Byrne is educated at Newbridge College, County Kildare, University College Dublin (UCD) and King’s Inns, Dublin. He is called to the Bar in 1970 and practises law in the Irish and European Courts. During his student days in Dublin, he founds the Free Legal Advice Centre, a student-run organisation providing legal aid to citizens in association with the legal profession. He campaigns in favour of Irish entry into the European Community (EC) in the 1970s and has been a keen supporter of European integration ever since.
In 1997 Byrne becomes Attorney General of Ireland in the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democratscoalition government. As one of the negotiators of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, he drafts and oversees the major constitutional amendments required by that agreement, which are approved by Referendum in May 1998. He also advises on the constitutional amendments necessary for Ireland’s ratification of the Treaty of Amsterdam. During his tenure, he establishes the first independent Food Safety Agency in Europe responsible to the Minister for Health.
Byrne is mooted as a potential candidate for the position of Director General of the World Health Organization following the death of the incumbent, Dr Lee Jong-wook in 2006. However, he is eventually not included in the list of thirteen candidates to head the agency.
FitzGerald joins Fine Gael, attaching himself to the liberal wing of the party. and in 1969 is elected to Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament. He later gives up his university lectureship to become Minister for Foreign Affairs in the coalition government of Liam Cosgrave (1973–1977). When the coalition government is resoundingly defeated in the 1977 Irish general election, Cosgrave yields leadership of Fine Gael to FitzGerald. In his new role as Leader of the Opposition and party leader, he proceeds to modernize and strengthen the party at the grass roots. He briefly loses power in 1982 when political instability triggers two snap elections.
On May 5, 2011, it is reported that FitzGerald is seriously ill in a Dublin hospital. Newly elected Fine Gael Taoiseach Enda Kenny sends his regards and calls him an “institution.” On May 6 he is put on a ventilator. On May 19, after suffering from pneumonia, he dies at the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin at the age of 85.
In a statement, Irish PresidentMary McAleese hails FitzGerald as “a man steeped in the history of the State who constantly strove to make Ireland a better place for all its people.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny pays homage to “a truly remarkable man who made a truly remarkable contribution to Ireland.” Henry Kissinger, the former United States Secretary of State, who serves as an opposite number to FitzGerald in the 1970s, recalls “an intelligent and amusing man who was dedicated to his country.”
FitzGerald’s death occurs on the third day of Queen Elizabeth II‘s state visit to the Republic of Ireland, an event designed to mark the completion of the Northern Ireland peace process that had been “built on the foundations” of FitzGerald’s Anglo-Irish Agreement with Margaret Thatcher in 1985. In a personal message, the Queen offers her sympathies and says she is “saddened” to learn of FitzGerald’s death.
On his visit to Dublin, United States PresidentBarack Obama offers condolences on FitzGerald’s death. He speaks of him as “someone who believed in the power of education; someone who believed in the potential of youth; most of all, someone who believed in the potential of peace and who lived to see that peace realised.”
FitzGerald is the author of a number of books, including Planning in Ireland (1968), Towards a New Ireland (1972), Unequal Partners (1979), All in a Life: An Autobiography (1991), and Reflections on the Irish State (2003).
Following the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s, the Provisional IRA conducts an armed campaign that seeks to create a united Ireland by ending Northern Ireland‘s status as part of the United Kingdom. As a result of increasing levels of violence in Northern Ireland, internment without trial is introduced there in August 1971, and in the Republic of Ireland the coalition government led by Fine Gael’s Liam Cosgrave is attempting to curb IRA activity. Fine Gael had come to power on a law and order ticket, with a policy of “getting tough on crime.” Suspected IRA members are arrested and accused of IRA membership by a superintendent in the Garda Síochána, a crime under the Offences against the State Acts. They are tried at the juryless Special Criminal Court in Dublin, where the traditional IRA policy of not recognising the court results in a fait accompli as no defence is offered and IRA membership carries a minimum mandatory one-year sentence, resulting in internment in all but name. In September 1973 IRA Chief of Staff Seamus Twomey appears at the Special Criminal Court charged with IRA membership, and states, “I refuse to recognise this British-orientated quisling court.” He is found guilty and receives a five-year sentence. By October 1973 the IRA’s command structure is seriously curbed, with Twomey and other senior republicans J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon all being held in Mountjoy Prison.
The IRA immediately begins making plans to break Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon out of the prison. The first attempt involves explosives that had been smuggled into the prison, which are to be used to blow a hole in a door which will give the prisoners access to the exercise yard. From there, they are to scale a rope ladder thrown over the exterior wall by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade who are to have a getaway car waiting to complete the escape. The plans when the prisoners cannot gain access to the exercise yard and the rope ladder is spotted, so the IRA begins making new escape plans. The idea of using a helicopter in an escape had been discussed before in a plot to break Gerry Adams out of Long Kesh internment camp but had been ruled out because of faster and more sophisticated British Army helicopters being stationed at a nearby base. The IRA’s GHQ staff approves the plan to break out Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon, and arrangements are made to obtain a helicopter. A man with an American accent calling himself Mr. Leonard approaches the manager of Irish Helicopters at Dublin Airport, with a view to hiring a helicopter for an aerial photographic shoot in County Laois. After being shown the company’s fleet of helicopters, Leonard arranges to hire a five-seater Alouette II for October 31.
Leonard arrives at Irish Helicopters on October 31 and is introduced to the pilot of the helicopter, Captain Thompson Boyes. Boyes is instructed to fly to a field in Stradbally, in order to pick up Leonard’s photographic equipment. After landing Boyes sees two armed, masked men approaching the helicopter from nearby trees. He is held at gunpoint and told he will not be harmed if he follows instructions. Leonard leaves with one gunman, while the other gunman climbs aboard the helicopter armed with a pistol and an ArmaLite rifle. Boyes is instructed to fly towards Dublin following the path of railway lines and the Royal Canal, and is ordered not to register his flight path with Air Traffic Control. As the helicopter approaches Dublin, Boyes is informed of the escape plan and is instructed to land in the exercise yard at Mountjoy Prison.
In the prison’s exercise yard, the prisoners are watching a football match. Shortly after 3:35 p.m. the helicopter swings in to land in the prison yard, with Kevin Mallon directing the pilot using semaphore. A prison officer on duty initially takes no action as he believes the helicopter contains the Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan. After prisoners surround the eight prison officers in the yard, fights break out as the officers realise an escape attempt is in progress. As other prisoners restrain the officers, Twomey, Mallon and O’Hagan board the helicopter. As the helicopter takes off, in the confusion one officer shouts, “Close the gates, close the fucking gates.” The helicopter flies north and lands at a disused racecourse in the Baldoyle area of Dublin, where the escapees are met by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade. Boyes is released unharmed, and the escapees are transferred to a taxi that had been hijacked earlier and are transported to safe houses.
The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment for Cosgrave’s government, which is criticised for “incompetence in security matters” by opposition party Fianna Fáil. An emergency debate on security is held in Dáil Éireann on November 1.
The IRA releases a statement on the escape, which reads, “Three republican prisoners were rescued by a special unit from Mountjoy Prison on Wednesday. The operation was a complete success and the men are now safe, despite a massive hunt by Free State forces.” Shortly after the escape Twomey gives an exclusive interview to German magazine Der Spiegel, where the reporter says people throughout Europe are joking about the incident as “the escape of the century.” Irish rebel band the Wolfe Tones writes a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which is immediately banned by the government yet still tops the Irish Singles Chart after selling twelve thousand copies in a single week.
The escape results in all IRA prisoners being held at Mountjoy Prison and Curragh Camp being transferred to the maximum security Portlaoise Prison. In order to prevent any further escapes the perimeter of the prison is guarded by members of the Irish Army, and wires are erected over the prison yard to prevent any future helicopter escape. Cosgrave states there will be “no hiding place” for the escapees, and a manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána ensues.
Mallon is recaptured at a Gaelic Athletic Association dance in a hotel near Portlaoise on December 10, 1973, and imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. He escapes from there in a mass break-out on August 18, 1974, when nineteen prisoners escape after overpowering guards and using gelignite to blast through the gates. He is recaptured in Foxrock in January 1975 and returned to Portlaoise Prison. O’Hagan is recaptured in Dublin in early 1975, and also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. After the end of his original twelve-month sentence, he is immediately arrested and sentenced to a further two years imprisonment for escaping. Twomey evades recapture until December 2, 1977, when he is spotted sitting in a car in Sandycove by members of the Garda’s Special Branch who are investigating an arms shipment after a tip-off from police in Belgium. He drives away after spotting the officers, before being recaptured in the centre of Dublin after a high-speed car chase. He is also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison until his release in 1982.
In 2021, Brendan Hughes publishes an autobiography Up Like a Bird, an account of the planning and organisation of the escape, co-authored with Doug Dalby.
Born on January 29, 1932, in Clara, County Offaly, Cowen is the son of Christy Cowen, a cattle dealer and a Fianna Fáil member who served as a member of Offaly County Council from 1932 until his death in 1967. He is educated at Clara National School and subsequently attends TullamoreCBS. After completion of his secondary schooling he works in the family business which includes a public house and a butcher shop. He later becomes an auctioneer.
Cowen first becomes involved in politics in 1967, when he is co-opted onto Offaly County Council, following the death of his father. Later that year he heads the poll in the Tullamore area and retains his seat until his death.
A period of political instability follows with three general elections being held throughout 1981 and 1982. Cowen retains his seat in all of these elections. In March 1982, he is finally promoted to junior ministerial level, when he is appointed Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture with special responsibility for disadvantaged areas. He holds that position until December of the same year, when Fianna Fáil loses power.
While attending a meeting of Offaly County Council in January 1984, Cowen is taken ill. He is taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin where he dies several days later on January 24, 1984. He is survived by his wife, Mary, and three sons. The consequent by-election for his seat in the 24th Dáil, is won by his second son, Brian, who goes on to serve as Taoiseach from 2008 to 2011. In 2011, Cowen’s youngest son, Barry, is elected to the seat previously held by his father and brother, having previously been an Offaly County Councillor for the Tullamore electoral area.
During Fianna Fáil’s years out of government, Cowen serves successively as opposition Spokesperson for Agriculture, Food, and Forestry (1994–97) and Spokesperson for Health (1997). Following elections in 1997, Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern forms a coalition government with the Progressive Democrats, and the party once again returns to power. Cowen serves as Minister for Health and Children (1997–2000), Minister for Foreign Affairs (2000–04), and Minister for Finance (2004–08). In June 2007 he was appointed Tánaiste.
Cowen is known for his sharp tongue and sometimes rough-hewn manner, but he is also recognized for his fierce intelligence, wit, and jovial demeanour. A combative politician and loyal party member, he is for many years seen as an obvious successor to Ahern. In April 2008, amid an investigation into possible past financial misconduct, Ahern announces that he will resign as Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fáil the following month. Cowen, who had remained supportive of Ahern throughout, is elected Leader of Fianna Fáil in April 2008. He becomes Taoiseach the following month and is faced with leading the country amid the global financial crisis that creates Ireland’s worst economy since the 1930s.
Cowen’s government oversees the bailout of Ireland’s banking system, which had been thrown into crisis by the collapse of the housing market, but the rescue comes at the cost of a skyrocketing deficit. As the country’s economic difficulties deepen, he seeks a cure that he hopes would obviate the need of foreign intervention, proposing an increase in income taxes and cuts in services. In November 2010, however, as concern for Ireland’s financial stability grows among its eurozone partners, he agrees to accept a bailout of more than $100 million from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. There is concern in Ireland that one condition for foreign aid might be an increase in Ireland’s comparatively low corporate taxes. The Green Party, Fianna Fáil’s junior partner in the governing coalition, responds to the situation by calling for early elections.
In mid-January 2011 Cowen’s leadership of Fianna Fáil is challenged by Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, partly in response to rumours that had swirled of a golf course meeting that had taken place between the Taoiseach and the former head of the Anglo Irish Bank before the government’s bailout of the Irish banking industry. He survives a leadership vote, but about one-third of the party’s parliamentary bloc votes against him. In a rapid succession of events that occur over the course of a few days, an unsuccessful reshuffle of the cabinet follows the resignation of six cabinet ministers, after which Cowen calls for an election to be held on March 11 and then announces that he will step down as party leader but continue as caretaker Taoiseach until the election. The Green Party then withdraws from the ruling coalition, forcing an even earlier election. Waiting until the parliament passes a finance bill that is necessary to meet the conditions of an International Monetary Fund–European Union loan but which imposes austerity measures that had proved very unpopular with much of the Irish public, he officially calls the election for February 25. Martin takes over as the Leader of Fianna Fáil, which suffers a crushing defeat in the election at the hands of Fine Gael.
In May 2014, Cowen becomes part of the board of Topaz Energy. He is appointed to the board of Beacon Hospital in February 2015. In July 2017, he is conferred with an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland. During his 50-minute acceptance speech he criticises the EU for its behaviour towards Ireland during the financial crisis and expresses regret that so many jobs were lost during the recession. Following the conferring ceremony, the NUI faces considerable public criticism for deciding to make the award to Cowen. Former (and founding) President of the University of Limerick, Edward M. Walsh, announces that he will hand back his own honorary doctorate in protest, and does so on November 14, 2018.
On July 5, 2019, Cowen is admitted to Beacon Hospital after suffering a major brain hemorrhage. He is then transferred to St. Vincent’s University Hospital where he spends five months before transferring to a physical rehabilitation facility. As of late 2020, while he is still in hospital following a stroke the previous year, he has been making steady progress.
McGuinness is born James Martin Pacelli McGuinness on May 23, 1950 in Derry. He attends St. Eugene’s Primary School and later the Christian Brothers technical college, leaving school at the age of 15.
McGuinness joins the IRA about 1970, and by 1971 he is one of its leading organizers in Derry. In 1973 a Special Criminal Court in the Republic of Ireland sentences him to six months in prison after he is caught in a car containing large quantities of explosives and ammunition. Although the IRA keeps secret the membership of its seven-person Army Council, few doubt that McGuinness is one of its most important members from the 1970s through the 1990s. Even while reportedly planning attacks on civilians in Northern Ireland and on the British mainland, McGuinness is involved in spasmodic secret talks with British government ministers and officials to end the conflict. In 1972 McGuinness, with fellow IRA leader Gerry Adams, privately negotiates with British Secretary of State for Northern IrelandWilliam Whitelaw, but these and other talks over the next two decades are unsuccessful.
McGuinness contests seats in the British House of Commons on several occasions, losing in 1983, 1987, and 1992. However, in 1997 he is elected to the House of Commons to represent the constituency of Mid Ulster and, in line with party policy, he does not take his seat. He subsequently wins reelection to the seat in 2001, 2005, and 2010.
McGuinness is the IRA’s chief negotiator in the deliberations, also secret at first, that culminate in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. This pact finally ends the conflict and eventually brings Sinn Féin into a coalition government to rule Northern Ireland. He is elected to the new Northern Ireland Assembly and in 1999 is appointed Minister of Education. In this post he eliminates the controversial eleven-plus examination, which determines which type of secondary school a child should attend. The test had been abolished in most of the rest of the United Kingdom more than 25 years earlier.
Disagreements over such issues as policing and the decommissioning of arms causes Northern Ireland’s Executive and Assembly to be suspended for some years, but a fresh agreement in 2006 paves the way for them to be revived. In elections in March 2007, both Sinn Féin and the antirepublican Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) gain seats, becoming the two largest parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. McGuinness becomes Deputy First Minister, working with First Minister Ian Paisley, leader of the DUP. The two men, previously bitter enemies, perform so well together that they are dubbed the “Chuckle brothers.”
When Paisley retires in 2008, he is succeeded by the DUP’s Peter Robinson, who is considered to be even more militantly antirepublican. Once again, however, a shared need to rebuild the economy and attract international investment leads to cooperation between former opponents. In 2009 their government is in jeopardy as Sinn Féin and the DUP argue over the devolution of the police and justice system in Northern Ireland. McGuinness and Robinson are involved in the ensuing negotiations, and in February 2010 an agreement is reached for the transfer of powers from Britain to Northern Ireland in April.
In the Assembly elections in May 2011, McGuinness and Robinson are a formidable pair, and voters respond to their call for stability in a time of economic uncertainty. Sinn Féin gains an additional seat and increases its overall share of the vote, and McGuinness is assured an additional term as Deputy First Minister. In the autumn he steps down to run as Sinn Féin’s candidate for the presidency of Ireland. After finishing third in the election held on October 28, he returns to the position of Deputy First Minister a few days later. On June 27, 2012, in an event widely seen as having great symbolic importance for the ongoing reconciliation efforts in Northern Ireland, McGuinness and Elizabeth II shake hands twice, once in private and again in public, during a visit by the British monarch to Belfast.
In January 2017 McGuinness resigns as Deputy First Minister in response to First Minister Arlene Foster’s refusal to temporarily step down from her position during the investigation of a scandal relating to the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), a mishandled program under which large amounts of state funds allegedly had been squandered. Foster had served as head of the department that oversaw the RHI before becoming First Minister. Under the power-sharing agreement the posts of First Minister and Deputy First Minister constitute a single joint office so that the resignation of one minister results in termination of the other’s tenure. When Sinn Féin chooses not to nominate a replacement for McGuinness within the required seven-day period, authority reverts to the British government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in advance of a snap election on March 2.
Even before McGuinness’s resignation there had been speculation late in 2016 that he might step down for health reasons, and soon after resigning he confirms that he is suffering from amyloidosis, a rare disease brought about by deposits of abnormal protein in organs and tissue. With McGuinness removing himself from “frontline politics,” Michelle O’Neill leads Sinn Féin into the election. The disease claims McGuinness’s life only months later on March 21, 2017.
In January 2011, Martin resigns as Minister for Foreign Affairs and is subsequently elected as the eighth leader of Fianna Fáil following Cowen’s resignation as party leader. In the 2011 Irish general election, he leads the party to its worst showing in its 85-year history, with a loss of 57 seats and a drop in its share of the popular vote to 17.4%. In the 2016 Irish general election, Fianna Fáil’s performance improves significantly, more than doubling their Dáil representation from 20 to 44 seats. In the 2020 Irish general election, Fianna Fáil becomes the largest party, attaining the most seats at 38, one seat ahead of Sinn Féin with 37 seats. He is appointed Taoiseach on June 27, 2020, leading a grand coalition with longtime rival Fine Gael and the Green Party as part of a historic deal. Under the terms of the agreement, Martin’s predecessor, Leo Varadkar, becomes Tánaiste, and will swap roles with Martin in December 2022.
Although the Progressive Democrats never again win more than 10 seats in the Dáil, they form coalition governments with Fianna Fáil during the 26th Dáil (1989–92), the 28th Dáil (1997–2002), the 29th Dáil (2002–07) and the 30th Dáil (2007–09). These successive years as the government’s junior coalition partner gives the party an influence on Irish politics and economics disproportionate to its small size. In particular, the party has been credited with shaping the low-tax, pro-business environment that contributes to Ireland’s Celtic Tiger economic boom during the 1990s and 2000s, as well as blame for contributing to the subsequent Irish financial and economic crisis.
On November 8, 2008 the party begins the process of disbanding and is formally dissolved on November 20, 2009. The two Progressive Democrat politicians elected to the 30th Dáil, Mary Harney and Noel Grealish, continue to support the government as independent Teachta Dálas (TD), and Mary Harney also continues as Minister for Health and Children.
Éamon De Valera and Michael Collins agree to a pact on May 20, 1922 whereby a national coalition panel of candidates will represent the pro- and anti-Treaty wings of Sinn Féin throughout Ireland in the forthcoming general election.
As in the Irish elections, 1921 in the south, Sinn Féin stands one candidate for every seat, except those for the University of Dublin and one other. The treaty has divided the party between 65 pro-treaty candidates, 57 anti-treaty and 1 nominally on both sides. Unlike the elections a year earlier, other parties stand in most constituencies forcing single transferable vote elections, with Sinn Féin losing 30 seats.
To avoid a deeper split de Valera and Collins work out a “pact” whereby it is agreed that the pro-treaty and anti-treaty factions will fight the general election jointly and form a coalition government afterwards. This pact prevents voters giving their opinions on the treaty itself, especially in uncontested seats. However, the draft constitution of the Irish Free State is then published on June 15, and so the anti-treaty Sinn Féin group’s 36 seats out of 128 seem to many to be a democratic endorsement of the pro-treaty Sinn Féin’s arrangements. Others argue that insufficient time is available to understand the draft constitution, but the main arguments have been made public in the Treaty Debates which end in January 1922.
Despite the Pact, the election starts the effective division of Sinn Féin into separate parties. Anti-Treaty members led by de Valera walk out, and pro- and anti-Treaty members take opposite sides just weeks later in the ensuing Irish Civil War.