A life at the political battlefront

County View

County View
John Healy

FEW Irish politicians can have more fully experienced the ups and downs, the sheer rollercoaster of national affairs, than Bobby Molloy, who died last week. Molloy was a central figure in most of the volcanic events which convulsed Irish politics during the ‘80s and ‘90s. They were times of political enmity red in tooth and claw. It was endless combat and conflict, vicious and uncompromising, fought out on bare-knuckle terms. And there were few whose careers were as dogged by controversy as the man from Galway West.
Bobby Molloy was a TD from 1965 to 2002, but it was his decision toleave Fianna Fáil in 1986 to join the newly formed PDs which was the watershed moment in his career. It was a decision hard taken, but one whose roots went back a long way. He was still a novice TD when he supported George Colley against the victor, Jack Lynch, to become Fianna Fáil leader in 1966. He was to repeat the same decision 13 years later when the leadership again became vacant. Charlie Haughey sought Molloy’s support for his nomination; Molloy refused, once again opting to support Colley.
Earlier, he had survived a bruising experience in 1973 when, under Dáil privilege, he had accused the Labour party Minister, James Tully, of having an improper commercial relationship with a Meath developer. Although he retracted the charges, he was condemned by a judicial tribunal and censured by the Dáil for abuse of privilege.
His rejection of Haughey was to be the start of a long, divisive, bitter conflict within Fianna Fáil, a conflict which would lead to the formation of the PDs. Molloy became one of the ‘gang of 22’, the anti-Haughey faction in the party which, banished to the back benches, plotted and connived at the leader’s overthrow. Eventually, the split came. Des O’Malley, Molloy and Mary Harney led the defectors, the PDs were formed, and 20,000 people turned up in Leisureland in Galway for the launch of the party. Two weeks later, a similar capacity crowd turned out in the Royal Ballroom to launch the party in Mayo.
The battle lines were well and truly drawn, but politics is a pragmatic business. By 1989, the bitterness was set aside when the PDs agreed to enter a coalition government with Fianna Fáil, with Molloy - sacked by Haughey ten years earlier without even the courtesy of being informed in advance - returned as Minister for Energy. And although the fortunes of the PDs quickly declined, and they were reduced to just four seats after the 1997 election, they still found themselves in the position of being needed by Fianna Fáil to make up the numbers again. Molloy conducted the negotiations which saw Mary Harney being appointed Tanaiste and Minister for Health.
Bobby Molloy had decided not to contest the 2002 election but, under pressure from Harney, he relented and agreed to let his name go forward one more time. But it was not to be. In a validation of Enoch Powell’s famous assertion that ‘all political lives end in failure’, he found himself at the centre of a controversy which caused his resignation from public life.
It came about as the result of a high profile rape case which saw a Connemara man sentenced to eleven years for the systematic abuse of his young daughter. The trial judge, Philip O’Sullivan, complained to the court that someone representing Molloy had sought to phone the judge in his chambers to clarify whether he had received certain correspondence from the sister of the victim. Such an intervention, said the judge, was ‘quite improper’.
Bobby Molloy resigned the following day.