The current Taoiseach, 66-year-old Enda Kenny, announced his resignation the previous month after six years at the head of the centrist party, setting off a battle to lead the ruling Fine Gael.
“If somebody of my age, of my mixed-race background and of all the things that make up my character can potentially become leader of our country, then I think that sends out a message to every child born today that there is no office in Ireland that they can’t aspire to,” Varadkar tells Newstalk radio.
The Fine Gael parliamentary party votes overwhelmingly (70 percent) in favor of Varadkar while 65 percent of members favor Coveney. As Varadkar is backed by most lawmakers and local representatives, he gains victory under the center-right party’s electoral college system.
Varadkar’s position is confirmed later in the month after parliament resumes following a break.
Varadkar’s father, Ashok, a doctor, moves to Ireland in the 1970s and his youngest son is born in Dublin in 1979. He studies medicine at Trinity College Dublin and spends several years as a junior doctor before qualifying as a general practitioner in 2010.
Varadkar is first elected in local elections in 2003 and in 2007 to the lower house of Ireland’s assembly, the Dáil Éireann. He comes to public prominence in 2015 when Ireland votes in favor of same-sex marriage.
Varadkar’s most pressing first international task is negotiating Ireland’s new arrangement with the United Kingdom after it leaves the European Union.
In a radio interview in 2015, Varadkar speaks for the first time about being gay, “It’s not something that defines me. I’m not a half-Indian politician, or a doctor politician or a gay politician for that matter. It’s just part of who I am. It doesn’t define me. It is part of my character I suppose.”
Varadkar’s partner is also a doctor in Dublin.
(From: “Ireland’s ruling party elects Varadkar new leader” by Jane Mcintosh, Deutsche Welle (DW), http://www.dw.com, June 2, 2017)
Byrne is educated at Newbridge College, County Kildare, University College Dublin (UCD) and King’s Inns, Dublin. He is called to the Bar in 1970 and practises law in the Irish and European Courts. During his student days in Dublin, he founds the Free Legal Advice Centre, a student-run organisation providing legal aid to citizens in association with the legal profession. He campaigns in favour of Irish entry into the European Community (EC) in the 1970s and has been a keen supporter of European integration ever since.
In 1997 Byrne becomes Attorney General of Ireland in the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democratscoalition government. As one of the negotiators of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, he drafts and oversees the major constitutional amendments required by that agreement, which are approved by Referendum in May 1998. He also advises on the constitutional amendments necessary for Ireland’s ratification of the Treaty of Amsterdam. During his tenure, he establishes the first independent Food Safety Agency in Europe responsible to the Minister for Health.
Byrne is mooted as a potential candidate for the position of Director General of the World Health Organization following the death of the incumbent, Dr Lee Jong-wook in 2006. However, he is eventually not included in the list of thirteen candidates to head the agency.
Browne grows up in the Bogside area of Derry. The Browne family also lives in Athlone and Ballinrobe for a period of time. His mother Mary Therese (née Cooney) is born in 1885 in Hollymount, County Mayo. His father Joseph Brown, an Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) sergeant, later works as an inspector for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and, partly as a result of this work, all of the Browne family becomes infected with tuberculosis. Both parents die of the disease during the 1920s. His father is the first to die, leaving only £100 behind to support a wife and seven children. Fearing that if she and the children remain in Ireland they will be forced into a workhouse, Mary sells all their possessions and takes the family to London. Within two days of their arrival, Mary is dead, later buried in a pauper’s grave. Of her seven children, six contract tuberculosis. Noël is only one of two Browne children to survive into adulthood after those bouts with TB.
In 1940, while still a student, Browne suffers a serious relapse of tuberculosis. His treatment at a sanatorium in Midhurst, Sussex is paid for by the Chance family. He recovers, passes his medical exams in 1942, and starts his career as a medical intern at Dr. Steevens’ Hospital in Dublin, where he works under Bethel Solomons. He subsequently works in numerous sanatoria throughout Ireland and England, witnessing the ravages of the disease. He soon concludes that politics is the only way in which he can make an attack on the scourge of tuberculosis.
The poverty and tragedy that had shaped Browne’s childhood deeply affects him. He considers both his survival and his level of education a complete fluke, a stroke of random chance that saved him when he was seemingly destined to die unknown and in poverty like the rest of his family. He finds this completely distasteful and is moved to enter politics as a means to ensure no one else would suffer the same fate that had befallen his family.
A ‘White Paper’ on proposed healthcare reforms had been prepared by the previous government, and results in the 1947 Health Act. In February 1948, Browne becomes Minister for Health and starts the reforms advocated by the Paper and introduced by the Act.
The health reforms coincide with the development of a new vaccine and of new drugs (e.g., BCG and penicillin) that help to treat a previously untreatable group of medical conditions. Browne introduces mass free screening for tuberculosis sufferers and launches a huge construction program to build new hospitals and sanitoria, financed by the income and accumulated investments from the Department of Health-controlled Hospital Sweeps funds. This, along with the introduction of Streptomycin, helps dramatically reduce the incidence of tuberculosis in Ireland.
As Minister for Health Browne comes into conflict with the bishops of the Catholic Church and the medical profession over the Mother and Child Scheme. This plan, also introduced by the 1947 Health Act, provides for free state-funded healthcare for all mothers and children aged under 16, with no means test, a move which is regarded as radical at the time in Ireland, but not in the rest of Europe. Virtually all doctors in private practice oppose the scheme, because it would undermine the “fee for service” model on which their income depended.
The Church hierarchy, which controls many hospitals, vigorously opposes the expansion of “socialised medicine” in the Irish republic. They claim that the Mother and Child Scheme interferes with parental rights, and fear that the provision of non-religious medical advice to mothers will lead to birth control contrary to Catholic teaching. They greatly dislike Browne, seeing him as a “Trinity Catholic,” one who has defied the Church’s ruling that the faithful should not attend Trinity College Dublin, which had been founded by Protestants and for many years did not allow Catholics to study there.
Under pressure from bishops, the coalition government backs away from the Mother and Child Scheme and forces Browne’s resignation as Minister for Health. Following his departure from government, he embarrasses his opponents by arranging for The Irish Times to publish TaoiseachJohn A. Costello‘s and MacBride’s correspondence with the Catholic hierarchy, which details their capitulation to the bishops.
The controversy over the Mother and Child Scheme leads to the fall of the coalition government in which Browne had served as a Minister. But Church opposition to socialised medicine continues under the subsequent Fianna Fáil-led government. The hierarchy does not accept a no-means-test mother-and-infant scheme even when Fianna Fáil reduces the age limit from sixteen years to six weeks, and the government again backs down.
After his resignation as Minister for Health, Browne leaves Clann na Poblachta, but is re-elected to the Dáil as an Independent TD from Dublin South-East in the subsequent election.
Browne joins Fianna Fáil in 1953, but loses his Dáil seat at the 1954 Irish general election. He fails to be selected as a candidate for the 1957 Irish general election and he resigns from the party. He is re-elected at that election for Dublin South-East as an Independent TD.
In 1977 Browne is the first Irish parliamentarian to call for law reforms in regards to homosexuality, which is illegal at the time, and in 1979 is one of the few Irish politicians to attend the opening of the Hirschfeld Centre, Dublin’s first full-time LGBT community space.
In 1990, a number of left-wing representatives within the Labour Party, led by Michael D. Higgins, approach Browne and suggest that he should be the party’s candidate in the presidential election due later that year. Though in failing health, Browne agrees. However, the offer horrifies party leader Dick Spring and his close associates for two reasons. Firstly, the leadership had secretly decided to run Mary Robinson, a barrister and former senator. Secondly, many around Spring are “appalled” at the idea of running Browne, believing he has “little or no respect for the party” and is “likely in any event to self-destruct as a candidate.” When Spring informs Browne by telephone that the party’s Administrative Council has chosen Robinson over him, Browne hangs up the telephone.
Browne spends the remaining seven years of his life constantly criticising Robinson who had gone on to win the election, thus becoming the seventh President of Ireland, and who is considered highly popular during her term. During the campaign he also indicates support for the rival Fine Gael candidate, Austin Currie.
After retiring from politics, Browne moves with his wife Phyllis to Baile na hAbhann, County Galway. He dies at the age of 81 in the Regional Hospital, Galway, on May 21, 1997. He is buried in a small graveyard near Baile na hAbhann.
Ordained in 1924, the theology in which McQuaid is trained is conservative — strongly neo-scholastic and hostile to modernism and liberalism. His hatred of the French Revolution is expressed in several pastorals and speeches throughout his career. He also regards Protestantism as a fundamental error from which Irish Catholics should be quarantined as much as possible.
Appointed Dean of Studies at Blackrock College, McQuaid becomes a prominent figure in Catholic education and chairs the Catholic Headmasters’ Association for several years. In 1931 he is appointed president of Blackrock College, in which capacity he becomes acquainted with Éamon de Valera, the future Irish Taoiseach whose sons attend the school. In 1936 while drafting a new Irish constitution, de Valera consults McQuaid, although he rejects McQuaid’s draft “One, True Church” clause which states, among other things, that the Catholic Church is the one true church in Ireland.
When McQuaid is appointed Archbishop of Dublin in 1940, the appointment of a priest from the regular clergy causes considerable surprise. Irish government archives reveal that de Valera, as is suspected at the time, presses McQuaid’s claims at the Vatican. However, it is doubtful whether the Vatican needs much persuasion. There is a dearth of potential episcopal talent and McQuaid has an outstanding reputation as a Catholic educationalist.
Once appointed, McQuaid proves to be one of the ablest administrators in the history of the Irish Church. In the first two years of his episcopate, he sets up the Catholic Social Service Conference to alleviate the poverty and distress in Dublin which is aggravated by the war, and the Catholic Social Welfare Bureau to help the thousands of Irish emigrants going to Britain for war work. These two organizations fill a much-needed gap and continue to exist after the war. The expansion of Dublin city and its suburbs during his episcopate requires the building of new churches, schools, and hospitals. Meeting these demands also necessitates a considerable increase in the number of clergy, secular and regular, whose numbers more than double in the period from 1941 to 1972.
Given his previous career, the importance McQuaid assigns to education is not surprising. He is critical of the low priority accorded to education by successive governments and is particularly critical of the poor and pay conditions of teachers. His intervention in the primary teachers’ strike in 1946 is poorly received by the government and marks the souring of his relationship with de Valera. During his episcopate the number of primary schools increases by a third while the number of secondary schools more than double but, as with social welfare, the government increasingly assumes a dominant role in education from the 1960s onwards. Almost immediately after his appointment in 1940, he takes a hardline stand against the attendance of Catholic students at Trinity College Dublin. The ban lasts until 1970, when the increase in student numbers renders it untenable and he accedes reluctantly.
McQuaid has a formidable list of achievements in health care, especially maternity and pediatric services, physical and mental handicap services, and the treatment of alcoholism. It is ironic, therefore, that the most controversial episode of his career occurs in this area — the Irish hierarchy’s rejection in 1951 of a free mother-and-child health service. This leads to the resignation of the Minister for Health, Dr. Noël Browne, and is a watershed in Church-State relations in Ireland. With Irish tuberculosis and infant mortality statistics ranking among the highest in the world, the hierarchy, and particularly McQuaid, lose considerable support by lining up with the conservative medical establishment to resist efforts at socialized medicine.
From various pastorals that McQuaid issues at the time, it is clear that he does not see the need for the Second Vatican Council. As its deliberations proceed, his unease grows, and he becomes increasingly preoccupied with the issue of episcopal power and independence that he believes are being threatened by the Council. In the areas of liturgical reform, greater lay participation, and ecumenism, he is slow in implementing the Vatican II reforms. His views on ecumenism had always been lukewarm and had led to allegations that he was anti-Protestant. His personality and policies are criticized by a more assertive Dublin laity, but being a shy, reserved man who increasingly feels the isolation of office, he never responds to such comments. In 1968 the reaction to Humanae vitae causes open rebellion in the Dublin diocese, the force of which catches him unaware. His last pastoral as archbishop in 1971 betrays his anger and bemusement at the response to Humanae vitae in Dublin.
McQuaid’s substantial archives are released by the Dublin Diocesan Archives in the late 1990s. In 1999 journalist John Cooney publishes a hostile biography of McQuaid, which makes controversial allegations of sexual abuse against McQuaid. The allegations are based on tenuous evidence gathered by McQuaid’s nemesis from the 1951 Mother and Child controversy, Dr. Noël Browne, who had died in 1997. No corroborating evidence is produced or has since emerged.
In 1994, Bertie Ahern becomes party leader and he appoints O’Rourke as deputy leader of Fianna Fáil, serving in the position until 2002. Following Ahern’s election as Taoiseach in June 1997, she becomes Minister for Public Enterprise, holding this position until she loses her Dáil seat at the 2002 Irish general election. This follows a vote management strategy from Fianna Fáil head office which restricts her from campaigning in her traditional areas around Kilbeggan, in an attempt to win 2 of the 3 seats in Westmeath. The loss of her Dáil seat is also attributed to her association with and the championing of, the privatisation of Telecom Éireann, which proves a financial disaster for many small investors, due to the share price falling radically, post privatisation. During this term as Minister, she also becomes the subject of public criticism by Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary. Following the loss of her Dáil seat, she is nominated to Seanad Éireann as a Senator by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern where she becomes Leader of the Seanad and leader of Fianna Fáil in the Seanad.
In January 2006, O’Rourke receives the party nomination to stand at the 2007 Irish general election. She narrowly defeats her nearest rival and Dáil election running mate, Kevin “Boxer” Moran of Athlone Town Council, causing a controversy when she thanks her election team for working “like blacks.” She is re-elected to the Dáil at the May 2007 Irish general election, with her highest ever vote.
In November 2008, during a march against the re-introduction of college fees, students from the Athlone Institute of Technology lay a funeral wreath at the door of O’Rourke’s constituency office. The card in the wreath states “Sincere sympathies on the death of free fees. We will remember this.” She describes the act as “heinous.” The wreath is placed there because she is not speaking at a rally against the fees.
In July 2010, O’Rourke concedes that she does not expect the party to be in power after the next general election. On RTÉ Radio‘s Today with Pat Kenny programme, she says the government is taking tough decisions to steer the country through the financial crisis and this will make it easy for the opposition. She says there is a general air of “crossness” within the Fianna Fáil party over their standing in the polls, but nobody is harboring leadership ambitions to challenge Brian Cowen.
In November 2010, O’Rourke says there is then more to unite her party and Fine Gael than to divide them. She points to the common approach of the two parties to Northern Ireland, Europe and the current financial crisis. In an address to the 1916–1921 Club in Dublin Castle, she says that most voters no longer defined themselves in terms of Civil War politics.
O’Rourke’s senior years lead her to often being referred to as the “Mammy of the Dáil.”
O’Rourke contests the 2011 Irish general election, but is defeated on the poll. She had been critical of former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, saying that he should have resigned after his infamous “congested” radio interview. She supports the attack on Cowen by her nephew, former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan Jnr, who says he is “disappointed” by Cowen’s performance and he had to provide the leadership when the Taoiseach did not.
O’Rourke is widowed in January 2001, following the death of her husband, Enda. She has two sons. Aengus O’Rourke, her adopted son, runs for Athlone Town Council in 2009. The other son, Feargal O’Rourke, becomes Managing Partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers in Ireland in 2015 and is considered the “grand architect” of the Double Irish tax system, a major contributor to Ireland’s economic success in attracting U.S. multinationals to Ireland.
Flanagan also plays senior Gaelic football for Mayo. He captains the All-Ireland final-winning sides of 1950 and 1951, and wins five Connacht senior championship medals in all. He also wins two National Football League titles in 1949 and 1954. While still a footballer, he enters into a career in politics.
Flanagan comes from a Fianna Fáil family, and is recruited into the party in east Mayo. He is elected a Fianna Fáil TD for Mayo South at the 1951 Irish general election, and then wins a seat from 1969 in Mayo East at each subsequent election until he loses his seat at the 1977 Irish general election.
Flanagan rises rapidly through the party ranks, and is appointed a Parliamentary Secretary under TaoiseachSeán Lemass in 1959. In the 1966 Fianna Fáil leadership election he supports Jack Lynch. When Lynch becomes Taoiseach, he is promoted to the Cabinet as Minister for Health. Three years later in 1969, he becomes Minister for Lands. He loses his seat at the 1977 Irish general election, and effectively retires from domestic politics. However, he is elected to the European Parliament in the first direct elections in 1979. He is re-elected in 1984, and retires from politics in 1989.
Flanagan marries Mary Patricia Doherty in 1950. They have two sons and five daughters, including Dermot, who also plays All-Ireland senior football for Mayo.
Flanagan dies at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin on February 5, 1993, at the age of 71. Following his death, a Mayo sports journalist comments, “Above all, we’ll miss that noble link with an era when, as children, Seán Flanagan was our second God.”
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.
In 1970 Haughey is twice tried for conspiracy to use government funds to procure arms for the outlawed IRA. The first trial is aborted, and he wins acquittal in the second. Dismissed from the government, he remains in the Dáil and gains strong support among his party’s grass roots. When Fianna Fáil is returned to office in 1977, he is made Minister for Health and Minister for Social Welfare. On the resignation of party leader Jack Lynch in 1979, he is elected party leader and becomes Taoiseach. In June 1981 his government falls, but he returns to power briefly in 1982. He becomes Taoiseach again after the 1987 Irish general election in February 1987, though his government lacks a majority in the Dáil. When Fianna Fáil forms a government with the Progressive Democrats in July 1989, thereby eschewing the party’s traditional rejection of coalition rule, he is made Taoiseach for a fourth time.
Haughey’s first two terms in office are marked by deteriorating relations with Great Britain, a declining economy, and deep divisions within Fianna Fáil. Despite the controversies that plague his government, the charismatic Haughey remains party leader after losing office for a second time in late 1982. During his later terms, he successfully mounts a fiscal austerity program to address Ireland’s financial crisis. In 1992 he resigns and retires after being implicated in a phone tapping scandal of two journalists. He denies the allegations. He remains out of public life until 1997, when an official tribunal of inquiry determines that he had received large sums of money from a prominent businessman while Taoiseach. The Dáil then establishes another tribunal to investigate his financial affairs, and many other irregularities are uncovered. He eventually agrees to pay €6.5 million in back taxes and penalties.
Haughey dies at the age of 80 from prostate cancer, from which he had suffered for a decade, on June 13, 2006 at his home in Kinsealy, County Dublin. He receives a state funeral on June 16. He is buried in St. Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton in County Dublin, following mass at Donnycarney. The then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern delivers the graveside oration. The funeral rites are screened live on RTÉ One and watched by a quarter of a million people. The funeral is attended by PresidentMary McAleese, the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, members of the Oireachtas, many from the world of politics, industry and business. The chief celebrant is Haughey’s brother, Father Eoghan Haughey.
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.
Clann na Poblachta realises that it has to place an emphasis on practical improvements to living standards and welfare issues such as public health. These policies attract a number of younger members such as Noël Browne and Jack McQuillan. One potential problem for the future is that almost the entire Provisional Executive is resident in Dublin and the party has no organisation in the six counties of Northern Ireland.
In 1948, Éamon de Valera dissolves the Dáil and calls an election for February. Clann na Poblachta wins only ten seats in the 1948 Irish general election, fewer than the breakthrough expected, caused in part by the error of running multiple candidates in many constituencies. The party believes there will be a landslide in their favour like the 1918 Westminster election but 48 of their 93 candidates lose their deposits. The party wins 13.3% of the vote but only 6.8% of the seats. Of their ten Teachtaí Dála (TD), six are elected in Dublin constituencies, two in Tipperary and one each in Cavan and Roscommon.
The party is the driving force behind the 26 counties exiting the Commonwealth of Nations and the all-party Anti-Partition Campaign.
The controversy of the “Mother and Child Scheme,” a progressive healthcare programme opposed by the Catholic Church, helps bring down the government and leads to the disintegration of the party. Many of the party’s TDs resign in solidarity with Noël Browne and his scheme, so the official party wins only two seats in the 1951 Irish general election.
Clann na Poblachta withdraws its support from the Government in late 1956 due to the its anti-IRA stance. The party wins only one seat at the 1957 Irish general election with MacBride being defeated by Fianna Fáil. John Tully remains the only Clann TD until his retirement in 1961, after he loses his seat. However, Joseph Barron is elected in Dublin South-Central on his fourth attempt.
In 1965, Tully wins back his seat but he is in effect an Independent as the party only stands four candidates. There had been negotiations between MacBride and Brendan Corish, the new Labour Party leader about forming a political alliance but this does not come to fruition.
A special Ard Fheis, held on July 10, 1965, agrees to dissolve Clan na Poblachta.
(Pictured: Sean MacBride, former Chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army and founder of Clann na Poblachta)