Sunday 15 September 2019

John Deasy profile: Cigarette in Dáil bar sparked years in the wilderness for former rising star


Dynasty: John Deasy succeeded his father Austin as a TD for Waterford
Dynasty: John Deasy succeeded his father Austin as a TD for Waterford
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

John Deasy's political career might have turned out differently were it not for his fateful decision to light a cigarette in the Dáil bar just days after the introduction of the smoking ban in 2004.

The transgression by the then Fine Gael justice spokesman resulted in his sacking from the front bench and he was consigned to the political wilderness, from which he never really returned.

Please log in or register with for free access to this article.

Log In

Not that this seemed to bother him. In a later interview, Mr Deasy said he did not regret sparking up - and never would.

After serving as a councillor for three years, Mr Deasy entered the Dáil in 2002, taking the Waterford seat of his late father Austin Deasy, a former agriculture minister who had also been critical of his Fine Gael colleagues down the years.

A student of history and law who previously worked as a legislative assistant in the US Senate and House of Representatives, Mr Deasy had been considered a rising star in Fine Gael.

But his sacking in 2004 changed his career trajectory and he spent much of the next decade in the background.

He won re-election in 2007 and 2011, but was never in contention for Cabinet or a junior ministry under Enda Kenny when he became Taoiseach.

Mr Deasy was a key witness in the Disclosures Tribunal and a vocal supporter of Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

In today's Irish Independent, he says his work on getting handguns banned in 2008 was his career highlight in politics.

Mr Deasy's rare forays into the national media usually involved a sharp critique of the direction of Fine Gael under Mr Kenny, for whom he had a barely disguised contempt.

In 2014, he said people were becoming "disgusted" with the way the party was being run.

Two years later, the contrarian TD turned down Mr Kenny's offer of the chairmanship of the Oireachtas Housing Committee.

When Leo Varadkar, whom Mr Deasy backed to succeed Mr Kenny, became Taoiseach, it was expected he would finally become a minister.

But he was appointed to nothing and was said by colleagues to be inconsolable over the rejection. However, Mr Varadkar did give him the not-insignificant role of Government envoy to the United States.

For the past two years, Mr Deasy has been back and forth to Washington DC working on a plan to secure access to E3 visas for undocumented Irish emigrants. While some progress has been made, it is still awaiting congressional approval.

Mr Deasy's departure from politics comes in the wake of a major row in the Fine Gael organisation in Waterford, where there have been tensions for many years, including between Mr Deasy and former minister Paudie Coffey.

It was Mr Coffey's brother who tabled a motion of no confidence in Mr Deasy that was driven by members' anger at his performance - or lack of it - as a Waterford TD.

But Mr Deasy defended his constituency work and escalated matters by claiming there had been bullying - a claim backed up by a former local election candidate - that had been ignored for years.

Fine Gael pledged to investigate any allegations, but it has not said anything since.

Personality clashes and rivalries that have endured for years appeared to have come to a head and had been exacerbated by a middling local election performance for Fine Gael in Waterford.

But by that stage, Mr Deasy had told the Taoiseach he would not be running for re-election, bringing the curtain down on a career about which he might characteristically say he has no regrets.

Irish Independent

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

Also in this section