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Fine Gael

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Fine Gael (pronounced fee-na gale) is currently the main opposition party in the Republic of Ireland. It was founded in 1933 following the merger of Cumann na nGaedhael, the Centre Party[?] and the Blueshirts[?].

Its leaders were:

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Fine Gael was founded in 1933, following the merger of the Centre Party, Cumann na nGaedhael and the Blueshirts[?]. In origins however it was really a larger version of Cumann na nGaedhael, the party created in 1924 by the Pro-Treaty[?] leaders of the Irish Free State under W.T. Cosgrave. After a short hiatus under the disastrous leadership of General Eoin O'Duffy (who never held a parliamentary seat), Cosgrave returned to lead the new party, continuing in the leadership until 1944. Though as Cumann na nGaedhael or the people who would form the party had been in government for ten years in the Irish Free State (1922-32), with the coming to power of Fianna Fáil under Eamon de Valera, the party spent the next sixteen years in the doldrums, overshadowed by the larger party. Indeed at times, it went into what was thought to be terminal decline. However to its own surprise it found itself in government in 1948, when all the anti-Fianna Fáil parties between them found that they had won enough seats in that year's general election to oust Fianna Fáil under de Valera and take power. However Fine Gael's new leader, General Richard Mulcahy was seen too controversial a potential taoiseach for some of the parties in the new First Inter-Party Government[?], notably Clann na Poblachta[?] under former Irish Republican Army chief of staff, Sean MacBride, because of Mulcahy's role as Chief of Staff of the Irish Army in the execution of republicans during the Irish Civil War. Instead former Fine Gael Attorney-General John A. Costello was chosen to head the government, which lasted from 1948 to 1951.. He headed the Second Inter-Party Government from 1954 to 1957.

The Just Society and Tom O'Higgins

Out of government, Fine Gael went into decline. In the mid 1960s, however, it launched a new policy statement, known as The Just Society, advocating policies based on principles of social justice and equality. In 1966, Fine Gael achieved a near miracle when its young presidential candidate, Tom O'Higgins[?], came within 1% of defeating the apparently unbeatable sitting president, Eamon de Valera, in that year's presidential election.

The National Coalition

After a break of sixteen years, Fine Gael again won government at the heat of a National Coalition government with Labour, under the leadership of Fine Gael leader Liam Cosgrave, son of W.T. Cosgrave. That government has generally been regarded as a good government, but have hit by frequently by problems, some out of its control (for example the 1970s oil crisis), others its own direct creation, notably the vicious verbal attack on President Ó Dalaigh by the alcoholic Minister for Defence, Patrick Donegan[?], in which he called the President a "thundering disgrace". The subsequent resignation of the President severely damaged the National Coalition's reputation in 1976. In 1977 the coalition suffered a severe defeat, with Fianna Fail winning an unprecedented 20 seat majority in the 148 seat Dáil.

Garret FitzGerald

Cosgrave resigned the leadership and was replaced by Garre FitzGerald, Minister for Foreign Affairs in the National Coalition, one of Ireland's most popular politicians and son of Desmond FitzGerald[?], a Cumann na nGaedhael Minister for External Affairs. FitzGerald moved Fine Gael to the left and to promote the Liberal Agenda[?]. Fine Gael's revitalisation was of such a scale that by the December 1982 general election, Fine Gael was only five seats behind Fianna Fáil in Dáil Éireann and bigger than the party in Oireachtas Éireann (both houses of parliament put together). FitGerald headed three governments; 1981-February 1982, 1982-1987, and a shortlived Fine Gael minority government after Labour withdrew from the previous coalition. However in 1987 the party was defeated in the general election. FitzGerald resigned and former Minister for Finanace Alan Dukes replaced it.

Decline, then the Rainbow Coalition

From a highpoint in the 1980s, Fine Gael went into slight, then sharp decline. In 1990, its candidate in the Irish presidential election, Austin Currie[?], was pushed into a humiliating third place, behind Labour's Mary Robinson who won the election. In 1989, political history was made when Fianna Fáil abandoned one of its "core principles", its opposition to coalition. Having failed in 1987 and 1989 to win outright majorities, Fianna Fáil entered into a coalition administration with the Progressive Democrats. Commentators predicted that that would leave Fine Gael isolated, with Fianna Fail able to swap coalition partners to keep itself in continual power. That indeed seemed the case when after the 1992 general election (under new leader John Bruton, who had replaced Dukes who had been dumped in 1990 after the humilating presidential election outcome) Fianna Fáil replaced the Progressive Democrats with the Irish Labour Party. However the Fianna Fáil-Labour coalition disintergrated in 1994, allowing Bruton to his own surprise to emerge as Taoiseach of a three party Rainbow Coalition", involved Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left. However the party was defeated in the 1997 general election, with a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats under Bertie Ahern.

General Election 2002 Meltdown

The party, facing a hostile media and criticism of Bruton's style of leadership, ditched him in 2001 in place of what was seen as the dream ticket of former Minister Michael Noonan[?] for leader and former minister Jim Mitchell for deputy leader. However the dream ticket proved a disaster, as Fine Gael suffered its worst ever election result in the 2002 general election, declining from 54 TDs to 31. Most of its best TDs, including most of its Front Bench, including Deputy Leader Jim Mitchell, lost its seats. Noonan resigned on the night of the election result, and was replaced by former Minister under Bruton Enda Kenny. With the scale of the collapse, questions have been asked as to whether the party has a future. Critics have suggested that its future hinges on its performances in the 2004 presidential, European and local elections. Unless it shows a comback from the disaster of 2002, a party that has had more comebacks and resurrections than Lazerus may well have reached the end of the line. But given Fine Gael's past survival, yet another comeback always remains a possibility.

Fine Gael generally follows centre-right policies and is allied with Christian Democrat[?] parties in the European Union. However a large body of members, including leaders Garret FitzGerald and Alan Dukes, have argued that the party should move to the left and embrace social democracy.

Web site: http://www.finegael.ie


In the above list, [PEC] indicates a Fine Gael leader who served as President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State (an earlier title denoting prime minister). [T] denotes someone who served as Taoiseach, the modern title for prime minister.

Additional Reading

  • Nealon's Guide to the 29th Dáil and Seanad (Gill and Macmillan, 2002) (ISBN 0717132889)
  • Stephen Collins, "The Cosgrave Legacy" (Blackwater, 1996) (ISBN 086121658X)
  • Garret FitzGerald, "Garret FitzGerald: An Autobiography" (Gill and Macmillan, 1991) (ISBN 071711600X)
  • Jack Jones, In Your Opinion: Political and Social Trends in Ireland through the Eyes of the Electorate (Townhouse, 2001) (ISBN 1860591493)
  • Maurice Manning, James Dillon: A Biography (Wolfhound, 1999/2000) (ISBN 086327823X)
  • Stephen O'Byrnes, Hiding Behind a Face: Fine Gael under FitzGerald (Gill and Macmillan: 1986) (ISBN 0717114481)
  • Raymond Smith, Garret: The Enigma (Aherlow, 1985) (no ISBN)

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