GOLDHAWK was first to ask if ambitious Blueshirt barrister, James Geoghegan, would chose law or politics and with Eoghan Murphy bowing out in Dublin Bay South, a decision is imminent. Check out this profile first published in July, 2019.


The 2019 Dublin City Council elections saw the electoral debut of prodigious Fine Gaeler James Geoghegan (34), who marked the occasion by taking a seat with a massive vote in the Pembroke electoral area. With his D4 elocution and impressive CV, the posh politico and barrister is the stuff that Blueshirt dreams are made of, boasting an army of influential contacts in the Four Goldmines and membership of a legal and political dynasty of TDs and judges. But are his ambitions focused on Inns Quay or Kildare Street?

Geoghegan pulled in close to a whopping 16% of first preferences last month – second only to Green Party poll-topper Hazel Chu – meeting the quota on just the second count, along with Labour Party stalwart Dermot Lacey. The young Blueshirt had an exceptional election for a first-timer and why wouldn’t he? Canvassing Sandymount in his Leinster Rugby tracksuit top, the fresh-faced barrister must have cut an irresistible figure to the Pembroke citizenry.

It helps that the Ranelagh native’s roots in the constituency are very deep indeed. Two snippets of biographical info that he chose to mention in his election material were that he was educated at Gonzaga College (that crucible of the south Dublin upper crust) and his grandparents were long-time residents of Donnybrook.

But Geoghegan isn’t just any barrister and his grandparents weren’t just any D4 homeowners. His paternal grandfather and namesake was the first Fianna Fáil minister for justice in 1932, James Geoghegan, who was subsequently appointed to the Supreme Court in 1936. His maternal granddad was another beak, one-time chief justice Thomas Finlay, who also served a brief stint as a FG TD in the 1950s. Geoghegan’s own mom and pop – the recently retired Mary Finlay Geoghegan and Hugh Geoghegan – have spent a combined 12 years on the highest court in the land.

Geoghegan has a busy legal practice himself and he has no plans to wind it down now that he’s a public representative. He has received work from the Department of Health in the past and currently serves as a legal advisor to fellow Gonzaga old boy Michael McDowell’s independent group of senators, a gig that he told Goldhawk he would not be ditching because of his election.
McDowell’s son, a good pal of Geoghegan’s from the Law Library, actually ran his election campaign.

With his own legal pedigree and professional reputation in the Four Goldmines, Geoghegan has every opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his grandparents and some believe that is where his real ambition lies. But Geoghegan is a political animal who has been steeped in party politics for over a decade. He served a stint as chair of Young Fine Gael in UCD in 2005 and, through YFG nationally, developed contacts and close, long-standing friendships with two key political allies, Lucinda Creighton and John Paul Phelan.

In those years, he would have been seen as a future first-team player for the Blueshirts. Fans of Goldhawk will recall that he also worked for former taoiseach John Bruton during his stint as EU ambassador to the United States. From there, he went to work for Transatlantic Public Affairs, a lobbying group that acted in Ireland for Philip Morris International, the world’s largest cigarette manufacturer, in its campaign against tobacco legislation alongside other FG advisers like Kevin Gilna (see The Phoenix, 8/2/13).

But Geoghegan’s trajectory took a right turn when he left the party to follow Lucinda Creighton into Renua. He had been working for the TD and former European affairs minister as a senior adviser and he followed her out of FG when she left in 2013. He told Goldhawk that he does not share Lucinda’s views on abortion, which were chief among her reasons for leaving FG and forming a new party. Asked why he did leave, Geoghegan said, “I was a Lucinda man” and he wanted to keep supporting her. He also said that he wasn’t sure if he had ever been a member of Renua or not. Either way, he was a key member of Creighton’s backroom staff when the party was formed until he left after the 2016 general election.

What is remarkable about Geoghegan’s election last month is that he only formally rejoined FG last November, a mere two months before he was selected at convention to run alongside sitting councillor Paddy McCartan and candidate Linda O’Shea Farren. He ended up beating McCartan into fifth place in the five-seater and poor O’Shea Farren failed to win a seat. Cynical local activists believe that Geoghegan’s close friendship with director of local elections John Paul Phelan – for whom he served as an advisor on the Banking Inquiry – was most helpful to his rehabilitation.

Geoghegan’s success in May has parachuted him into the background of a very interesting situation in Dublin Bay South (DBS), involving housing minister Eoghan Murphy, who topped the poll in 2016, and TD Kate O’Connell. Geoghegan will hardly be able to dislodge O’Connell before the next general election – even if he wanted to – but a bad election for the bolshie Westmeath native might hurry Geoghegan’s arrival to the national stage.

Conditions have changed radically in the constituency since 2016 when, in a desperate bid to keep Lucinda out in the cold, O’Connell had the full weight of the Blueshirt war machine and a Greek chorus of support from the press behind her (see The Phoenix, 19/5/17). Pessimists also point to O’Connell’s close friendship with Dún Laoghaire TD Maria Bailey as a possible source of trouble. If any of the mud from Swing-gate sticks to O’Connell, it could affect her prospects.

Whatever happens, both FG TDs will have a resurgent Green Party and the possible return of Michael McDowell to worry about. One theory locally is that Murphy is so toxic because of the housing issue that he could well be in jeopardy. Supporters of this theory believe O’Connell might be safe because of her dissident voice, perceived distance from the government and her visibility in the media over the last number of years, while Murphy will feel the pinch because of his closeness to Leo and his handling of his ministerial brief. Goldhawk thinks this is unlikely.

Barring something unexpected happening, Geoghegan will have to wait for one of the sitting TDs to slip up. In the meantime, the Seanad is likely to be his next port of call as a candidate for a seat on the NUI panel. With his name and connections, he shouldn’t have to do too much to get over the line.

But, sooner or later, James will have to choose between politics and the law.