Clann na Poblachta, a radical new republican party, is founded in Barry’s Hotel, Dublin, on July 6, 1946 by former members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who are very unhappy at the treatment of IRA prisoners during “The Emergency” and who are prepared to try and engage in parliamentary politics. The party lasts 19 years but fails in its objectives due to internal feuds and lack of unity.
The group includes people such as Con Lehane and former IRA Chief of Staff Seán MacBride. Some members of Fianna Fáil also join the party, many of whom have become disillusioned with the leadership of Éamon de Valera, the party’s approach to partition and its economic policies.
Clann na Poblachta realises that it has to place an emphasis on practical improvements to living standards and welfare issues such as public health. These policies attract a number of younger members such as Noël Browne and Jack McQuillan. One potential problem for the future is that almost the entire Provisional Executive is resident in Dublin and the party has no organisation in the six counties of Northern Ireland.
In 1948, Éamon de Valera dissolves the Dáil and calls an election for February. Clann na Poblachta wins only ten seats in the 1948 Irish general election, fewer than the breakthrough expected, caused in part by the error of running multiple candidates in many constituencies. The party believes there will be a landslide in their favour like the 1918 Westminster election but 48 of their 93 candidates lose their deposits. The party wins 13.3% of the vote but only 6.8% of the seats. Of their ten Teachtaí Dála (TD), six are elected in Dublin constituencies, two in Tipperary and one each in Cavan and Roscommon.
The party surprises everyone by joining the first Inter-Party Government with Fine Gael on condition that Richard Mulcahy, against whom many members had fought during the Irish Civil War, does not become Taoiseach. As a result, John A. Costello becomes Taoiseach without being leader of his party, the only time to date that this has happened. Seán MacBride becomes Minister for External Affairs and Noël Browne is named Minister for Health.
The party is the driving force behind the 26 counties exiting the Commonwealth of Nations and the all-party Anti-Partition Campaign.
The controversy of the “Mother and Child Scheme,” a progressive healthcare programme opposed by the Catholic Church, helps bring down the government and leads to the disintegration of the party. Many of the party’s TDs resign in solidarity with Noël Browne and his scheme, so the official party wins only two seats in the 1951 Irish general election.
In 1954, Clann na Poblachta agrees to give outside support to the Fine Gael-led government. In this election, three TDs are returned – MacBride, John Tully and John Connor. Controversy dogs the party as Liam Kelly, a Northern-based Clann na Poblachta senator, is also active in Saor Uladh and leads a number of military raids in County Fermanagh and County Tyrone against the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).
Clann na Poblachta withdraws its support from the Government in late 1956 due to the its anti-IRA stance. The party wins only one seat at the 1957 Irish general election with MacBride being defeated by Fianna Fáil. John Tully remains the only Clann TD until his retirement in 1961, after he loses his seat. However, Joseph Barron is elected in Dublin South-Central on his fourth attempt.
In 1965, Tully wins back his seat but he is in effect an Independent as the party only stands four candidates. There had been negotiations between MacBride and Brendan Corish, the new Labour Party leader about forming a political alliance but this does not come to fruition.
A special Ard Fheis, held on July 10, 1965, agrees to dissolve Clan na Poblachta.
(Pictured: Sean MacBride, former Chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army and founder of Clann na Poblachta)