Founding of the Party
In response to the signing of the Boundary Agreement between Great Britain and Ireland in December 1925, an extraordinary meeting of Sinn Féin was held in March 1926 to discuss the future of the party. Failing to get an agreement, Eamon de Valera resigned as leader of Sinn Féin and took rapid steps to establish a new national movement. On 16 May 1926, the inaugural meeting of Fianna Fáil was held in La Scala theatre in Dublin. Among the founding members were Seán Lemass, Gerry Boland, Countess Markievicz and Frank Aiken.
The new party set about building up the organisation with gusto, focusing initially on reorganising a large portion of the population which had become disenfranchised and disillusioned with politicians who failed to represent their views. In August 1927, Fianna Fáil Deputies ended the policy of abstentionism and took their seats in Dáil Éireann. This resulted in a forceful and robust opposition to monitor and challenge the actions of the Cummann na nGaedheal government.
In March 1932, Fianna Fáil formed its first government and embarked on what was to be a sixteen-year period in office, building an Ireland that reflected the desires of a newly independent country. With de Valera at the helm, the Party introduced a rapid succession of republican policy innovations. In 1932, Fianna Fáil abolished the Oath of Allegiance to the British monarchy. The same administration also withheld land annuities previously being handed over to the British government. In July 1937, the Irish people adopted Bunreacht na hÉireann, the Irish Constitution, a document that has stood the test of time and is the legal cornerstone of our society to this day. In 1938, the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed. This provided for the return of the ‘Treaty Ports’ of Cobh, Berehaven and Lough Swilly. The removal of British troops from these facilities, in turn, ensured that Ireland was free to choose her destiny during World War II.
During the war, de Valera pursued a policy of neutrality. De Valera’s policy meant that Ireland was not exposed to the ravages of one of the most cataclysmic conflicts ever recorded.
In 1948, Fianna Fáil was replaced in government by an Inter Party Government led by John A. Costello. Fianna Fáil subsequently retuned to power in 1951 and set about reforming the public health system, introducing comprehensive welfare supports aimed at mothers and young children. Following an election defeat in 1954, Fianna Fáil quickly regained power in 1957, a position the Party held for sixteen years.
Seán Lemass succeeded Eamon de Valera as leader of the Party and Taoiseach in June 1959. Lemass implemented the ‘First Programme for Economic Development’ which made the decisive shift from protectionism to free trade. Grants and tax concessions were given to companies to set up in Ireland. Because of the ‘Programme,’ the Irish economy grew at a rate of 4% per annum. A second, even more ambitious, ‘Programme for Economic Expansion’ commenced in 1963.
During his tenure, Lemass extended the hand of friendship to Northern Ireland. On 9 January 1965, the Taoiseach traveled to Stormont in great secrecy for talks with the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O’Neill. In February, O’Neill returned the compliment and visited Dublin. Subsequently meetings between ministers from both sides of the border became more frequent. In November 1966, Seán Lemass announced his retirement from politics and Jack Lynch became the third leader of Fianna Fáil.
The Lynch era was a time of considerable challenges. In 1969, the Troubles engulfed Northern Ireland but Lynch guided the country through these difficult days and ensured unity by peaceful means remained for Fianna Fáil the only way forward. As Taoiseach, Lynch was a strong advocate of Ireland’s entry into the Common Market. On 1st January 1973, Ireland joined the European Economic Community (EEC). In 1977, Lynch delivered a massive Fianna Fáil victory, winning a 20-seat majority in Dáil Éireann. However, by 1979, Jack Lynch had resigned his position as leader of the Party.
On 11 December 1979, Charles J Haughey was elected leader of Fianna Fáil and Taoiseach. He inherited a country whose economy was being badly hampered by the effects of the oil crisis. In 1981, Fianna Fáil faced a period in opposition. However, just as in the 1950s, the Irish body politic began to shift on loose sands. The Party returned to office for nine months in 1982. However, in December 1982 they were replaced by a Fine Gael – Labour coalition. After a period of opposition, Charles Haughey led Fianna Fáil back into government in 1987. During this period in government, he focused on economic issues and sought to provide a stimulus for recovery. According to any measure, by the time Haughey left office in 1992, the dire state of the Irish economy had improved.
Albert Reynolds was elected leader of Fianna Fáil on 11 February 1992. Following a short-lived coalition with the Progressive Democrats, Reynolds formed a new government with the Labour Party. Reynolds put the Northern Ireland situation at the top of his political agenda. His efforts bore fruit in December 1993 with the signing of the Downing Street Declaration which paved the way for the paramilitary ceasefires of the following year.
On 19 November 1994 Bertie Ahern was elected the sixth leader of Fianna Fáil. Following the 1997 General Election, Ahern formed a coalition government with the Progressive Democrats. Unprecedented economic growth and the restarting of the Northern Ireland peace initiatives, which culminated in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, marked the Taoiseach’s first period in office.
The electorate gave a resounding seal of approval to Bertie Ahern when they returned him to office in 2002. It was the first time that a government was re-elected since 1969. This period of political stability led to continued economic advancement, so much so that the Irish economy under Ahern became an international model for success.
In May 2007 Bertie Ahern led Fianna Fáil to a third successive term in government, in coalition with the Progressive Democrats and the Green Party.
Brian Cowen was elected unopposed as the seventh leader of Fianna Fáil in April 2008, and a month later became Taoiseach.
Mr Cowen’s tenure as Taoiseach coincided with one of the most difficult periods in the country’s modern history, as financial crisis gripped all of Europe. With the recession dominating the landscape, the Cowen Government still passed a number of important and progressive pieces of legislation, including the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language. At major political cost, this Government also made massive adjustments to the public finances, ensuring the long term viability of the country.
On 22nd January 2011, Mr Cowen announced he was stepping down as leader in advance of the 2011 election.
On the 26th January 2011, Micheál Martin was formally selected by the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party as the eighth leader of Fianna Fáil. Following defeat for the Party in the 2011 General Election, Mr Martin was returned to Dáil Éireann as Leader of the Opposition. Since his election as Leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin has introduced a number of significant internal reforms designed to empower ordinary members. He continues to lead the development of the party’s policy platform, re-establishing Fianna Fáil’s Republican vision for the future of the country.
In May 2014, Fianna Fáil became the largest party in the country at Local Government following nationwide elections.