seamus dubhghaill

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


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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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Birth of Mary Harney, Tánaiste & Progressive Democrats Leader

Mary Harney, politician, leader of the Progressive Democrats, and Tánaiste, is born in Ballinasloe, County Galway, on March 11, 1953.

Harney studies economics at Trinity College Dublin and is the first woman auditor of the College Historical Society, popularly referred to as “The Hist.” After graduation she spends a year teaching mathematics and economics at Castleknock College in Dublin. In 1977, her political career begins when she is appointed to Seanad Éireann, becoming the youngest ever member of the Seanad in Ireland. She continues to make history throughout here 34-year career in politics.

Ever ready to challenge the status quo, Harney’s entire political life is characterised by a passion for reform, innovation and enterprise. After seventeen years in government, she reaches the height of her career. She serves as Tánaiste from 1997 to 2006, becomes the first woman to lead a political party in Ireland and holds many important ministerial portfolios. She is also notably the longest serving female Government minister and Teachta Dála (TD) in the state’s history.

Harney’s work in environmental protection leads to major improvement in the air quality in Dublin as she tackles the problem of smog in the capital by making Dublin a smokeless fuel city. By founding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) she leads a unified response among all 31 local authorities in their responsibility towards licensing and monitoring environmental standards. She establishes the first recycling initiative in the country.

During her tenure as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (1997-2004), Harney promotes indigenous industry and foreign direct investment in the country and leads many trade and investment missions to various parts of the world, working with both national and international companies. She works particularly to enhance the presence of high technology companies both indigenous and international in Ireland. She leads a major drive to increase employment in Ireland through a combination of activation measures for unemployed people and improving incentives for people to take up jobs. She pioneers the first ever major programme of investment in basic research in Ireland through Science Foundation Ireland based on internationally peer-reviewed projects. She establishes the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, avoiding unnecessary legal intervention and in turn dramatically cuts the cost of insurance in Ireland, notably in the areas of Employers’ and Public Liability and Motor Insurance. She strengthens competition law and enforcement and establishes an independent office for corporate enforcement.

As Minister for Health and Children (2004-2011), Harney begins the move towards a unified Health Service by replacing a number of politically-dominated Health Boards with the Health Service Executive (HSE). She establishes an independent Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) to provide an independent inspector of the delivery of health services in Ireland and leads the reform of cancer services by consolidating them to eight specialist centres. She introduces “Fair Deal,” a financing mechanism to deliver nursing home care for the elderly. She reforms the regulation of the Medical and Pharmacy Professions, introducing statutory requirements to maintain professional competence. She introduces, for the first time, a lay majority on the boards of the Medical Council of Ireland and of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI).

Harney wins a number of awards as employment minister and for promoting science and innovation. She serves as president of the Council of the European Union during Irish presidency and is a member of International Women’s Forum. She is the youngest member of Seanad Éireann and the longest serving female member of Dáil Éireann. She is the first woman leader of an Irish political party and the first woman to be Tánaiste. She is twice selected as Woman of the Year in Ireland. She is awarded an honorary doctorate from Trinity College Dublin in recognition of her contributions as Minister to science and innovation.

Harney is now the director of a number of private companies in pharmaceutical, healthcare, technology and financial services sectors. She provides business advisory services to a range of companies and organisations. She also undertakes speaking engagements, particularly in a business context. She is the current Chancellor of the University of Limerick.

(From: http://www.maryharney.ie, photo by Steve Humphreys)


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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.