|Minister for Defence|
29 September 2004 – 18 February 2010
|Preceded by||Michael Smith|
|Succeeded by||Brian Cowen|
|Assumed office |
February 1982 – February 2011
William Gerard O'Dea
1 November 1952
|Political party||Fianna Fáil|
|Spouse(s)||Geraldine Kennedy (m. 1990)|
Willie O'Dea (// DEE; born 1 November 1952) is an Irish Fianna Fáil politician who has been a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Limerick City constituency since 2011, and previously from 1982 to 2011 for the Limerick East constituency. He has served as Minister for Defence from 2004 to 2010, and was a Minister of State in different departments from 1992 to 1994, and again from 1997 to 2004.
Early and private life
O'Dea was born in Limerick in 1952, but he was raised in Kilteely, County Limerick. He was educated at the Patrician Brothers College in Ballyfin, County Laois, and University College Dublin where he studied law. He qualified as a barrister at King's Inns, Dublin and as an accountant from the Institute of Certified Accountants. He worked as both a barrister and as an accountant before embarking on a career in politics. He also lectured in the law faculties of both University College Dublin and the National Institute of Higher Education, Limerick (now the University of Limerick). As a lecturer, he taught future cabinet colleague and Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
Early political career
O'Dea first held political office as a Fianna Fáil member of Limerick County Council. He served on that authority until 1992. He first stood for election to Dáil Éireann in Limerick East at the 1981 general election, but was unsuccessful. He was elected to the Dáil on his second attempt at the February 1982 general election, capturing Fianna Fáil's second seat.
Like his former constituency colleague Desmond O'Malley, O'Dea was opposed to Charles Haughey's leadership throughout the 1980s, becoming a member of the so-called Gang of 22. When O'Malley founded Progressive Democrats in 1985 and left Fianna Fáil, O'Dea became the only Fianna Fáil TD in the five-seat Limerick East constituency.
In 1992, Albert Reynolds succeeded Charles Haughey as Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fáil, following a widespread cabinet reshuffle, O'Dea, became a Minister of State at the Department of Justice. Following the collapse of the Fianna Fáil-Labour Party coalition government in 1994, O'Dea found himself on the opposition benches. After the 1997 general election, Fianna Fáil were back in government in coalition with the Progressive Democrats and O'Dea was appointed a Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science. Here he had responsibility for Adult Education and the School Transport Scheme. He oversaw reform and increased investment in adult education and back to school initiatives, starting with the launch of Green Paper in November 1998.
Following the 2002 general election, O'Dea was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform with special responsibility for Equality and Disability Issues. His main responsibility during this period was the passage of the Disabilities Bill, which the government had been forced to withdraw in early 2002 in the teeth of opposition from the disability sector. After a number of changes, including a form of the independent assessment of needs demanded by the disability organisations, O'Dea reintroduced the Bill in September 2004 along with an implementation package.
In November 2005, O'Dea was photographed during a media event at the Curragh Camp pointing an automatic pistol at a photographer. The photo appeared on the front page of The Irish Times the following day. O'Dea apologised saying that it was not his intention to glamorise gun crime.
As Minister for Defence, O'Dea prioritised two particular issues: the recruitment of more women to the Defence Forces and the promotion of more serving non-commissioned members to the commissioned ranks, often called "promotion from the ranks".
O'Dea and Limerick
In December 2008, O'Dea and Tánaiste Mary Coughlan flew to Dell's Corporate HQ in Texas, in a last-ditch and ultimately futile attempt to stop the closure of Dell's manufacturing plant in Raheen, Limerick. Manufacturing was moved to Poland, with the loss of about two thirds of the jobs at Dell's Limerick operation.
The murder of two innocent men in Limerick within months of each other: Shane Geoghegan and Roy Collins increased pressure on O'Dea locally, as a member of the cabinet, to secure changes to the law and greater resources to tackle Limerick city's gangland crime.
On 5 February 2010, O'Dea announced that the government would not deliver its commitments to fund the Limerick Regeneration project. The €1.7bn funds (between 2009 and 2018) promised by the government will no longer be delivered.
Defamation case and resignation
On 10 March 2009, O'Dea alleged in an interview with the Limerick Leader that a brothel had been operating in a house owned by Nessan Quinlivan, brother of Maurice Quinlivan who at the time was a Sinn Féin candidate in Limerick for the upcoming June 2009 local elections. On 14 April 2009, O'Dea signed an affidavit to the courts, denying making such allegations. Quinlivan sought an injunction under the Prevention of Electoral Abuses Act 1923: under section 11 of the act it is a criminal offence to make or publish a false statement of fact in relation to an election candidate. In December 2009, O'Dea settled the case out of court and apologised to Quinlivan for making "false and defamatory statements" during the interview, after a tape recording of the interview emerged. O'Dea also paid an undisclosed sum in damages to Quinlivan. A settlement agreement was read out in the High Court.
On 16 February 2010, Fine Gael announced it intended to table a motion of no confidence in O'Dea, however, the government responded with a motion of confidence. The government won the confidence motion in O'Dea in the Dáil on 17 February 2010. The Green Party, coalition partners in government with O'Dea's party, voted with Fianna Fáil on the motion. However, Green Party Chairman Senator Dan Boyle wrote on Twitter, that he has "no confidence" in O'Dea and declaring him to be "compromised".
On 18 February 2010, O'Dea resigned as Minister for Defence. In his resignation letter, he said that he had come to the conclusion: "that my continuing in office would distract from the important and vital work of the Government". O'Dea said he decided to resign when it became clear that the Green Party would no longer support the Government if he was to stay in office.
Reappointment to front bench
In the 2011 election he was re-elected to the newly formed Limerick City constituency, polling 16% of the vote, down from the 39% he polled four years previously. He was the Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation from April 2011 to July 2012. In July 2012, he was appointed as Spokesperson on Social Protection and Social Equality.
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- A contemporary at UCD was later Attorney General and Cabinet Minister Michael McDowell.
- Not the former editor of The Irish Times.
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