seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Leo Varadkar, Fine Gael Politician & Taoiseach

Leo Eric Varadkar, Irish Fine Gael politician who is serving since June 2020 as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, is born on January 18, 1979, in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin.

Varadkar is the third child and only son of Ashok and Miriam (née Howell) Varadkar. His father was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, and moved to the United Kingdom in the 1960s to work as a doctor. His mother, born in Dungarvan, County Waterford, meets her future husband while working as a nurse in Slough, Berkshire, England. He is educated at the St. Francis Xavier national school in Blanchardstown, Dublin, and then The King’s Hospital, a Church of Ireland secondary school in Palmerstown. During his secondary schooling, he joins Young Fine Gael. He is admitted to Trinity College Dublin (TCD), where he briefly reads law before switching to its School of Medicine. At TCD, he is active in the university’s Young Fine Gael branch and serves as Vice-President of the Youth of the European People’s Party, the youth wing of the European People’s Party, of which Fine Gael is a member. He is selected for the Washington Ireland Program for Service and Leadership (WIP), a half-year personal and professional development program in Washington, D.C., for students from Ireland.

Varadkar graduates in 2003, after completing his internship at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai. He then spends several years working as a non-consultant hospital doctor in St. James’s Hospital, Dublin, and Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, before specialising as a general practitioner in 2010.

In 2004, Varadkar joins Fine Gael and becomes a member of Fingal County Council and later serves as Deputy Mayor of Fingal. He is elected to Dáil Éireann for the first time in 2007. During the campaign for the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum, he comes out as gay, becoming the first serving Irish minister to do so.

Varadkar is elected a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin West constituency in 2007. He serves under Taoiseach Enda Kenny as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport from 2011 to 2014, Minister for Health from 2014 to 2016, and Minister for Social Protection from 2016 to 2017.

In May 2017, Kenny announces that he is planning to resign as Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader. Varadkar stands in the leadership election to replace him. Although more party members vote for his opponent, Simon Coveney, he wins by a significant margin among Fine Gael members of the Oireachtas, and is elected leader on June 2. Twelve days later, he is appointed Taoiseach, and at 38 years of age becomes the youngest person to hold the office. He is Ireland’s first, and the world’s fourth, openly gay head of government and the first Taoiseach of Indian heritage.

In 2020, Varadkar calls a general election to be held in February. While polls in 2019 have suggested a favourable result for Fine Gael, they ultimately come in third in terms of seats and votes, behind Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, with 35 seats, a loss of 15 seats for the party from the previous general election, when it had finished in first position. He resigns and is succeeded by Micheál Martin as Taoiseach. He is subsequently appointed Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment as part of a three-party coalition composed of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party.


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Birth of Brian Cowen, Former Taoiseach & Leader of Fianna Fáil

Brian Cowen, Irish former politician who is Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fáil from 2008 to 2011, is born in Tullamore, County Offaly, on January 10, 1960.

Cowen is exposed to politics at a young age. His grandfather was a councillor in the Fianna Fáil party, and his father, Bernard Cowen, held a seat in Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas (Irish parliament). He is an exemplary debater in school and often speaks at his father’s election rallies. He studies at University College Dublin and at the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland, where he is trained as a solicitor. His father’s death in 1984 prompts a by-election for the seat he had held in the Dáil. At the age of 24, he captures the seat, becoming one of the youngest members ever to sit in the Dáil.

Cowen’s political mentor is Albert Reynolds, who becomes Taoiseach in 1992 when Fianna Fáil is in a coalition government with the Progressive Democrats. He is an outspoken critic of the coalition, famously stating about the Progressive Democrats, “When in doubt, leave them out!” He serves as Minister for Labour (1992–93), and in 1993, after the breakup of the Fianna Fáil–Progressive Democrats government, he helps to negotiate the short-lived coalition of Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party. He then serves as Minister for Transport, Energy, and Communications (1993–94), leaving office after Fianna Fáil is forced into opposition by the formation of a Fine Gael–Labour–Democratic Left coalition.

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.


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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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Mary Robinson Inaugurated 7th President of Ireland

Mary Robinson, Irish lawyer, independent politician, and diplomat born Mary Teresa Winifred Bourke, is inaugurated as the seventh President of Ireland on December 3, 1990, becoming the first woman to hold the office. She later serves as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) from September 1997 – September 2002.

Robinson is born on May 21, 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo. She is educated at Trinity College and the King’s Inns in Dublin and at Harvard Law School in the United States. She serves at Trinity College (University of Dublin) as Reid Professor of penal legislation, constitutional and criminal law, and the law of evidence (1969–1975) and lecturer in European Community law (1975–1990). In 1988 she and her husband establish the Irish Centre for European Law at Trinity College.

A distinguished constitutional lawyer and a renowned supporter of human rights, Robinson is elected to the Royal Irish Academy and is a member of the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva (1987–1990). She sits in Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Oireachtas, for the University of Dublin constituency (1969–1989) and serves as whip for the Labour Party until resigning from the party over the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which she feels ignores unionist objections. She is also a member of the Dublin City Council (1979–1983) and runs unsuccessfully in 1977 and 1981 for Dublin parliamentary constituencies.

Nominated by the Labour Party and supported by the Green Party and the Workers’ Party, Robinson becomes Ireland’s first woman president in 1990 by mobilizing a liberal constituency and merging it with a more conservative constituency opposed to the Fianna Fáil party. As president, she adopts a much more prominent role than her predecessors and she does much to communicate a more modern image of Ireland. Strongly committed to human rights, she is the first head of state to visit Somalia after it suffers from civil war and famine in 1992 and the first to visit Rwanda after the genocide in that country in 1994.

Shortly before her term as president expires, Robinson accepts the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR). As high commissioner, she changes the priorities of her office to emphasize the promotion of human rights at the national and regional levels. She was the first UNHCHR to visit China, and she also helps to improve the monitoring of human rights in Kosovo. In 2001 she serves as secretary-general of the World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa. In 1998 she is elected chancellor of Trinity College, a post she holds until 2019.

After stepping down as UNHCHR, Robinson founds the nongovernmental organization Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative (2002–2010). Its central concerns include equitable international trade, access to health care, migration, women’s leadership and corporate responsibility. She is also a founding member of the Council of Women World Leaders, serves as honorary president of Oxfam International, a private organization that provides relief and development aid to impoverished or disaster-stricken communities worldwide, and is a member of the Club of Madrid, which promotes democracy. She also holds various posts at the United Nations and, in 2010, she establishes the Mary Robinson Foundation—Climate Justice, which operates until 2019.

Robinson is the recipient of numerous honours. In 2004 Amnesty International awards her its Ambassador of Conscience Award for her human rights work. In 2009 she receives the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Her memoir, Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice (cowritten with Tessa Robinson), is published in 2012.

(Pictured: Mary Robinson during her inauguration as president in 1990, photograph by Matt Kavanagh)


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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.


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Irish Ferries Protest

irish-ferries-protestNearly 150,000 people take to the streets on December 9, 2005, as the Irish Ferries protest mushrooms into the largest public demonstration the country has seen for two decades.

The national day of protest is called by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which is demanding Government action to combat exploitation of migrant workers and the displacement of jobs. There are rallies in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Galway, Sligo, Athlone and Rosslare.

An Garda Síochána estimate that 40,000 people take part in the march in Dublin, although organisers claim the figure is far higher. Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, Pat Rabbitte of the Labour Party and John Gormley of the Green Party participate in the march in the capital. Staff on board the MS Isle of Inismore in Pembroke and the four engineers holed up in the ships control room say they are overwhelmed by the level of support shown by marchers in the rallies.

Bus and rail services are disrupted during the protest but return to normal for evening rush hour.

The Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) strongly criticises the National Day of Protest. In a statement, ISME Chief Executive Mark Fielding says the protest is undermining the industrial relations process in this country and has very little to do with the Irish Ferries dispute and is in fact an attempt by the unions to influence negotiations in advance of any new national pay agreement.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland, Services Industrial Professional Technical Union (SIPTU) President Jack O’Connor says the rallies give workers the chance to take a stand.

Director General of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) Turlough O’Sullivan says there is nothing to be gained from disrupting business and the general public. He adds that whatever one’s views on the Irish Ferries dispute, nothing can justify calling a national work stoppage when discussions are already underway in a bid to resolve the row.