Career built on highly popular Limerick base

 

PROFILE:WILLIE O’DEA’S political career has been built on an extraordinarily popular base in Limerick, where he has been the dominant politician for a generation.

The 57-year-old Fianna Fáil TD, brought up in Co Limerick, studied law in UCD and later at the King’s Inns. He is also a qualified accountant and practised as a barrister, as an accountant and as a lecturer.

With his thick moustache and Limerick accent, Mr O’Dea has been an immediately recognisable figure in Irish public life, who has been parodied from time to time. But underneath lies what colleagues consider to be a quick intellect and a stubbornness of character that can make him a formidable adversary.

O’Dea was first elected to the Dáil for the Limerick East constituency in 1982, at the age of 30. His constituency colleague was Des O’Malley, who like him was opposed to the leadership of Charles Haughey. He was a member of the Gang of 22 that voted against Haughey in a failed leadership heave.

However, when O’Malley and others formed the Progressive Democrats in late 1985, O’Dea remained in Fianna Fáil.

During that time, he began building up a formidable base in Limerick that rivalled the personal vote-getting operations of colleagues such as Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen.

A regular poll-topper since the 1980s, he secured an astounding 19,082 votes in the 2007 general election, over twice the quota of 8,230, with Fianna Fáil colleague Peter Power having to rely on his surplus to secure his election.

His first experience as minister came in 1992 when Albert Reynolds appointed him to a junior Department of Justice post. Over the next 12 years he was appointed as minister of state in three departments.

His breakthrough to the senior ranks came in 2004, when he was appointed minister for defence in Ahern’s reshuffle that autumn. He was retained in defence over two reshuffles.

O’Dea oversaw the continued modernisation of the Army, and, latterly, decreases in its annual budget. More women have been recruited to the Defence

Forces during his term, and he paved the way for the first deployment of Irish troops for the Eufor mission in Chad.

A regular media performer, O’Dea was one of the Ministers who appeared regularly on TV to defend the Government’s stance, often assuming an adversarial style against opponents.

When Dell announced it was closing its Limerick operation with the loss of 1,900 jobs in late 2008, he accompanied Tánaiste Mary Coughlan to Texas in a vain bid to have the decision reversed. He was also highly critical of Aer Lingus’s decision to end direct flights from Shannon to Heathrow in 2007.

More recently, he admitted the Government would not be in a position to provide its €1.7 billion share of the €3 billion regeneration plan for Limerick.

O'DEA RESIGNATION LETTER

A Thaoisigh,

It is with the deepest regret that in accordance with article 28.9.2 of the Constitution, I wish to formally tender my resignation as Minister for Defence with effect from today.

I have at all times acted in the interests of the Government and of the people I have been honoured to represent. It is my belief that I have always acted honourably and in good faith in the conduct of my duties as a Minister. While I resolutely refute all the accusations made against me in recent days, I have come to the regrettable conclusion that my continuing in office will only serve to distract from the important and vital work of the Government in addressing the serious challenges that the country continues to face at this time.

I was privileged to serve in Government over the past five and a half years. I believe my record as a Minister has been to the benefit of the Defence Forces and the Government.

Yours sincerely,

Willie O’Dea TD,

Minister for Defence

COWEN LETTER

 Dear Willie,

It is with sincere regret that I received your resignation letter as Minister for Defence which I will now submit to the President in accordance with the Constitution.

On the basis of our conversation, I very much appreciate that your decision reflects your own desire to ensure that the important work of Government is not diverted by the current controversy.

I want to thank you for your hard work and commitment in carrying out your duties as Minister. I believe that you have made a significant contribution to the Governments in which you have served and have shown great skill in overseeing the modernisation of the Defence Forces.

I look forward to continuing to work with you in Dáil Éireann.

Yours sincerely,

Brian Cowen TD,

Taoiseach