Saturday 18 January 2020

Molloy's death ends one more link with fraught Haughey era

Bobby Molloy – then Junior Environment Minister – launches a road safety campaign in 1999.
Photo: Steve Humphreys
Bobby Molloy – then Junior Environment Minister – launches a road safety campaign in 1999. Photo: Steve Humphreys
John Downing

John Downing

Bobby Molloy, who has died aged 80, delighted members of the fledgling Progressive Democrats and stunned Fianna Fáil colleagues on a fateful day in January 1986.

On his way from Dublin to Galway, he phoned his Dáil secretary from a call box and told her to give a letter he had left in the filing cabinet to his party leader, Charlie Haughey.

The letter said he was quitting the party he had joined as a teenager and throwing in his lot with Progressive Democrat founder, Des O'Malley.

"Molloy was party through, through and through," another Fianna Fáil stalwart, Charlie McCreevy, recalled many years later.

Mr Molloy's death yesterday takes away another personal link to the huge internal struggles within Charlie Haughey's Fianna Fáil in the 1970s and 1980s.

"I felt a complete alienation from what was going on. It was a different party from the one I joined," he recalled himself about that era, insisting he was driven out.

Mr Molloy served as a TD for Galway West from 1965 until 2002 when he retired.

He was Mayor of Galway in 1968 and over his long career held a series of senior government posts, including Minister responsible for Local Government, Defence and Energy.

Read more: Bobby Molloy, founding member of the Progressive Democrats, passes away

The Galway politician impressed early on after his first election win for Fianna Fáil in April 1965. He was promoted by Taoiseach Jack Lynch and eventually served as Local Government Minister from 1970 until 1973.

Always a Lynch loyalist, he backed the late George Colley against Charlie Haughey in the 1979 leadership election which followed Lynch's retirement. Haughey dropped him from the government team and soon Molloy was part of efforts to oust him as leader.

He was a prominent member of the so-called 'Club of 22', named for the 22 deputies who voted against Haughey in a leadership challenge. In later years he would talk openly about the acrimony and division which characterised the Haughey years and he was known for his candour and plain-speaking. The antipathy was reciprocated by Mr Haughey.

Veteran news photographer Liam Mulcahy recalls Haughey's efforts to upstage Molloy in his own constituency.

"Hearing that Molloy planned to visit the Aran Islands, Haughey decided to upstage him. He got there a day in advance, visited every pub and guesthouse, scattering signed pictures in his wake. These pictures greeted Molloy on every mantelpiece when he came knocking the following day," the photographer recalled.

He was a huge catch for the fledgling PDs on January 23, 1986, and he was unveiled at a major rally on his own turf in Salthill with great razzmatazz. The party, which was eventually wound up in 2008, espoused a low-tax liberal economy and radical measures to help end economic paralysis.

In June 1989, Molloy was one of the PD negotiators as the party shared power with Fianna Fáil under their old enemy, Haughey, whom they had once described as "unfit for office". It was the first time Fianna Fáil had ever shared a Cabinet table. Both O'Malley and Molloy were senior ministers and worked well with Haughey.

He again helped with coalition talks in June 1997 when Bertie Ahern's Fianna Fáil formed a minority coalition with the PDs and the support of Independents.

Always an assiduous constituency politician, he was a big vote-getter down the years. But he quit Dáil politics in the summer of 2002 after controversy over attempts by his office to contact a judge on behalf of a constituent who had a relative convicted of rape.

However, in the May 2002 general election which followed, he helped devise an unusual three-candidate strategy in Galway West and managed to hold the seat for the PDs against all odds.

Irish Independent

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