David Byrne, Fianna Fáil politician, Irish senior counsel, former Attorney General of Ireland and former European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, is born in Monasterevin, County Kildare, on April 6, 1947.
Byrne is educated at Newbridge College, County Kildare, University College Dublin (UCD) and King’s Inns, Dublin. He is called to the Bar in 1970 and practises law in the Irish and European Courts. During his student days in Dublin, he founds the Free Legal Advice Centre, a student-run organisation providing legal aid to citizens in association with the legal profession. He campaigns in favour of Irish entry into the European Community (EC) in the 1970s and has been a keen supporter of European integration ever since.
Byrne becomes a Senior Counsel in 1985. He practises in both the Irish courts and the European Court of Justice and also serves as a member of the International Court of Commercial Arbitration from 1990–97.
In 1997 Byrne becomes Attorney General of Ireland in the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats coalition government. As one of the negotiators of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, he drafts and oversees the major constitutional amendments required by that agreement, which are approved by Referendum in May 1998. He also advises on the constitutional amendments necessary for Ireland’s ratification of the Treaty of Amsterdam. During his tenure, he establishes the first independent Food Safety Agency in Europe responsible to the Minister for Health.
Byrne is nominated to the European Commission by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in September 1999, serving as Ireland’s EU Commissioner and has responsibility for Health & Consumer Protection in the Prodi Commission. He continues in that role until replaced as Ireland’s Commissioner by Charlie McCreevy in 2004.
During his time in office, Byrne is a major driving force behind European tobacco control legislation, such as directives banning tobacco advertising and regulating tobacco products, in keeping with the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). Under his leadership, the European Union also creates the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in 2004.
When he concludes his Brussels assignment, Byrne acts as World Health Organization (WHO) Special Envoy on the revision of the International Health Regulations (IHR) for a six-month period following a series of outbreaks of SARS and avian influenza.
Byrne is mooted as a potential candidate for the position of Director General of the World Health Organization following the death of the incumbent, Dr Lee Jong-wook in 2006. However, he is eventually not included in the list of thirteen candidates to head the agency.
In December 2006 Byrne is appointed as Chancellor of Dublin City University (DCU). He holds this position until 2011.
After leaving the European Commission, Byrne holds a variety of paid and unpaid positions, including Co-Chair of European Alliance for Personalised Medicine, member of the International Advisory Board of FleishmanHillard, Chairman of the Ethics Committee of the International Prevention Research Institute (IPRI), Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), of counsel of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, Honorary Co-Chair of the World Justice Project (WJP) and a member of the World Prevention Alliamce.