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Michael O'Kennedy

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Michael O'Kennedy
O'Kennedy in 1979
Minister for Labour
In office
14 November 1991 – 11 February 1992
TaoiseachCharles Haughey
Preceded byBertie Ahern
Succeeded byBrian Cowen
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
In office
10 March 1987 – 14 November 1991
TaoiseachCharles Haughey
Preceded byAustin Deasy
Succeeded byMichael Woods
European Commissioner for Personnel, Administration and the Statistics Office
In office
6 January 1981 – 5 March 1982
PresidentGaston Thorn
Preceded byNew office
Succeeded byRichard Burke
Minister for Finance
In office
12 December 1979 – 16 December 1980
TaoiseachCharles Haughey
Preceded byGeorge Colley
Succeeded byGene Fitzgerald
Minister for the Public Service
In office
12 December 1979 – 24 March 1980
TaoiseachCharles Haughey
Preceded byGeorge Colley
Succeeded byGene Fitzgerald
Minister for Foreign Affairs
In office
5 July 1977 – 11 December 1979
TaoiseachJack Lynch
Preceded byGarret FitzGerald
Succeeded byBrian Lenihan
Minister for Transport and Power
In office
3 January 1973 – 14 March 1973
TaoiseachJack Lynch
Preceded byBrian Lenihan
Succeeded byPeter Barry
Parliamentary Secretary
Teachta Dála
In office
June 1997 – April 2002
In office
February 1982 – November 1992
In office
July 1969 – 6 January 1981
ConstituencyTipperary North
In office
17 February 1993 – 6 June 1997
ConstituencyAdministrative Panel
In office
23 June 1965 – 18 June 1969
ConstituencyCultural and Educational Panel
Personal details
Born(1936-02-21)21 February 1936
Nenagh, County Tipperary, Ireland
Died15 April 2022(2022-04-15) (aged 86)
Dublin, Ireland
Political partyFianna Fáil
Breda Heavey
(m. 1965)
EducationSt Flannan's College
Alma mater

Michael O'Kennedy (21 February 1936 – 15 April 2022) was an Irish Fianna Fáil politician who served in a range of cabinet positions, including Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Finance and Irish European Commissioner.[1] He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Tipperary North constituency and was also a member of Seanad Éireann.[2]

Early life[edit]

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 attending St Flannan's College in Ennis, County Clare. 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 MA degree from University College Dublin. He taught in Switzerland for a while before resuming his legal studies; he was called to the Bar in 1961. Twelve years later, he was appointed Senior Counsel.

Political career[edit]


O'Kennedy joined Fianna Fáil in 1957 and became an active party member. He contested the 1965 general election in Tipperary North; however, he narrowly failed to win a seat. He was elected to the 11th Seanad, where he became party spokesperson on various 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.

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, for the 1973 general election saw a Fine GaelLabour 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. After this reshuffle, he revealed his future leadership aspirations as he became associated with a hardline policy document regarding Northern Ireland. The paper 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 party's wishes and was at odds with party policy; however, O'Kennedy's new policy was welcomed by the hardline Republican element at the grassroots level within the party.

Cabinet minister and European commissioner[edit]

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

In 1979, Lynch resigned as Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader. The subsequent leadership election was a contest between George Colley and Charles Haughey. Colley was the favoured choice of the outgoing leadership and 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 was the only cabinet minister to publicly endorse Haughey. 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 the position of European commissioner in January 1981. Because of his new appointment in Brussels, he also resigned from 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 a delegate to the president.

O'Kennedy's tenure in the European Commission was unhappy. 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 volatile period. A general election was called for February 1982, and O'Kennedy returned to contest his old seat. He was elected for Tipperary North once again and resigned as a European commissioner. 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 issue under Haughey and his failure to secure an overall majority in two elections. Fianna Fáil returned to power with the help of several Independent TDs, and O'Kennedy demanded a senior government position. His request was refused. Haughey offered him the post of Attorney General, but O'Kennedy declined. As a result, he was left out of the short-lived administration.

The government fell in October that same year, and Fianna Fáil lost power at the subsequent general election. A period of instability followed within Fianna Fáil as several TDs attempted to oust Charles Haughey as party leader. Desmond 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[edit]

Following the 1987 general election, Haughey was again Taoiseach and O'Kennedy returned to the cabinet as Minister for Agriculture and Food. This may have seemed like a demotion for someone with the experience of O'Kennedy; however, his nearly 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 unemployment rate.

In February 1992, Haughey 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 brought his cabinet career to an end.

Later years[edit]

O'Kennedy lost his seat at 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 at the 1997 general election. He sought the Fianna Fáil nomination in the 1997 presidential election, but received only 21 votes out of a total of 112, as Mary McAleese became the party's nominee and eventual victor of the election.

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.

O'Kennedy died on 15 April 2022,[4] aged 86.[5]


  1. ^ "Michael O'Kennedy". Oireachtas Members Database. Archived from the original on 10 August 2019. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  2. ^ Burke, Roisin (9 January 2011). "Where are they now: Michael O'Kennedy". Irish Independent. Archived from the original on 18 April 2022. Retrieved 4 March 2011.
  3. ^ "Michael O'Kennedy". ElectionsIreland.org. Archived from the original on 21 February 2011. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  4. ^ "Death Notice of Michael O'KENNEDY". RIP.ie. Archived from the original on 16 April 2022. Retrieved 3 May 2022.
  5. ^ "Tributes paid to former minister Michael O'Kennedy". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. 16 April 2022. Archived from the original on 18 April 2022. Retrieved 16 April 2022.
Political offices
Preceded by Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education
Succeeded by
Minister without portfolio
Preceded by Minister for Transport and Power
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Finance
Succeeded by
Minister for the Public Service
Preceded by Irish European Commissioner
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Agriculture and Food
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister for Labour
Succeeded by