JTA — Mervyn Taylor, who was reportedly the first Jewish person to serve as a cabinet minister in Ireland, has died at the age of 89.
Taylor, who died of cancer in London on Thursday, served for about four years as equality and law reform minister between 1993 and 1997, under Ireland’s Labour party. In total, he served as a Labour lawmaker for 16 years until his retirement in 1997.
As a cabinet minister, he led reforms that prioritized opportunities for women, people with disabilities and the Roma community, according to The Irish Times, which also said he was the first Jew to serve as a cabinet minister in Ireland.
He was instrumental in helping pass the legislation that legalized divorce in Ireland.
His other legislative reforms included the passing of Ireland’s Maternity Protection Act and Domestic Violence Act.
Irish President Michael Higgins hailed him as “a comrade of the utmost principle, steadfastness, courage and courtesy.”
"The death of Mervyn Taylor represents the passing of an icon in the struggle for equality…. Those of us who had the privilege of knowing him, of calling him our friend and colleague will miss him deeply."
Read the President's statement in full: https://t.co/FmLKs3obk4
— President of Ireland (@PresidentIRL) September 23, 2021
“So sorry to hear of the passing of Mervyn Taylor. A democratic social revolutionary who changed the course of history by legalizing divorce in Ireland. A gentleman and a giant,” tweeted Irland’s deputy leader Leo Varadkar.
In an interview with that paper in 1993, Taylor said his Jewish identity gave him empathy with minority groups. “It comes from 2,000 years of history,” he said.
Labour leader Dick Spring said he was “quintessential Labour Party from a very young age”. He was a “hard-working politician, very conscientious and always put the needs of the public at large as his priority. He was a gentleman to his bootstraps.”
He is survived by his wife, Marilyn, an author, and his children Maryanne, Adam and Gideon, who serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and of the World Jewish Restitution Organization. He had eight grandchildren.
Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report