'He was brilliant when the rocks and bottles were flying' - tributes pour in as former political strategist PJ Mara (73) passes away
Published 15/01/2016 | 06:55
Former political strategist and lobbyist PJ Mara has passed away at the age of 73.
Charles Haughey's enforcer and close confidante had been in hospital since late last year and died overnight, independent.ie has learned.
He was regarded as the 'king of spin' and played a central role in the careers of both Mr Haughey and Bertie Ahern.
In 2013 he became a father for the second time and had continued to work and travel extensively for Digicel.
Mr Mara will be best remembered as Mr Haughey's trusted political advisor who was regularly mimicked by comedian Dermot Morgan on RTE's Scrap Saturday in the early 1990s.
He also served as a senator for a brief period between 1981 and 1982 after being nominated by Mr Haughey.
His notoriety in Irish politics began to grow between 1983 and 1987 when he filled the roll of press secretary to Fianna Fáil.
In 1987 he was appointed Government Press Secretary and remained in that position until 1992 when he moved into the private sector.
However, he returned to Fianna Fáil as director of election to help Bertie Ahern secure a history three election wins in 1997, 2002 and 2007.
Speaking after the birth of his daughter in 2013, Mr Mara said that he had become a father again "later than you planned".
But he was delighted, describing the little girl as "a beautiful baby". "It’s a new life it’s interesting, it keeps me engaged and another responsibility," he said.
More recently he was depicted by Tom Vaughan Lawlor in the RTE drama 'Charlie'.
Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin paid tribute to Mr Mara this morning.
"It was with great sadness that I learned this morning of the passing of PJ Mara.
"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, judgement and commitment to the role.
"As Government Press Secretary for five years he brought a new energy and professionalism to the role which was recognised throughout Europe during the 1990 Presidency of the European Council.
"Whether it was international statesmen or a local party stalwart PJ was always available to encourage and support.
"PJ was a true original who it was an honour and a pleasure to know and to work with.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has also paid tribute to Mr Mara.
On Today with Sean O’Rourke this morning, Mr Ahern said Mr Mara “was a really loyal and good friend”.
Mr Ahern said: “I have been close to him since the early 1970s since I joined Fianna Fail. I knew him from growing up in north Dublin and we all knew each other.
“PJ was a wonderful person. He was hugely clever and smart. He could handle any situation. The most tense battles in Leinster House – PJ would be at the heart of it. He was never one to dodge a fight as some people do in politics.
“But he was always a bit of fun when the rocks and bottles were flying in Leinster House. Some of the schemes he would come up to get out of the mess were brilliant.
“There was nobody better to be spending time. I travelled the length and breath of the country with him in the 1970s –and he was always wonderful company.
“He made a huge contribution to Irish political life and he had a wide array of friends from across the political spectrum.
“PJ was never afraid to stand at the top of a room or push people aside if they got in his way in the political corridors.
“I had loads of great times with him – wondering how we would get Charlie [Haughey] to calm down and save all our skins.”
Broadcaster and journalist Eamon Dunphy also paid tribute this morning.
“He was always a distinguished figure. Even as a kid, he always had a presence about him. He was always going somewhere.
"He was a brilliant man and very erudite."
He recounted a story about Mr Mara being the "perfect host" to two representatives from the British Government who had been sent over after Charlie Haughey was elected leader of Fianna Fail.
"He held court in the Horseshoe Bar and was so charming, you could see these guys 'well is this is press guy, what's the leader like'?
"He was brilliant at his job and he understood politics," Mr Dunphy. "He knew how to win elections - you have to remember he was at the heart of three political victories for Fianna Fail."
He served on the board of Unicef Ireland, and its chairman Paul Connolly paid tribute:
"While PJ was best known for his work in the political and communications sphere, it was his deep personal commitment to the cause of children's rights that drew him to support UNICEFs work for children throughout the world.
"PJ was a valued director of Unicef Ireland and he brought his vast experience to bear in support of the board of directors.
"PJ made a huge contribution to Unicef and he will be sadly missed."
He also served on the board of Digicel.
“PJ Mara was an amazing friend, colleague and intellect who made an indelible impression on everybody he worked with," Digicel chairman Denis O'Brien said.
"He joined the Digicel Board in 2003 and made a vast contribution to our strategic direction and growth. He was an astute adviser and a tremendous and insightful ambassador. We will miss him dearly and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and Sheila."
Special Olympics Ireland also paid tribute to Mr Mara:
"As a member of the board of the 2003 Special Olympics World Games, PJ Mara used his considerable experience and insight of media relations to advise on how the media could assist in stirring the imagination and generating the enthusiasm among cities, towns and communities across the island to embrace the thousands of athletes from around the world and their families during their stay in Ireland.
"He used his knowledge and contacts to ensure that the goodwill of all government departments and politicians was harnessed for the sucess of the Games.
"He continued his support for Special Olympics Ireland as a member of the Board of Patrons Of Special Olympics Ireland over many years up until his sad passing.”
Former ICTU General Secretary David Begg also paid tribute this morning and offered his condolences to Mr Mara's family.
"I didn't know PJ all that well but I met him a number of times over the years and he always struck me as being an extremely nice man.
Personal friend and journalist David Davin-Power told RTE Morning Ireland that PJ "never forgot where he came from".
"He knew how the media worked, he knew you had to be a bit of a comedian at times," he said.
"He was very likeable, the kind of figure you don't really see nowadays but could still give a tongue lashing to men like myself.