FF minister whose dislike of Haughey hurt his career

John O’Leary: May 3rd, 1933 - October 5th, 2015

John O’Leary: believed that Charles Haughey was aware of the tapping of journalists’ phones in the early 1980s.  Photograph: Paddy Whelan

John O’Leary: believed that Charles Haughey was aware of the tapping of journalists’ phones in the early 1980s. Photograph: Paddy Whelan

 

John O’Leary, who has died aged 82, was a former Fianna Fáil TD for the Kerry South constituency and minister of state at the Department of the Environment.

Able, astute and a highly successful vote-getter, his ministerial career was cut short when he supported George Colley over Charles Haughey in the 1979 Fianna Fáil leadership contest.

Haughey sacked him and he was never to see ministerial office again.

Although intensely loyal to the party, his poor relationship with the new leader continued and he was scathing about the Haughey era in his autobiography, On The Doorsteps: Memoirs of a long-serving TD, published earlier this year, writing that Haughey himself could be “vindictive’’ and that many of his supporters were “thugs’’.

He also claimed that a meeting he had with Haughey convinced him that the then taoiseach, in spite of his denials, was aware of the tapping of journalists’ phones in the early 1980s. The controversy eventually led to Haughey’s resignation as taoiseach in 1992.

O’Leary came from a farming background, worked as a local authority official with Kerry County Council and was involved in the GAA before entering politics. The 1966 Kerry South byelection, which brought him into the Dáil, where he served until his retirement in 1997, was Jack Lynch’s first electoral test as taoiseach. Lynch appointed him to a junior ministry in 1977.

Bridge-building

Blaney, who had moved from the local government (now environment) portfolio to agriculture, sent his ministerial driver to Dublin to collect the file on the proposed bridge from his old department.

O’Leary and himself visited the island on a Sunday and committed the government to funding the bridge at an after-Mass meeting in the presence of the then parish priest, Fr John Beasley, a strong advocate of the project.

A key activist in the byelection campaign was Gerard Collins, then assistant general secretary of the party and later TD for Limerick West and a senior government minister. O’Leary and himself forged a friendship that endured.

O’Leary was also a close friend of former taoiseach Brian Cowen, who wrote a foreword for his autobiography, launched the book in Killarney and delivered the oration at his funeral.

During his years in the Dáil, O’Leary carefully nursed his constituency, frankly admitting in his autobiography that he ensured supporters occupied key positions in the local organisation. He spoke on various issues in the chamber, but time had run out for him in terms of ministerial advancement when the Haughey era ended.

He is survived by his seven sons and 10 grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife, Judy.