Former Fianna Fáil TD and minister of state Thomas Meaney, who has died at the age of 91, was a member of the Dáil for 17 years and a prominent figure in Cork politics.
He was part of a group of Fianna Fáil deputies known as “The Club of 22” who opposed the leadership of Charles Haughey in the early 1980s.
Tom Meaney was born on August 11, 1931, in Millstreet, Co Cork. He was a member of Cork County Council from 1970 to 1977 and a TD for Fianna Fáil from 1965 in the constituency known as Cork Mid and, when it was abolished in 1981, moved to Cork North-West where he won a seat in two general elections before retiring in 1982.
He was party spokesperson on defence in 1973 and minister of state at the Department of Industry, Commerce and Tourism from 1980 to 1981.
He was the first minister from a Dublin government to meet a counterpart from Northern Ireland to establish north-south measures to promote tourism on both sides of the Border.
His father, Con Meaney (1890-1970), who had previously been a TD for Cork North from 1937 to 1943, won a seat in the Cork Mid constituency for Fianna Fáil in 1961.
When he retired at the 1965 general election, Tom was elected in his place and held the seat in three subsequent general elections.
After the constituency was abolished in 1981 he moved to Cork North-West.
It was a turbulent period in Irish politics, but Meaney won a seat in the general election of June that year and he held it at the next ballot outing in February 1982, before retiring at the November 1982 general election.
The eruption of the Troubles in 1969 cast a cloud over life in Leinster House and, in a February 2009 interview with Brendan O’Brien on local television channel LTV1, Meaney recalled that at a time of crisis and tension in the north during the early 1970s the then Taoiseach and Cork TD Jack Lynch held a meeting with cabinet ministers in Millstreet Garda station.
“The Northern question was always there,” he said.
Meaney was in London at an inter-parliamentary meeting when the Arms Crisis erupted in 1970 with the sacking of government ministers. Irish politicians in attendance were summoned home.
The Cork TD was critical of the British government’s approach to Northern Ireland, saying: “I always think that if they gave something to the nationalists, the Provisional IRA would never be born.”
He was “very close” to Lynch at the time and said later: “Fianna Fáil were lucky to have him when he became Taoiseach.”
There was a feeling in some quarters that the Irish Army should cross the Border to defend the nationalist population but Meaney commented: “If you look at it, what Army had we? We had a very small Army and, the point is, the United Nations were not willing to come to our help.”
In a February 1978 Budget speech, George Colley, then minister for finance, announced a highly controversial 2pc levy on agricultural produce.
Meaney led internal opposition and put a motion down at the parliamentary party. Changes were agreed and many backbenchers went so far as to publicly back the modified scheme, but were greatly annoyed when, without giving them advance notice, the levy was suspended pending agreement with farming organisations.
On October 6, 1982, the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party voted on a motion of no confidence in Haughey’s leadership, tabled by Kildare TD Charlie McCreevy.
Meaney was among those who supported the motion, which was defeated by 58 votes to 22 in a roll-call vote.
Anti-Haughey TDs were jostled by an angry crowd as they left Leinster House and former minister Jim Gibbons was even knocked to the ground.
Reflecting on all the public figures he had met, Meaney said world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali was “one of the greatest men I ever shook hands with”. In July 1972 Ali was in Dublin for a fight at Croke Park with Al ‘Blue’ Lewis and he met Jack Lynch in the Taoiseach’s office.
Meaney recalled: “We all had tea with him… It was a fabulous time and the laughter we had was mighty.”
Tom Meaney was predeceased by his wife Joan (née O’Donoghue), who he married in June 1962.
He passed away peacefully at home in Rathroe, Derrinagree, Co Cork, on St Stephen’s Day and is survived by his children Noreen, Con, John, Tomás, Siobhán and Donal as well as grandchildren, in-laws and other relatives.
by Deaglán de Bréadún in the Irish Independent
January 01 2023