Straight-talking and independent-thinking, pound for pound, John Deasy is one of the Dáil’s most substantial politicians. Opinionated, articulate, and intelligent, he rarely runs with the herd and is often out on his own on big issues. Such independence of thought means he is worth hearing.”
John Deasy (born 8 October 1967) has been a TD (Teachta Dála) for the Waterford constituency since 2002 and is a member of the Fine Gael party. He was named 2013 backbencher of the year by the Irish Times newspaper and is widely regarded as one of the most independent-minded members of the Irish parliament.
John grew up in the seaside village of Stradbally, County Waterford until his family moved to the nearby county town of Dungarvan. He was educated at the local national school, St Augustine’s College, Abbeyside, and also Coláiste na Rinne, Ring, Dungarvan.
Aged 18, he received a John F. Kennedy scholarship to study at Mercyhurst College, Erie, Pennsylvania, USA. Deasy graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History/Communications, and in 1990 took up the post of Legislative Assistant in the United States Senate. He worked extensively with the Senate Finance Committee, handling trade and foreign affairs for Pennsylvania Republican Senator John Heinz (heir to and major shareholder in H.J. Heinz & Co.) until his tragic death in an aircraft accident in April 1991.
During his time working for Senator Heinz, John authored part of the 1991 US Defense Production Act. In 1991 Deasy and Heinz’s Chief of Staff began working for a multinational waste company, Chambers Development Co.. He returned to Capitol Hill in 1993 as a Legislative Assistant in the US House of Representatives, handling trade, foreign affairs, energy, environment, banking, economic development, immigration and human rights for Republican Ronald K. Machtley in the run-up to his bid to become Governor of Rhode Island.
While working in the House of Representatives John authored the Tourist Visa Waiver Bill, which allowed Irish citizens to travel to US for a holiday without having to obtain a visa. Passed in 1994, it has turned out to be a significant piece of immigration law.
He subsequently spent two years as Manager of Legislative Affairs for Chicago-based international law firm, Gardner Carton & Douglas, a company with approximately 400 attorneys. During his time there he successfully lobbied Congress to repeal a tax on CFCs used in inhalers for asthmatics and people with respiratory problems. The money saved amounted to $60 million per annum. He also worked extensively with the Senate Finance Committee and house ways and means committee handling tax issues for Native American Indian tribes.
In 1997 John returned to Ireland, completing a Bachelor of Civil Laws (Honours) degree at University College Cork.
In May 2005, he married the RTÉ television presenter and former TV3 crime correspondent, Maura Derrane. In May 2014 the couple celebrated the birth of their son, Cal.
John Deasy was elected as a member of both Waterford County Council and Dungarvan Town Council in 1999 at the first attempt, topping the poll in both ballots.
During his time on the County Council, John is credited with changing the culture that existed when it came to the loose oversight of planning regulations within the local authority. In 2000 he made allegations concerning the administration of planning guidelines that led to a series of internal and external investigations.
After three years as a councillor he was elected as a TD, retaining the Dáil seat held by his father Austin, a former Minister for Agriculture in the 1982–’87 FG/Labour coalition government.
John served as Fine Gael frontbench spokesperson for Justice, Equality and Law Reform from 2002-’04, being described by journalist Sam Smyth as having “a natural rapport with law-and-order traditionalists” and someone who “never bent a principle to duck a row.” In that, he said, “Deasy shares many of the qualities of his father... Both are famously stubborn, prickly and principled, yet they enjoy a dry humour and a proud nationalism.”
When John defied the smoking ban in 2004 he was subsequently appointed as chairman of the Oireachtas European Affairs Committee from October 2004 until April 2007, before being re-elected to the 30th Dáil. He was chairperson of the Overseas Development subcommittee until October 2010 and also served as FG spokesperson on Foreign Affairs with special responsibility for Overseas Development Aid during that period.
John topped the poll in Waterford in the February 2011 General Election, receiving a 20% share of first preferences. He was appointed as a member of the high-profile Dáil Committee of Public Accounts for a second time, having also served on the State spending watchdog from 2004–’07. He has also specialised in oversight of overseas development budgets while on the Public Accounts and Foreign Affairs committees.
John was also regarded as one of the PAC’s most considered contributors. In February 2014 he was described by political correspondent Daniel McConnell in the Sunday Independent as “a voice of reason within the committee”, while fellow political commentator Shane Coleman, writing in the Irish Independent, said: “Deasy is no PAC firebrand. He has been highly critical of the committee at times for looking to exceed its remit.”
The Irish Times’ political editor Stephen Collins concurred. “Deasy may not be flavour of the month with his own party leadership but he has been one of the few Government TDs on the PAC to stand up to the McCarthyite tactics that are threatening to undermine the long-term credibility of what is the most important of the Dáil committees.
He was instrumental in bringing the case of "Grace", a victim of alleged serious and sustained abuse at a foster home in the South East, to public attention, with a Commission of Inquiry into the HSE's handling of the issues involved announced by the Government in early 2016.
He is known for his willingness to express forthright views about Fine Gael's policies and political direction.
Both John’s paternal grandfather, Mick Deasy from Courtmacsherry (who fought with Tom Barry and was the last survivor of the Crossbarry ambush) and his maternal grandfather, John Keating from west Waterford, fought with the IRA in the War of Independence.
Asked by the Sunday Independent to comment on the “Blueshirts” controversy surrounding ‘Dreamland’, the 2014 play by Waterford playwright Jim Nolan, John said: “The history of the thing is not something I relate to. Both my grandfathers were in the IRA in the War of Independence. I come from a different tradition.”
He also had three grand-uncles from Bandon who fought in the Great War — a lineage that part-inspired his initiation of the Waterford Memorial project which, in October 2013, saw a vast black granite wall (similar in concept to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington) unveiled in Dungarvan. The monument is inscribed with the names of those 1,100 Waterford people who lost their lives in WWI.
John's scholarship to study at Mercyhurst College was partly athletic. He was a member of the Dungarvan Golf Club team (along with Austin Spratt, Derry Kiely and Kieran Hogan) that won the All-Ireland Junior Foursomes title in 1985.
He was sports editor of the college newspaper and played soccer and golf for Mercyhurst, and also football and hurling for the Washington Gaels GAA Club, as well as the Waterford exiles in New York in 1987 when he marked legendary Tribesman Pete Finnerty in a hurling challenge match against Galway at Gaelic Park (“I kept him scoreless for 20 seconds”).
John Deasy (right) and John Melody, pictured on March 21, 2016, outside Old Main at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S. The former St. Augustine's College, Abbeyside schoolmates attended Mercyhurst in the late 1980s on scholarships. John Melody settled in Erie and has become a well-known businessman. Photo: CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE/Erie Times-News
AUSTIN DEASY, R.I.P.
Teachta Dála for Waterford
Minister for Agriculture
John's Electoral Record
GENERAL ELECTIONS (4/4)
Elected Feb 2016 / Feb 2011 / May 2007 / May 2002.
Elected to Waterford County Council and Dungarvan Town Council, June 1999, serving until May 2002.
Crossing the Atlantic
“I emigrated in 1986 and witnessed the lives and hardship of people who, in many cases, have not returned to Ireland. Some people go abroad, they thrive, they learn new skills and they meet interesting people but many people do not do so well.
“One of my most vivid memories is being in the Rye River pub, off Jerome Avenue in the Bronx in 1987. It was 40°C outside and a line of middle-aged men were reading newspapers three days' old and drinking pints of Guinness. Many told me they had not been back to Ireland in 20 years.”