Saturday 22 October 2016

Obituary: Bobby Molloy

Noel Grealish on the legacy of a master political strategist whose hard work was consistently rewarded at the polls

Noel Grealish

Published 09/10/2016 | 02:30

Skill: Former Minister for Energy Bobby Molloy led voters to abandon Fianna Fail in their droves to support the fledgling Progressive Democrats in 1986. Photo: Tony Gavin
Skill: Former Minister for Energy Bobby Molloy led voters to abandon Fianna Fail in their droves to support the fledgling Progressive Democrats in 1986. Photo: Tony Gavin

Bobby Molloy was one of the hardest working and most honest politicians that Ireland has known, a man of great integrity and also one of the most politically astute, a great friend to have in your corner.

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He was loved by the people of Galway, whom he represented for almost four decades as a TD, since he was first elected in 1965, at the young age of 28. He filled the third of three seats then, but over the next eight elections he topped the poll in Galway West.

He loved Galway and its people … and when he parted company with Fianna Fail and Charlie Haughey in 1986 to join the fledgling Progressive Democrats, they stood by him in their droves.

That January night in Salthill's Leisureland when he sensationally left Fianna Fail to join the new party was one of the most dramatic events that Galway has ever seen.

I was there that night, among the thousands of people crammed into the venue and thousands more outside and I'll never forget the buzz in the air, the feeling of expectation and hope for the future, that if someone like Bobby Molloy was joining up, this was something that could only be good for the country.

It's a reflection of the admiration and affection that the people of Galway had for him that so many changed their political allegiances from Fianna Fail and other parties too, among them some of the leading local figures like the then Mayor Bridie O'Flaherty and Cllr Martin Connolly.

It was down to him that Galway was to have one of the strongest constituency organisations within the Progressive Democrats in the years ahead.

I had first met Bobby some years before as a teenager, when he was the senior Fianna Fail TD in the constituency and I was an Ogra Fianna Fail delegate to the Comhairle Dail Ceanntair.

There were some tough meetings upstairs in Richardson's or in Flannery's Hotel in the city, where you had 'big hitters' like Mark Killilea, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn and Frank Fahy. There were nights when you'd have skin and hair flying, but Bobby's was always the voice of reason.

He was also the mastermind behind so much of Fianna Fail's and the Progressive Democrats' political strategies in the constituency - a skill that was to serve me well years later, in 2002, when Bobby retired from politics and the Progressive Democrats leadership decided that the party should run just one candidate in Galway West. He insisted that we should run three and eventually got his way.

I stood for election alongside Galway City councillors Donal Lyons and Declan McDonnell, in a carefully planned campaign in Galway West that Bobby dubbed the Old Time Waltz - 1-2-3.

Of all the TDs elected to the Dail that year, I had secured the second lowest number of first preference votes … but in subsequent counts I got the highest percentage of transfers in the country from my running mates and retained Bobby's seat.

It was a masterstroke by Bobby, one that is presented in third level institutions today as a perfect example of how the PR electoral system can work.

Bobby wasn't in politics for self-gratification though. He worked extremely hard for the people of Galway and for the country as a TD over 37 years and in his time in various Ministries, and achieved a huge amount for both. He leaves behind a huge legacy.

While he presented a serious front, he was a man with a great sense of humour. He was a great family man - Phyllis was his rock and he always spoke with great love of his children, Sinead, Sorcha, Daragh and Donncha.

He was never happier than when holidaying in Connemara or the Aran Islands with his family. Bobby was a Gaeilgeoir and he had a great love and affinity for the Irish language.

He was my inspiration in politics, but also my great friend, my confidant. We will miss him greatly. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.

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