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Sinn Féin TD recognises Des O’Malley’s contribution to politics

Des O’Malley ‘a senior politician who made his mark’, says Waterford TD David Cullinane

A senior Sinn Féin TD has said he would not “stand over” any threats made against politicians in the Republic during the Troubles.

Speaking in the wake of Des O'Malley's death, Sinn Féin TD for Waterford David Cullinane said he acknowledged the late Fianna Fáil minister's "contribution to Irish politics" and expressed sympathy to his family after his death.

Mr O’Malley, founder of the Progressive Democrats, was a long-standing opponent of the IRA and Sinn Féin during, and after, his political career.

In recent years he outlined how his life was under threat from the IRA while he was minister for justice during the height of Troubles violence in the 1970s. He also expressed concern at Sinn Féin’s electoral success over the last decade.


Responding to his death on Wednesday Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said Mr O’Malley was a very influential figure in Irish political life with a long record of public service.

Mr O'Malley was highly critical of Sinn Féin in his 2014 book, Conduct Unbecoming. He argued that party was the "big loser" and "The Provos have ended up doing all the things they said they would never do".

‘Murder and mayhem’

He wrote about watching “how the so-called republican movement has sought to reinvent itself, moving from support for murder and mayhem to occupying the anti-establishment space”.

Writing in 2014 he also said the IRA continued to engage in “very serious organised crime until very recently”.

He highlighted the killing of Det Garda Jerry McCabe in 1996. Four IRA men were convicted of McCabe’s manslaughter.

Mr O’Malley goes on to explain how he knew McCabe and Det Garda Ben O’Sullivan since the early 1970s when they were part of his protection detail after “the IRA had failed once to shoot me when I was Minister for Justice”.

In an interview with the Irish Times in 2014, Mr O'Malley said became accustomed to sleeping with a gun under his pillow as minister for justice. He said that while he pursued State business his wife, Pat, and four children were under Garda protection in Limerick, where Provo protesters "would throw red paint and, on occasion, a coffin into the front garden". The Co Tyrone pub run by Pat's family was blown up twice.

Mr O'Malley said he did not believe that then Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were genuine democrats.

He described Mary Lou McDonald as “an able lady in her own right” but he said Sinn Féin had “put up as the face of the party an innocent, a ‘lovely girl’”, and he argued she “is supposed to be an antidote to the appearance and the record of Adams and co”.

Mr O’Malley said he found the rise of Sinn Féin frightening, adding: “I detest what I see – I know what they have done.”

Several Sinn Féin TDs responded to these remarks.

Limerick City Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan said that Mr O'Malley was "well got" in Limerick city. "Obviously we were polar different in our political views. I wouldn't have accepted everything he said there . . . He has passed away and it's a sad time for his family."

Mr Quinlivan added that Mr O’Malley “had his position. We have our position.” He said he would have had “huge problems” with the politics of the Progressive Democrats.

‘Move towards neo-liberalism’

Regarding Mr O'Malley's comments in the 2014 interview, Sinn Féin's Kildare North TD Réada Cronin said "that's his opinion" and " lot's of people have opinions about the change that the PDs made" in what she said was the "move towards neo-liberalism".

She added: “I have no intention of speaking ill of the dead. I would give my sympathies to his family.”

Asked for his response to Mr O’Malley’s criticism of Sinn Féin, Mr Cullinane said “he obviously had very strong views in relation to Sinn Féin . . . and he expressed those views very robustly.” He said Mr O’Malley made a contribution to Irish politics. “I certainly have no animosity towards him.”

It was put to Mr Cullinane that Mr O’Malley had experience of having his life threatened by the IRA. The Waterford TD replied that this was “before my time in politics . . . But notwithstanding that I wouldn’t stand over any threats back then that were made against any politicians in the South if that was the case.”

Mr Cullinane also said: “That’s history. The IRA are gone. That’s something we can all celebrate. We have a very, very strong peace process that Sinn Féin was part of.” He concluded by saying Mr O’Malley was “a very senior politician who made his mark on Irish politics”.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times