Profile: An outspoken political figure

A tough grafter, O’Keeffe enjoyed the electoral cut and thrust and spoke his mind

The suspended jail term for former Fianna Fáil TD Ned O’Keeffe marks the latest chapter in the long career of an outspoken and controversial politician who dominated politics in North Cork for over a quarter of a century. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

The suspended jail term for former Fianna Fáil TD Ned O’Keeffe marks the latest chapter in the long career of an outspoken and controversial politician who dominated politics in North Cork for over a quarter of a century. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The suspended jail term for former Fianna Fáil TD Ned O’Keeffe marks the latest chapter in the long career of an outspoken and controversial politician who dominated politics in North Cork for over a quarter of a century.

A multi-millionaire pig farmer, the father of five was nominated to Seanad Éireann in 1982 by then taoiseach Charles Haughey and was elected to Dáil Éireann in November of that year. He comfortably retained his seat at every subsequent election until his retirement in 2011.

A staunch supporter of Haughey, O’Keeffe reached his zenith politically when he was appointed Minister of State for Agriculture by Bertie Ahern in 1997, a position he held until he resigned in February 2001.

O’Keeffe’s resignation was sparked by an investigation by the Public Offices Commission which found he had inadvertently breached the Ethics in Public Office Act by failing to disclose his family farm’s licence to feed meat and bonemeal to pigs.

Ahern paid tribute to O’Keeffe for his “diligence and enthusiasm” in office but O’Keeffe later accused Ahern of reneging on a deal he claims they struck before Christmas 2000 which he said would have facilitated a move to another junior ministry, thus avoiding resignation.

Six years later O’Keeffe was again making headlines when he resigned from Fianna Fáil after abstaining on an opposition motion calling on then minister for health Mary Harney to resign. O’Keeffe said he was resigning because the health system was “a shambles”.

A hard worker when it came to constituency duties, Keeffe enjoyed the cut and thrust of politics and engaged in some tough and sharp exchanges over the years with constituency rival, the late Joe Sherlock.

O’Keeffe had a tempestuous relationship with fellow Fianna Fáil TD Michael Ahern and noticeably failed to reciprocate when Ahern paid tribute to him when they both announced that they would not be contesting the 2011 general election.

O’Keeffe made headlines internationally in 1995 when he called for a boycott of the film Babe about a talking pig to avoid damage to the Christmas ham trade.