Dr John O’Connell’s legacy

Sir, – Marie O’Halloran (Home News, March 9th) writes of Dr John O’Connell: “As Minister for Health he is best remembered for liberalising Irish family planning laws and for the introduction of condom dispensing machines”.

In saying this she is depicting the good doctor as a liberaliser and a reformer, when in fact he was no such thing. This ultimate Amendment to Haughey’s The Health (Family Planning) Act 1979, passed during O’Connell’s tenure as Minister, was the culmination of 20 years of bitter struggle during which many, including this writer, played pivotal roles and during which Dr O’Connell was at best mute.

In fact, far from being a liberaliser in matters of private morality, Dr O'Connell supported Haughey's infamous "Irish solution to an Irish problem" every inch of the way. I was at a drinks party, hosted by John O'Connell, in December 1978 where Charles Haughey, as guest of honour, announced to the assembled doctors, his solution that would put money in all our pockets! This was supposed to be funny!

Later, in 1985, Dr O'Connell in fact voted against Barry Desmond 's modest bill designed to take condoms off doctor's prescriptions. There are many things that I admired about John O'Connell, not least the fact that he was a self-made man who enjoyed such success both in politics and in business. But as a principled politician dedicated to helping his supporters escape the yoke of Catholic dominance and intrusion into their private lives, he failed repeatedly and miserably. His "principle" was to go with the flow of political expediency.I happen to know this because I lived through it. – Yours, etc,




Co Kildare.