Tributes pour in for Margaret McDonagh, daughter of immigrants from Galway, and a driving force behind Tony Blair’s New Labour movement.
Labour’s first female General Secretary, Baroness Margaret McDonagh has died at the age of 61 of brain cancer. Her death was announced last Saturday (June 24).
Described as a key figure in Labour’s landslide election victory in 1997, Baroness McDonagh was a close confidante and friend of Tony Blair.
In 2021 it was found she was suffering from glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer.
Baroness McDonagh’s death comes after her elder sister Siobhain, Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden accused the NHS of “abandoning” her. In a speech in the House of Commons earlier this year Siobhain McDonagh spoke passionately about the shortcomings related to the treatment of her sister. Siobhain and Margaret lived together in Colliers Wood, London, all their adult lives, not far from where they were brought up.
Margaret Josephine McDonagh was the daughter of two Irish Catholic immigrants from Co. Galway. Her father Cumin McDonagh was a construction labourer, and her mother Breda (née Doogue). a nurse in the NHS.
Although Margaret McDonagh rarely gave interviews, she once said that her Catholic upbringing was the key to her resilience and determination to succeed. She was known as an uncompromising administrator for Labour, and is credited with having put rigour and professionalism into Labour’s election campaigns. As reported in The Times, Peter Mandelson said: “I have never met anyone so resolute, so uncompromisingly honest and so direct.”
But in 2021 she was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Siobhain McDonagh, speaking about Margaret’s cancer and her NHS treatment in the House of Commons said: “I wonder what my mum, who came here in 1947 to train as the first generation of nurses from Ireland, would say about the NHS abandoning her daughter.”
Siobhain explained that Margaret’s tumour had been removed during surgery at the Royal National Neurological Hospital just before Christmas, but only after the operation had been cancelled by the NHS three times.
Overall, she was very critical of the treatment that Margaret had received. She said: “All that I want is for the NHS, the cancer research charities, the pharmaceutical companies to stand up and accept their responsibility and to give some hope to the 3,200 people who will be diagnosed with a glioblastoma this year.”
Tributes poured in over the weekend after Baroness McDonagh’s death was announced. Conor McGinn MP tweeted: “Margaret did her Connacht clan & warrior name proud. She never forgot who she was & ever fought the cause. Her parents came to England to make a better life for themselves & in turn their daughter’s public service made this country better for everyone. Rest easy, good servant.”
Sir Kier Starmer said: “Margaret may not have been as famous as some of the politicians she worked with, but they wouldn’t have got into power without her.
“Both inside and outside of the Labour Party, Margaret was a tireless champion for women, mentoring a whole generation of political and business leaders.”
Tony Blair in a statement on the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change wrote: “Margaret was an amazing, vibrant, unstoppable force of nature. [She was] Dedicated to the country, the Labour Party and to fighting for what she believed was. As General Secretary of the Labour Party she was an incredible support to me and a vital element of New Labour. Most of all she was the most loyal friend anyone could wish for. My deepest condolences to Siobhain, her wonderful sister, and all the McDonagh family.