O'Malley's Prospectives


 "I have no interest in or ambition for the leadership of Fianna Fail at this time and I am quite sure I will not be considered as a successor to Jack Lynch, when he eventually comes to retire", Desmond O'Malley said recently in an interview with Magill.


"I anticipate that there will be just two candidates for the Fianna Fail leadership when Jack Lynch goes."


Who does he think they will be?


"The two most frequently mentioned are George Colley and Charlie Haughey. Two is quite enough and even if a third or fourth candidate enters the fray, I will not be a candidate".

Which of the two expected candidates would he support?


"I am not going to say, certainly not at this stage. The fact is that Jack Lynch is leader of Fianna Fail and there is no reason why he should retire within the next three or four years, at least. Certainly it is my hope that he will remain on that long, for he has still an enormous contribution to make. Therefore, when the question of a successor is likely to arise in concrete terms, circumstances are likely to be very different from now and it would therefore be foolhardy to speculate on who one was going to support, or oppose, or whatever. All I'm saying is that, I will not be a candidate for the leadership, when Jack Lynch goes."


Would he be a candidate for the leadership at some later stage?


"This is building hypothesis upon hypothesis. Since I feel unable to speculate on how I would vote in a leadership election when Jack Lynch retires, I can hardly be drawn into speculation on what will happen when whoever succeeds Jack Lynch, retires."


But is

he ruling out the possibility that he would then be a candidate, as he appears to be doing for the next contest?


"No, but I emphasise that I just cannot see that far ahead in politics. I am primarily interested in doing the job at hand and I'm greatly enjoying this at Industry, Commerce and Energy and I'm not giving any time to speculating on what is likely to happen in six, ten or fifteen years' time. I may not still be around then."


He said in a recent radio interview that Jack Lynch was the only Fianna Fail leader to encounter internal party disloyalty. Whom did he have in mind?


"Several people who have made public statements from time to time, which have had the intention of undermining his leadership. But not only those. I also had in mind members who gossip behind his back in a manner deeply damaging not just to Jack Lynch's position but to the interests of the party and the Government. "


Would he like to specify whom he had in mind?


"No, there is no need to be specific about these things. In any event, those who have made public statements are publicly known, while it is an internal party matter that some people are privately disloyal."


Did he have Charlie Haughey in mind as one of those who have been either publicly or privately disloyal?


"I feel compromised in being asked that question in that I feel it improper for one Minister to comment publicly on the activities of a colleague and yet if I leave the answer to the question there, I am leaving myself open to the interpretation that I did have Charlie Haughey in mind. So just to get things straight, and I will not answer further questions about my Government colleagues, I want to say I that I have no reason to believe that Charlie Haughey has been disloyal, during the recent past." .


Would he serve in a Government led by Charlie Haughey?


"I am really unhappy about being nudged into these highly speculative areas. It is speculative that Charlie Haughey would be Taoiseach and it is speculative that if he were, he would invite me to serve in Government. So really, all 1 can say is that I would loyally accept the democratic decision of the Fianna Fail party whatever framework emerged."



We were back to safer ground when discussing his early involvement in politics.


"I was first connected with Fianna Fail when I was at UCD. At the time political party branches were banned from the college by the then President, Dr. Tierney, so we used to meet in a nearby cafe, The Singing Kettle. Gerry Collins was the first chairman of the branch, I think, and Michael Donnelly, now a Senator, was secretary. I joined Fianna Fail, I suppose, because of a family tradition, although my views were probably quite to the left of the party at the time."


What happened to his views since then?


"I suppose like many other people, when I assumed greater maturity, the realities of life and of society made a greater impression upon me, than they had in my college days. My bible then was The New Statesman, which I read avariciously. I also read a lot of British socialist literature at the time, such as Anthony Crossland's book on socialism. Whereas, I defined my political locus in terms then of British politics, I found myself inclined more towards the Gateskillite wing of the Labour Party, than with the Bevan wing. I suppose, really, it was not that dramatic a switch for me to my present position."


Was he concerned then about civil liberties?


"I suppose I was,' although the civil liberties issues in those days were quite different from what are now considered civil liberties issues. Censorship agitated us greatly in those times and I remember becoming very concerned, about a refusal by the Jesuit authorities in the university residence where I stayed, Hatch Hall, to permit Owen Sheehy Skeffington, to speak at an inaugural meeting of the debating society there, when I was auditor. In a gesture of defiance, I insisted that a vacant chair be placed prominently on the platform at the meeting, in acknowledgement of the alleged censorship."


Was he a wild man at that time?


"No, I wasn't".


Was it sometime later then that he became a wild man?


"No, I was never a wild man."


Wasn't there an incident in the mid-sixties in Limerick where he caused a scene in a hotel, struck someone, threw drink at a woman and was generally obstreperous?


"That incident was grossly exaggerated and misreported. I'm not going to revive that now only to say that it was pretty trivial and not nearly as colourful, as has been rumoured."

His entry into politics had been accidental, caused by the death of his uncle, Donough O 'Malley, and there hadn't been much evidence of any great political interest on his part until then.


"It is not true to say I was not politically interested. It just never occurred to me that there would be any opportunity for me to get elected. I was practicing as a solicitor in my father's practice and I expected that I would continue doing that for the rest of my life."


Given his youthful, vaguely radical leanings and concern for civil liberties, does he regret anything he did as

Minister for Justice?


"I very much regret that my period in Justice didn't permit me to engage concertedly in law reform. This was the area in which I was primarily concerned, but the exigencies of the security

situation didn't permit me to devote much time to it.

In addition, the 'Department of Justice is so structured that when a major security crisis breaks, as occurred in the three years at the beginning of the seventies, much of the resources of the senior staff of the Department, is directed in that direction. This means that not alone is the Minister heavily preoccupied with security considerations but so, too, is much of the top echelon of the Department."


Apart from the absence of law reform when he was in Justice, how about the numerous infringements of civil liberties that occurred at that time - the establishment of the juryless Special Criminal Court, the enactment of the Offences Against The State (Amendment) Act 1972, and the allegations of Garda brutality which occurred in this time?


"I was unfortunate to be Minister for Justice at a time when, there was a major subversive threat to the very existence of this State. It was my first priority to secure the safety of the state and the life and liberty of the citizens. Inevitably in such circumstances there are curtailments of civil liberty, but these always must take second place to the security of the state, without which, there can be no basis at all for civil liberty. I therefore have no regrets about the establishment of the Special Criminal Court, it was absolutely necessary at the time, given the degree of intimidation that occurred. As for the Offences Against The State (Amendment) Act, I shudder to think what kind of society we would have here now were it not for that Act. It was the only truly effective measure against the IRA and had it not been introduced, then I believe the IRA might have gravely threatened the security of this state. As for the allegations of Garda brutality - such allegations are part of the subversive armoury and I was never disposed to treat them as any different, for there was never any objective evidence that there was any kind of systematic or widespread mistreatment of people in custody. "


It would have been quite easy to build into the Garda system, an independent complaints procedure of a Garda authority which could have investigated allegations of brutality,


"I think the system was quite adequate as it was and is - there were investigatory mechanisms and I believe these worked quite effectively, as evidenced by the prosecutions of Gardaí from time to time, for various offences."


When in opposition, Fianna Fail called for an independent investigation of complaints, but since then has promoted the Gardaí who were implicated in these complaints.


"I don't know anything about that now. It is not part of my current brief, thank God."


For somebody so seemingly obsessive about the security of the State, it is rather odd that O 'Malley should have ended up in Fianna Fail. The party, after all, had its origins in the faction that refused to accept the democratic decision of the First Dáil on acceptance of the Treaty and that faction then fought a war against the newly constituted state. Then when Fianna Fail was formally founded, it first of all abstained from the Dáil and even when it joined, it did so with hesitation - for instance, Sean Lemass once referred to the party, as a "slightly constitutional" one.


"These historical events occurred long before I was born, let along joined Fianna Fail and I don't think they have any relevance today. There is too great a propensity to interpret historical happenings in the light of latter day circumstances rather than in the circumstances of the time and I think this question is guilty of this error."

"In any event, the important issue in Fianna Fail's history is that it was the party which founded the basis of the Irish state, in the sovereign authority of the Irish people. This was done in the 1937 constitution which abrogated the Free State constitution, which was founded not on the sovereign will of the Irish people, but on a Westminster Act of Parliament."


Des 0 'Malley has been said to be more in the pragmatic Lemass tradition of the party, rather than in the, ' de Valera republican mould. Is this so?


"I'm not sure that the two traditions are in any sense, exclusive to one another, but it is true that I now see the challenges facing us in terms of concrete economic realities, than in vague, theoretical generalities. We faced two years ago a huge challenge on job creation and I believe that in our two and a half years in office, we have made great strides on that front"

The effort has slowed down in recent months because of external factors, but 1979 will be the year in which we created more than twice the net number of industrial jobs than at any time in our history - the previous highest figure being last year. This kind of achievement has gone largely ignored, much to the detriment, not just of the reputation of this Government, but to the country's morale.


"We now face the daunting problem of creating the kind of industrial relations environment, which will provide internal conditions conducive to our job creation targets. It is unfortunately the case that irreparable harm is being done to the welfare of this society, by the pursuit of sectional narrow interests."


What is the Government going to do about it? Is 0

'Malley in favour of legislation to curb, for instance, unofficial strikes?


"I think that some legislation will be necessary, but I don't think that this on its own can solve the problem."


Wasn't the attainment of the kind of consensus on industrial relations which he says is necessary, damaged, by the inflated expectations which the Fianna Fail party's manifesto stimulated?


"I don't accept this. We had to give the economy a major boost in order to begin to cope with the job creation problem and we needed to boost morale in the economy as a whole. This we did effectively and I don't think that expectations were unrealistically heightened. Incidentally, I didn't say that we must create a consensus on the industrial relations front. I am distrustful generally of Governments trying to create consensus, except on the broadest plane related to the institutions of the state and the like. Of course consensus is always desirable where it can be attained, but its pursuit must never be a substitute for Government decisions and action. I think that perhaps we went too far in an attempt to arrive at a consensus on details on the taxation issue, for instance. I'm not dissenting from what was done at the time because I fully approve of it, but in retrospect, I think we were over-concerned with achieving consensus, which is especially difficult in an area such as taxation."


His handling of last summer's oil crisis was widely criticised at the time, in that he took on the multi-national oil corporations and lost. It seemed that the oil companies were holding up oil supplies, as a device to push through price increases.


"It is true that there were difficulties about oil supplies and that I pushed the oil companies hard to speed up supplies, but there was no question of my refusing to give them price increases and they holding back supplies as a result. The truth of the matter is that I gave them price increases which the National Prices Commission had not recommended and, in the case of Texaco, I gave a price increase even when they had not formally applied for it. So there was no holding back on my part in price increases.

"There was one minor row with the chief executive of one of the oil companies arising out of my pressure on supplies, but this blew over immediately and the impression given that I was constantly at loggerheads with them is false. John Vaughan of Esso, said last month that relations between the oil companies and my Department were excellent and that reports to the contrary were entirely misleading."


All this suggests that 0 'Malley had gone to the opposite extreme, giving price increases where they didn't seem to be necessary and generally accepting, without question, the bona fides of the operation of these multinationals.


"The granting of these price increases were merely technicalities and my allowing a higher price increase beyond that recommended by the National Prices Commission, was merely because they were mechanically following the British pattern, which didn't seem to me to be appropriate here. The British Prices Commission had proposed a complicated mix of prices which had no relevance here. I simply applied an overall level which was the same price of the British oil.

"Of course, one must feel a certain reserve in one's dealings with these huge oil concerns. For instance, when the oil companies here apply for a price increase, they simply furnish a receipt, showing the cost of the oil they are buying from their parent company. The fact that the parent company is very probably fixing the price in such a way as to maximise its profits in areas of lowest taxation and vice-versa, is something which we are powerless to look into. The only effective way of dealing with this problem would be if the Governments of every country which deal with these companies were to tax the oil companies, on their total world wide profits, in proportion to the amount of business these companies do, with the country concerned. This would mean that the oil companies could not escape paying a reasonable and proper rate of tax and that their rigging of oil prices from country to country, would be frustrated. But, as I say, one would need the co-operation of every country which deals with them and this is not realistic at present."


One of 0 'Malley's most significant moves since coming into Industry, Commerce and Energy has been the establishment of the National Oil Corporation. What is its purpose, why the need for it and will it have any involvement in an oil extraction company, if oil is found off our shores?


"The energy scene has been changing rapidly over the last few years one of the most significant of these changes being that the Governments of producing countries, increasingly want to deal directly with the governments of consuming countries through the latter's national oil corporations. The significance of the oil companies will diminish as this process develops and that of the national oil corporations will increase. This is the main significance of the National Oil Corporation here.

"Ireland is in a particularly favourable position to avail of this development because of the surprisingly large fund of goodwill that exists in many of the oil producing countries, towards us. They feel a certain empathy with us that we too were colonised and we too, never colonised. I have found that this is a very real factor in our relations with many of the oil producing countries and the National Oil Corporation, will take full advantage of this goodwill."


Finally, 0 'Malley's major political debit has been his over-abrasive personality. He has made more enemies than many other TDs have written letters, which is a major deficiency in a politician whose function is to persuade and communicate.


"I accept that I have not concerned myself unduly with the public relations side of being a politician and that given my personality, I have often gratuitously insulted and been rude to people. I regret the latter, for it is obviously indefensible to be needlessly hurtful. But I do find the self-projection aspect of politics somewhat repellant and I find myself quite incapable of dealing with. I must live with the political consequences of this deficiency but I trust there are compensating factors in my make-up, but these are not for me to identify."