Michael O'Kennedy (born 21 February 1936) is an Irish former Fianna Fáil politician who served as Minister for Labour from 1991 to 1992, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from 1987 to 1991, European Commissioner for Personnel, Administration and the Statistics Office from 1981 to 1982, Minister for Finance and Minister for the Public Service from 1979 to 1980, Minister for Economic Planning and Development from 1979 to 1980, Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1977 to 1979, Minister for Transport and Power from January 1973 to March 1973, Minister without portfolio from 1972 to 1973, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education from 1970 to 1973. He served as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Tipperary North constituency from 1969 to 1981, 1982 to 1992 and 1997 to 2002. He was a Senator for the Cultural and Educational Panel from 1965 to 1969, and for the Administrative Panel from 1993 to 1997.
|Minister for Labour|
14 November 1991 – 11 February 1992
|Preceded by||Bertie Ahern|
|Succeeded by||Brian Cowen|
|Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food|
10 March 1987 – 14 November 1991
|Preceded by||Austin Deasy|
|Succeeded by||Michael Woods|
|European Commissioner for Personnel, Administration and the Statistics Office|
6 January 1981 – 5 March 1982
|Preceded by||New office|
|Succeeded by||Richard Burke|
|Minister for Finance|
12 December 1979 – 16 December 1980
|Preceded by||George Colley|
|Succeeded by||Gene Fitzgerald|
|Minister for the Public Service|
12 December 1979 – 24 March 1980
|Preceded by||George Colley|
|Succeeded by||Gene Fitzgerald|
|Minister for Economic Planning and Development|
12 December 1979 – 22 January 1980
|Preceded by||Martin O'Donoghue|
|Succeeded by||George Colley|
|Minister for Foreign Affairs|
5 July 1977 – 11 December 1979
|Preceded by||Garret FitzGerald|
|Succeeded by||Brian Lenihan|
|Minister for Transport and Power|
3 January 1973 – 14 March 1973
|Preceded by||Brian Lenihan|
|Succeeded by||Peter Barry|
|Minister without portfolio|
14 December 1972 – 3 January 1973
|Preceded by||Office created|
|Succeeded by||Office abolished|
|Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education|
9 May 1970 – 3 January 1973
|Preceded by||Bobby Molloy|
|Succeeded by||Jim Tunney|
June 1997 – April 2002
February 1982 – November 1992
July 1969 – 6 January 1981
10 January 1993 – 19 June 1997
15 May 1965 – 21 June 1969
|Constituency||Cultural and Educational Panel|
|Born||21 February 1936|
Nenagh, County Tipperary, Ireland
|Political party||Fianna Fáil|
|Spouse(s)||Breda Heavey (m. 1965)|
|Education||St. Flannan's College|
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. 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 subsequently called to the Bar in 1961. Twelve years later he was appointed Senior Counsel.
O'Kennedy joined Fianna Fáil in 1957, and became an active member of the party. He contested the 1965 general election in Tipperary North, however, he narrowly failed to win a seat. He later secured election to Seanad Éireann where he became party spokesperson on a range of issues including finance and education.
O'Kennedy contested the 1969 general election and was successful in securing a seat in Dáil Éireann. 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 Gael-Labour 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. It was after this reshuffle that he revealed his future leadership aspirations as he became associated with a hardline policy document regarding Northern Ireland. The document 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 wishes of the party and was at odds with party policy; however, O'Kennedy's new policy was welcomed by the hardline Republican element at grassroots level within the party.
Cabinet Minister and European Commissioner
In 1979, Lynch suddenly announced his resignation as Taoiseach and as Fianna Fáil leader. The subsequent leadership contest was a straight battle between George Colley and Charles Haughey. Colley was the favoured choice of the outgoing leadership and of 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 came out as 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 up the position of European Commissioner in January 1981. Because of his new appointment in Brussels he also resigned 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 delegate to the President.
O'Kennedy's tenure in the European Commission was an unhappy one. 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 particularly unstable period. A general election was called for February 1982 and O'Kennedy decided to return to contest his old seat. His gamble paid off as he was returned to the Dáil for Tipperary North once again and he 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 a number of Independent TDs and O'Kennedy demanded a senior government position. His request was refused. Haughey did offer 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 of that same year, and Fianna Fáil lost power at the subsequent general election. A period of instability followed within Fianna Fáil as a number of 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
Following the 1987 general election, Haughey was again Taoiseach and O'Kennedy returned to the cabinet as Minister for Agriculture and Food. For someone with the experience of O'Kennedy this may have seemed like a demotion, however, his near 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 rate of unemployment.
In February 1992, Haughey eventually 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 effectively brought his cabinet career to an end.
Worse was to follow as 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. That same year he sought the Fianna Fáil nomination for President of Ireland, but only received a mediocre 21 votes out of a total of 112, as Mary McAleese became the party's nominee and eventual victor.
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.