Michael O'Kennedy


Michael O'Kennedy
Michael O'Kennedy
Minister for Labour
In office
14 November 1991 – 11 February 1992
Preceded by Bertie Ahern
Succeeded by Brian Cowen
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
In office
10 March 1987 – 14 November 1991
Preceded by Austin Deasy
Succeeded by Michael Woods
European Commissioner for Personnel, Administration and the Statistics Office
In office
6 January 1981 – 5 March 1982
Preceded by New position
Succeeded by Richard Burke
Irish European Commissioner
In office
6 January 1981 – 5 March 1982
Preceded by Richard Burke
Succeeded by Richard Burke
Minister for Finance
Minister for the Public Service
In office
12 December 1979 – 16 December 1980
Preceded by George Colley
Succeeded by Gene FitzGerald
Minister for Economic Planning and Development
In office
12 December 1979 – 22 January 1980
Preceded by Martin O'Donoghue
Succeeded by George Colley
Minister for Foreign Affairs
In office
5 July 1977 – 11 December 1979
Preceded by Garret FitzGerald
Succeeded by Brian Lenihan
Minister for Transport and Power
In office
3 January 1973 – 14 March 1973
Preceded by Brian Lenihan
Succeeded by Peter Barry
Minister without Portfolio
In office
14 December 1972 – 3 January 1973
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education
In office
9 May 1970 – 3 January 1973
Preceded by Bobby Molloy
Succeeded by Jim Tunney
Teachta Dála
In office
26 June 1997 – 25 April 2002
Preceded by John Ryan
Succeeded by Máire Hoctor
In office
9 March 1982 – 5 November 1992
Preceded by Michael Smith
Succeeded by John Ryan
In office
2 July 1969 – 6 January 1981
Preceded by John Fanning
Succeeded by David Molony
Constituency Tipperary North
Personal details
Born 21 February 1936 (1936-02-21) (age 75)
Nenagh, County Tipperary, Ireland
Political party Fianna Fáil
Occupation Barrister

Michael O'Kennedy (born 21 February 1936) is a former Irish Fianna Fáil politician, who served in a range of cabinet positions, most notably as Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Finance and Irish European Commissioner.[1][2]

Contents

Early life

O'Kennedy was born in Nenagh, County Tipperary into a family that had strong links to Sinn Féin and the Old IRA. He was educated locally at St. Mary's national school before later boarding at St. Flannan's College, Ennis. He briefly studied for the priesthood at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, where he was a contemporary of future Social Democratic and Labour Party leader John Hume. After securing first place in a university scholarship in 1953 O'Kennedy obtained an M.A. degree from University College Dublin. He taught in Switzerland for a while and, resuming his legal studies, he was subsequently called to the Bar in 1961. Twelve years later he was appointed senior counsel.

Political career

Beginnings

O'Kennedy joined Fianna Fáil in 1957 and became an active member of the party. He contested the 1965 general election in Tipperary North, however, he narrowly lost out on taking a seat for Fianna Fáil. In spite of this setback he later secured election to Seanad Éireann where he became party spokesperson on a range of issues including finance and education.

O'Kennedy contested the 1969 general election and was successful in securing a seat in Dáil Éireann.[3] He remained on the backbenches until 1970, when the Arms Crisis resulted in a major reshuffle at cabinet and junior ministerial levels. O'Kennedy became Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education Pádraig Faulkner.

In December 1972 a cabinet reshuffle by Taoiseach Jack Lynch saw O'Kennedy join the cabinet as Minister without portfolio. There was much speculation as to what portfolio he would take, however, the new year saw him become Minister for Transport and Power. His tenure was short-lived as the 1973 general election saw a Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition government come to power.

Immediately after Fianna Fáil's loss of power O'Kennedy was appointed spokesperson on Foreign Affairs. He retained the same brief in a 1975 front bench reshuffle. It was after this reshuffle that he revealed his future leadership aspirations as he became associated with a hardline policy document regarding Northern Ireland. The document called for a complete and immediate withdrawal of the British Government from Northern Ireland. This new policy opened up the old divisions in Fianna Fáil that had come to light during the Arms Crisis in 1970. It was also against the wishes of the party and was at odds with Fianna Fáil party policy, however, O'Kennedy's new policy was welcomed by the hardline Republican element at grassroots level within the party.

Cabinet Minister and European Commissioner

The 1977 general election saw Fianna Fáil return to power with a massive twenty-seat majority in the Dáil. O'Kennedy was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs in Jack Lynch's new cabinet.

In 1979 Lynch suddenly announced his resignation as Taoiseach and as Fianna Fáil leader. The subsequent leadership contest was a straight battle between George Colley and Charles Haughey. Colley was the favoured choice of the outgoing leadership and of the majority of the cabinet while Haughey had the backing of a large rump of backbench TDs who had become disillusioned with the party leadership. On the day before the crucial vote O'Kennedy came out as the only cabinet minister to publicly endorse Haughey for the leadership. Many believe that it was because of this support that Haughey was successful in becoming Taoiseach, albeit by a narrow margin of just six votes. O'Kennedy's loyalty was rewarded when he was appointed Minister for Finance in the new government.

O'Kennedy's tenure as Minister for Finance was short-lived, delivering a stringent budget, as he took up the position of European Commissioner in January 1981. Because of his new appointment in Brussels he also resigned his Dáil seat. O'Kennedy took over as European Commissioner for Personnel, Administration and the Statistics Office and was disappointed not to be made Vice-President in the Thorn Commission. He was, however, made delagate to the President.

O'Kennedy's tenure in the European Commission was an unhappy one. He quickly grew bored of the mundane day-to-day work as a commissioner and missed the cut-and-thrust nature of Irish politics, which was going through a particularly unstable period. A general election was called for February 1982 and O'Kennedy decided to return to contest his old seat. His gamble paid off as he was returned to the Dáil for Tipperary North oce again and he resigned his European Commissioner post. O'Kennedy's return was seen as an attempt to assert his claim to the future leadership of Fianna Fáil, something that had been a contentious issude under Haughey and his failure to secure an overall majority in two elections. Fianna Fáil returned to power with the help of a number of independent TDs and O'Kennedy demanded a senior government position. His request was refused. Haughey did offer him the post of Attorney General but O'Kennedy declined. As a result he was left out of the short-lived administration.

The Fianna Fáil government fell in October of that same year and Fianna Fáil were out of power following the subsequent general election. A period of instability followed within Fianna Fáil as a number of TDs attempted to oust Charles Haughey as party leader. Des O'Malley was seen as the clear front-runner to succeed Haughey, however, O'Kennedy's name was also mentioned alongside other party stalwarts like Gerry Collins and Brian Lenihan. In the end Haughey survived as party leader.

Return to Cabinet

Following the 1987 general election Haughey was back as Taoiseach and O'Kennedy returned to the cabinet as Minister for Agriculture and Food. For someone with the experience of O'Kennedy this may have seemed like a demotion, however, his near five-year tenure received praise from farming circles.

In November 1991 tensions arose within Fianna Fáil regarding the continued leadership of Haughey. Minister for Finance Albert Reynolds directly challenged the party leader and Taoiseach, however, the challenge failed. O'Kennedy supported the incumbent leader throughout the heave and took over as Minister for Labour in the subsequent reshuffle. Once again this was viewed as a demotion, however, O'Kennedy viewed his role as one of the most important in the cabinet considering the high rate of unemployment.

In February 1992 Haughey evetually stepped down as Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader and Albert Reynolds won the subsequent leadership election by a large majority. The formation of his new cabinet caused widespread shock as O'Kennedy and seven of his cabinet colleagues were effectively sacked in favour of supporters of the new Taoiseach. This effectively brought his cabinet career to an end.

Final years

Worse was to follow as O'Kennedy lost his seat in the 1992 general election in what turned out to be a disaster for Fianna Fáil. He subsequently secured election to Seanad Éireann for the second time in his career.

O'Kennedy was re-elected to the Dáil in the 1997 general election. That same year he sought the Fianna Fáil nomination for President of Ireland but only received a mediocre 21 votes out of a total of 112 as Mary McAleese became the party's nominee and eventual victor.

After the 2002 general election O'Kennedy retired from national politics. He returned to work as a barrister and subsequently became a member of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

References

Oireachtas
Preceded by
John Fanning
(Fianna Fáil)
Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Tipperary North
1969–1981
Succeeded by
David Molony
(Fine Gael)
Preceded by
Michael Smith
(Fianna Fáil)
Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Tipperary North
1982–1992
Succeeded by
John Ryan
(Labour Party)
Preceded by
John Ryan
(Labour)
Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Tipperary North
1997–2002
Succeeded by
Máire Hoctor
(Fianna Fáil)
Political offices
Preceded by
Bobby Molloy
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education
1970–1973
Succeeded by
Jim Tunney
Preceded by
Minister without portfolio
1972–1973
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Brian Lenihan
Minister for Transport and Power
1973
Succeeded by
Peter Barry
Preceded by
Garret FitzGerald
Minister for Foreign Affairs
1977–1979
Succeeded by
Brian Lenihan
Preceded by
Martin O'Donoghue
Minister for Economic Planning and Development
1979–1980
Succeeded by
George Colley
Preceded by
George Colley
Minister for Finance
1979–1980
Succeeded by
Gene Fitzgerald
Minister for the Public Service
1979–1980
Preceded by
Richard Burke
Irish European Commissioner
1981–1982
Succeeded by
Richard Burke
Preceded by
Austin Deasy
Minister for Agriculture and Food
1987–1991
Succeeded by
Joe Walsh
Preceded by
Bertie Ahern
Minister for Labour
1991–1992
Succeeded by
Brian Cowen

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