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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Neil Blaney, Fianna Fáil Politician

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.

Blaney holds his Dáil seat until his death from cancer at the age of 73 on November 8, 1995 in Dublin.


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The Founding of Clann na Poblachta

sean-macbrideClann 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)