Saturday 17 November 2018

Obituary: Des Hanafin

An outspoken politician who stood firm against divorce and abortion

Des Hanafin outside Leinster House with his wife Mora and daughter Mary. Photo: Graham Hughes
Des Hanafin outside Leinster House with his wife Mora and daughter Mary. Photo: Graham Hughes

Clodagh Sheehy

Outspoken Des Hanafin was never far from controversy with his trenchant views on issues such as homosexuality, divorce and abortion.

He accused campaigners in the marriage equality referendum of spreading a "palpable climate of fear", was co-founder and chairman of the Pro-Life Campaign and went to the Supreme Court to try to overturn the legalisation of divorce.

The former Fianna Fáil politician and member of Seanad Éireann for over 30 years was at the heart of a political dynasty which included his father and his two children.

His father had been a Sinn Féin councillor before Independence. His daughter Mary is a former Fianna Fáil education minister and his son John a former Fianna Fáil senator.

Des Hanafin was a chief fundraiser for Fianna Fáil for many years. He was appointed to the position by former party leader and Taoiseach Jack Lynch in the late 1960s.

Desmond A Hanafin was born on September 9, 1930, in Thurles, Co Tipperary. His father, a draper and newsagent, was a Fianna Fáil councillor for North Tipperary County Council.

His father was the greatest influence on Des's early life and when Johnny Hanafin died in 1953, Des sought to be co-opted on to North Tipperary Council.

The councillors, however, voted in Labour Party nominee Michael Treacy instead. Undaunted, he tried again in 1955 and polled 934 first preferences. He became chairman of the council the following year with the support of Clann na Poblachta.He was re-elected to the council in 1960 and the following year sided with Clann na Poblachta on the vote for council chairman. He held his council seat until 1985.

In the meantime he was elected to the Seanad in 1965 and retained that seat until 1993, when he lost it by one vote. Ever the fighter, he regained the seat in 1997 and finally retired from politics in 2002. He was unsuccessful in two Dáil elections for Tipperary North in 1977 and 1981.

During his political career Mr Hanafin was a strong opponent of social change, and deeply conservative. He promoted the amendment that enshrined the legal ban on abortion in the Constitution.

In 1996, five Supreme Court judges decided unanimously to reject Mr Hanafin's challenge to the divorce referendum. The court, however, decided to allow his costs "in view of the importance of the case and the fact that Mr Hanafin had succeeded to a substantial extent".

As a businessman, he initially made a lot of money from heavy machinery and the oil business.

He then ran the Anner Hotel in Thurles in the 1960s. Big groups like The Dubliners regularly attracted hundreds of people to the ballroom, but the Anner failed a few years later because of Mr Hanafin's drinking.

His daughter Mary, in a revealing interview, told how her father had "drunk it out [the hotel] by the time I was 10. If someone is drinking, then there's no money to spare. When the hotel was lost my mother went to work in the tourist office".

Mr Hanafin stopped drinking after a car accident in which he broke both legs. He was quite open about how alcohol had almost ruined his business and political career.

"I have a flair for making money," he said. "But I have no control over money. I have always regarded poverty as a state of mind but being broke is a temporary situation."

In later years Mr Hanafin was more successful as one of the pioneers of Irish oil exploration. In the 1970s he founded Transnational Oil with Richard Conroy and the company was subsequently bought by Aran Energy. Mr Hanafin served on the board of Aran for 12 years before it was bought by Statoil.

Mr Hanafin married Mona Brady in Clonmel, Tipperary, on August 28, 1958. When Mona developed cancer she went to see Padre Pio at San Giovanni Rotondo and was convinced that the Italian priest with the stigmata cured her. When her husband's drinking got out of hand she wrote to Padre Pio for help.

Mr Hanafin left politics in 2002, departing from the Seanad as leader of the house. His daughter Mary was education minister at the time.

Despite his battles on social issues, Mr Hanafin never fell out with long-standing friends.

Irish Independent

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