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Former Irish Progressive Democrats leader Des O’Malley had ‘visceral’ hatred of IRA after being targeted for assassination


The late Des O'Malley pictured in 1991. Photo: John Carlos

The late Des O'Malley pictured in 1991. Photo: John Carlos

The late Des O'Malley pictured in 1991. Photo: John Carlos

The son of Des O’Malley – the former leader and founder of the Progressive Democrats in the Republic of Ireland – revealed his father was targeted by the IRA during the Troubles leaving him with a “visceral hatred” of the terror group.

The Irish political giant had been in poor health for some months and died on Wednesday morning at the age of 82.

Writing an obituary in The Sunday Independent, his son Eoin said his father carried a gun at all times during the Troubles, with an armed guard at the family home.

He also explained the family’s pub in Omagh was destroyed in an attack carried out by the IRA, because of his father’s role in the 1970 Fianna Fail cabinet as Minister for Justice.

The funeral of the former minister took place on Friday in the Church of the Sacred Heart, in Donnybrook, Dublin.

His children, Catherine, Hilary, Fiona, Desmond, Eoin and Maeve, gathered for noon mass and were joined by well-known names from the world of politics, including President Michael D Higgins and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

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Mr O’Malley studied law at UCD in the late 1950s and early 1960s, where he also met Patricia McAleer from Omagh, who he married in 1965.

“When his uncle Donogh also died too young in 1968, and his widow Hilda declined the offer to stand for Fianna Fail in the bye-election, Des was drafted in. It was earlier than he expected, but politics was always something on the agenda,” wrote Eoin O’Malley.

“After the subsequent election Des was promoted to chief whip, bringing him close to the taoiseach, Jack Lynch, and giving him a front row seat as the emerging crisis in Northern Ireland was addressed by the Fianna Fail cabinet.

“When the arms crisis emerged in May 1970 he was summoned by Lynch to become minister for justice, aged just 31. His reforming, anti-authoritarian zeal was extinguished by circumstances.

“What might have been his opportunity to liberalise laws and reform the court system gave way to more authoritarian laws because of the IRA threat.

“He didn’t escape from the Troubles personally. There was a direct threat on his life, which forced him to have to carry a gun during this time. He wasn’t allowed to stay in the same place or establish a routine that might expose him to an assassination attempt.

“Our family home in Limerick had armed gardaí protecting it and my older sisters were accompanied to school by the guards. My grandfather’s pub in Omagh was destroyed by the IRA because they didn’t like his son-in-law’s position.

“As children we laughed at the incongruous gun-toting hero, but the pressure on him was immense, and he was courageous in not caving in to it.

“These experiences left him with a visceral hatred of the IRA, and, unlike others, he refused to speak out of both sides of his mouth on its campaign of violence.

“It failed to allow him to recognise the practical politics of securing peace. Later in government, Albert Reynolds didn’t divulge his tentative steps toward an accord with the IRA, partly because Reynolds divulged nothing to O’Malley, but also because he recognised that my father would have objected.”

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