‘A life of courage’: Former minister Des O’Malley dies aged 82

Progressive Democrats founder Des O’Malley was Minister for Justice during Arms Crisis

President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Micheál Martin have led the tributes to Des O'Malley, the founder of the Progressive Democrats and former Fianna Fáil minister, who has died aged 82.

He had been unwell for some time.

Mr O'Malley was elected as a TD for Limerick in 1968 and was appointed Minister for Justice during the Arms Crisis of 1970. A fierce opponent of Charles Haughey, he was expelled from Fianna Fáil in 1984 by Haughey and went on to found the Progressive Democrats in 1985, becoming its first leader.

He led the PDs into a coalition government with the Haughey-led Fianna Fáil in 1989, becoming Minister for Industry and Commerce and reaching an uneasy rapprochement with Haughey in Government.


It was the first coalition that Fianna Fáil participated in.

He stepped down as leader of the PDs in 1993, but remained a TD for Limerick East until his retirement from active politics in 2002.

His wife, Pat, predeceased him in 2017. The couple had six children.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Mr O’Malley showed “determination and commitment to making Ireland a better place”.

“His was a life of courage and consequence. He loved his country and was fearless in challenging those who used violence to undermine it,” he said.

“We remember him at the Government meeting today and my thoughts are with his friends and family.”

President Higgins said Mr O’Malley had a “major influence on Irish politics, and his legacy and integrity includes a major contribution to the role of coalitions in Irish government formation.”

He said those who had the privilege of working with him “will also remember him as courteous, courageous and principled. As a friend he was gifted with a wry sense of humour, which he shared with generosity and a gift for irony.”

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar described Mr O’Malley as a “giant of politics”.

He said: “He broke the mould of Irish politics and left a lasting and positive legacy” and added: “May he rest in peace.”

Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea paid tribute to his fellow Limerickman in a series of social media posts.

He said: “It is well known that there was a lot of infighting in Fianna Fáil during the leadership of Charles Haughey but even those on the opposing side to Des would concede that he had a powerful intellect.

“He was as straight as an arrow with no hint of corruption ever.”

Mr O’Dea added: “Des was deeply involved in a number of attempts to unseat Haughey as leader of Fianna Fáil and I supported him on each and every occasion.

“Had he succeeded, the history of Fianna Fáil might have been very different and I have no doubt that we’d be in a much better place than we are now.”

Mr O’Dea also said that Mr O’Malley “faced down a very serious threat to national security when he was Minister for Justice and was a brilliant Minister for Industry and Trade.

“I think the State owes him a significant debt of gratitude,” he said.

Former justice minister Charlie Flanagan said he is “very sorry to hear of the passing of Des O’Malley” who he said was “a man of courage and integrity”.

Mr Flanagan said: “didn’t always agree with his politics but admired him immensely.”

Fine Gael TD Ciarán Cannon, who was a subsequent leader of the Progressive Democrats, said: “Des O’Malley never saw politics as a means to enrichment, but rather a way to serve his country and its people, working in their interests throughout his life.”

He offered his “deepest sympathies” to Mr O’Malley’s family.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr O’Malley was “a true statesman”.

A private family funeral will take place on Friday at 12pm. The Mass will be available to view here.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times