O’Malley lived life of ‘courage and consequence’, Taoiseach says

PDs founder and ex-FF minister ‘spoke truth and matched it with his actions’, says Harney

With his expulsion from Fianna Fáil and his founding of the Progressive Democrats, Des O’Malley change the landscape of Irish politics. Photograph: Alan Betson

With his expulsion from Fianna Fáil and his founding of the Progressive Democrats, Des O’Malley change the landscape of Irish politics. Photograph: Alan Betson

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Des O’Malley, who died yesterday aged 82, lived a life of “courage and consequence”, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said, while President Michael D Higgins praised his “outstanding example of dedicated public service, often delivered under great pressure”.

Mr O’Malley was in the front line of politics for 3½ decades, first as a leading member of Fianna Fáil, then as the leader of the internal opposition in that party to the leadership of Charles Haughey, before being expelled from the party by Haughey and going on to found the Progressive Democrats (PDs).

He went on to form a coalition government with Haughey, a step which changed Irish politics forever; every government since has been a coalition. He brought the PDs into government where the party exercised immense influence on economic policy during the Celtic Tiger period which ended only with the economic crash of 2008. There were few more significant figures in Irish politics during the period.

His protégée and successor as leader of the Progressive Democrats Mary Harney said: “He spoke the truth and matched it with his actions. At a very troubled time in our country, his bravery was rare. He was the finest public servant I have had the privilege to know.”

Arms crisis

First elected in 1968 at the age of 29 in the byelection caused by the death of his uncle Donogh, Mr O’Malley would go on to represent Limerick in the Dáil until his retirement in 2002. He became minister for justice during the arms crisis of 1970, when Fianna Fáil ministers Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney were sacked by taoiseach Jack Lynch over allegations that they had conspired to import arms for use by the IRA in Northern Ireland, where the Troubles had recently ignited.

Seeking to prevent the violence in the North from spilling into the Republic, Mr O’Malley pursued a hard line against the IRA, and he and his young family were forced to live under garda protection. Later, he became minister for industry and commerce.

But it was his expulsion from Fianna Fáil and his founding of the Progressive Democrats that saw Mr O’Malley change the landscape of Irish politics. “He broke the mould of Irish politics,” Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said. It had been his stated objective.