Category: current
Updated: 14/02/18 : 05:56:21

Fine Gael made history exactly seventy years ago

John A Costello became Taoiseach in the country’s first ever “inter party”
By Eugene McGloin
Political Editor

SEVENTY YEARS ago this week Fine Gael formed a government in the most impossible circumstances.

They took less than 20% of the first preference vote, while Fianna Fáil won close on 42%.

Fine Gael won just one extra seat from the previous election five years earlier.

It could have seemed a foregone conclusion but it became ‘anything but.....’

Sligo and Leitrim was a five seater, as it would be again in the 1951 election.

Created Cakewalk

 But in the run-up to the poll Taoiseach Eamon de Valera used his power to create a plethora of new three seat constituencies.

That should have created a cakewalk.....but several other forces came into play in those poorish post-War years.

Farming incomes were still depressed after a decade of austerity. 

No surprise then that a farmers party, Clan na Talmhan, won seven seats in Dáil Éireann.

The Republican Clann na Poblachta made the biggest breakthrough, though, winning ten seats.

Still, when you added those two pots to Fine Gael’s 31 seats, it seemed a long way short of anything other than a government led again by Dev.

Fianna Fáil had 68 seats in the new 157 seat Dail, so the prospects were promising.

They needed just to ‘neutralize’ (or win the support) of any ten seats to again choose the Cabinet.

Totally Unacceptable

The game-changer was Fine Gael caving in to Clann na Poblachta’s demand to change its nominee for Taoiseach. 

Due to Civil War atrocities and executions by FG, it’s party leader was totally unacceptable to the new Republican group with its 10 seats.

The ‘Clann’ was led by Seán MacBride, still the only ever Dáil party leader to (later) win the Nobel Prize.....but then also an ex IRA Chief of Staff.

Thus, John A Costello became Taoiseach in the country’s first ever “inter party” government.

He had the support of Labour and the group titled National Labour; a whopping 19 seats combined.

The Left parties offered a radical edge to the new coalition.....well, at least they did for the times that were in it.

But Costello counterbalanced, too, with his pick of several party Ministers who were members of the secretive Knights of Columbanus.

That mix created (a) its inbuilt tensions and (b) obsolescence into the final product.

Bucked Trend

For the record, the poll in Sligo was topped by Eugene Gilbride of Fianna Fáil, winning his first election.

Locally, FF bucked the national trend and took a second seat through Stephen Flynn.

Ben Maguire, running as an independent after his departure from Fianna Fáil, also won a seat. 

Leitrim legend Mary Reynolds retained her seat for Fine Gael, while the party’s Sligo TD was Joe Roddy.