Neil Terence Columba Blaney, Irish politician first elected to Dáil Éireann in 1948 as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) representing Donegal East, is born on October 1, 1922 in Fanad, County Donegal. He serves as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (1957), Minister for Local Government (1957–1966) and Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries (1966–1970). He is Father of the Dáil from 1987 until his death.
Blaney is the second eldest of a family of eleven. His father, from whom he got his strong republican views and his first introduction to politics, had been a commander in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Donegal during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. He is educated locally at Tamney on the rugged Fanad Peninsula and later attends St. Eunan’s College in Letterkenny. He later works as an organiser with the Irish National Vintners and Grocers Association.
Blaney is first elected to Dáil Éireann for the Donegal East constituency in a by-election in December 1948, following the death of his father from cancer. He also becomes a member of the Donegal County Council. He remains on the backbenches for a number of years before he is one of a group of young party members handpicked by Seán Lemass to begin a re-organisation drive for the party following the defeat at the 1954 general election. Within the party he gains fame by running the party’s by-election campaigns throughout the 1950s and 1960s. His dedicated bands of supporters earn the sobriquet “the Donegal Mafia,” and succeed in getting Desmond O’Malley and Gerry Collins elected to the Dáil.
Following Fianna Fáil’s victory at the 1957 general election, Éamon de Valera, as Taoiseach, brings new blood into the Cabinet in the shape of Blaney, Jack Lynch, Kevin Boland and Mícheál Ó Móráin. Blaney is appointed Minister for Posts and Telegraphs however he moves to the position of Minister for Local Government at the end of 1957 following the death of Seán Moylan. He retains the post when Lemass succeeds de Valera as Taoiseach in 1959. During his tenure it becomes possible to pay rates by installment and he also introduces legislation which entitles non-nationals to vote in local elections.
In 1966 Lemass resigns as Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader. The subsequent leadership election sees Cork politician Jack Lynch become party leader and Taoiseach. In the subsequent cabinet reshuffle Blaney is appointed Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries.
In 1969, when conflict breaks out in Northern Ireland, Blaney is one of the first to express strong Irish republican views, views which contradict the policy of the Irish Government, in support of Northern nationalists. From around late 1968 onwards, he forms and presides over an unofficial Nationalist group in Leinster House popularly known as “the Letterkenny Table.” The group is dominated by Blaney up until his death.
There is general surprise when, in an incident known as the Arms Crisis, Blaney, along with Charles Haughey, is sacked from Lynch’s cabinet amid allegations of the use of the funds to import arms for use by the IRA. Lynch asked for their resignations but both men refuse, saying they did nothing illegal. Lynch then advises President de Valera to sack Haughey and Blaney from the government. Haughey and Blaney are subsequently tried in court but are acquitted. However, many of their critics refuse to recognise the verdict of the courts. Although Blaney is cleared of wrongdoing, his ministerial career is brought to an end.
Lynch subsequently moves against Blaney so as to isolate him in the party. When Blaney and his supporters try to organise the party’s national collection independently, Lynch acts and in 1972 Blaney is expelled from Fianna Fáil for “conduct unbecoming.”
Following his expulsion from Fianna Fáil, Kevin Boland tries to persuade Blaney to join the Aontacht Éireann party he is creating but Blaney declines. Instead, he contests all subsequent elections for Independent Fianna Fáil – The Republican Party, an organisation that he built up. Throughout the 1970s there are frequent calls for his re-admittance to Fianna Fáil but the most vocal opponents of this move are Fianna Fáil delegates from County Donegal.
At the 1979 European Parliament elections Blaney tops the poll in the Connacht–Ulster constituency to the annoyance of Fianna Fáil. He narrowly loses the seat at the 1984 election but is returned to serve as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) in the 1989 election where he sits with the regionalist Rainbow Group. He also canvasses for IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone by-election, in which Sands is elected to Westminster.