Former minister for health John O'Connell dies aged 83
Dr John O'Connell moved from the Labour benches to eventually settle with Fianna Fáil. photograph: dara macdónaill.
Former minister for health and ceann comhairle Dr John O’Connell has died at the age of 83.
A maverick in the political world, Dr O’Connell moved during a long career from the Labour benches to the ranks of Independents and finally to Fianna Fáil.
He served as a Labour TD for 16 years in Dublin South West, from 1965 until his resignation in 1981 after a number of clashes with the party leadership. Re-elected in 1981 in Dublin South Central as an Independent, he took the Fianna Fáil whip in 1983.
Dr O’Connell was also a successful Labour Party candidate in the first direct elections to the European parliament in 1979. He resigned as an MEP on becoming ceann comhairle in June 1981, a position he held until December 1982.
He lost his Dublin South Central seat in 1987. But he reclaimed it in 1989 after two years in the Seanad as a nominee of then taoiseach Charles Haughey.
Dr O’Connell was appointed minister for health by incoming taoiseach Albert Reynolds. He held the post for just 11 months, from February 1992 until January 1993, and resigned his seat the following month on health grounds.As minister for health he is best remembered for liberalising Irish family planning laws and for the introduction of condom dispensing machines, previously banned.
Dr O’Connell had supported Mr Reynolds when he resigned from Mr Haughey’s government and in 2005 he told the makers of the RTÉ documentary series Haughey he had secured a letter of resignation from the then taoiseach weeks before his resignation in 1992 over a phone tapping scandal.
He was a GP and successful businessman, founding the Irish Medical Times.
President Michael D Higgins recalled Dr O’Connell as a colleague deeply committed to his constituents in Dublin. “His concern for the socially deprived . . . continued through the various offices he held”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin described him as an “innovative minister with a radical approach to politics”.
Tánaiste and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said “although he parted company with Labour in 1981, he always endeavoured to remain on good terms with his former colleagues”.
Former Dublin South Central constituency colleague Labour TD Eric Byrne said Dr O’Connell was deeply honoured to be minister for health and brought determination to that role.