Sunday 24 September 2017

John Downing: Good doctor John enjoyed a political life less ordinary

John Downing

John Downing

THE extraordinary career of Dr John O'Connell was deemed by many to be proof positive that politics can be a strange business.

He was a doctor and publisher of medical journals who became a poll-topping Labour TD. After he split from the party, tight Dail arithmetic saw him being handed the job of Ceann Comhairle twice, and after an extraordinary turn of events he was appointed Health Minister by Fianna Fail Taois-each Albert Reynolds, 27 years after entering politics.

Other features of a life less ordinary included causing a furore by organising a meeting between British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and IRA leaders Daithi O Conaill and Sean Mac Stiofain in his home in Dublin at the height of the Troubles in 1972. And there was a close link to the late Charlie Haughey, detailed in O'Connell's own tribunal testimony recalling how he gave IR£5,000 to Ciaran Haughey's firm, Celtic Helicopters. "If ever you want a lift in a helicopter, don't hesitate to ask," Haughey told him.

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