Thursday 25 April 2019

Obituary: Jackie Fahey

Consummate politician who backed Haughey and then famously fell out with him, writes Alan O'Keeffe

ENGAGING: Jackie Fahey
ENGAGING: Jackie Fahey

John 'Jackie' Fahey, who has died aged 91, was a former Fianna Fail TD and Junior Environment Minister.

He was a member of the 'Gang of Five' of Fianna Fail TDs who campaigned successfully for Charles Haughey to oust Taoiseach Jack Lynch as party leader in the late 1970s.

But Fahey famously fell out with Haughey and resigned from the parliamentary party in 1989 to become an Independent TD, only to rejoin the party the following year.

He was a consummate politician, always eager to shake a hand or knock on a door. He had a happy, engaging personality and a great smile that inspired loyalty among his supporters.

Born in Clonmel in 1928, he grew up in the Comeragh Mountains on the Co Waterford side of the county border with South Tipperary. He was educated at the Christian Brothers' secondary school in Clonmel. He worked as a farmer, auctioneer and insurance broker.

His father was a founder member of Fianna Fail and a young Jackie was elected to Waterford County Council in 1950 "not having known he was even nominated", said Jackie's son Sean at the funeral last Thursday.

He was a member of the county council for 45 years. He stood unsuccessfully in the general election in 1961 but was elected to the Dail for Tipperary South in 1965 under party leader Sean Lemass. He remained its TD until a change in boundaries in 1977 when he moved to the Waterford constituency and was re-elected to the Dail.

A keen supporter of Charles Haughey, he worked along with other 'Gang of Five' TDs, Albert Reynolds, Sean Doherty, Tom McEllistrim and Mark Killilea, to get Haughey elected as party leader in 1979.

Haughey rewarded him by appointing him Junior Environment Minister and he held the post until the 1981 general election.

He was not appointed to any ministerial post afterwards and his relations with Mr Haughey became somewhat cooler throughout the 1980s.

He stood unsuccessfully in the Munster European Parliament elections in 1989. Internal warfare within Fianna Fail in the constituency had continued to worsen after the formation of the Progressive Democrats. Martin Cullen was elected TD for the PDs in the constituency in 1987.

Fahey opposed Haughey's courting of the Progressive Democrats to form a coalition government in 1989. In July that year, the party's Waterford Comhairle Dail Ceantair voted no confidence in Haughey as party leader.

The same meeting voted to call on Taoiseach Haughey not to appoint the local defeated PD TD Cullen to the Seanad.

Days later, Fahey resigned from the parliamentary party. He claimed in his resignation letter that Haughey had continued to show animosity towards him and that his party leader had unfairly blamed him for the internal wrangling and serious split in the party in the Waterford constituency.

Fahey told RTE at the time he would remain an Independent TD until Haughey was no longer party leader. But he quietly rejoined the parliamentary party the following year.

Fahey remained a TD until finally losing his seat in 1992.

Fianna Fail's Micheal Martin, leading tributes after his death, said the Waterford politician had, throughout a long career, "served with great commitment and diligence through many turbulent times."

At his funeral, his son Sean said his father's intensive campaign in Waterford City in 1977 did not endear him to the party hierarchy in the city but it was a success.

"He made a lot of contacts and friends, outside the party. Most of his enemies were inside the party," said Sean, amid laughter in the church.

"He rattled the cages and he made no apologies for it, because he once said he was there for the ordinary working man. I think he opened a lot of doors for the people," he said.

Mr Fahey was predeceased by his first wife Maura, and their son PJ.

He is survived by his wife Ita, three sons and four daughters, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

His funeral took place in Dungarvan, where he lived for several decades.

Sunday Independent

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