Des O’Malley ‘served this country by standing by the Republic’, funeral service told

Progressive Democrats founder believed in ‘principles that are eternal truths’, Mary Harney tells congregation


Desmond O’Malley, the founder of the Progressive Democrats and former government minister, has been described at his funeral Mass in Dublin as a politician who “served this country by standing by the Republic”.

In a eulogy delivered during the Mass, Mary Harney, his lifelong political confidante and successor as leader of the PDs, said during his long career Mr O’Malley had given “voice to the very best part of our own human instinct, what is right and fair and equitable and law-abiding in society”.

The former tánaiste told the congregation: “He believed many things were bigger than political parties or politics, or money, or fame, or ambition.

“There were things worth risking everything for, principles that are eternal truths and that are abiding.”

She said while it might have been expedient for him to move away from certain things he never sought to do so.

“He embodied the essence of patriotism. For public servants who risked their lives, like [the late] Det Jerry McCabe or Det Ben O’Sullivan, they had in Des O’Malley [someone] who was prepared not only to stand up for them but to stand with them when they served their country.”

Of his form of republicanism, Ms Harney said: “He believed passionately that peace and reconciliation on this island was based on respect and appreciation of the different traditions, and not through the evil of violence, the threat of violence or the sneaking regard and ambivalence towards violence.

“Des O’Malley served this country by standing by a republic. He was a man of integrity, courage, freedom and reconciliation,” she added.

‘Authentic republicanism’

The Requiem Mass for Mr O’Malley (82), who died earlier this week after a long illness, was held at the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook.

The chief mourners were Mr O’Malley’s six children, Catherine, Hilary, Fiona, Desmond, Eoin and Maeve, his sister Denise, brother Joseph, his 13 grandchildren, and his sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.

President Michael D Higgins was in attendance along with his Aide-de-Camp Colonel Stephen Howard. Also in attendance was Commandant Brendan McEnerney, representing Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern also attended as did Independent Senator and former leader of the PDs, Michael McDowell. A number of other politicians and members of the judiciary were present.

The chief concelebrant of the Mass was Fr Gerard O’Connor CSsR, of the Redemptorist Order, along with Fr Brian Nolan CSsR, a Redemptorist, and Fr Leonard Maloney SJ, the provincial of the Jesuits in Ireland. Fr Kieran O’Mahony of Donnybrook welcomed the congregation – which was restricted to 50 people because of Covid-19 restrictions – and recalled that Mr O’Malley and his late wife Pat, who predeceased him in 2017, had married in the same church.

In his homily, Fr O’Connor said Mr O’Malley could be “robust in debate, utterly frank, often right. He could also be tender and gentle and giving, witty and funny.”

He said Mr O’Malley had an “enlightened vision of authentic republicanism”.

‘Never ashamed’

In a personal tribute, Mr O’Malley’s son Eoin recalled, among other things, his father’s love of Limerick, his family, their late mother, horse racing, sport and playing golf in Connemara during the summer.

Eoin O’Malley said that politics takes a toll on politicians and their families, which makes it sometimes difficult. He said, however, he and his five siblings “were never ashamed of being his children”.

He said his father was a different person in private to the public persona and said he told many stories about growing up in Limerick and his young days in politics.

He said given his father’s slight and non-imposing figure, they found it hilarious the image of him carrying a gun when minister for justice.

Fr O’Connor’s homily referred to Mr O’Malley’s directness. He quoted the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who wrote: “it’s not your job to be likeable, it is your job to like yourself”.

“He never quite dropped the habit of calling a spade a spade. His famous 1985 Dáil speech [where he vowed to stand by the Republic) demonstrated he was never going to be one of the lads,” said Fr O’Connor.

Noting his appointment as minister for justice at the age of 31, when violence on the island was escalating, Fr O’Connor said he “displayed capacity, tenacity and courage that was instrumental in enhancing our democracy”.

In her eulogy delivered from the altar after communion, Ms Harney referred to the fact that Mr O’Malley had voted in the Dublin Bay South byelection earlier this month, despite his illness.

“His political instincts were always rooted in what was the right thing to do. He wanted to exercise the franchise and [to say], please don’t take our democracy for granted.”

She said above all else he was a proud Limerickman, who enjoyed nothing more than reading the local news in the Limerick Leader.

He said his late wife Pat was a solid support who gave him unstinting love.

Turning to his views on the economy and enterprise, she said his aim was to remove the State’s “vice-like grip” on aviation, transport, utilities and even food production.

She concluded by saying his most important legacy was his own family, his late wife Pat, his six children, of whom he was very proud, and his 13 grandchildren.