather than pursue a career through the formal educational system he left school in 1955 to start work with his late uncle Matt Clarke in the cattle business. This experience gave him a real insight into the world of agribusiness. He married Elaine Neilan and they have three sons and three daughters.
Ray Mac Sharry joined Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1965. He realised very quickly that in order for projects of local importance to make their way through the bureaucracy, they needed to be supported by political representation. Typically, Ray Mac Sharry immediately set about converting the idea into action, and he was duly elected to Sligo County Council in 1967. He was a member of Sligo Borough Council and the Sligo Borough Vocational Education Committee from 1967 to 1978 and was Chairman of the Board of Management of Sligo Regional Technical College for 10 years from 1969. In 1969 he was elected as a Fianna Fail TD for Sligo-Leitrim, a seat he held until 1989. As he says himself he had never seen Leinster House until he entered the Dail for the first time as a Deputy. Subsequently he held many offices in and out of government. In 1979-81 he was Minister for Agriculture and he was Opposition spokesman for Agriculture from 1981 to 1982. In 1982 he became Tánaiste and Minister for Finance and subsequently Minister for Finance and the Public Service from 1987 to 1988.
The Financial Times said of Ray Mac Sharry in 1990, and I quote: "he started attacking the spiralling budget deficit and public debt through a fiscally rigorous plan called The Way Forward", and later in 1991: "he became know as 'Mac the Knife' for his tough cost-cutting measures as Minister for Finance from 1987 to the end of 1988 and even opponents would admit that his uncompromising stand saved the Irish economy from a serious debt crisis." Building on his national experience Ray broadened his horizons and began to launch a successful career in Europe.
In 1982 he was Governor of the European Investment Bank. During 1984-87 he was both a member of the European Parliament for the Connacht/Ulster Constituency and a member of the Council of Ministers. He became European Commissioner for Agriculture in 1989 and served with distinction until 1993. As Commissioner, Ray Mac Sharry built a world wide reputation on the basis of successfully negotiating the reformation of the European Common Agricultural Policy which was so vital to the GATT agreement. During this period he demonstrated his full range of diplomatic and political skills in pushing through these vital reforms at Commission level. As one observer commented at the time "Colleagues say his twin weapons are a capacious memory for detail (he even impressed Margaret Thatcher) and a devastating ability to divine his opponents' bottom line."
The CAP reform agreement was an achievement of enormous proportions. It succeeded in controlling surpluses, in controlling the budget, in raising farm incomes, in providing for environmental protection and in providing good quality food at reasonable prices for the consumer.
At the end of this exciting international political period of his career Ray Mac Sharry made a deliberate decision to enter the private sector in Ireland. This came as somewhat of a surprise, particularly in Irish political circles. However, as one would expect, he is now building a very successful career based on his very substantial national and international experience at the highest levels. Currently he is Chairman of Ryanair and a Director of the Bank of Ireland Group, Jefferson Smurfit Group, Green Properties, Galtee Deer Care and Hannon Poultry Exporting.
He has received many prestigious awards over the years, including: Business and Finance Man of the Year in 1988; the Italian Marcora Prize in 1991 and European of the Year in 1992. Ray Mac Sharry's local community recognised his enormous contribution by making him a Freeman of the Borough of Sligo in 1993. He was awarded the Grande-Croix de l'Ordre de Leopold II by His Majesty the King of the Belgians in October 1993. He was awarded an honorary doctorate of the National University of Ireland in 1994.
Ray Mac Sharry's guiding principle is that people's problems are similar the world over and that solutions to problems that work in one place have a good chance of working in another location. He brings to each area a search for the simple solution based on a balance between common sense, good basic thinking grounded in a knowledge of people and the more formal, academic techniques of problem solving. Ray Mac Sharry has the outstanding ability to be able to look at problem solving in this creative and pragmatic way. His clear-sightedness makes him a most sought after member of boards and committees, both nationally and internationally.