An Taoiseach Micheál Martin has led tributes to former Minister and founder of the Progressive Democrats Des O’Malley, who has died at the age of 82.
Elected to the Dáil by the people of Limerick on no wfewer than 11 consecutive occasions O’Malley was no stranger to doing things the hard way.
”Conventional Irish political wisdom may advise against it, as it often does against worthwhile change. To achieve progress in any field risks must be taken. For myself I am prepared to take them.”
Mr. O’Malley was heavily involved in the Government’s struggle against the IRA in the 1970s, introducing the Special Criminal Court for non-jury trials.
Appointed Minister for Justice in 1970 in the wake of the Arms Crisis he developed a deep dislike of the then-ousted Charlie Haughey that would see their two careers intertwine
”I was concerned about his judgement in respect of the holding of public office and what one could do as a holder of public office and that concern has never left me.”
After Haughey’s assent to the Fianna Fáil leadership O’Malley was involved in a number of failed moves against him, ultimately quitting cabinet in 1982 and being expelled from Fianna Fáil in 1985 over a vote on access to contraception
”I think the question of conduct unbecoming of membership of the Fianna Fail organisation is a fairly subjective concept.”
He went on to found the Progressive Democrats, remaining a staunch critic of Mr Haughey.
”His serious interview outings are as rare as President (Ronald) Reagan’s used to be. The PJ voce of the redoubtable duce sees to that!!!”
This a reference to the late Fianna Fail Press secretary and Charlie Haughey’s go-to-man PJ Mara who drew on history declaring “Uno duce, una voce” or ‘one leader one voice’ – a quote infamously linked to the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in protecting his leader, which O’Malley masterfully played on.
But ultimately, in 1989, Des O’Malley proved a pragmatist, returning to cabinet when the PDs entered coalition with Haughey’s Fianna Fáil
”I’m very pleased obviously and its what we set out to do some weeks ago. I’m very happy indeed with the agreement that has been come to.”
Micheál Martin has led the tributes to Des O’Malley, saying he faced down an illegitimate campaign of violence from the IRA as Justice Minister and that his was a life of courage and consequence.
President Michael D. Higgins said O’Malley “had a major influence on Irish politics, and his legacy and integrity includes a major contribution to the role of coalitions in Irish government formation.”
“Those of us who had the privilege of working with him in the Oireachtas will also remember him as courteous, courageous and principled. As a friend he was gifted with a wry sense of humour, which he shared with generosity and a gift for irony.”