Monday 20 February 2017

Despite a mixed legacy, there's life in the old Soldiers of Destiny yet

Theresa Reidy

Published 21/05/2016 | 02:30

Fianna Fáil had distinguished political leaders who defined politics in their time, such as Sean Lemass.
Fianna Fáil had distinguished political leaders who defined politics in their time, such as Sean Lemass.

Although the last few years have brought electoral turbulence for Fianna Fáil, the party has been the dominant force in Irish politics for much of the 20th century. This week marks the 90th year since the party emerged from the fracturing of the Sinn Féin movement at the Civil War and was established by Éamon de Valera in 1926 following a further split in the ranks of anti-Treaty Sinn Féin. It contested the election in 1927 and entered government for the first time in 1932.

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Political scientists have been studying parties for decades, and they group them according to their origins, operation and policy positions as a mechanism for understanding them. But the Soldiers of Destiny are something of an anomaly - and don't fit neatly into any of the family groups.

From 1932 until 2011, the party won more votes at elections than all of its rivals. It had the largest numbers of seats in the Dáil and it enjoyed long, uninterrupted periods in government. The overall vote for Fianna Fáil showed signs of decline from the 1970s, but its adaptability kept the party to the fore in Irish politics. This hegemony led to Ireland being categorised as having a dominant party system. Fianna Fáil sat at the centre of party politics, and other parties either competed against it or, as the decades passed, coalesced with it.

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