Kevin Boland, Fianna Fáil politician who serves as Leader of Aontacht Éireann from 1971 to 1976, Minister for Social Welfare from 1961 to 1966 and 1969 to 1970, Minister for Local Government from 1966 to 1970 and Minister for Defence from 1957 to 1961, dies in Dublin on September 23, 2001. He also serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1957 to 1970. He is one of six TDs appointed as a Minister on their first day in the Dáil Éireann.
Boland is born in Dublin on October 15, 1917. He attends St. Joseph’s, Fairview, leaving in 1933. He is the son of Gerald Boland, a founder-member of Fianna Fáil, and the nephew of Harry Boland. Despite this, he fails to get elected to Dáil Éireann on his first two attempts, standing in the Dublin County constituency at the 1951 Irish general election and again at the 1954 Irish general election. Double success follows at the 1957 Irish general election, when he is not only elected to the 16th Dáil but is appointed to the cabinet as Minister for Defence on his very first day in the Dáil. This is due to the retirement of his father who had served in every Fianna Fáil government since 1932.
The Defence portfolio is largely considered a safe and uncontroversial position, so Boland makes only a small impact. As a Minister, he proudly displays a fáinne (gold ring) on the lapel of his jacket, which indicates that he is able and willing to speak the Irish language. He frequently conducts his governmental business in Irish. In 1961, he is moved from Defence to become the Minister for Social Welfare. He remains there until the retirement in 1966 of the Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, when Fianna Fáil faces the first leadership contest in its history. He is then appointed Minister for Local Government which post he holds until he leaves government in 1970.
The leadership race immediately erupts as a two-horse battle between Charles Haughey and George Colley. Both of these men epitomise the new kind of professional politician of the 1960s. Things change when Neil Blaney indicates his interest in running. Boland supports him in his campaign, as both men hail from the republican and left wing of the party. There is talk at one point of Boland himself entering the leadership race. In the end Jack Lynch is chosen as a compromise, and he becomes the new Taoiseach. Boland is made Minister for Local Government in the new cabinet.
In 1969, events in Northern Ireland cause political chaos over the border in Ireland. It is the start of The Troubles in Northern Ireland and Fianna Fáil’s policy with regard to the North is coming into question. One crisis meeting is held after another, in which the possibility of decisive action is discussed. The “hawks” in the cabinet urge a symbolic invasion of Northern Ireland to protect nationalists near the border, and to draw international attention, while the “doves”, who ultimately prevail, urged caution. These cabinet meetings are heated events. On one occasion Boland is alleged to have been so angry that he resigns not only his cabinet position but also his Dáil seat and goes home to his farm in County Dublin to make hay. The resignations are rejected by Taoiseach Jack Lynch after a calming-down period. In what becomes known as the Arms Crisis, two ministers, Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney, are sacked from the government in May 1970, for allegedly being involved in a plot to import arms for Republicans in the North. Boland resigns in solidarity with them and in protest about the government’s position on the North. Later that year his criticism of the Taoiseach (whom Boland and many others within the Party maintain had authorized the arms importation) leads to his expulsion from the Fianna Fáil party.
One of Boland’s most famous incidents takes place at the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis in 1971. Just before Jack Lynch’s speech Boland storms a nearby podium, interrupting Patrick Hillery in the middle of his speech. He openly defies the party leadership and his opponents, holding his arms wide open and shouting to the crowd, “Come on up and put me down.” While there is a lot of booing and clapping in an effort to drown him out, many of his supporters start cheering and chanting “We want Boland.” An enraged Patrick Hillery grabs his microphone and famously replies, “If you want a fight you can have it…You can have Boland, but you can’t have Fianna Fáil.” At this point the government supporters are ecstatic with cheering and Boland is carried out of the hall.
After this episode Boland founds his own political party, Aontacht Éireann (Irish Unity). It wins very little support and he fails to be elected to the Dáil in 1973, which effectively ends his political career. He and his colleagues resign from the party in 1976 after it is taken over by a number of far-right individuals. He remains an outspoken critic of the Republic’s Northern Ireland policy, particularly the Sunningdale Agreement. He makes one last attempt to reclaim a Dáil seat, standing unsuccessfully in the Dublin South-West constituency at the 1981 Irish general election. He then retires from public life completely.
In 1996, Boland sues the Irish Independent for libel after a January 20, 1993 article incorrectly states that he had appeared before the court in the Arms Trial in 1970 and had been dismissed as a Minister by Taoiseach Jack Lynch. He is awarded £75,000 in damages.
Kevin Boland dies at the age of 83 in Dublin on September 23, 2001 following a short illness.