seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Jim Mitchell, Fine Gael Politician

jim-mitchellJim Mitchell, senior Irish politician who serves in the cabinets of Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, loses his three-year battle with cancer in Dublin on December 2, 2002.

Mitchell begins his political involvement when he supports Seán MacBride, leader of the radical republican Clann na Poblachta in the 1957 general election. He joins Fine Gael in 1967, becoming that party’s unsuccessful candidate in a by-election in 1970. He seeks a party nomination to run in the 1973 Irish general election. However he agrees not to contest the seat to allow Declan Costello, a senior figure in his party and son of former Taoiseach John A. Costello, to be elected. Costello goes on to serve as Attorney General of Ireland in the 1973-1977 National Coalition of Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

Mitchell is elected to Dublin Corporation in 1974. In 1976, at the age of 29, he becomes the youngest ever Lord Mayor of Dublin. He is an unsuccessful candidate for Dáil Éireann in the 1973 general election in Dublin South-West and loses again in the 1976 by-election in the same constituency, to Labour’s Brendan Halligan.

In the 1977 general election he is elected to the 21st Dáil for the new constituency of Dublin Ballyfermot. With the party’s loss of power in 1977, the new leader, Garret FitzGerald appoints Mitchell to the Party’s Front Bench as spokesman on Labour. At the 1981 general election Mitchell is elected for the Dublin West and Fine Gael dramatically increases its number of seats, forming a coalition government with the Labour Party. On his appointment as Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald causes some surprise by excluding some of the older conservative ex-ministers from his cabinet. Instead young liberals like Mitchell are appointed, with Mitchell receiving the high profile post of Minister for Justice, taking responsibility for policing, criminal and civil law reform, penal justice, etc. The Fine Gael-Labour government collapses in January 1982, but regains power in December of that year. Mitchell again is included in a FitzGerald cabinet, as Minister for Transport.

As Minister for Transport, Mitchell grants the aviation license to a fledgling airline called Ryanair on November 29, 1985. This is granted despite strong opposition by Ireland’s national carrier Aer Lingus. The issue of the license breaks Aer Lingus’ stranglehold on flights to London from the Republic of Ireland.

Mitchell, who is seen as being on the social liberal wing of Fine Gael, is out of favour with John Bruton when he becomes Fine Gael leader in 1990. When Bruton forms the Rainbow Coalition in December 1994, Mitchell is not appointed to any cabinet post.

Mitchell contests and wins Dáil elections in 1977, 1981, (February and November) 1982, 1987, 1989, 1992, 1997. He runs for his party as its candidate to become a member of the European Parliament in the 1994 and 1998 elections. He also is director of elections for Austin Currie, the Fine Gael candidate, in the 1990 presidential election.

In 2001, Bruton is deposed as Fine Gael leader and replaced by Michael Noonan. Mitchell serves as his deputy from 2001 to 2002. He also chairs the key Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. The Committee’s work under his chairmanship is widely praised for its inquiry into allegations of corruption and wide-scale tax evasion in the banking sector.

Though regarded in politics as one of Fine Gael’s “survivors,” who holds onto his seat amid major boundary changes, constituency changes and by attracting working class votes in a party whose appeal is primarily middle class, Mitchell loses his Dublin Central seat in the 2002 general election. That election witnesses a large scale collapse in the Fine Gael vote, with the party dropping from 54 to 31 seats in Dáil Éireann. Although Mitchell suffers from the swing against Fine Gael in Dublin, he is not aided by the fact that Inchicore, which is considered his base in the constituency has been moved to Dublin South-Central. He chooses not to run in that constituency as his brother, Gay, is a sitting Teachta Dála (TD) running for re-election for that constituency.

Mitchell earlier has a liver transplant in an attempt to beat a rare form of cancer which had cost the lives of a number of his siblings. Though the operation is successful, the cancer returns. Although he appears to be making a recovery, Jim Mitchell ultimately dies of the disease on December 2, 2002.

His former constituency colleague and rival, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, describes Jim Mitchell as having made an “outstanding contribution to Irish politics.”

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Irish Phone Tapping Scandal

bruce-arnold-geraldine-kennedyThe Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan, reveals on January 20, 1983 that the previous Fianna Fáil administration has been involved in tapping the phones of journalists Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold.

On December 18, 1982, The Irish Times security correspondent Peter Murtagh breaks the news that the telephone of Bruce Arnold and Geraldine Kennedy have been tapped officially with warrants signed by former Minister for Justice Seán Doherty. This is revealed after the November 1982 elections which the outgoing government had lost.

Incoming Minister for Justice Michael Noonan orders an investigation and on January 20, 1983 announcs findings that the previous Fianna Fáil government had authorised illegal phone tapping of the journalists Geraldine Kennedy, Bruce Arnold and Vincent Browne. The phone tapping warrants are initiated by Séan Doherty while serving as Minister for Justice in discussion with Deputy Garda Commissioner Joseph Ainsworth. Normally phone tapping is used to investigate serious crime or threats to the security of the state but the reverse happens in this case, Minister Noonan announces.

The phone of Bruce Arnold is tapped from May 10 to July 12, 1982. The application is stated to be for security purposes, with a departmental record claiming he is “anti-national.”

The phone of Geraldine Kennedy is tapped from July 28 to November 16, 1982 with a renewal on October 27 on the grounds that it is “yielding results.” For the tap on Kennedys’ phone a new category of “national security” is created for the warrant.

The incoming cabinet meets on January 18-19, 1983 and an initial draft of a decision expresses loss of confidence in Garda Commissioner Patrick McLaughlin and Deputy Commissioner Thomas Joseph Ainsworth and that they consider removing them from office, though this is removed from the final draft. On January 20, 1983 the cabinet meets again and notes the intentions of both Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner to retire.

Deputy Garda Commissioner Lawrence Wren finds that neither Bruce Arnold or Geraldine Kennedy have been connected with criminal or subversive activities or people involved with same, that the request for the warrants had not come from the Gardaí but from then minister Séan Doherty and that copies of the recordings had been supplied to minister Doherty.

Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold sue and win for the phone tapping and Vincent Browne settles out of court for earlier phone tapping.

Nearly a decade after the scandal broke, Seán Doherty announces at a press conference that he had shown transcripts of recordings to Charles Haughey in 1982 while the latter was still Taoiseach. Until the press conference, Doherty had denied this. This leads to Haughey’s resignation as Taoiseach.

(Pictured: Bruce Arnold and Geraldine Kennedy leaving the High Court after the judgment awarding them £20,000)