PJ Mara, Fianna Fáil’s supreme strategist, dies at 73

Key Haughey adviser was also director of elections for Ahern’s three victories

The late PJ Mara and former Fianna Fáil  leader Bertie Ahern, who said Mara was “able to handle almost any situation”. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

The late PJ Mara and former Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern, who said Mara was “able to handle almost any situation”. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

Tributes have been paid to Patrick Joseph (PJ) Mara, the former government press secretary and Fianna Fáil strategist, who died yesterday aged 73.

Mr Mara was a key adviser and confidant to former taoiseach Charles J Haughey throughout his political career. Mr Haughey twice appointed him to the Seanad.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny described Mr Mara as someone who was “loyal” to his party leaders, while Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin described him as a “true original” who “was an honour and a pleasure” to know and work with.

Mr Kenny, speaking at the opening of a new €1.4 million cystic fibrosis day care centre in Mayo University Hospital, said: “He was a figure and a personality that I knew very well myself from my years in the Dáil. When he had to make decisions or recommend decisions he was not afraid to do so.”

Mr Martin, whose party’s ardfheis takes place in Dublin today, said he was sad to learn of Mr Mara’s death. Mr Mara was also director of elections for Fianna Fáil for Bertie Ahern’s three-in-a-row victories in 1997, 2002 and 2007. “In a series of general elections, as well as the referendum on the Good Friday agreement, PJ proved himself to be the most effective campaign director in Irish political history. He brought immense humour, judgment and commitment to the role.

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Mr Ahern, who knew Mr Mara while growing up in Drumcondra, described his friend as “hugely clever and smart”.

“Sometimes depicted as not so, but very bright, able to handle almost any situation,” Mr Ahern told RTÉ Radio. “The tensest of battles in Leinster House, the toughest of days, PJ would be at the heart of it.”

Mr Haughey’s son Seán, standing for Fianna Fáil in Dublin Bay North in the general election, described Mr Mara as “an amazing man”.

Tánaiste Joan Burton said there were “probably two PJ Maras, as is true of a lot of people in public life”.

“One was the private PJ, who as we know was a dedicated servant of Fianna Fail and successive Fianna Fáil taoisigh over a long period of time. And who also had a very witty contribution to things like press conferences.

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Mr Mara was also a member of the board of Digicel, the telecommunications company run by businessman Denis O’Brien.

In a statement, Mr O’Brien described Mr Mara as “an amazing friend, colleague and intellect who made an indelible impression on everybody he worked with”.

Soccer pundit Eamon Dunphy, a close friend of Mr Mara, said he was a “fabulous guy”.

“He had the gift of friendship. He was erudite, very well read and very funny. He was in a tough world. Politics at that time was brutal. We knew each other really well for a very long time. He was a marvellous man. Obviously I didn’t subscribe to the Fianna Fáil ethos, but it didn’t matter.”

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Mr Mara is survived by his partner Sheila, children John and Elena. He was pre-deceased by his wife Breda, from Kinvara, Co Galway, who died in 2003.