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Did Des O'Malley really stop a row by wielding Saddam's sword around the Dáil?

The story is true… sort of.

LAST NIGHT’S SECOND episode of the RTÉ drama ‘Charlie’ contained a scene in which Haughey’s arch-rival Des O’Malley was shown wielding a samurai sword around Leinster House in order to break-up a heated row among Fianna Fáil TDs.

omalley sword

The sword was seen earlier in the episode when representatives of the notorious Iraqi president Saddam Hussein visited Government Buildings to broker an agreement with Haughey for the purchase of a large quantity of beef from Ireland.

The two parties exchanged gifts with the Iraqis giving Haughey a samurai sword and the Taoiseach handing over a hurley which he describes as “an ancient Irish weapon”. This prompted the Iraqi official to joke that it was no wonder it took us so long to get rid of the British.

haughey sword Source: RTÉ Player

Things weren’t so light-hearted later in the programme when the sword, by this time on display in Leinster House, made another appearance in a scene at the end of a failed attempt by O’Malley and Charlie McCreevy to unseat Haughey as leader of Fianna Fáil in October 1982.

As a victorious Haughey and his entourage depart the Fianna Fail parliamentary party meeting room, a row breaks out between his supporters and his opponents . One of them is punched before O’Malley, attempting to broker peace, also takes a punch to the face.

This prompts the seething O’Malley to take the sword out of the display cabinet on the wall and wield it threateningly in an effort to end the fracas.

Unsurprisingly, viewers were asking whether this really happened:

Tweet by @peter Source: peter/Twitter

The short answer is yes, but not all that you saw last night is entirely accurate. First of all, it wasn’t Des O’Malley and it probably wasn’t Saddam’s sword. But a sword was involved.

Here’s what really happened…

In RTÉ’s landmark four-part documentary series ‘Haughey’, O’Malley and McCreevy told of the incredible pressure they came under over their attempts to overthrow Haughey, recalling how they were followed, received anonymous phone calls late at night, had their phones tapped and even received death threats.

“I saw grown men break down and cry. I saw people, they were in fear of the livelihoods and their families and the pressure was absolutely immense,” McCreevy said.

So on 6 October 1982, the mood around Leinster House was described in various quarters as ‘menacing’ after a marathon parliamentary party meeting. In his book Conduct Unbecoming, O’Malley recalls that Haughey’s supporters had spent the day drinking in the Dáil bar.

As Haughey’s opponents left after their failed attempts to unseat him they were hounded and barracked by drunken Haugheyites in Leinster House. One of those who came in for particularly violent treatment was Jim Gibbons, a former defence minister who gave evidence against Haughey in the Arms Trial in 1970.

gibbons 4 Source: RTÉ/YouTube

Gibbons had frequently clashed with his party leader down the years and was at the forefront of the ‘Club of 22′ that had attempted to overthrow Haughey. According to various accounts Gibbons was assaulted twice that night.

O’Malley wrote in his recent book that his former cabinet colleague was hit and knocked to the ground by a group who surrounded him inside Leinster House after the Fianna Fáil meeting broke. Then as he left the Oireachtas grounds Gibbons was assaulted again by Haughey supporters who pushed him to the ground.

Martin O’Donoghue, another member of the ‘Club of 22′, recalled in the ‘Haughey’ series that Gibbons was saved in quite fortunate circumstances:

“Fortunately, he was saved because a good friend of his happened to be close by and had brought a kind of a sword with him and he just whipped that out and said: ‘Get off that man or I’ll kill everyone of you,’ and that’s what saved Jim Gibbons’ life.”

gibbons 2 Source: RTÉ/YouTube

O’Malley also recalled the incident in the RTÉ documentary series ‘Seven Ages’ although he did not mention Gibbons by name. In his recent book, the former justice minister recounted how Gibbons suffered a heart attack a few days after the assaults and was never in good health afterwards.

O’Malley added: “A sinister aspect of this affair was that the assaults on Gibbons took place in front of several members of staff and gardaí, who did nothing to intervene. No one was arrested or ejected.”

Interestingly, these events led to swivel doors being placed at the front and back doors of Leinster House to prevent mobs from easily pushing their way into the parliament. The doors remain to this day.

As for whether the sword used was a gift from Saddam Hussein, that’s highly unlikely to have been the case.

So, there you have it.

Originally published 10.48am

Read: So, was episode two of Charlie actually any good?

Review: Who exactly was everyone in Charlie last night?

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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