Davern, Noel Michael (1945–2013), politician and farmer, was born on 24 December 1945 in Cashel, Co. Tipperary, the middle child of Michael J. Davern, a shopkeeper, and Margaret ('Greta') Davern (née Ryan). He had an older brother, Owen Don Bosco ('Don') and a younger sister, Noreen. He was educated at CBS Cashel, and then at the Franciscan College at Gormanstown. At the age of seventeen, Noel went to work as an undertaker in London, and then returned to Tipperary to work as a salesman for a cigarette company. His father Michael was steeped in Fianna Fáil tradition, serving as a councillor for Cashel urban district, and then as TD for Tipperary South (1948–65). Michael was followed into politics by his older son Don, first as a councillor and then, upon his father's retirement in 1965, as Fianna Fáil TD for Tipperary South. Don's sudden death on 2 November 1968 propelled Noel into politics. He was unanimously selected by the Fianna Fáil convention to contest the by-election caused by Don's death, and at the age of twenty-three became the youngest member of the dáil, winning the seat easily with twenty-five per cent of the vote.
In 1979 Davern made history when he stood for election to the first ever directly elected European Parliament. Returned as MEP for Munster, he chose to remain in Europe during the 1981 general election. However, in the 1984 election, he failed to retain his European seat, and returned to local politics. He stood for election to the dáil in 1987 and was returned with his running mate Seán McCarthy. Davern remained on the backbenches until the political upheavals of the early 1990s propelled him briefly to a seat at cabinet. A series of missteps by Charles Haughey (qv) during the 1990 presidential campaign had left him in a weakened position, and a faction in the party led by Albert Reynolds (qv) and Seán Power sought to bring a motion of no confidence against him. The motion was defeated and Reynolds, among others, was sacked. In the ensuing cabinet reshuffle, Davern was rewarded for his loyalty to Haughey with the education ministry.
Although his time as minister was brief, lasting just ninety days, Davern managed to surprise some commentators. A green paper brought forward by his department sought to establish greater equality in education for those who were disadvantaged socially, economically, physically or mentally. John Walshe, education correspondent for the Irish Times, praised the minister, and suggested that despite Davern's short tenure in office, his green paper could have a lasting effect on the subjects that were studied for the leaving certificate and could, in turn, positively affect economic development. A further legacy from his brief spell in the department was noted in 2008 when students at a school in Libya scored highly in their leaving certificate maths and biology papers. Davern and his predecessor at the department, Mary O'Rourke, had been instrumental in allowing the Ism International School in Tripoli to switch from offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) to the leaving certificate, becoming the only school outside Ireland to do so.
Having benefited from Albert Reynold's expulsion in November 1991, Davern suffered when Reynolds took over the leadership of Fianna Fáil on 11 February 1992, losing his ministerial post to Seamus Brennan (qv). He remained on the backbenches for the duration of Reynold's government but gained some prominence, albeit in opposition, as the party's spokesman on European affairs under Bertie Ahern's leadership from November 1994. When Ahern led Fianna Fáil back into government in 1997, Davern was appointed minister of state at the Department of Agriculture and Food with special responsibility for livestock breeding and horticulture, a position ideally suited to his background as a farmer in Tipperary.
Davern was thrust into the public eye early in 2001 when the first cases of foot and mouth disease were detected in Essex, England. Martin Mansergh has credited Davern with recognising the seriousness of the situation almost immediately: 'He was the first to speak out publicly about the danger … to this country … [and] he exercised leadership in battening down the hatches at the time' (Nationalist, 30 October 2013). On 19 February an abattoir in Essex reported a case of foot and mouth disease among a herd of pigs sent for slaughter, and within a matter of days the British government was reporting outbreaks as far away as Scotland and Northern Ireland. On 21 February Davern stood up and told the dáil that a ban had been placed on the importation of live animals and animal products from the UK with immediate effect. In addition, public events such as the Irish World Dance Championships, St Patrick's Day celebrations and several Six Nations rugby matches were postponed or cancelled. An outbreak in Proleek, Co. Louth, resulted in a cull of all its livestock, as well as army snipers brought in to shoot wild animals capable of bearing the disease. The measures were effective and by April Ireland had been declared disease-free. The Department of Agriculture, and Noel Davern in particular, were singled out for praise.
In addition to his ministerial actions, Davern was also known for his sense of humour. Despite having opposed the smoking ban when it was first proposed, he accepted it with good grace when it was finally implemented on 29 March 2004. Resigned to smoking outside the dáil, he was quoted as saying he would wear his long-johns to cope with the cold: 'So long as I can get my fix without getting wet, it'll keep me happy' (Ir. Times, 9 October 2004). Davern held his position in the Department of Agriculture for the full term of Bertie Ahern's first government. After the 2002 election, Ahern appointed him to the Council of Europe, a fitting position for the former MEP. In addition, Davern also chaired the members' interest committee (ethics), was the taoiseach's chief adviser on Northern Ireland and a member of the president's advisory body, the Council of State. Davern announced his intention to retire from politics on 3 January 2006. In a statement to the press, he said he was retiring because technology had caught up with him, and that he owed his family some time.
He died on 27 October 2013 in Tannersrath, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, and was buried at Powerstown church near Clonmel. The Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, paid tribute to him as a 'passionate public servant who never shied away from representing his constituents at a local, national, or European level' (Ir. Times, 27 October 2013).