Barrett, Sylvester Aidan (‘Sylvie’) (1926–2002), politician, was born 18 May 1926 at Darragh, Ennis, Co. Clare, third among four children of Frank Barrett, CO of the IRA's mid-Clare brigade in the war of independence, Fianna Fáil member, and chairman of Clare county council, and his wife Delia, daughter of John Costello, farmer. Both his parents died within weeks of each other in 1931 and he was subsequently brought up by relatives May and Tommo Costello of Kilmorane, Co. Clare. He attended Ballyea national school and St Flannan's College, Ennis, before studying engineering for a year at UCG. He then joined the army for a number of years before going to England in the late 1940s and returning in 1954 to Ennis, where he had a number of jobs before finding employment as a rate collector with Clare county council; he later established an auctioneering business. He served as secretary of the Clare branch of the executive council of the Irish Local Government Officials' Union (1963–8) and a member of its national executive (1965–8), retaining his partnership in the auctioneering firm, a position he handed on to his son after becoming a politician.
Having joined Fianna Fáil in the early 1960s, he was first elected a TD in a Clare by-election in 1968; in the subsequent general election (18 June 1969) he was returned on the first count, topping the poll ahead of cabinet member Patrick Hillery. A member of the committee of public accounts (1969–77), he again topped the poll in the 1973 general election and was Fianna Fáil spokesman on transport and power (1973–7). In the general election of 1977 he was elected on the first count but was the second Fianna Fáil candidate to be elected, just behind Brendan Daly, a party feat that Barrett claimed to be unprecedented in the history of the state. When Jack Lynch (qv) formed a government in July 1977, Barrett had the distinction of being the first minister of a new department, Environment. As minister he made a number of important decisions for road users, including the introduction of the breathalyser test and the compulsory use of seat belts; more controversially, to clear a driving test backlog, he allowed holders of provisional driving licences to apply for full licences. Despite his voting for George Colley (qv) in the bitter party leadership election of December 1979, the new party leader and taoiseach, Charles Haughey, initially retained Barrett at the Department of the Environment but then appointed him minister for defence (1980–81). In January 1982 he was one of those who phoned Áras an Uachtaráin in an unsuccessful attempt to speak to President Patrick Hillery, his former dáil colleague for the Clare constituency, to ask him not to dissolve the dáil following the Fine Gael-Labour government's defeat on a Dáil vote. In the short-lived Fianna Fáil administration of March-December 1982 he was demoted to being minister of state at the Department of Finance. He was not, however, dismissed when he supported in October a motion in the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party of no confidence in Haughey's leadership. From December 1982, he was opposition spokesman on defence but stepped down from the Fianna Fáil front bench in 1984 on his election as MEP for Munster. He decided to retire from active politics in 1989.
His principal residences were at Darragh (outside Ennis), Kilmorane, and Kildysart, all in Clare. He served as a member of the Ennis chamber of commerce and in his youth was secretary of the Kildysart GAA club and the development association in Kildysart. He suffered a stroke in December 1997, thereafter losing his power of speech, and died on 8 May 2002.
He married (1952) Mary Tubridy of Kilrush, Co. Clare, daughter of Michael Tubridy, farmer, and Babs Tubridy (née Crotty); they had four sons, one of whom, Frank, narrowly failed to win a seat in Clare for Fianna Fáil in the general election of 17 February 1987.