Martin O’Neill, later Baron O'Neill of Clackmannan, was first elected as a Labour MP in 1979.
He won the constituency of Clackmannan and Eastern Stirlingshire from George Reid of the SNP, with a majority of less than 1,000, during the election in which Margaret Thatcher came to power. The constituency later became Clackmannan, which he held until 2005. He is said to have spoken of his fondness for meeting and representing his constituents, commenting: “if you’re a politician and you don’t like election campaigning, you shouldn’t really be in the job”.
Martin O’Neill achieved political prominence in the mid-1980s, when Neil Kinnock appointed him as defence spokesperson, where he was tasked with squaring the circle between party members who favoured Britain unilaterally give up nuclear weapons, and those who preferred a multilateralist approach. However, his opportunity for a Cabinet seat was dashed by Labour’s defeat in the 1992 election and subsequently, significant changes of personnel for Tony Blair’s shadow team.
Nevertheless, Martin O’Neill became chair of the parliamentary trade and industry select committee in 1995, scrutinising Government’s activity in this area. During his near 10 years in the role, he headed a series of high-profile inquiries into industry topics such as energy and the construction industry. He went on to instigate an inquiry in 2002 into the practice of retentions in the construction industry. The committee recommended that the government phase out the practice “as soon as possible”.
Martin O’Neill became a life peer in 2005, entering the House of Lords as Baron O'Neill of Clackmannan. During this time, he continued to apply his energies to industrial policy, serving as chairman of the Strategic Forum for Construction and the Nuclear Industry Association.
Shortly after being made a peer, Martin O’Neill also became President of the Specialist Engineering Contractors’ (SEC) Group, of which ECA is a founding member. During this time, he continued to be a strong advocate - inside and outside Parliament - for reforming construction procurement and payment. He was also highly regarded by those in the industry for his plain speaking but also remarkably friendly, approachable and supportive approach to colleagues.
Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan was born on January 6, 1945. He passed away from pancreatic cancer on August 26, 2020, aged 75.