Tuesday 23 January 2018

The different shades of blue that led the way

Jason O'Brien takes a look at the leaders who helped shape the Fine Gael party over the years

HAVING survived yesterday's leadership challenge, Enda Kenny stays on as the 10th leader of his party. Here we look at his nine predecessors who shaped the party since its formation in 1933.

Eoin O'Duffy (1933-34)

More a military leader than a politician, the former Garda Chief Commissioner helped form the party through a merger of Cumann na nGaedhael, the Centre Party and the National Guard.

However, his extreme right-wing views, temperament and poor judgement soon became an embarrassment to the party and he resigned as president a year later.

WT Cosgrave (1934-44)

A towering figure in the history of Irish democracy, Cosgrave was the country's first head of government from 1922 to 1932, when he served as the President of the Executive Council, the precursor to the office of Taoiseach.

He had split with Eamon de Valera over the Treaty, and went on to lead the fledgling nation from 1922.

However, Fianna Fail came to power 10 years later, and while Cosgrave became the first parliamentary leader of the new party -- serving until his retirement in 1944 -- Fine Gael failed to win a general election during that time.

Richard Mulcahy (1944-59)

Active in the Rising and the War of Independence, Mulcahy's personal election results were somewhat patchy and he became Fine Gael leader while a member of the Seanad.

Mulcahy succeeded in bringing in new blood to the struggling party and, in 1948, Fine Gael was the major party in the first coalition government to oust Fianna Fail.

But he was judged an unsuitable choice as Taoiseach by some coalition members because of his role in the Civil War and he stepped aside to allow John A Costello become Taoiseach.

James Dillon (1959-1965)

A Monaghan TD for over 30 years, Dillon first came to national prominence when he was expelled from the party in 1942 after urging Ireland to abandon neutrality during the war and side with the Allies.

He would serve as Agriculture Minister as an independent TD before rejoining FG in 1953 and taking over as leader six years later.

Under his leadership, the party "took a new approach to a changing Ireland and to the need for social and economic reform", its website now asserts.

FG narrowly lost a general election to FF in 1965 and Dillon stepped down, retiring as a TD two years later.

Liam Cosgrave (1965-1977)

The son of WT got into politics at a young age, joining Fine Gael at 17 and rejecting a career in law to stand for election in 1943. He would hold his seat until his retirement in 1981.

He easily won the leadership contest in 1965 and, although he lost a general election four years later, he would lead a coalition of Fine Gael and Labour to victory in 1973.

Described as dour and conservative, but utterly trustworthy, Cosgrave's government is viewed, in hindsight, as one of the best, but unluckiest, in history.

Garret FitzGerald (1977-1987)

The two-time Taoiseach and intellectual heavyweight was liberal in his outlook and his ideals were a significant departure from the man he replaced.

Initially focused on revitalising the party, his tetchy relationship with Charlie Haughey would dominate Irish politics in the 1980s.

Fine Gael experienced a rapid rise in support under FitzGerald, and he was Taoiseach in coalition governments with Labour briefly between 1981 and 1982, and again between 1982 and 1987.

The deep-seated recession and his attempts to grapple with the Troubles in the North were his biggest dilemmas throughout, but he succeeded in significantly reducing inflation and signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Alan Dukes (1987-1990)

One of only five TDs to be appointed minister on their first day in the Dail, Dukes held a seat from 1981 to 2002.

He took over from FitzGerald during a particularly bleak time for the Irish economy, and his time is perhaps best-remembered for the Tallaght Strategy of putting national interests before self-interests.

John Bruton (1990-2001)

Bruton, who was considered more conservative than his two predecessors, would oversee a further fall in FG support early in his leadership, but held on to his position and became Taoiseach in 1994 -- as head of the Rainbow Coalition -- without a general election.

Fine Gael claims the following period saw the birth of the Celtic Tiger.

Michael Noonan


A current TD, Noonan served as leader only from February 2001 to June 2002.

Following some poor election results in the late 1990s, he tabled a motion of no confidence in Bruton and was successful in taking over as leader of the opposition.

However, Fine Gael had a disastrous result at the 2002 General Election -- dropping from 54 to 31 seats -- and the Limerickman resigned as leader on the night of the results.

Enda Kenny would then step in and attempt to bring the party back to life.

Irish Independent

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