Brendan McGahon: Fine Gael’s ever-quotable ‘law and order man’

Death of Louth TD draws veil over era of political sensibility once to fore in public life

Brendan McGahon:  “In 10 to 20 years brothers will be marrying sisters because of the dreadful problems in society today.” Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Brendan McGahon: “In 10 to 20 years brothers will be marrying sisters because of the dreadful problems in society today.” Photograph: Matt Kavanagh


Brendan McGahon was part of a political tribe now vanished from public life in Ireland.

He was a self-confessed Fine Gael “law and order man” who had views on social issues that would be regarded as repellent today, but had widespread support in the past.

He was the grandson of the founder of the Dundalk Democrat, son of a journalist and inherited his father’s mastery of words. He remains one of the most quotable politicians ever in Irish public life.

His candour on social issues also extended to his deep, abiding hatred of the Provisional IRA.

Even those who disagreed with him on his social views admired him for his stance on the IRA in his home town of Dundalk.

“He was extremely courageous in speaking out against the Provos in a constituency that was rife with them,” said Senator David Norris.

Senator Norris said much of Mr McGahon’s colourful use of language, notoriously calling the decriminalisation Bill on homosexuality a “wankers’ charter”, was rooted in a “love of publicity rather than any animosity towards gay people”.

Mr McGahon described gay people as being “like left-hand drivers driving on the right-hand side of the road”.

His favourite phrase was to invoke the wisdom of the “man on the street” whenever he sought to make a controversial point.

The “man on the street” told him that the Irish people did not want to get rid of the death penalty, he told the Dáil in 2001.

The man on the street told him that paedophiles should have got “what is given in the southern States of America – chemical castration”.

Against the wisdom of the common man were, as he told The Irish Times in 1991, an “avalanche of do-gooders, liberals, bleeding hearts”.

He recommended they go to the Isle of Man where the birch was still in use as it had turned the island “into the most peaceful little haven in Europe”.

In 1997 he said the rise in the number of single parents was leading society into an abyss.

“In 10 to 20 years brothers will be marrying sisters because of the dreadful problems in society today,” he said.

“I do not begrudge single mothers payment from the State but it should be limited to two children, not five or six. In doing that we are encouraging promiscuity under the guise of a caring concept.”


Mr McGahon was from the conservative wing of Fine Gael, but he could be surprisingly liberal on some occasions. He declared in 1986 that he would voting Yes in the forthcoming divorce referendum.

“Although I tend to be conservative by nature, I have to confess that on this issue I have liberal views,” he told the Dáil.

“For many generations Irish people have been fed on the diet of the God of wrath. I have enough belief in God, a simple belief, to expect that nobody will be consigned to the dungeons of Hell because they failed to make their marriage work.”

He reserved his greatest invective though for the Provisional IRA and for Sinn Féin. He described Gerry Adams as akin to the notorious Nazi doctor “Dr Mengele, the Angel of Death”.

His primary motivation in getting involved in national politics was to stand up to the IRA. He was consistent on that principle throughout his political career.

He told The Irish Times: “I am a very humble backbencher. I have no pretensions. I do not have the qualities to be a minister. I always lacked ambition . . . But I do have the ability, the courage to speak out against the underlying problem which is the root cause of the economic troubles of this country and that is the IRA, the terror involved and the ambivalence that permeates Irish life with regard to the IRA.

“The only thing I have is my courage. Nothing else. A lot of people worry for me. My family worry for me. But you have to got to take a stand against the IRA. You’ve got to. Just look what they have done in the Louth area.”