seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Martin McGuinness, Irish Republican Sinn Féin Politician

Martin McGuinness, former member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) Army Council and Sinn Féin‘s chief negotiator in the peace process, dies on the morning of March 21, 2017 at Derry‘s Altnagelvin Area Hospital with his family by his bedside. He had been diagnosed with a rare heart disease in December 2016. In 2011, McGuinness contests the presidential election which is won by Michael D. Higgins.

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 Ireland William 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.


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Micheál Martin Elected Leader of Fianna Fáil

Micheál Martin is elected leader of Fianna Fáil on January 26, 2011. He beats the competition of finance minister Brian Lenihan, tourism minister Mary Hanafin, and social protection minister Éamon Ó Cuív. He replaces Brian Cowan who stepped down on January 22. During his acceptance speech, the new leader apologises for mistakes he and the Government made in managing the economy but says the most important thing is to learn from these mistakes.

Martin has been a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Cork South-Central constituency since 1989. He previously serves as Minister for Education and Science and Lord Mayor of Cork from 1992 to 1993, Minister for Health and Children from 2000 to 2004, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment from 2004 to 2008, Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2008 to 2011, and Leader of the Opposition in Ireland from 2011 to 2020.

While Martin is Minister for Health and Children in 2004, he introduces a ban on tobacco smoking in all Irish workplaces and establishes the Health Service Executive (HSE). Ireland is the first country to introduce a full workplace smoking ban. As Foreign Minister, in 2009, he travels to Latin America for the first time, and makes the first official visit to Cuba by an Irish Minister. That same year, he travels to Khartoum following the kidnapping of Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki. In 2010, he becomes the first Western foreign minister to visit Gaza since Hamas took control there in 2007.

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.


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Founding of the Progressive Democrats

progressive-democratsProgressive Democrats is founded on December 21, 1985 by Desmond O’Malley, Mary Harney, and politicians who had split from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The party is a member of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR). Its youth wing is the Young Progressive Democrats.

The Progressive Democrats take liberal positions on divorce, contraception, and other social issues. The party also supports economic liberalisation, advocating measures such as lower taxation, fiscal conservatism, privatisation, and welfare reform. It enjoys an impressive début at the 1987 general election, winning 14 seats in Dáil Éireann and capturing almost 12 per cent of the popular vote to temporarily surpass the Labour Party as Ireland’s third-largest political party.

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.


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Éamon De Valera and Michael Collins Pact

collins-and-de-valeraÉamon 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.