independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Dail family trees show clans who rule Ireland

Children following in their parents' footsteps has been a hallmark of our electoral system, says Daniel McConnell

Irish politics has been dominated by family dynasties since the foundation of the State. Many of the country's current leading politicians are the latest in the line of family members to pursue a career in national politics.

Just look at our Cabinet for example. Both the current Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his immediate predecessor Bertie Ahern have had at least one family member in the Dail. Mr Cowen won the 1984 by-election caused by the death of his father Ber Cowen, while Mr Ahern's brother Noel Ahern has been a sitting TD since 1992.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan is the brother of junior minister Conor, and both are nephews of Mary O'Rourke. They are sons of former Tanaiste Brian senior, and the grandsons of Patrick Lenihan.

Current Tanaiste Mary Coughlan is the daughter of Cathal Coughlan and the niece of Clement Coughlan, who served between 1980 and 1983. Mary Hanafin is the daughter of FF stalwart Des Hanafin and is the sister of Senator John Hanafin. Minister for Gaeltacht and Rural Affairs Eamon O Cuiv is the grandson of former Taoiseach and President Eamon de Valera.

According to our findings, 37 of the current 75 Fianna Fail incumbents in the Oireachtas have or have had at least one family member also serve in Leinster House.

Twenty-two members of Fianna Fail have more than one family member, with three having three or more other relatives, who were national politicians.

Nine current Fianna Fail TDs are the grandsons of former TDs. They are Niall Blaney, Dara Calleary, Niall Collins, Eamon O Cuiv, Jimmy Devins, Brendan Kenneally, Brian and Conor Lenihan and Tom McEllistrim.

Sixteen members of Fine Gael have or have had relatives serve in Leinster House.

They are Deirdre Clune (whose father Peter Barry and grandfather Anthony Barry served); Richard Bruton (brother of John); Joe Carey (son of Donal); Simon Coveney (son of Hugh); Michael Creed (son of Donal); Michael D'arcy (son of Michael); John Deasy (son of Austin); Olwyn Enright (wife of current TD Joe McHugh and daughter of Tom); Joe McHugh (husband of Olwyn Enright); Charles Flanagan (son of Oliver); Enda Kenny (son of Henry); Gay Mitchell (brother of Jim); Denis Naughten (son of Liam); Kieran O'Donnell (nephew of Tom O'Donnell); Billy Timmins (son of Godfrey).

Showing that the proliferation of political dynasties links back to the Civil War, only six elected members of the Labour Party have had any relations in national politics and only one of the Green Party has any family history in politics.

The Labour Party members involved are Nessa Childers (daughter of Erskine H and granddaughter of Erskine); Ciaran Lynch (brother-in-law of Kathleen Lynch); Kathleen Lynch (sister-in-law of Ciaran); Ruairi Quinn (cousin of Feargal); Sean Sherlock (son of Joe); Brendan Ryan (brother of Sean) and Mary Upton (sister of Pat).

Ciaran Cuffe is the only Green TD with any dynastical links, and even then it is only a distant one. He is the grand-nephew of Patrick Little, who was a Fianna Fail TD between 1927 and 1954.

Dr Maurice Manning, chancellor of the NUI and politics lecturer, says that the high number of family dynasties is fairly typical of political systems across the world.

"It's very typical and it's quite a normal thing, many sons see politics as a family business. They will have an advantage starting off. If they don't deliver they get dumped. While a large number do come into politics, many others do not follow their parents into politics given the huge sacrifices involved and the insecurity of the position."

Dr Manning said that the high number of dynasties in FF and FG is a result of the length of stay in politics of the first generation of politicians in both parties.

"The first generation in FF and FG survived for a long time in Irish politics so it's not surprising that they became family seats almost. It's not the same for Labour or the Greens, who obviously came much later," he added.

Sunday Independent

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