Tuesday 25 April 2017

Pat O'Malley - wife of Des O'Malley and the woman who 'almost scuppered the Progressive Democrats' - has died

Pat O'Malley and her husband Des O'Malley, with their daughter Fiona (centre)
Pat O'Malley and her husband Des O'Malley, with their daughter Fiona (centre)
John Downing

John Downing

Pat O’Malley, wife of the founder of the Progressive Democrats, Des, has died.

News of the death comes as the former Limerick politician, who clashed repeatedly with Charlie Haughey in the early 1980s, marked his 78th birthday today.

Mrs O’Malley, originally from Co Tyrone, met her husband while the two were students at UCD. 

She was a lifelong support to him from the time of his first by-election win in May 1968 to replace his late uncle, Donogh, who was a popular Education Minister who brought in free second level schooling.

But she took considerable convincing about the foundation of the Progressive Democrats and even threatened to publicly disrupt the launch in December 1985. She also went out of her way to warn potential activists that her husband was “difficult.”

While people respected rather-liked Des O’Malley, who can be very irascible, Pat O’Malley was popular for her unfailing good humour and courtesy. In the Limerick suburb of Corbally, where the family lived for many years, she was known to neighbours as “the real TD.”

Mrs O’Malley first came to national attention in February 26, 1985, when she greeted her husband as he left a Fianna Fáil meeting after being expelled from the entire organisation for “conduct unbecoming.”

The expulsion came at Haughey’s behest because O’Malley voted against the party on legislation liberalising family planning rules.

The pair kissed for the television cameras. “I hope that is not conduct unbecoming,” Des O’Malley quipped.

While she was a life-long supporter of her husband’s work, she was seriously opposed to plans for him to anchor the founding of the breakaway Progressive Democrats (PDs). The political writer, Stephen Collins, in his 2005 book on the PDs – “Breaking the Mould” – notes that her opposition led the party founders to stop meeting at the O’Malleys’ home in Dublin.

Her doubts were shared by many O’Malley supporters in Limerick and elsewhere.  In autumn 2005, as preparations struggled onwards, she sought a frank meeting with the leading PD backroom person, Paul McKay.

“Do you know this man at all? Do you know what type of man he is; how difficult he is?” McKay recalled her asking him.

“If you get involved with this man it is going to be a rough, rough ride. It is like becoming involved with Jesus Christ. Once you declare yourself for him you have to forget everything else and be with him. He is difficult,” Pat O’Malley warned about her husband emphatically.

Ms O’Malley’s doubts about the new party included its finances and the risk of being landed with large debts in case of failure.  She also doubted the reliability of some Fianna Fáil figures who were supposedly going to join them.

In fact on the day of the launch, just before Christmas on December 21, 1985, she was still opposed to the party and at one stage had threatened to publicly disrupt proceedings.  But she was calmed down and was taken to lunch by a Co Limerick doctor, Michael Clery.

Earlier, in their lives during Des O’Malley’s stint as an uncompromising Justice Minister, Pat O’Malley and her family suffered a lot due to the threat of IRA and attacks from other subversives.  She and the family developed close friendships with the families of gardai assigned to guard them, including the late Jerry McCabe who was murdered by the IRA in Adare in May 1996.

Des and Pat O’Malley’s daughter, Fiona, later served as a TD and Senator.

Their cousins Pat and Tim also served in politics.

Around the time Des O’Malley retired from politics in May 2002 the family base was finally established in Dublin.

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