O'Carroll, Michael William ffrench- (1919–2007), politician, doctor, and social campaigner, was born 15 September 1919 at 89 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin, the eldest of two sons and a daughter of Arthur Stephens ffrench-O'Carroll (1896–1952), medical doctor then in military service, born in Scotland of Irish parents and resident at The Square, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, and his wife Elizabeth (née Sadleir). Entering TCD in 1936 to study medicine, he graduated BA (1940), BAO, B.Ch. and MB (1944). Active in the Dublin Shakespeare Society, he appeared in 'Spring tide' at the Gate theatre in October 1940 and toured with the Carl Clopet company in the early 1940s. Admitting that he would have preferred a career in the theatre to medicine, he remained interested in the stage, fundraising for the Irish Ballet Company in the 1960s and offering to put up bail for Alan Simpson (qv) in May 1957 after his production of 'The rose tattoo' by Tennessee Williams led to his arrest and prosecution. In April 1944 his engagement was announced to Renée de Laforcade (de la Forcade), daughter of Xavier de Laforcade, the minister plenipotentiary of the Free French government in Dublin. Their marriage (7 November 1944) – 'the most cosmopolitan Irish wedding of the war' (Ir. Independent, 8 November 1944) – saw 700 people attending the reception at the French embassy, Ailesbury Road. Practising medicine from their home at 55 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin (a wedding present from his father-in-law), ffrench-O'Carroll also ran (c.1950–61) the Burlington Private Clinic in Dublin.
Acquainted with Noel Browne (qv) since their time as Trinity medical students, ffrench-O'Carroll was similarly exercised by official indifference to the TB epidemic and widespread social exclusion, joining Clann na Poblachta with Browne and campaigning for him in Dublin South-East in the 1948 general election. Browne repeatedly sought to have him elected to the Clann na Poblachta national executive. Decrying the Irish banks' refusal to underwrite a loan to Dublin Corporation to build housing – noting their preference to invest their capital in the UK – ffrench-O'Carroll campaigned on the growing public housing crisis and was elected to the corporation in 1950. He publicly condemned the Irish Medical Association's demand for a means test to regulate Browne's 'mother and child scheme', and was elected as an independent (in support of Browne) in Dublin South-West in the 1951 general election, polling twice the first-preference votes of Seán MacBride (qv), leader of the Clann rump.
Remaining allied to Browne, although courted by Fine Gael – their votes ensured the election of Éamon de Valera (qv) as taoiseach – ffrench-O'Carroll joined Fianna Fáil in October 1951. Browne and ffrench-O'Carroll bolstered the party's radical credentials in the face of a grave national housing crisis, especially severe in Dublin. During debates on the May 1952 budget he supported increased taxation as unavoidable but was implacably opposed to the withdrawal of food subsidies, and abstained in the final vote. He continued to highlight the lack of housing provision in Dublin, acutely felt by his predominantly working-class constituents, and urged the government to introduce a tenant purchase scheme. With scant regard for political niceties, he opposed the 1952 small dwellings acquisition bill (voting against the government on 29 October 1952), arguing the deposit required under the act was too large for those in need of housing and that the legislation instead delivered cheap money to those wealthy enough to avail of its provisions. Demonstrating his independence of thought, he campaigned with Maurice Dockrell (qv) and Alfie Byrne (qv) against the hugely profitable live export of horses to the continent on humane grounds (proponents of the trade alluded to the 'English' nature of such compassionate opposition). After losing his seat in the 1954 general election, he was elected to the social and educational panel of the seanad (1954–7) for Fianna Fáil. He was an unsuccessful Fianna Fáil candidate for Dublin South-West in the 1957 general election.
Appointed chairman of the Irish design council in October 1963, he was comfortable amongst the likes of Sybil Connolly (qv) and Louis Le Brocquy (1916–2012), and was tasked with promoting design awareness in industry and commerce. He sought to imbue higher standards of industrial design, in both functional and aesthetic terms, across export-orientated Irish industry exposed to competition in foreign markets. The council met nine times, its sub-committees forty-six times, and the report it submitted in September 1965 to Patrick Hillery (qv), minister for industry and commerce, argued that the preservation of national identity was as important as commercial success.
A growing interest in public health had led him to renew his medical studies and he received the certificate in public health at UCD (1953). He was appointed chairman of the Irish Hospital Commission (c.1964–1969), and promoted management and administrative training in the plethora of small institutions providing healthcare in Ireland, but found it very difficult to maintain his own medical practice. The Burlington Clinic (reliant upon referrals) was effectively boycotted by Dublin's catholic doctors owing to his close identification with Browne's radicalism and proposed health reforms. A number of protestant doctors, although similarly opposed to ffrench-O'Carroll's politics, referred patients to him out of a sense of fairness, but the practice struggled and he took up a fellowship as assistant director of medical planning at the University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor, USA (c.1970). (He and his wife separated in 1969.) Upon his return, amply qualified and having declined lucrative posts in the US, he discovered he had been effectively blacklisted from any senior appointments in Irish medicine. He declined Fianna Fáil offers to run in the March 1970 Dublin South-West by-election, which would have meant forcing Browne, now a Labour Party TD, to campaign against him.
Instead he undertook postgraduate work in the UK focusing on the epidemiology of substance addiction in urban areas, and graduated with an MD in community health from TCD (1972). He also served on the committee of the International Hospital Federation in London, and was elected a fellow of the RAMI. After being advised 'to start at the bottom of the ladder again' (Horgan, 216), he accepted a junior public health posting in Co. Kerry. Appointed in 1976 as director of community care and medical officer of health for Cork city by the Southern Health Board (SHB), he recognised the need to address rising alcohol and drug abuse across counties Cork and Kerry, whose population of 500,000 lacked a specialist addiction treatment centre. He was appalled at the cycle of alcoholics repeatedly detoxing in hospitals and the growing problem of addiction to prescription tranquillisers. Undertaking a pilot study into substance abuse for the SHB (1978–83), he was seconded to the Hazelden Foundation treatment centre in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which devised a custom training programme for him. Construing addiction as a medico-social problem and recognising the utility of early intervention and prevention, the centre's practice was driven by the conceptualisation of alcoholism and substance abuse as a disease that requires holistic, multidisciplinary responses to the physical, psychological, emotional and social facets of addiction.
Appointed founding director of Arbour House, the SHB's addiction treatment centre based in St Finbarr's Hospital, Cork, which opened in April 1984, ffrench-O'Carroll required abstention and personal responsibility from patients. Within two years, 140 patients were attending month-to-month. From the mid 1980s, the centre saw the incidence of adolescent alcohol and drug dependency rise, leading ffrench-O'Carroll to study the phenomenon. Returning to the Hazelden Foundation to observe their residential adolescent program, he launched a three-year pilot program to combat adolescent addiction in 1992. He published The Irish drugs epidemic (1997), a professional memoir describing his experience treating widespread substance abuse, and publicly railed against official apathy, identifying how a variety of vested interests engendered alcohol and tranquilliser abuse. Arguing for stricter regulation and improved services to combat alcohol and prescription tranquilliser addiction, he noted: 'Efforts to restrict availability have not met with any success anywhere in the world that they have been tried. You have to educate people' (Guardian, 7 November 1992). He developed employee assistance programmes for large organisations, urging their introduction to schools, and supported community-centred responses to addiction. Increasingly critical of political inaction despite the commissioning of numerous reports (to which he contributed) and the establishment of multiple task forces (of which he was a member), he wryly observed that 'Irish people consider alcoholism to lie in the same domain as the weather – unpredictable, inevitable and utterly immutable' (ffrench-O'Carroll, 23). Dividing his latter career between Cork and Dublin before his retirement from Arbour House in 1996, he was a consultant to the Cuan Mhuire Centre, Athy, Co. Kildare, and continued to highlight growing adolescent alcohol and drug abuse across Ireland.
Having lived in Terenure, Dublin, in retirement, ffrench-O'Carroll died 5 May 2007 at the Blackrock Clinic, Dublin; after a funeral mass at the church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook, he was buried in Glasnevin cemetery, survived by his five children.