Michael O'Leary (politician)

Michael O'Leary (8 May 1936 – 11 May 2006) was an Irish judge, politician and barrister who served as a Judge of the District Court from 1997 to 2006, Tánaiste and Minister for Energy from 1981 to 1982, Leader of the Labour Party from 1981 to 1982 and Minister for Labour from 1973 to 1977. He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1965 to 1987.[1] He was a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from 1979 to 1981.

Michael O'Leary
Michael O'Leary 1979.jpg
O'Leary in 1979
Judge of the District Court
In office
20 March 1997 – 1 May 2006
Nominated byGovernment of Ireland
Appointed byMary Robinson
In office
30 June 1981 – 9 March 1982
TaoiseachGarret FitzGerald
Preceded byGeorge Colley
Succeeded byRay MacSharry
Leader of the Labour Party
In office
17 June 1981 – 1 November 1982
Preceded byFrank Cluskey
Succeeded byDick Spring
Minister for Energy
In office
30 June 1981 – 9 March 1982
TaoiseachGarret FitzGerald
Preceded byGeorge Colley
Succeeded byAlbert Reynolds
Minister for Labour
In office
14 March 1973 – 5 July 1977
TaoiseachLiam Cosgrave
Preceded byJoseph Brennan
Succeeded byGene Fitzgerald
Teachta Dála
In office
November 1982 – February 1987
ConstituencyDublin South-West
In office
June 1981 – November 1982
ConstituencyDublin Central
In office
April 1965 – June 1981
ConstituencyDublin North-Central
Member of the European Parliament
In office
1 July 1979 – 1 July 1981
Personal details
Born(1936-05-08)8 May 1936
Cork, Ireland
Died11 May 2006(2006-05-11) (aged 70)
Saint-Sever-de-Rustan, France
Resting placeSaint-Sever Abbey,
Landes, France
Political partyFine Gael
Other political
Labour Party (until 1982)
Spouse(s)Mary O'Leary
(m. 1965; d. 2006)
EducationPresentation Brothers College, Cork
Alma mater

He resigned from the Labour Party in 1982 to join Fine Gael.

Early lifeEdit

O'Leary was born in Cork in 1936. He was the son of a publican, O'Leary was educated at Presentation College, University College Cork, Columbia University, and King's Inns. On returning to Ireland, he became involved in the Labour Party and was employed as Education Officer for the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (ITGWU). In this role he was instrumental in establishing the Universities Branch, affiliated to Dublin North-Central constituency, bringing together Labour Party students of the Dublin University Fabian Society in Trinity College Dublin and of University College Dublin.

Political careerEdit

O'Leary was first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Labour Party TD for Dublin North-Central at the 1965 general election.[2] His agent was Bob Mitchell, Chairman of Dublin University Fabian Society, who could claim credit in a dirty campaign for picking up transfers to squeeze out the Labour Party front-runner on the 11th recount.

When he was first elected to the Dáil, O'Leary encouraged the Labour Party to take a more left-wing stance in its policies. He was initially strongly opposed to the idea of a coalition with Fine Gael, but following the 1969 general election he believed that there was a need for a new approach. When the Labour Party and Fine Gael formed the National Coalition government following the 1973 general election he was appointed Minister for Labour.

In 1977, he was narrowly defeated by Frank Cluskey for the leadership of the party. O'Leary was elected to the European Parliament for the Dublin constituency in 1979.

Cluskey resigned as Labour Party leader when he lost his Dáil seat at the 1981 general election and O'Leary was elected unanimously to succeed him. In the short-lived Fine Gael–Labour Party government of 1981 to 1982, O'Leary became Tánaiste and Minister for Energy. After the government's defeat at the February 1982 general election he remained leader until he suddenly resigned both the leadership and his party membership on 28 October, in the aftermath of a party conference vote on a potential coalition with Fine Gael.[3] On 3 November he joined Fine Gael.[4][5] At the November 1982 general election, he was elected a Fine Gael TD in the Dublin South-West constituency. After the election, a new Fine Gael–Labour government was formed, but O'Leary was kept out of cabinet office by his former Labour colleagues.

In 1985, O'Leary introduced a private member's bill on divorce which preceded the government's own 1986 divorce referendum.

When the Progressive Democrats were formed in 1985 he considered joining, but remained with Fine Gael.

He did not contest the 1987 general election and afterwards he moved back to Cork and practised as a barrister. He was elected as a Fine Gael member of Cork City Council at the 1991 local elections. He unsuccessfully contested the 1992 general election in Cork North-Central and received about 2% of the valid poll.[6]

He was appointed a District Court judge in 1997 by the Fine Gael–Labour Party–Democratic Left coalition government.


O'Leary died in France in May 2006, following a drowning accident in a swimming pool.[6] He was on holiday, having retired as a judge just days earlier.


  1. ^ "Michael O'Leary". Oireachtas Members Database. 25 November 1986. Archived from the original on 19 July 2019. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
  2. ^ "Michael O'Leary". ElectionsIreland.org. Archived from the original on 25 September 2012. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
  3. ^ Walsh, Dick (29 October 1982). "O'Leary gives up leadership and party". The Irish Times. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  4. ^ "Joint statement by Dr Garret FitzGerald, TD, and Mr Michael O'Leary, TD". The Irish Times. 3 November 1982. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  5. ^ "O'Leary welcomed as member of Fine Gael". The Irish Times. 4 November 1982. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  6. ^ a b "Former Tánaiste Michael O'Leary dies in France". RTÉ News. 12 May 2006. Archived from the original on 17 February 2012. Retrieved 12 May 2006.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by Minister for Labour
Succeeded by
Preceded by Tánaiste
Succeeded by
Minister for Energy
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Labour Party
Succeeded by