seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

The Founding of Fine Gael

fine-gael-logoFine Gael, a liberal-conservative political party in Ireland, is founded on September 8, 1933 following the merger of its parent party Cumann na nGaedheal, the National Centre Party and the National Guard, popularly known as the “Blueshirts.” The party’s origins lie in the struggle for Irish independence and the pro-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War. Michael Collins, in particular, is often identified as the founder of the movement.

Fine Gael is currently the third-largest party in Ireland in terms of members of Dáil Éireann and largest in terms of Irish members of the European Parliament. The party has a membership of 21,000 in 2017. Leo Varadkar succeeds Enda Kenny as party leader on June 2, 2017 and as Taoiseach on June 14. Kenny had been leader since 2002, and Taoiseach since 2011.

Fine Gael is generally considered to be more of a proponent of market liberalism than its traditional rival, Fianna Fáil. Apart from brief minority governments, Fine Gael has rarely governed Ireland without a coalition that also includes the Labour Party, a social-democratic, centre-left party. Fine Gael describes itself as a “party of the progressive centre” which it defines as acting “in a way that is right for Ireland, regardless of dogma or ideology.” The party lists its core values as “equality of opportunity, free enterprise and reward, security, integrity and hope.”

In international politics, Fine Gael is highly supportive of the European Union, along with generally supporting strengthened relations with the United Kingdom and opposition to physical force Irish republicanism. The party’s youth wing, Young Fine Gael, is formed in 1977, and has approximately four thousand members. Fine Gael is a founding member of the European People’s Party.

Having governed in coalition with the Labour Party between 2011 and 2016, and in a minority government along with Independent TDs from 2016 to 2020, Fine Gael currently forms part of an historic coalition government with its traditional rival, Fianna Fáil, and the Green Party. On June 27, 2020, Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil is appointed as Taoiseach and forms a new government. Leo Varadkar serves as Tánaiste with both parties agreeing that in December 2022, Varadkar will serve again as Taoiseach.


Leave a comment

Final Republican & Loyalist Prisoners Released from Maze Prison

maze-prison-releaseThe final seventy-eight republican and loyalist prisoners are released from the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland on July 28, 2000 as the final phase of the Good Friday peace accord scheme to release 428 inmates early.

Some of the most prolific bombers and gunmen involved in the Troubles have been imprisoned in the Maze, originally called Long Kesh, since it opened in 1971.

One of the freed republicans, Seán Lynch, describes what he saw as the real and symbolic importance of the Maze. “We had achieved the status of political prisoners even if the British Government never admitted it. The prison struggle was a microcosm of the larger struggle.”

Founder member of the Ulster Defence Association, Thomas McKeown, released in 1990 is one of over 10,000 loyalists sent to the prison. He reflects, “We had it pretty easy. We made replica weapons and instruments from wood and conducted military parades and drill every morning. There were also political classes and other sorts of education.”

After the H-block hunger strikes of the 1980s there are numerous escape attempts and by 1994 the authorities have given in to many of the prisoners’ demands for freedom of association and high levels of autonomy. A total of 2,700 incidents of officers being threatened or attacked are reported. A granite memorial outside the gates bears the names of the 29 prison guards murdered since the prison opened in 1971.

On September 29, 2000, the remaining four prisoners at the Maze are transferred to other prisons in Northern Ireland and the Maze Prison is closed. Redundancy packages are arranged for staff. These are accepted by 300 who left in June 2000.

The future of the buildings is uncertain, but some republicans want it to be turned into a museum to commemorate their struggle.

A monitoring group is set up on January 14, 2003 to debate the future of the 360-acre site. There are many proposals, including a museum, a multi-purpose sports stadium and an office, hotel and leisure village. In January 2006, the government unveils a masterplan for the site incorporating many of these proposals, including a 45,000 seat national multi-sport stadium for association football, rugby and Gaelic games. In October 2006, demolition work begins in preparation for construction on the site, however, in January 2009 plans to build the new multi-purpose stadium are cancelled, with Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure Gregory Campbell citing a lack of support and concerns for a net loss to the economy.

Discussion is still ongoing as to the listed status of sections of the old prison. The hospital and part of the H-Blocks are currently listed buildings, and will remain as part of the proposed site redevelopment as a “conflict transformation centre” with support from republicans such as Martin McGuinness and opposition from unionists, who consider that this risks creating “a shrine to the IRA.”

In January 2013, plans are approved by the Northern Ireland Minister of the Environment, Alex Attwood, for the site to be redeveloped as showgrounds as the result of an application by the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society with the objective of relocating Balmoral Show from its current location in Belfast. The site is now known as Balmoral Park.

In October 2019, the European Union withdraws £18m that had been approved to develop a peace centre, due to disagreements between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party.

(Pictured: IRA prisoners walk out through the Maze turnstile, BBC News Online, July 28, 2000)


Leave a comment

Birth of Erskine H. Childers, 4th President of Ireland

erskine-hamilton-childers-1Erskine Hamilton Childers, Irish politician and a member of the Fianna Fáil party who serves as the fourth President of Ireland (1973–74), is born on December 11, 1905 in the Embankment Gardens, Westminster, London, to a Protestant family, originally from Glendalough, County Wicklow.

Childers is educated at Gresham’s School, Holt, and the University of Cambridge, hence his striking British upper class accent. On November 24, 1922, when he is sixteen, his father, Robert Erskine Childers, is executed by the new Irish Free State on politically-inspired charges of gun-possession. The pistol he had been found with had been given to him by Michael Collins. Before his execution, in a spirit of reconciliation, the elder Childers obtains a promise from his son to seek out and shake the hand of every man who had signed his death warrant.

Following his father’s funeral, he returns to Gresham’s, then two years later he goes on to Trinity College, Cambridge. He returns to Ireland in 1932 and becomes advertising manager of The Irish Press, the newly founded newspaper owned by the family of Éamon de Valera.

Childers’s political debut is as a successful Fianna Fáil candidate for a seat in Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament, in 1938. He becomes a Parliamentary secretary in 1944 and is later Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (1951–54), Minister for Lands (1957–59), and Minister for Transport and Power (1959–69). He also serves as Tánaiste and Minister for Health (1969–73). He supports Taoiseach Jack Lynch’s condemnation of the violence in Northern Ireland and Lynch’s advocacy of a European role for the Irish republic within the European Economic Community (now European Community, embedded in the European Union).

Childers is nominated as the presidential candidate of Fianna Fáil at the behest of de Valera, who pressures Jack Lynch in the selection of the presidential candidate. He is a controversial nominee, owing not only to his British birth and upbringing but to his Protestantism. However, on the campaign trail his personal popularity proved enormous, and in a political upset at the 1973 Irish presidential election, he is elected the fourth President of Ireland on May 30, 1973, defeating Tom O’Higgins by 635,867 (52%) votes to 578,771 (48%). He becomes the second Protestant to hold the office, the first being Douglas Hyde (1938–1945).

Prevented from transforming the presidency as he desires, Childers instead throws his energy into a busy schedule of official visits and speeches, which is physically taxing.

On November 17, 1974, during a conference to the psychiatrists of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in Dublin, Childers suffers a congestional heart failure causing him to lie sideways and turn blue before suddenly collapsing. He is pronounced dead the same day at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

Childers’s state funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, is attended by his presidential predecessor Éamon de Valera and world leaders including Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (representing Queen Elizabeth II), the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and British Opposition Leader Edward Heath, and Presidents and crowned heads of state from Europe and beyond. He is buried in the grounds of the Church of Ireland Derralossary Church, in Roundwood, County Wicklow.


Leave a comment

Passport Requests Increase Following UK Brexit Vote

irish-passportAccording to statistics released by the Department of Foreign Affairs on August 6, 2016, in the first full month since the United Kingdom‘s decision to leave the European Union, applications for Irish passports from people living in Great Britain increase by 73% and by 63% from those in Northern Ireland over the same period the previous year.

In July 2015 there are 4,242 applications submitted by people in Great Britain compared to 7,321 in July 2016. Meanwhile 6,638 passport requests are submitted from Northern Ireland.

Within in a day of the Brexit vote there is a surge in online interest in Irish passports and moving to Ireland. While the UK as a whole votes to leave the EU in the referendum, Northern Ireland votes to remain by a majority of 56 percent to 44 percent. The Department of Foreign Affairs says there is “an increase in queries in respect of entitlements to Irish passports” the very next day. The year on year figures for January show a 20 percent increase in applications prior to the vote.

Google Trends says UK searches for “getting an Irish passport” jump more than 100% after the Brexit result comes through. And while the data analysts do not reveal the exact number of searches for information on the Republic of Ireland‘s citizenship rules, they say most interest is shown in Northern Ireland with the normally unionist heartland of Holywood, County Down, taking top spot.

Sinn Féin repeatedly says that Northern Ireland must not be “dragged out of Europe.” Up to this point the British government dismisses calls from its representatives and others for a border poll in Irish unity.


Leave a comment

Ahern & Blair Push for Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

ahern-and-blair-1998At an informal European Union summit near Bonn on February 26, 1999, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair agree to push for implementation of the Good Friday Agreement by the March 10 deadline.

As EU delegates discuss the Union’s budget and Europe‘s farming subsidies, the two prime ministers vow to battle on with the peace deal’s outstanding problems.

“We’re very clear on what we have to do in the Good Friday agreement … we have just got to keep pushing the thing forward as well as we possibly can,” says Blair.

Both Ahern and Blair say the way forward on the outstanding deadlocked issue of paramilitary disarmament is through the official decommissioning commission. Chaired by former Canadian General John de Chastelain, the international commission is working to take arms out of the province’s political arena.

The republican party Sinn Féin insists it is fully cooperating with the commission, which is implementing the final deadline for the handover of arms in May 2000. But some Ulster Unionists oppose further peace moves because of the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) failure to begin disarming.

According to Ahern and Blair, the following few weeks will be a key time to try and finalise disarmament issues.

“During the month of March … we can conclude the central aspects,” says Blair.

However, in a separate development on February 26, the chairman of the IRA’s political wing, Sinn Féin’s Mitchel McLaughlin, warns that pressure on disarmament could cause irreparable damage to the fragile peace process. He adds that disarmament should not become a litmus test for progress.

“Those who are now demanding prior decommissioning before we move to setting up the executive are reneging on the Good Friday Agreement,” says McLaughlin in an interview with BBC Radio.

(From BBC News Online Network, Friday, February 26, 1999 | Pictured: Bertie Ahern with Tony Blair at the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998)


Leave a comment

Ireland Becomes Founder Member of the Council of Europe

council-of-europe-logoOn May 5, 1949, Ireland becomes one of ten founder members of the Council of Europe, an international organisation whose stated aim is to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe.

The Council of Europe currently has 47 member states, covers approximately 820 million people and operates with an annual budget of approximately half a billion euros.

The organisation is distinct from the 28-nation European Union (EU), although it is sometimes confused with it, partly because the EU has adopted the original European Flag which was created by the Council of Europe in 1955, as well as the European Anthem. No country has ever joined the EU without first belonging to the Council of Europe, which is an official United Nations Observer.

Unlike the EU, the Council of Europe cannot make binding laws, but it does have the power to enforce select international agreements reached by European states on various topics. The best known body of the Council of Europe is the European Court of Human Rights, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Council’s two statutory bodies are the Committee of Ministers, comprising the foreign ministers of each member state, and the Parliamentary Assembly, composed of members of the national parliaments of each member state. The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent institution within the Council of Europe, mandated to promote awareness of and respect for human rights in the member states. The Secretary General heads the secretariat of the organisation. Other major CoE bodies include the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines.

The headquarters of the Council of Europe are in Strasbourg, France. English and French are its two official languages. The Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress also use German, Italian, Russian, and Turkish for some of their work.


Leave a comment

Birth of Labour Party Leader Frank Cluskey

Frank Cluskey, Irish politician and leader of the Irish Labour Party from 1977 to 1981, is born in Dublin on April 8, 1930.

Cluskey is educated at St. Vincent’s C.B.S. in Glasnevin. He works as a butcher and then joins the Labour Party. He quickly becomes a branch secretary in the Workers’ Union of Ireland. At the 1965 general election he is elected as a Labour Party Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin South-Central constituency. In 1968 he is elected Lord Mayor of Dublin. In 1973 he is appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Welfare, Brendan Corish. He introduces sweeping reforms to the area while he holds that position. He plays a leading role in initiating the EU Poverty Programmes.

The Fine Gael–Labour Party coalition is defeated at the 1977 general election resulting in the resignation of Brendan Corish as Labour Party leader. Cluskey is elected the new leader of the Labour Party. In 1981, the Labour Party enters into a coalition government with Fine Gael. However Cluskey has lost his seat in Dáil Éireann at the 1981 general election and with it the party leadership. He is appointed on July 1, 1981 as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Dublin, replacing Michael O’Leary, who had resigned the seat after succeeding Cluskey as Labour leader.

The coalition government falls in January 1982 over a budget dispute, and Cluskey is re-elected to the Dáil at the February 1982 general election. When the coalition returns to office after the November 1982 election, Cluskey is appointed as Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism. He then resigns from the European Parliament, to be replaced by Brendan Halligan.

On December 8, 1983 Cluskey resigns as Minister due to a fundamental disagreement over government policy about the Dublin Gas Company. He retains his Dáil seat in the 1987 general election.

Following his re-election Cluskey’s health begins to deteriorate. He dies in Dublin on May 7, 1989 following a long battle with cancer.


Leave a comment

Demolition of HM Prison Maze Begins

maze-prisonBulldozers begin demolishing Northern Ireland‘s notorious HM Prison Maze, previously known as Long Kesh Detention Centre, on October 31, 2006. The prison once housed the most dangerous guerrillas from both sides of the province’s sectarian conflict.

Among the inmates at Maze are ten Irish nationalist hunger strikers who starved themselves to death in 1981. The prison has been empty since 2000, after the release of most guerrilla prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement, which ushered in relative peace after 30 years of fighting in which 3,600 people died.

A sports stadium, equestrian center, hotel, and shopping center are originally proposed for the 360-acre site in County Antrim. In January 2009, however, Sports Minister Gregory Campbell rules out the plan for a multi-sports stadium which has divided political and sporting opinion, opting instead to explore alternatives with the soccer, rugby, and Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) authorities.

Northern Ireland first and deputy first ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, announce in 2010 that an agreement has been reached on building a peace and conflict resolution facility at the Maze site. It will also host the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society’s annual show. On February 2, 2012, European funding of £18m is approved for building the contentious conflict resolution centre.

Planning permission for the peace centre on the site of the former prison is granted on April 18, 2013. However, in June the Orange Order calls on unionist politicians to halt the peace centre plan, objecting to its location on the former prison site.

On August 15, 2013, Peter Robinson calls a halt to the peace centre plan. In a letter to Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) members, he says it would be wrong to proceed without a consensus about how it will operate. As a result, in October 2013 the European Union funding programme withdraws its £18m offer in financial support for the Maze peace centre.

That the Maze Prison development remains unrealised 16 years after the site’s closure testifies to the complexities involved. That the prospect of redevelopment has never been taken off the table affirms the ineluctable power ideas of profit still hold.


Leave a comment

Mary Robinson Resigns as President of Ireland

mary-robinsonPresident Mary Robinson resigns on September 12, 1997, two months ahead of the end of her term, in order to take up appointment as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

On July 24, 1997 Robinson announces her intention to resign as President of Ireland. The Irish Government states that her announcement “was not unexpected” and wishes her “every success.” She resigns by addressing a message to the Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann and it takes effect at 1:00 PM on September 12.

Upon her resignation as President, the role of President is transferred to the Presidential Commission, which is comprised of the Chief Justice, the Ceann Comhairle, and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Éireann, from September 12 until November 11, 1997, when Mary McAleese is sworn in as the new President.

Media reports suggest that Robinson has been head-hunted for the post by Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan to assume an advocacy as opposed to administrative role, in other words to become a public campaigner outlining principles rather than the previous implementational and consensus-building model. The belief is that the post has ceased to be seen as the voice of general principles and has become largely bureaucratic. Robinson’s role is to set the human rights agenda within the organisation and internationally, refocusing its appeal.

Robinson is the first High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Tibet, making her trip in 1998. During her tenure she criticises the Irish system of permits for non-EU immigrants as similar to “bonded labour” and criticises the United States’ use of capital punishment.

In 2001, Robinson chairs the Asia Regional Preparatory Meeting for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related intolerances, which is held in Tehran, Iran. Representatives of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish group, and the Baha’i International Community are not permitted to attend. Robinson wears a headscarf at the meeting in conformance to the Iranians edict that all women attending the conference must wear a headscarf. Women who do not wear the headscarf are criticized, which Robinson says plays into the hands of religious conservatives.

She extends her intended single four-year term by a year following an appeal by Secretary General Annan to preside over the World Conference against Racism 2001 in Durban, South Africa. The conference proves controversial, and under continuing pressure from the United States, Robinson resigns her post in September 2002.