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John Bruton

Former Taoiseach John Bruton, TD
John Bruton (born 18 May 1947) was appointed as the ninth Taoiseach (prime minister) of the Republic of Ireland in 1994, at the head of a Fine Gael-Labour-Democratic left Rainbow Coalition.

John Bruton was educated in Clongowes Wood College[?], an exclusive Catholic public school. He later studied in University College Dublin, from which he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, before studying to become a barrister in the King's Inn[?].

He was elected TD (MP) for Meath[?] in the 1969 general election. He was the youngest TD in the Dáil. He served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education in Liam Cosgrave's Fine Gael-Labour National Coalition[?] from 1973 to 1977. When the government was defeated and Fine Gael went to the opposition benches Bruton was brought to senior office when made spokesman on Agriculture by new Fine Gael leader Garret FitzGerald in 1977. When FitzGerald formed his first government in 1981, Bruton was appointed Minister for Finance[?]. However the government collapsed on 29 January 1982 when Bruton's budget was voted down by Dáil Éireann, where the government lacked an overall majority and was reliant on the support of independents. FitzGerald's Fine Gael-Labour coalition lost the subsequent general election but won power back again when the new government of Charles Haughey, which itself lacked a majority, was also defeated in Dáil Éireann at the end of the year. By December 1982, Bruton was back in government, but was demoted to become Minister for Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism. However in 1986 following a cabinet reshuffle Bruton again was moved back to Finance. However the government collapsed in 1987 over plans for that year's budget. Labour withdrew and the minority Fine Gael government was heavily defeated in the general election held a short time later.

When FitzGerald resigned, Bruton contested the leadership of Fine Gael, but was defeated by Alan Dukes. Bruton was elected deputy leader. Following Fine Gael's disastrous performance in the 1990 presidential election, when its candidate came in a humiliating third out of three, Dukes, whose style of leadership had alienated many of his party's TDs, was forced to resign as leader. His deputy leader, John Bruton, replaced him.

Whereas Dukes came from the left Social Democratic wing of Fine Gael, Bruton came from the more conservative Christian Democratic wing. However to the surprise of critics and of conservatives, in his first policy initiative he called for the introduction of divorce to Ireland.

Fine Gael had been in decline for nearly a decade; from the highpoint of the November 1982 general election[?] when it achieved 70 seats in Dáil Éireann, only five seats short of Fianna Fáil's total1 the party had lost a considerable number of seats. Following the inexperienced Dukes' disastrous period of leadership, Bruton's election was seen as offering Fine Gael a chance to rebuild under a far more politically experienced albeit less photogenic and less popular leader. However Bruton's perceived right wing persona and his rural background was used against him by critics and particularly by the media. He was also overshadowed by longterm Labour leader Dick Spring[?]. By the 1992 general election[?], the anti-Fianna Fáil mood in the country produced a major swing to the opposition, but that support went to Labour, not Bruton's Fine Gael. To the astonishment of the electorate, who had voted for Labour to get Fianna Fáil out of power, Labour chose to enter into a new coalition with Fianna Fáil. It was too prove costly for Labour. Angry voters turned against the party in opinion polls straight away and in 1997, many of Labour's gains (which had produced a historic high of 33 seats for the party in 1992) were swept away again. By then, however, following the collapse of the Fianna Fáil-Labour administration of Albert Reynolds in December 1994, Bruton to his own surprise (having been on the brink of deposition from the leadership days earlier) became taoiseach at the head of a three party coalition, made up of Fine Gael, Labour and a small left wing party called Democratic Left (which had its origins in the marxist Workers Party and which ultimately merged with Labour.

Bruton's politics was markedly different to most Irish leaders. Whereas most leaders had come from or identified with the independence movement Sinn Féin (in its 1917-22 phase), Bruton identified more with the more moderate Irish Parliamentary Party[?] tradition that Sinn Féin had eclipsed in the 1918 general election[?]. He hung a picture of his political hero, the IIP's leader John Redmond on a wall in his office as taoiseach, in preference to other figures like Patrick Pearse. But as evidence of Bruton's complexity, he also kept a picture of former Fianna Fáil taoiseach Sean Lemass which had been hung there by Reynolds, and which Bruton kept because he like most political scientists saw Lemass as perhaps the best and most reforming taoiseach in the history of the state.

Bruton's Rainbow Coalition[?] was generally perceived to a good government, with Bruton, who was initially the most unpopular of modern political leaders and whom was meant to have had a bad relationship with Spring, being seen as its star performer. His popularity soared while he and Spring (along with Proinsias de Rossa, leader of DL) were seen as an effective team. His government ensured the passage of a constitutional amendment to allow for the introduction of divorce. Bruton also presided over the first official visit by a member of the British Royal Family, the Prince of Wales, though Bruton's over the top comments during the visit overshadowed it somewhat.

The government was widely expected to win re-election, however the public anger towards Labour denied it enough support to be re-elected. Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats under Bertie Ahern came into power instead. Fine Gael in opposition sunk into paralysis in opposition. Fearing that the party would face collapse, he was deposed from the party's leadership in 2001. However the new leader Michael Noonnan[?], proved disastrous and the party was anniliated to a far worse extent that was expected to be the case under Bruton. Having gone into the election expecting to increase its seat numbers from 54 to 60, instead it collapsed, winning a merely 31, 39 seats less than at its highpoint twenty years earlier in 1982.

Bruton, a passionate supporter of European intergration[?], was appointed by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to be one of Ireland's delegates drafing the proposed constitution for the European Union. His brother, Richard Bruton[?], is the current deputy leader of Fine Gael.


1 Fianna Fáil had dominated Irish politics continually since 1932, on occasion being twice as big as the next nearest party, Fine Gael.

Preceded by:
Albert Reynolds
Taoiseach (1992-1994)
Prime Ministers of Ireland
Taoisigh na hÉireann
Succeeded by:
Bertie Ahern
Taoiseach (1997- )

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