Donogh O’Malley’s speech announcing free secondary education recreated by son

Actor Daragh O’Malley delivers father’s seminal 1967 announcement

The son of former minister for education Donogh O’Malley’s has recreated his father’s seminal speech from just over 50 years ago in which he announced plans for free second-level education.

While no footage of the annoucement survives, actor Daragh O'Malley has recorded the full speech as part of a new advertising campaign.

The Fianna Fáil education minister famously made his announcement without the knowledge or sanction of the Department of Finance on Saturday 10th September, 1966.

Free second level education, which was introduced in September 1967, is now widely seen as a milestone in Irish history.


While it was not a radical policy in European terms - many of our neighbours had free second level education - it had radical consequences for social mobility and cultural change.

At the time, about a third – or 17,000 children – who finished primary school were dropping out of education.

At 15 years of age fewer than 50 per cent were still in full-time education, while by 16, only 36 per cent were still at school.

Nowadays, about 90 per cent of secondary school students complete second level education and Ireland has one of the highest levels of third level participation in the world.

Mr O'Malley's speech features as part of a commercial by an ad agency, In the Company of Huskies, for Allianz Ireland under the campaign theme "we cover courage'.

Damian Hanley, creative director of In the Company of Huskies, said seeing Daragh O’Malley delivering his father’s speech was “electrifying”.

“It felt like we were there 53 years ago. It was an emotional moment for Daragh, who said it was one of the proudest moments of his career," he said.

“This says it all considering the talented theatre and film actor has featured in many movies including the cult classic film Withnail and I.”

Sean McGrath, CEO of Allianz Ireland, said the announcement helped bring about seismic change in society.

“This has transformed our society beyond all recognition. It can be easy to overlook the huge courage it took to announce this, but he believed this would help us overcome poverty and once announced, it could not be taken back,” he said. “Free education has been a core element of our society’s evolution.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent