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Ex-spin doctor and strategist PJ Mara dies aged 73

Published 15/01/2016

PJ Mara was a key figure in Irish politics in the 1980s
PJ Mara was a key figure in Irish politics in the 1980s

Former political spin doctor and strategist PJ Mara has died.

Right hand man to Charlie Haughey in the 1980s and a government press secretary from 1987 to 1992, he is synonymous with Fianna Fail over three decades.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin described Mr Mara as a true original and an honour to know and work with.

"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 said.

"He brought immense humour, judgement and commitment to the role."

Mr Mara went on to work for businessman Denis O'Brien's Digicel corporation after stepping away from backroom politics. He was 73 and died in hospital in Dublin.

Mr Mara had two children with the youngest born in 2013.

His career saw him serve in the Seanad in 1981 and 1982 and run Fianna Fail's media operations through the 1980s.

While he was director of elections for Fianna Fail's three-in-a-row poll victories in 1997, 2002 and 2007 he was more high profile in the latter.

In the last campaign Bertie Ahern hired him as he sought to deflect questions about the former taoiseach's financial affairs.

Mr Martin added: "As Government Press Secretary for five years he brought a new energy and professionalism to the role which was recognised throughout Europe during the 1990 Presidency of the European Council.

"Whether it was international statesmen or a local party stalwart PJ was always available to encourage and support."

Mr Ahern told Today with Sean O'Rourke on RTE Radio that Mr Mara was loyal, a good friend and fun.

"PJ was a wonderful person," he said.

"The first thing, he was hugely clever, smart, sometimes depicted as not so, but he was very, very bright and able to handle almost any situation. The tensest of battles in Leinster House, the toughest of days, PJ would be at the heart of it."

Mr Ahern said Mr Mara would never dodge trouble or go missing in the middle of a political controversy.

"But (he was) always a bit of fun too - even when the rocks were flying and the bottles were flying, PJ would see the bright side of it, whether it was some of the quips he would make or some of the schemes he'd come up with to get out of the mess," he said.

Mr Ahern said Mr Mara had friends across all parties and made a huge contribution to political life.

"It's very hard to think of PJ this morning without thinking of the laughs, the tricks, the camaraderie, wondering how we were going to get Charlie to calm down and save all of our skins," he said.

Journalist Eamon Dunphy, who knew Mr Mara from his youth in Drumcondra, described him as distinguished and a man always with the appearance of someone going places.

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