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Des O’Malley lived ‘wild and precious’ life, mourners told

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

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Family members carry the coffin of former politician Des O’Malley (Damien Eagers/PA)

Family members carry the coffin of former politician Des O’Malley (Damien Eagers/PA)

Family members carry the coffin of former politician Des O’Malley (Damien Eagers/PA)

Mourners at the funeral of Des O’Malley, the former leader and founder of the Progressive Democrats, have heard how he lived a “wild and precious” life.

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

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

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.

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President of Ireland Michael D Higgins arrives for the funeral of former politician Des O’Malley at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin (Damien Eagers/PA)

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins arrives for the funeral of former politician Des O’Malley at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin (Damien Eagers/PA)

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President of Ireland Michael D Higgins arrives for the funeral of former politician Des O’Malley at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin (Damien Eagers/PA)

Among those in attendance were President Michael D Higgins, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former leader of the Progressive Democrats Mary Harney, former party TD Liz O’Donnell, and Fianna Fail MEP Barry Andrews.

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Mr O’Malley was a prominent Fianna Fail TD and minister but was expelled from the party after he supported a Bill to remove the ban on contraceptives for unmarried couples in 1985.

After the fall-out, he founded the Progressive Democrats and led the party from 1985 until 1993.

The party went on to win 14 Dail seats in the 1987 election.

At his funeral, two candles were lit in memory of his wife Pat, his parents Desmond and Una, and brother Peter.

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Family members carry the coffin from the church at the funeral of former politician Des O’Malley (Damien Eagers/PA)

Family members carry the coffin from the church at the funeral of former politician Des O’Malley (Damien Eagers/PA)

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Family members carry the coffin from the church at the funeral of former politician Des O’Malley (Damien Eagers/PA)

Reverend Gerard O’Connor, who is a former member of the Progressive Democrats and left the party to join the priesthood, said: “If at times during this literary I sound more political than priestly please forgive me.

“I was part of Des O’Malley’s efforts to break the mould. The week I departed from the Progressive Democrats to the priesthood, another PD member from Wicklow left to become a Church of Ireland minister and one of our colleagues at the time was a leading light in atheist Ireland.”

He said that Mr O’Malley gathered a varied group of supporters into his political enterprise.

He added: “I know that whatever your political persuasion, either here in the church or if you’re tuning in by digital means, and if you clashed with Des politically, that each of the O’Malleys are very appreciative of your kind support at this time.”

Des could also be very tender and gentle and loving, witty and funny.Rev Gerard O'Connor

Fr O’Connor said that Mr O’Malley could be “robust” in debate and “utterly frank and often right”.

“Des could also be very tender and gentle and loving, witty and funny,” he added.

“I know that there are so many people who would love to be here today but because of Covid-19 cannot.

“The family were very anxious that we would adhere to best practice around the Covid guidelines.

“For those who are not here, I carry, in to this liturgy your memories, your tears and your emotions for Des O’Malley.”

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Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Liz O’Donnell attended the funeral (Damien Eagers/PA)

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Liz O’Donnell attended the funeral (Damien Eagers/PA)

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Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Liz O’Donnell attended the funeral (Damien Eagers/PA)

He said Mr O’Malley lived “one wild, precious life”.

“Des O’Malley never dropped the habit of calling a spade a spade,” he added.

“An active member of St Vincent De Paul while in school visiting some of the poorest families in Limerick city.

“Appointed as a political novice to the hottest seat in the government, red paint and coffins being thrown into his family home in Limerick.

“His in-laws in Tyrone, their pub being bombed twice. Playing golf at 40C in Iraq.

“Given the heat today it’s almost unimaginable.

“Being involved in a serious car crash.

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Des O’Malley died at the age of 82 (Mark Steadman/PA)

Des O’Malley died at the age of 82 (Mark Steadman/PA)

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Des O’Malley died at the age of 82 (Mark Steadman/PA)

“Founding a political party. Surviving 34 years in Dail Eireann. Being accused of having ideas.”

He added: “Des O’Malley brought an incredibly valuable temperament into Irish politics.

“From 1985 onwards, Des regularly articulated that the best role for faith is to challenge politics and to hold the public square morally accountable to values derived from a position of faith.

“Des had a powerful message and it is this – instead of trying to dominate the public square, faith communities should seek to inform and inspire it.

“Des was a powerful persuader for pluralism.”

His son Eoin O’Malley said he was grateful for all the “kind tributes” to his father.

“Dad was vain enough that he would have wanted a big funeral and it’s a pity that he can’t get that,” Mr O’Malley added.

While it was sometimes difficult to be in a politician's family, we were never ashamed of being Des O'Malley's children.Eoin O'Malley

“We know that he would have enjoyed reading the papers, listening to the tributes, from his good friend an Uachtarain, from the Taoiseach (Micheal Martin), the Tanaiste (Leo Varadkar) and former taoisigh, including Bertie Ahern here.”

“I think he would also have been appreciative that his almost four decades of public service were appreciated.

“Politics is a tough job and the nature of politics invites criticism and conflict and it’s not always clear that politicians’ efforts are appreciated, so we are grateful for all the kind messages that have been received in the past few days.”

He added that politics takes a toll on politicians and their families.

“While it was sometimes difficult to be in a politician’s family, we were never ashamed of being Des O’Malley’s children,” he added.

He said his father’s pleasures were simple and included watching sport, playing golf, and having a pint.


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