Des O'Malley, former minister and Progressive Democrats founder, dies aged 82

ireland
Des O'malley, Former Minister And Progressive Democrats Founder, Dies Aged 82
Mr O’Malley was elected as a TD for Limerick in 1968 and was appointed Minister for Justice during the Arms Crisis of 1970. Photo: PA images
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Digital Desk Staff

Des O’Malley, the founder of the Progressive Democrats and former Fianna Fáil minister, has died aged 82.

He had been unwell for some time.

Mr O’Malley was elected as a TD for Limerick in 1968 and was appointed Minister for Justice during the Arms Crisis of 1970.

Mr O’Malley was elected as a TD for Limerick in 1968 and was appointed Minister for Justice during the Arms Crisis of 1970.

A fierce opponent of Charles Haughey, he was expelled from Fianna Fáil in 1984 by Mr Haughey and went on to found the Progressive Democrats in 1985, becoming its first leader.

He led the PDs into a coalition government with the Haughey-led Fianna Fáil in 1989, becoming Minister for Industry and Commerce and reaching an uneasy rapprochement in with Mr Haughey in Government.

It was the first coalition that Fianna Fáil participated in.

In his 34-year career, he served in four different governments and held a range of senior ministerial portfolios.

Minister in Troubles

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His first ministerial post came on May 4th, 1970 when he was appointed Minister ofr justice by Jack Lynch. At the time O'Malley was 31 and had been a TD for just two years. The role propelled him into the centre of the Arms Crisis as Lynch sacked Haughey and Niall Blaney. In subsequent interviews he said he believed that had the arms-smuggling plot succeeded, it could have let to civil war. Haughey and Blaney were among those later charged and acquitted.

During this time O'Malley spoke of having to get used to sleeping with a gun under his pillow, while his wife and children were under Garda protection in Limerick, where IRA sympathisers "would throw red paint and, on occasion, a coffin into the front garden".

After his split from Fianna Fáil in 1985, he saw the PDs achieve electoral success in 1987, with 14 Dáil seats. In 1990 he threatened to withdraw the PDs from the coalition government with FF unless that party's presidential candidate, Brian Lenihan, left the government over his denial of making phonecalls to Aras an Uachtarain in 1982. A tape of Lenihan admitting he had got through to the President emerged and Haughey, at O’Malley’s behest, sacked Lenihan.

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O'Malley stepped down as leader of the PDs in 1993, but remained a TD for Limerick East until his retirement from active politics in 2002.

Dessie O'Malley with his wife Pat in 2007. Photo: Collins Photos

His wife, Pat, predeceased him in 2017. The couple had six children.

Among those who have paid tribute to the long-serving politician this morning, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said: "His was a life of courage and consequence. He loved his country and was fearless in challenging those who used violence to undermine it. We remember him at Government meeting today and my thoughts are with his family."

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said: "He broke the mould of Irish politics and left a lasting and positive legacy."

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said: "He broke the mould of Irish politics and left a lasting and positive legacy."

Limerick city Fianna Fáil TD Willie O'Dea said: "It is well known that there was alot of infighting in FF during the leadership of Charles Haughey, but even those on the opposing side to Des would concede that he had a powerful intellect. He was straight as an arrow with no hint of corruption ever. Des was deeply involved in a number of attempts to unseat Haughey as leader of FF and I supported him on each and every occasion. Had he succeeded, the history of FF might have been very different and I have no doubt that we'd be in a much better place than we are now.

In a message on Twitter, Mr O'Dea said O'Malley faced down a very serious threat to national security when he was Minister for Justice and was a brilliant Minister for Industry and Trade. "I think the State owes him a significant debt of gratitude," he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr O’Malley was “a true statesman”.

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