An Irish general election is held on February 16, 1932, just over two weeks after the dissolution of the Dáil on January 29. The general election takes place in 30 parliamentary constituencies throughout the Irish Free State for 153 seats in the lower house of parliament, Dáil Éireann. The 1932 general election is one of the most important general elections held in Ireland in the 20th Century, resulting in the formation of the first Fianna Fáil government. Fianna Fáil becomes the largest party and would continue to be the largest party in Dáil Éireann and at every general election until 2011.
Cumann na nGaedheal fights the general election on its record of providing ten years of stable government. The party brings stability following the chaos of the Irish Civil War and provides honest government. However, by 1932 support of the government is wearing thin, particularly since the party has no solution to the collapse in trade which follows the depression of the early 1930s. Instead of offering new policies the party believes that its record in government will be enough to retain power. Cumann na nGaedheal also employs “red scare” tactics, describing Fianna Fáil as communists and likening Éamon de Valera to Joseph Stalin.
In comparison, Fianna Fáil has an elaborate election programme designed to appeal to a wide section of the electorate. It plays down its republicanism to avoid alarm but provides very popular social and economic policies. The party promises to free Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners, abolish the Oath of allegiance, and reduce the powers of the Governor-General and the Senate. It also promises the introduction of protectionist policies, industrial development, self-sufficiency, and improvements in housing and social security benefits.
The election campaign between the two ideologically opposed parties is reasonably peaceful. However, during the campaign the government prosecutes de Valera’s newly established newspaper, The Irish Press. The editor is also brought before a military tribunal. This is seen by many as a major blunder and a serious infringement on the belief of freedom of speech. The “red scare” tactics also seemed to backfire on the government, who seem to have little else to offer the electorate.
When the results are known Fianna Fáil is still 5 seats short of an overall majority but looks like the only party capable of forming a government. Discussions get underway immediately after the election and an agreement is reached in which the Labour Party would support Fianna Fáil. The party now has the necessary votes to form a minority government.
On March 9, 1932, the first change of government in the Irish Free State takes place. Similar to when the party first enters the Dáil in 1927, a number of Fianna Fáil Teachtaí Dála (TDs) have guns in their pockets. However, the feared coup d’état does not take place. W. T. Cosgrave is determined to adhere to the principles of democracy that he has practised while in government. Likewise, the army, Garda Síochána, and the civil service all accept the change of government, despite the fact that they will now be taking orders from men who had been their enemies less than ten years previously. After a brief and uneventful meeting in the Dáil chamber, Éamon de Valera is appointed President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State by the Governor-General, James McNeill, who has come to Leinster House to make the appointment rather than require de Valera travel to the Viceregal Lodge, formerly a symbol of British rule. Fianna Fáil, the party most closely identified with opposing the existence of the state ten years earlier, is now the party of government. The 1932 general election is the beginning of a sixteen-year period in government for Fianna Fáil.