Obituary: Brendan McGahon

Outspoken TD who bravely took a stand against Provisional IRA

 Brendan McGahon:  November 22nd, 1936-February 9th, 2017. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Brendan McGahon: November 22nd, 1936-February 9th, 2017. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

Brendan McGahon was one of the most colourful and outspoken TDs of recent decades but he was also a man of enormous courage who risked his safety and possibly his life in the struggle against terrorism.

He expressed controversial views that sometimes bordered on the outrageous but he was unfailingly courteous in personal relations and often got on better with his political foes than his Fine Gael party colleagues.

The most notable aspect of his political career was his stand against the Provisional IRA when that organisation’s campaign of violence was at its height. At great personal risk he refused to close his newsagents shop in Dundalk during the funerals of the hunger strikers in 1981.

He took another huge risk a few years later when he gave evidence in the High Court is support of the Sunday Times, which was being sued for libel by Thomas “Slab” Murphy. Local gardaí were ordered not to get involved in that case but McGahon was not deterred from giving evidence that helped the newspaper to defend the claims being made against it by Mr Murphy.

Death penalty

Mr McGahon held strongly conservative views on a number of issues. He opposed the abolition of the death penalty, advocated chemical castration for rapists and paedophiles, was a member of the World anti-Communist League and opposed the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

On the other hand he spoke out strongly against the influence of the drink industry and defied his own party whip to vote with his left-wing friend Tony Gregory in favour of banning of hare-coursing. He was also on good personal terms with members of the Oireachtas such as Michael D Higgins and David Norris despite holding fundamentally opposed views to them.

He was a Fine Gael TD for 20 years from 1982 until 2002 and during that time gained a reputation for taking conservative positions on social issues but he widely liked in Leinster House for his conviviality and sense of fun. He regularly socialised with TDs who had very different views to his own. A non-drinker, he was a vocal critic of the drinks industry, but was a big fan of horse racing and liked to attend race meetings and have the occasional flutter on the horses.

He was keenly interested in sport and played soccer for Dundalk FC in the League of Ireland for a number of years.

Born in Dundalk in 1936, Brendan McGahon was educated at St Mary’s College in Dundalk. After leaving school he went to work in the family newspaper distribution business. He married Celine Lundy from Newry, Co Down, and the couple had five children, three boys and two girls.

Steeped in politics

McGahon came from a family steeped in Irish politics. His grandfather, TF McGahon, was one of the inaugural members of Dundalk Urban District Council when Irish local authorities were first established in 1898. TF McGahon was a leading member of the Irish Parliamentary Party. He started a local newspaper, the Dundalk Democrat which was supportive of the Irish Party and critical of the IRA campaign in the War of Independence which he forecast would inevitably result in the partition of Ireland.

He was succeeded on the council by his son, OB McGahon who, in turn, was followed by his nephew, Hugh McGahon. With the demise of the Irish Party and its successor the National League the family joined Fine Gael in the 1930s. Brendan McGahon became involved in politics when he succeeded his cousin Hugh, on Dundalk Town Council and on Louth County Council at the 1979 local elections. He was an unsuccessful candidate at the 1981 general election and at the February 1982 general election when he was narrowly edged out by his Fine Gael running mate Bernard Markey.

He had the good fortune to be elected to the Dáil in November 1982, replacing Mr Markey, as the Fine Gael-Labour government led by Garret FitzGerald lasted for more than four years and gave him time to consolidate his seat.

McGahon held his seat at the next five general elections. He retired from politics in 2002 and did not contest the election that year. His son Conor, was a councillor from 1991 to 1999 and his brother, Johnny, a councillor until 2004. His nephew, John McGahon, was elected to Louth County Council at the 2014 local elections.

Speaking on Louth Meath FM in 2011, Brendan said that becoming a politician required a personality, not a party. His own successful political career was certainly evidence of that. Former Fine Gael taoiseach John Bruton provided what was probably the best summing up of Mr McGahon’s career, saying, “Brendan was an exceptionally courageous politician who stood up for the democratic institutions of the State. He was a true original who thought for himself.”

He was predeceased by his wife Celine and is survived by his sons and daughters Robert, Conor, Adele, Keith and Jill; his brother Johnny, sisters Anita Murphy, Mary Cotter, Julie Mc Mahon, and Marcella Mc Bride.