Saturday 7 December 2019

Friends and political foes recall the many facets of Haughey's enforcer

PJ Mara pictured in 1998. Photo: Declan Shanahan
PJ Mara pictured in 1998. Photo: Declan Shanahan
PJ Mara with his wife Breda. Photo: Ann Egan
PJ Mara was later an adviser to Denis O’Brien. Photo: Tom Burke
PJ Mara at the launch of Fianna Fail manifesto on Health during the 2002 General Election Campaign.Photo: Leon Farrell/
Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Mara in the 2015 TV drama ‘Charlie'
Right-hand man: PJ Mara with the Boss and FF Minister Ray Burke in the 1980s. Photo: Ann Egan
PJ Mara with then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in 1998. Photo: Photocall
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Tributes have flowed in from the worlds of politics and business for political strategist PJ Mara ahead of his funeral today.

Mr Mara (73) died in the early hours of yesterday at the Beacon Hospital in Dublin, where he had been receiving treatment for a long-term illness.

A removal will take place this afternoon to St Mary's Church on Haddington Road, Dublin, for Requiem Mass at 4pm. Mr Mara will be buried in Kinvara, Co Galway, tomorrow, where his wife of 40 years, Breda Brogan, was laid to rest in 2003.

Friends and colleagues of the lobbyist, who was considered Charles Haughey's closest ally, remembered him yesterday as someone who helped craft Irish political history throughout the 1980s and 90s.

Having been Mr Haughey's 'enforcer', he went on to serve as director of elections and help Bertie Ahern secure a historic three election wins in 1997, 2002 and 2007.

Commenting on his loyalty to Fianna Fáil through the decades, party leader Micheál Martin said: "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, judgment and commitment to the role."

While working for Mr Haughey, the PR guru's colleagues included Taoiseach Enda Kenny's wife Fionnuala.

Last night, Mr Kenny described him as someone who "moved colourfully through the world of politics".

Mr Mara, who became a father for the second time in 2013, continued to work and travel extensively for telecommunication company Digicel.

Its chairman Denis O'Brien said: "PJ Mara was an amazing friend, colleague and intellect who made an indelible impression on everybody he worked with. 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."

Mr Mara was also a member of the board that oversaw the 2003 Special Olympics World Games in Dublin.

A spokesman for the organisation told the Irish Independent he used his "considerable experience" during the event to "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".

Paul Connolly, chairman of Unicef Ireland, said that while most people knew Mr Mara because of his political work, he had been a valued board member of Unicef Ireland for the past nine years. He said Mr Mara had a "deep personal commitment to the cause of children's rights".

His friend, former Fine Gael senator Maurice Manning, said Mr Mara "brightened up any company he was in".

"He had a genuine interest in all people and in the absurdities of human life, especially in politics, where there are many," Mr Manning said.

Tánaiste Joan Burton said that along with his dedication to Fianna Fáil, there was another side to Mr Mara.

"I think there was another PJ Mara and that's the PJ Mara that we got to know from 'Scrap Saturday', a larger- than-life character that I certainly used to listen to with awe in my kitchen on a Saturday morning," she said.

Soccer pundit Eamon Dunphy, who attended St Patrick's National School in Drumcondra with Mr Mara, said he was a "fabulous guy".

"He had the gift of friendship. He was erudite, very well read and very funny," Mr Dunphy said.

Mr Mara is survived by his children John and Elena, partner Sheila, daughter-in-law Clare, and grandson Jack.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section