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Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fáil (pronounced "fee-na fall"; Irish for "Soldiers of Destiny") is the largest political party in the Republic of Ireland. Throughout the twentieth century, the party moved from the radical party slightly left of centre to become the establishment dominating politics for most of the time. It held office in 1932-1948; 1951-1954; 1957-1973; 1977-1981; 1982; 1987-1994; 1997-present.

Table of contents
1 History
2 The de Valera Years, 1926-1959
3 The Lemass Years, 1959-1966
4 The Lynch Years, 1966-1979
5 The Haughey Years, 1979-1992
6 The Reynolds Years, 1992-1994
7 The Ahern Years
8 Fianna Fáil Presidents
9 Fianna Fáil Corruption
10 Leaders of Fianna Fáil
11 Other Fianna Fáil Members
12 Further reading
13 External link


Fianna Fáil - the Republican Party was founded on March 23, 1926, and adopted its name on April 2 of the same year. It was founded by Eamon de Valera, former Príomh Áire (prime minister & president of Dáil Éireann (April 1919-August 1921) and President of the Republic (August 1921-January 1922). De Valera had resigned from the presidency in January 1922 over the Anglo-Irish Treaty which created the Irish Free State. He had led anti-Treaty Sinn Féin during the Irish Civil War (1922-23) before resigning from the party in 1926, in protest at the party's hardline policy of refusing to accept the legitimacy of Free State or its Dáil Éireann. Though his new party, Fianna Fáil, was also opposed to the Treaty settlement, it adopted a more pragmatic approach of aiming to republicanize the Irish Free State rather than imagining all that had happened between 1922 and 1926 was invalid and that one could simply turn the clock back to the days of the Irish Republic.

Fianna Fáil initially refused to enter the Irish Free State's Dáil Éireann in protest at the Oath of Allegiance which all members of the Dáil were obliged to take. (The Oath, which was contained in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, was drafted by Michael Collins, using phraseology taken the Irish Republican Brotherhood's Oath and suggestions from the President of the Republic, Eamon de Valera. In its final form, it promised "allegiance" to "The Irish Free State" and "that I will be faithful" to King George V in his role as King of Ireland.) The party initially took a court case on the issue of the oath. However the assassination of the Cumann na nGaedhael (pronounced "cum-on na gale") Minister for Justice, Kevin O'Higgins, led the then government to introduce a new Bill, requiring all candidates to swear that they would take the oath if elected. (If they declined to give that guarantee, they would be ineligible to be candidates in any election.) Fianna Fáil abandoned its previous refusal to take the Oath, dismissing it as an "empty formula" and entered the Dáil.

The first party leader was Eamon de Valera. Other founding members included Sean Lemass (who became second leader), Sean T. Ó Ceallaigh (surname pronounced "o'kealla"; the English version is Sean T. O'Kelly), P.J. Ruttledge and others. Its initial appeal was to anti-treaty supporters and working class people.

The de Valera Years, 1926-1959

The Chief

On 9 March 1932 Eamon de Valera was elected President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State. It was a position he was to hold for twenty one years, sixteen of which were un-interrupted. During his first tern de Valera tried to stress the differnces between Ireland and Britain. The ban on the IRA was lifted, the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown was abolished and the office of Governor-General was greatly demoted. De Valera also started an economic war with Britain by with-holding land annuity payments and by placing high tariffs on British imports. The British responded by placing tariffs on Irish goods. This 'tit fot tat' policy would last until 1938 when the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement was signed.

In May 1936 de Valera abolished the Irish Senate. At that time he also announce his intention to draw up a new constitution. On 1 July 1937 the Irish people adopted the new Bunreacht na hÉireann. This new constitution was republican in all but name. The constitution claimed that Ireland consisted of the entire island and the office of Governor-General was replaced by the President of Ireland.

In 1939 at the outbreak of World War II de Valera announced that Ireland would remain neutral. This policy annoyed the British, however, Ireland's neutrality was strongly in favour of the Allies. Following the Irish General Election, 1948 Fianna Fáil lost power. They returned in 1951 but no new ideas emerged from the Cabinet. Sean Lemass was eager to launch a new economic policy but the conservative elements in the government prevailed Fianna Fáil lost power again in 1954.

In 1957 de Valera returned for the final time as Taoiseach. At this stage he was 75 years old and almost blind. However, he allowed Lemass to proceed with his economic expansion plan. This culminated in the 'Programme for Economic Expansion' of 1958. In 1959 Eamon de Valera was elected the third President of Ireland. His successor was his Tánaiste, Sean Lemass.

The Lemass Years, 1959-1966

The Architect of Modern Ireland

Sean Lemass became the new leader of the Party and Taoiseach on 23 June 1959 (the same day de Valera became President). Lemass as Taoiseach concentrated his energy on mainly economic matters. He had the task of implementing the 'First Programme for Economic Development' which began in 1958. The policy of protection was abandoned and free trade was introduced. Grants and tax concessions were given to companies who set up in Ireland. As a result of the 'Programme' the Irish economy grew at a rate of 4% per annum. A second, even more ambitious, 'Programme for Economic Expansion' was started in 1963.

Lemass' success in managing the economy lead to his victory in the Irish General Election, 1961. Lemass now felt that he had a greater mandate and began making more changes. He introduced new and more able men to the Cabinet, including, Brian Lenihan, Charles Haughey, George Colley and Patrick Hillery. Even though this was a minority government it has been considered the best and most productive government in the history of the state.

The sixties were a time of great change in Ireland. In 1961 RTÉ began broadcasting, opening up a new world to the Irish people. The following year the Second Vatican Council lead to greater openness in the Catholic Church, which was still a major force in Ireland. In 1963 the U.S President John F. Kennedy visted Ireland. In 1966 free secondary education was announced by the Minister for Education, Donagh O'Malley.

During this term Lemass began a new policy of reconciliation with Northern Ireland. On 9 January 1965 Lemass travelled to Stormont in great secrecy for talks with Prime Minister Terence O'Neill. In February O'Neill returned the compliment and visited Lemass in Dublin. Later meetings between ministers from both sides of the border became more frequent. Unfortunately, the lavish celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1966 seemed to undue some of the good work achieved by Lemass.

In November 1966 Lemass announced his resignation as leader and Taoiseach. After fifty years serving Ireland and its people the founding father, Sean Lemass, Seán MacEntee and James Ryan, who had dominated Irish politics for so long, shuffled off the stage of history. After their departure a new breed of politics and politician was developing. This can be seen in the leadership race to succeed Lemass as Taoiseach.

The Lynch Years, 1966-1979

The Reluctant Taoiseach

Jack Lynch was elected the third leader of Fianna Fáil and Taoiseach on 10 November 1966. Frank Aiken, the long-serving Minister for Foreign Affairs and the only surviving member from de Valera's first Cabinet, was appointed Tánaiste. During Lynch's first term as Taoiseach he faced several crises which were unprecedented. In 1969 'the troubles' broke out in Northern Ireland. Lynch was determined that the violence would not spread to the Republic and cause a civil war. At the height of the violence he made a famous speech on RTÉ saying that the [Irish] government could no longer stand by and watch innocent people be injured or perhaps worse. Many thought that the Republic was about to invade the North but this couldn't be further from the truth. To invade the North would mean that the army and many Nationalists would be slaughtered needlessly. Lynch was successful in confining the violence to the six counties.

The following year (1970) Lynch discovered that two government ministers, Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney, had become involved in a plot to import arms for use by Northern Nationalists. Both men were sacked from the Cabinet in what became known as the 'Arms Crisis.' Later Haughey and Blaney were arrested and put on trial, however, both were acquitted of any wrong-doing. The crisis lead to deep dividion within Fianna Fáil for some time.

On 1 January 1973 Ireland officially became a member of the EEC. This was one of the major achievements of Lynch's terms as Taoiseach and one which was started by Lemass over ten years earlier. Following the Irish General Election, 1973 Fianna Fáil found themselves in opposition. It was the first change of government for sixteen years. The Fine Gael-Labour coalition lasted for four years.

In the Irish General Election, 1977 Fianna Fáil won its biggest ever election victory with a majority of twenty seats. The reasons for its huge victory are the popular economic policies it put forward, the dissatisfaction with the Coalition and the huge popularity of Lynch as leader. However after two years the government grew more and more unpopular. Poor results in the European elections and two by-elections added to the pressure on Lynch and he resigned on 5 December 1979. Two days later a two-horse leadership race between George Colley and Charles Haughey developed.

The Haughey Years, 1979-1992

The Boss

Nine years after the 'Arms Crisis' nearly ended his career Charles J. Haughey was elected the fourth leader of Fianna Fáil and Taoiseach. Haughey's first term as Taoiseach was dominated by economic problems. Ireland's economy was in a poor state following the oil crisis and foreign debt was spiralling out of control. In the Irish General Election, 1981 Fianna Fáil received its worst result in twenyy years. Haughey and Fianna Fáil found themselves in opposition.

1982/[[1983 was an extraordinary period for Irish politics. Two general elections were held and there were three attempts to overthrow Haughey as leader of Fianna Fáil. In the Irish General Election, 1982 (February) Haughey again failed to win an overall majority. Several TDs were lead by Desmond O'Malley challenged Haughey for the leadership but backed down on the day of the vote. Haughey was elected Taoiseach with the help of Independent TDs. In October another attempt to oust Haughey was initiated by Charlie McCreevy. This time the issue was put to a vote but Haughey won easily when an open vote was held. Following the Irish General Election, 1982 (November) Fianna Fáil lost power and another leadership battle loomed in Fianna Fáil. In February 1983 another challenge to overthrow Haughey was made. This time a secret ballot was held but the result was practically the same, 40 votes to 33 in favour of Haughey. Fianna Fáil now spent four years in opposition.

Following the Irish General Election, 1987 Fianna Fáil returned to power but had failed to gain an overall majority. Haughey was narrowly elected Taoiseach. During this term as Taoiseach Haughey concentrated mostly on economic issues, trying to turn around the country's fiscal situation. In 1989 Haughey tried to pull off his greatest achievemnet. He called an early general election in the hope of gaining an overall majority. However, instaed of gaining seats the Party lost seats and was forced to form a coalition with the Progressive Democrats to stay in power. This marked the beginning of the end for Charles Haughey.

Following the Irish presidential election, 1990 Haughey was forced to sack his Tánaiste and long-time friend, Brian Lenihan. In 1991 Haughey faced a leadership challenge from Albert Reynolds. This challenge was unsuccessful however it showed that Haughey was losing his grip on the Party. In 1992 Seán Doherty placed Haughey at the centre of a scandal regarding the tapping of two journalists telephones ten years earlier. Haughey had always denied that he knew nothing about this however Doherty publicly stated otherwise. This time Haughey's luck had run out and he resigned. Albert Reynolds, who had challenged Haughey in 1991, emerged as the new leader and Taoiseach.

The Reynolds Years, 1992-1994

The Longford Leader

On 11 February 1992 Albert Reynolds was elected Taoiseach. After receiveing his seal of office from President Mary Robinson he announced his new Cabinet. Reynolds sacked eight members of Haughey's last administration including Gerard Collins and Ray Burke. Instead new men and women were appointed to Cabinet for the first time. Reynolds had hoped to continue in coalition with the Progressive Democrats, however, following the 'Beef Tribunal' the PDs withdrew from government and an election was called.

When the results of the Irish General Election, 1992 came in it was clear that both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had done badly. Labour achieved their best ever result with 33 seats. After negotiations Fianna Fáil entered into a coalition with the Irish Labour Party. Dick Spring of Labour took on the important roles of Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs.

One of the most importants components of Reynolds period as Taoiseach was the development in the Northern Ireland peace process. Reynolds had favoured allowing republicans into mainstream politics if they renounced violence. Negotiations had been going on between John Hume and Gerry Adams for some time and Reynolds now approached his British counterpart, John Major. On 15 December 1993 the Downing Street Declaration was signed between both governments. This agreement paved the way for an IRA ceasefire in 1994. This was one of the most important achievements of Reynolds short term.

In 1994 Reynolds and Spring had a disagreement over an appointment of a judge to the Irish Supreme Court. Both men wanted to appoint someone different and both had their own reasons for doing so. Eventually this disagreement lead to the end of Reynolds period as Taoiseach and he resigned in November 1994. The new leader to emerge was the Minister for Finance Bertie Ahern.

The Ahern Years

The most cunning of them all

On 19 November 1994 Bertie Ahern was elected the sixth and youngest leader of Fianna Fáil. Ahern was poised to become Taoiseach and continue in coalitiion with Labour. However the day before the government was to return Dick Spring called off the deal and the coalition ended. Instead a new government lead by Fine Gael was formed. Ahern now found himself as leader of the opposition, a position which he hadn't anticipated. Following the Irish General Election, 1997 Fianna Fáil formed a government with the Progressive Democrats. Bertie Ahern had become Taoiseach at last.

With Ahern elected in Ireland and Tony Blair in Britain there was hope of an agreement for peace in Northern Ireland. This culminated in the Good Friday Agreement which was signed by politicians from the Republic, Britain and Northern Ireland and adopted by people in both sides of the Irish border.

During Ahern's term Fianna Fáil faced increased criticism over allegations of corruption. Ray Burke was forced to resign as Minister for Foreign Affairs due to corruption and Liam Lawlor was and is being investigated over payments he received. Also, details of former leader Charles Haughey's financial dealings came to light during Ahern's tenure as Taoiseach.

If the results of the Irish General Election, 2002 are anything to go by these scandals have done little to dampen the popularity of Ahern and Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil were just pipped of an overall majority. Instead of leading a minority government Fianna Fáil continued in coalition with the Progressive Democrats. It was the first time since 1969 that a government had been re-elected.

Since the election Ahern has stated that he has no intention of stepping down as leader. The two favourites to succeed him, Brian Cowen and Micheál Martin are reluctant to comment on their leadership ambitions. It appears from Ahern's statements that he intends to lead Fianna Fáil into a third general election.

Fianna Fáil Presidents

Of Ireland's eight presidents, six either were in Fianna Fáil or worked with Fianna Fáil governments. Only Douglas Hyde (1938-1945) and Mary Robinson (1990-1997) had no connection with Fianna Fáil. Hyde, though appointed to Seanad Éireann by de Valera in 1938 was originally a nominee proposed by Fine Gael (but immediately enthuastically endorsed by Fianna Fáil) while Robinson was a Labour nominee who defeated a Fianna Fáil candidate, Brian Lenihan, who embroiled himself in a scandal midway through the campaign.

Fianna Fáil Corruption

The party, along with its coalition partners, recently won a resounding victory in the 2002 general election. It has however been hit by scandal, namely the alleged mis-appropriation of funds, for which former leader Charles Haughey is expected to face trial soon. (Founding father Frank Aiken refused to run in the 1973 general election because the party had Haughey as a candidate while first leader Eamon de Valera told a senior minister in 1970 that "Haughey will ruin the party." )

Another former minister, Ray Burke, whom the current leader appointed to government for a short time in 1997, was recently explicitly described by retired High Court judge, Fergus Flood in a tribunal of inquiry as "corrupt" and may well face prosecution seizure of assets and possible imprisonment. Former Fianna Fáil Government Press Secretary Frank Dunlop is currently before the Flood Tribunal. In December 2002 he claimed a senior long-serving Fianna Fáil senator took bribes to arrange for planning permissions to be granted to particular property developers. Other councillors (past and present) from a number of parties, but predominantly from Fianna Fáil, are expected to be named. However the tribunal has yet to judge the credibility or otherwise of Dunlop and his evidence.

Leaders of Fianna Fáil

LeaderYearsPeriod as Taoiseach
Eamon de Valera1926-19591932-'48, 1951-'54, 1957-'59
Sean Lemass1959-19661959-1966
Jack Lynch1966-19791966-'73, 1977-'79
Charles Haughey1979-19921979-'81, 1982, 1987-'92
Albert Reynolds1992-19941992-1994
Bertie Ahern1994-1997-

Other Fianna Fáil Members

Further reading

For constant reporting of the Flood Tribunal, check The Irish Times, Irish Independent, and Irish Examiner on the web.

External link