seamus dubhghaill

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


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The 1987 Irish General Election

The 1987 Irish general election is held on Tuesday, February 17, 1987, four weeks after the dissolution of the Dáil. The general election takes place in 41 parliamentary constituencies throughout Ireland for 166 seats in the lower house of parliament, Dáil Éireann.

The general election of 1987 is precipitated by the withdrawal of the Labour Party from the Fine Gael-led government on January 20, 1987. The reason is a disagreement over budget proposals. Rather than attempt to press on with the government’s agenda, the Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael, Garret FitzGerald, decides to dissolve the Dáil. An unusually long period of four weeks is set for the campaign. It is hoped that the electorate will warm to Fine Gael’s budget proposals during the campaign.

Fianna Fáil‘s campaign involves a refusal to make any definite commitments. However, it attempts to convince the electorate that the country will be better under Fianna Fáil. Charles Haughey‘s attitudes toward Northern Ireland and the Anglo-Irish Agreement are both attacked. However, the campaign is mostly fought on economic issues.

The Labour Party decides against any pre-election pact, particularly with Fine Gael. The Progressive Democrats (PD), founded only two years earlier, surpass Labour as the third-biggest political party in the Dáil. Although the majority of the PD party consists of Fianna Fáil defectors, it mainly takes seats from Fine Gael. The Labour Party fails to make any impact with its leader, Dick Spring, almost losing his seat.

In spite of the opinion polls suggesting otherwise, Fianna Fáil once again fails to win an overall majority. However, it is able to form a minority government and Charles Haughey is back for his third and final term as Taoiseach. The Fianna Fáil government of 1987 to 1989 is the last time to date that a government composed only of members of one party has been formed in Ireland.

The newly elected 166 members of the 25th Dáil assemble at Leinster House on March 10, 1987 when a new Taoiseach and a Fianna Fáil minority government are appointed.


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The Octennial Act Receives Royal Assent

parliament-of-irelandThe Octennial Act, an act of the Parliament of Ireland which sets a maximum duration of eight years for the Irish House of Commons, receives royal assent on February 16, 1768. Before this, a dissolution of parliament is not required except on the demise of the Crown, and the previous three general elections were held in 1715, 1727, and 1761, on the respective deaths of Anne, George I, and George II. After the act, general elections are held in 1769, 1776, 1783, 1790, and 1798.

Limiting the duration of parliament is a prime objective of the Irish Patriot Party. Heads of bills are brought, by Charles Lucas in 1761 and 1763 and by Henry Flood in 1765, to limit parliament to seven years as the Septennial Act 1716 does for the Parliament of Great Britain. The heads are rejected by the Privy Council of Great Britain, which, under Poynings’ Law, has to pre-approve any bill before it is formally introduced in the Irish parliament.

Since the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, the British government has wished to increase the size of Irish regiments, the part of the British Army charged on the Irish exchequer rather than the British. In 1767, the Chatham Ministry appoints George Townshend, 4th Viscount Townshend, as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and instructs him to secure the support of the Irish parliament for an Augmentation Bill to effect this increase. The British consider several possible concessions to win over the Irish Patriot Party, and at his speech from the throne, Townshend promises judicial tenure quamdiu se bene gesserint and hints at a Septennial Act.

Lucas again introduces heads of a Septennial Bill on October 20, 1767. Barry Maxwell introduces heads of a judicial tenure bill the same day. In November, the appointment of James Hewitt, 1st Baron Lifford, as Lord Chancellor of Ireland alienates the Undertakers who had hoped for the post. In addition, the British Privy Council adds a wrecking amendment to the judicial tenure bill, which causes the Irish parliament to reject the bill once returned to Dublin. The council also makes three amendments to Lucas’ bill – to the preamble, to extend the limit from seven to eight years, thus an Octennial Bill, and to bring forward the date of the next general election from 1774 to 1768. According to Francis Plowden, the Privy Council insists on the modification to eight years as a wrecking amendment, expecting that the Irish parliament will reject the bill on principle once any amendment has been made to it, and is disappointed when its amended bill is passed. William Edward Hartpole Lecky calls this “without foundation,” stating the actual reasons for eight years are that the Irish Parliament only meets every second year, and to reduce the chance of Irish and British general elections coinciding.

The Octennial Act reinvigorates the Commons, both with newly elected reformers and with MPs made more active by the prospect of imminent re-election. Changes include more assertiveness over supply bills and Poynings’ Law, easing the penal laws, and securing the Constitution of 1782. There are unsuccessful attempts to shorten the maximum duration, in 1773 by Sir William Parsons and in 1777 by Sir Edward Newenham.

The act is rendered moot when the Parliament of Ireland is abolished by the Acts of Union 1800. It is formally repealed by the Statute Law Revision (Ireland) Act 1879.