Former ceann comhairle Dr John O'Connell dies

Friday 08 March 2013 22.55
Seen here addressing a Labour Party Conference in 1971, Dr John O'Connell was first elected to the Dáil in 1965 (Pic: RTÉ Stills Library ©)
Seen here addressing a Labour Party Conference in 1971, Dr John O'Connell was first elected to the Dáil in 1965 (Pic: RTÉ Stills Library ©)

Tributes have been paid to former ceann comhairle and minister for health Dr John O'Connell, who died this morning aged 83.

Born in the Liberties in Dublin in 1930 and raised in Drumcondra, Dr O'Connell was first elected to the Dáil in 1965.

He was elected to Dublin South West for the Labour Party, but had numerous clashes with the party hierarchy.

He was returned at each election until 1987, latterly for Fianna Fáil and after a time as an independent.

In 1972 he facilitated meetings between then leader of the British opposition Harold Wilson and the Provisional IRA leadership.

He also served as ceann comhairle from 1981 to 1982.

Dr O'Connell supported Albert Reynolds after he resigned from Cabinet, and it is believed he played a role with a number of others in persuading Charlie Haughey to resign when he did.

Dr O'Connell was appointed minister for health by Mr Reynolds in 1992, fulfilling a life-long ambition.

He was responsible for loosening the Catholic Church's influence on family planning and contraception law in Ireland.

He resigned in 1993 due to ill health.

Later, at the Moriarty Tribunal, it emerged he acted as a conduit of funds between Mr Haughey and Arab tycoon Mahmoud Fustook.

Dr O’Connell was also a Member of the European Parliament and had a distinguished career as a medical doctor.

He was co-founder of the Irish Medical Times.

President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to Dr O'Connell, saying that his concern for the socially deprived continued through the various offices he held.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said Dr O'Connell's success in continuing the work initiated by Barry Desmond in the process of liberalisation of contraception, will be lasting legacy.

He said: "Although he parted company with Labour in 1981, he always endeavoured to remain on good terms with his former colleagues and retained a sense shared values with, particularly when it came to social issues".

Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin said Dr O’Connell was a big influence on establishing the Patient’s Charter and a strong advocate for patient rights.

He described the former ceann comharile as “one of the most radical TDs of his time and always an independent thinker”.

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