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Fine Gael – The United Ireland Party, shortened to Fine Gael ( , meaning Family of the Irish or Tribe of the Irish,) is the second largest political party in Irelandmarker in terms of parliamentary seat numbers, the largest in terms of support according to all recent opinion polls, and the largest in terms of local government members and members of the European Parliament. It has the largest representation in terms of local council seats ahead of all other parties in the state. It has a membership of 30,000, and is the largest opposition party in the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament.

Fine Gael was founded in 1933 following the merger of its parent party Cumann na nGaedhael, the Centre Party and the Army Comrades Association, popularly known as the "Blueshirts". Its origins lie in the struggle for Irish independence and the pro-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War, identifying in particular Michael Collins as the founder of the movement.

Modern Fine Gael describes itself as the party of the "progressive centre", with core values focussed on fiscal rectitude, free enterprise and reward, individual rights and responsibilities. It is strongly pro-EU integration and opposed to violent Irish republicanism. Fine Gael is Ireland's only party in the European People's Party (EPP); its MEP sit with the European People's Party group. The party's youth wing, Young Fine Gael, was formed in 1977 and has approximately four thousand members.

The current party leader is Enda Kenny. He was elected by a secret ballot of the parliamentary party on 5 June 2002.



Following the rise in support for Éamon de Valera's anti-Treaty Fianna Fáil party in the mid-1920s, a new strategy was felt necessary to bolster the pro-Treaty factions which found themselves in opposition. Following from the Army Comrades Association's defence of Cumann na nGaedhael from republican intimidation and attacks, Fine Gael was formed through a merger of the fascist National Guard (the renamed ACA, otherwise known as the Blueshirts), Cumann na nGaedhael and the Centre Party on 3 September 1933.

Interparty Governments

Fine Gael candidates were elected to only thirty-one seats in the 1948 general election, however Fianna Fáil's failure to achieve an overall majority led to the creation of the first Inter-Party Government, made up of an alliance of anti-Fianna Fáil parties, which served between 1948 and 1951. Fine Gael's leader at the time, Richard Mulcahy, was considered too controversial among members of Clann na Poblachta to be Taoiseach due to his role as Chief-of-Staff to the Irish Army in the execution of republicans during the Irish Civil War. Instead, John A. Costello, a compromise candidate, served as head of the government. Costello also headed the second Inter-Party Government which served between 1954 and 1957. Liam Cosgrave, Minister for External Affairs in the coalition negotiated Ireland's entry into the United Nations in 1955. In 1957, de Valera and Fianna Fáil were returned to power and Fine Gael returned to opposition. During its period in opposition, the party's Just Society policy statement came into being. These policies came from an emerging social-democratic wing of the party. In 1966, Fine Gael candidate Tom O'Higgins came within one percent of defeating incumbent Éamon de Valera in the presidential election.

National Coalition (1970s)

Fine Gael was returned to government in a National Coalition with the Labour Party in 1973. The coalition was beset by problems from the start, including the oil crisis and escalating violence in Northern Ireland. The resignation of President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh in 1976 after a confrontation with Minister for Defence Paddy Donegan was also a blow to the credibility of the coalition. In 1977, Fianna Fáil under Jack Lynch won an unprecedented twenty-seat majority in the Dáil, and returned to government. Cosgrave resigned the leadership and was replaced by Garret FitzGerald.

FitzGerald became Fine Gael's third Taoiseach, again in a short-lived coalition with Labour between 1981 and February 1982. FitzGerald revived Fine Gael's fortunes to the point where they were five seats behind Fianna Fáil following the November 1982 general election. The party returned to government with Labour. FitzGerald negotiated the Anglo-Irish Agreement with British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1985. However, the government struggled to control high unemployment and emigration, and was heavily defeated by Fianna Fáil under Charles Haughey in 1987.

Dukes and the Tallaght Strategy

John Bruton
was replaced as leader by Alan Dukes, who spearheaded the Tallaght Strategy, under which Fine Gael would not oppose economic measures put forward by the minority Fianna Fáil government in the national interest. The strategy was an electoral disappointment, and the party gained four seats in the 1989 general election. Dukes resigned the leadership after Fine Gael's Austin Currie finished a distant third behind Mary Robinson and Brian Lenihan in the 1990 presidential election. He was replaced by John Bruton. As Fianna Fáil had abandoned its core policy of not going into coalition following the 1989 election, Fine Gael found itself in opposition to a Fianna Fáil-Labour government following the general election in 1992.

Rainbow Government

The government collapsed in 1994, allowing Bruton to become Taoiseach in a Fine Gael-Labour-Democratic Left Rainbow Coalition. The three government parties ran on a united platform in the 1997 election, and Fine Gael gained nine seats. Labour lost heavily however, and Fianna Fáil led by Bertie Ahern came to power in a coalition with the Progressive Democrats. Bruton was replaced as leader in 2001 by Michael Noonan, who led the party into its worst-ever general election in 2002; the party lost twenty-three seats, including those of deputy-leader Jim Mitchell and former leader Alan Dukes. Noonan resigned as leader as the results of the election were being tallied, and was replaced in a subsequent leadership election by Enda Kenny.

Mullingar Accord and 2007 General Election

Following the unveiling of the Mullingar Accord, an election pact agreed after the local and European elections in 2004, Fine Gael and the Labour Party increasingly co-operated in the build-up to the 2007 general election, agreeing a vote-transfer pact and plan to go into government together provided the parties had the required number of seats. The pact was overwhelmingly endorsed by Labour members at the party's conference in Traleemarker in May 2005. Fine Gael director of elections Frank Flannery claimed that the agreement, coupled with the party's strong performance in pre-election opinion polls, could lead to a gain of twenty-eight seats in the election. The party gained a total of twenty seats in the election on 24 May 2007, giving the "Alliance for Change" a total of seventy-one seats (seventy six including the Green Party as a potential partner), putting the coalition six seats behind Fianna Fáil. On the first day of the new Dáil, on 14 June 2007, Enda Kenny was nominated for Taoiseach by Fine Gael deputy-leader Richard Bruton and then-Labour leader Pat Rabbitte. He was defeated by incumbent Bertie Ahern and a coalition of Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, the Progressive Democrats and a group of Independents by eighty-nine votes to seventy-six.

Ideology and policies

Law and Order party

Although Ireland's political spectrum was traditionally divided along Civil War lines, rather than the traditional European left-right spectrum, Fine Gael is described generally as a Christian-democratic party, with a focus on law and order, enterprise and reward, and fiscal rectitude . As the descendent of the pro-Treaty factions in the Irish Civil War, Fine Gael has a strong affinity with Michael Collins and his legacy. He remains a symbol for the party, and the anniversary of his death is commemorated each year in August.

Economically liberal

Fine Gael has, since its inception, been a party of fiscal rectitude and minimal government interference in economics, advocating pro-enterprise policies. Newly elected politicians for the party in the Dáil have strongly advocated liberal economic policies. Lucinda Creighton and Leo Varadkar in particular have been seen as strong advocates of a more neo-liberal approach to Ireland's economics woes and Ireland's unemployment problems. Varadkar in particular has been a strong proponent of small, indigenous business, advocating that smaller firms should benefit from the government's recapitalisation program Its finance spokesman, Richard Bruton's proposals have been seen as approaching problems from a pro-enterprise point of view. Its fairer budget website suggests that its solutions are "tough but fair". Other solutions conform generally to conservative government's policies throughout Europe, focusing on cutting numbers in the public sector, while maintaining investment in infrastructure.

Fine Gael's proposals have been criticised mostly by smaller political groupings in Ireland, and by some of the trade unions, who have raised the idea that the party's solutions are more conscious of business interests than the interests of the worker. The SIPTU trade union has stated its opposition to Enda Kenny's assertion that the national wage agreement should be suspended. Kenny's comments have support however and the party attributes its significant rise in polls in 2008 to this.In spite of this perceived opposition to Fine Gael from the left of the Irish political spectrum, the party has never entered into government except with the backing of the Labour Party.

Under Kenny the party has also strongly opposed the perceived "rip-off" society that has developed in Ireland, advocating reform of stealth taxes and stamp duty.

Social policies

Former Fine Gael logo until April, 2009.
Gael has been traditionally conservative in social matters for most of the twentieth century. This was due to the conservative Christian ethos of Irish society during this time. Possibly because of the Celtic tiger, a decline in Sunday church attendance and the rise of international media and social influences, significant opinion polls suggest that support has grown in Ireland for liberalisation. Fine Gael has adapted to these new social influences and while in government in 1996, it legalised divorce in Ireland after a referendum held on the 24th November in 1995.

The party has not taken an explicit position on abortion, however former party leader Michael Noonan established the party's line in 2001 when he instituted a party whip in the Dáil against a vote on a proposed abortion referendum. He found some opposition from within his own party, from Cork South West TD, PJ Sheehan, and then Dublin South-East TD, Frances Fitzgerald showing that opposition to it was not homogeneous within Fine Gael. The end result saw the party unite after internal debate against the idea of introducing abortion into Ireland.

Under Enda Kenny, the party has pledged its support for the issue of civil unions in Ireland. Though not going as far as to support same sex marriage, the party ran advertisements in GCN (Gay Community News) advertising its commitments to same-sex couples. Support in the republic for same-sex marriage is estimated at roughly 63%, with 37% against. Polls show that numbers supporting same-sex civil unions are much higher, at 84%.


The Irish health system, being administered centrally by the Health Service Executive, is seen to be poor by comparison to other countries in Europe, ranking outside expected levels at 15th.Fine Gael has become the first party in Ireland to break with the system of private health insurance, public medical cards and what it calls the two tiers of the health system and has launched a campaign to see the system reformed. Speaking in favour of the campaign, Fine Gael health spokesman James Reilly stated "Over the last 10 years the health service has become a shambles. We regularly have over 350 people on trolleys in A&E, waiting lists that go on for months, outpatient waiting lists that go on for years and cancelled operations across the country..."

Fine Gael launched its Fair Care campaign and website in April, 2009, which states that the health service would be reformed away from a costly ineffective endeavor, into a publicly regulated system where universal health insurance would replace the existing provisions.

This strategy was criticised by Fianna Fáil Minister for Children, Barry Andrews. The spokesperson for family law and children, Alan Shatter TD, robustly defended its proposals as the only means of reducing public expenditure, and providing a service in Ireland more akin to the German, Dutch and Canadian health systems.

International identity

The party is a member of the Centrist Democrat International and the European Peoples Party, while it sits with the EPP Group in the European Parliamentmarker, where it sits with centrist, conservative and Christian democratic parties. Young Fine Gael is a member of the Youth of the European People's Party (YEPP).


Fine Gael is among the most pro-European integration parties in the Republic of Ireland, having supported the European Constitution, the Lisbon Treaty, and advocating participation in European common defence.. Under Enda Kenny, the party has questioned Irish neutrality, with Kenny claiming that "the truth is, Ireland is not neutral. We are merely unaligned."

European Affiliations

The party is not identified particularly with belonging to any particular ideological platform. Some have inferred from its relationship to European counterparts via the EPP that it belongs on the centre-right. Currently, the party conforms generally with European political parties that identify themselves as being Christian-democratic. Most members in the party are happy with the description of the "the progressive or compassionate centre".

Electoral performance

At the 2007 general election, Fine Gael gained 20 seats bringing them to a total of 51. The party ran candidates in all 43 constituencies, and had candidates elected in every constituency except Dublin Central, Dublin Mid West, Dublin North West and Kildare South.

Fine Gael won 14 seats in Seanad Éireann following the 2007 election, a loss of one from the previous election in 2002. With the eventual demise of the Progressive Democrats, their leader, Senator Ciarán Cannon joined Fine Gael bringing their representation in the Seanad to 15.

At the 2009 Local elections held on 5 June 2009, Fine Gael won 340 seats, surpassing Fianna Fáil and making Fine Gael the largest party of local government nationally. They gained 47 seats from their 2004 result of 293.

At 2009 European Parliament election held on the same day as the Local elections, which saw a reduction in the number seats from 13 to 12 for Ireland, the party won four seats, retaining the largest number of seats of an Irish party in the European Parliamentmarker. This was a loss of one seat from its 2004 result.

While Fine Gael was responsible for the initial nomination of the uncontested, first President of Ireland, Douglas Hyde, a Fine Gael candidate has never won an election to the office of President. The most recent Fine Gael presidential candidate, Mary Banotti, finished second in the 1997 presidential election, with 29.3% of the vote. In 2004, Fine Gael supported the re-election of President Mary McAleese.


Mayo TD Enda Kenny was elected leader of Fine Gael in a secret ballot of the parliamentary party on 5 June 2002. Kenny defeated Richard Bruton, Phil Hogan and Gay Mitchell in the leadership election, which was triggered by the resignation of Michael Noonan following the 2002 general election. The current deputy-leader of the party is Dublin North Central TD and party Finance spokesperson Richard Bruton. He was preceded as deputy leader by Jim Mitchell.

List of party leaders

Leader Period Constituency
Eoin O'Duffy 1933–34 None
W. T. Cosgrave 1934–44 Carlow–Kilkenny
Richard Mulcahy 1944–59 Tipperary
James Dillon 1959–65 Monaghan
Liam Cosgrave 1965–77 Dún Laoghaire
Garret FitzGerald 1977–87 Dublin South East
Alan Dukes 1987–90 Kildare South
John Bruton 1990–2001 Meath
Michael Noonan 2001–02 Limerick East
Enda Kenny 2002–present Mayo

General election results

Year Dáil No. of seats % of vote
1937 9th 48 34.8
1938 10th 45 33.3
1943 11th 32 23.1
1944 12th 30 21.8
1948 13th 31 19.8
1951 14th 40 25.7
1954 15th 50 32.0
1957 16th 40 26.6
1961 17th 47 32.0
1965 18th 47 33.9
1969 19th 50 33.3
1973 20th 54 35.1
1977 21st 43 30.6
1981 22nd 65 39.2
1982 23rd 63 37.3
1982 24th 70 39.2
1987 25th 50 27.1
1989 26th 55 29.3
1992 27th 45 24.5
1997 28th 54 27.9
2002 29th 31 22.5
2007 30th 51 27.3

Front bench

Portfolio Spokesperson Since
Leader of the Opposition and

Northern Irelandmarker
Enda Kenny 2002
Deputy Leader of the Opposition and

Richard Bruton 2002
Justice and Law Reform Charles Flanagan 2007
Foreign Affairs Billy Timmins 2007
Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar 2007
Health James Reilly 2007
Environment, Heritage and Local Government Phil Hogan 2007
Arts, Sport and Tourism Olivia Mitchell 2007
Social, Family Affairs and Equality Olwyn Enright 2007
Transport and Marine Fergus O'Dowd 2007
Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Michael Ring 2007
Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Michael Creed 2007
Education and Science Brian Hayes 2007
Defence Jimmy Deenihan 2007
Immigration and Integration Denis Naughten 2007
Children Alan Shatter 2007
Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Simon Coveney 2007
Chief Whip Paul Kehoe 2007

Young Fine Gael

Young Fine Gael (YFG) is the youth movement of Fine Gael. It was founded in 1976 by the then leader Garret Fitzgerald. It caters for young people under 30 with an interest in Fine Gael and politics, in cities, towns, parishes and third level colleges throughout Ireland. YFG has 4,000 members nationwide. YFG is lead by its national executive consisting of eleven members elected on a regional basis, and on a national panel.

See also

Notes and references

  1. Often anglicised to ; approximate English translation: Family or Tribe of the Irish.
  2. Angus Reid Global Monitor Retrieved on 10 May 2009. An opinion poll in The Irish Times of 14 May 2009 put Fine Gael at 38% and Fianna Fáil at 21%, a 17% difference, the largest difference in the history of the two parties. Prior to late 2008 Fine Gael had only been higher than Fianna Fáil in one poll (April 1983) and then by a single point.
  3. [1] Local election results from RTÉ website showing FG as largest party in Ireland. Retrieved on 08 June 2009.
  4. Fine Gael. Join Fine Gael. Retrieved on 31 October 2007.
  5. The Irish Times. Legacy of the Easter Rising. Retrieved on 31 October 2007.
  6. Party Leader
  7. Fine Gael. The party largely conforms to the idea of Christian democracy. See Our Values. Retrieved on 31 October 2007.
  8. RTÉ News. Election 2007 - Youth parties. Retrieved on 31 October 2007.
  9. RTÉ News (5 June 2002). Enda Kenny elected Fine Gael leader. Retrieved on 31 October 2007.
  10. Gerard O'Connell. Eoin O'Duffy. Retrieved on 31 October 2007.
  11. University College Dublin Archives. Richard Mulcahy. Retrieved on 2 November 2007.
  12. Dermot Ahern (18 November 2005). The Fiftieth Anniversary of Ireland’s Membership of the United Nations—Looking Forward. Royal Irish Academy. Retrieved on 31 October 2007.
  13. David Begg (28 February 2004). The Just Society. Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Retrieved on 31 October 2007.
  14. Peter Barberis, John McHugh, Mike Tyldsley. Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations, p.739. Published by Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0826458149.
  15. The Economist (22 June 2006). Charles Haughey: obituary. Retrieved on 31 October 2007.
  16. Bernard A. Cook (New York, London, 2001). Europe Since 1945: An Encyclopedia. Published by Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0815340575.
  17. RTÉ Libraries and Archives. 1997 general election. Retrieved on 31 October 2007.
  18. RTÉ Libraries and Archives. 2002 general election. Retrieved on 31 October 2007.
  19. RTÉ News (6 September 2004). Opposition leaders unveil 'Mullingar Accord'. Retrieved on 1 November 2007.
  20. RTÉ News (28 May 2005). Rabbitte addresses Labour conference. Retrieved on 1 November 2007.
  21. RTÉ News (14 September 2006). Fine Gael repeats seat gain claim. Retrieved on 1 November 2007.
  22. RTÉ News (14 June 2007). Ahern names new Cabinet. Retrieved on 1 November 2007.
  23. The Hogan Stand (21 September 2005). Michael Collins' view of life in Achill Gaeltacht. Retrieved on 31 October 2007.
  27. Union critises FG on wage agreements position while FG gains 35% in polls-
  28. Fine Gael. 2007 General Election Manifesto. Retrieved on 31 October 2007.
  30. [Dublin South-East TD, Frances Fitzgerald]
  32. Irish Times Civil Partnership Poll
  33. Criticism of Irish Health Service including rankings -
  34. Dr. James O' Rehilly comments on health service -
  35. Fine Gael launch Fair Care Website and campaign -
  36. National Forum on Europe (26 October 2006). Enda Kenny calls for Unified EU Approach to Immigration. Retrieved on 31 October 2007.
  37. National Forum on Europe (3 April 2003). Should we back a pledge to defend others if they come under attack?. Retrieved on 31 October 2007
  39. What Fine Gael needs to do is find its bottom - National News, Frontpage -
  40. Fine Gael’s European Strategy « EAST WEST EUROPE | Ireland and the Wider Europe, 2008
  41. O'Duffy did not hold a seat in the Oireachtas while he was party leader.
  42. While Mulcahy was a member of the Seanad in 1944, Tom O'Higgins acted as parliamentary party leader.
  43. Between 1948 and 1959, John A. Costello served as parliamentary leader.
  44. RTÉ News. 2007 General Election. [2]. Retrieved on 1 July 2009


  • Nealon's Guide to the 29th Dáil and Seanad (Gill and Macmillan, 2002) (ISBN 0-7171-3288-9)
  • Stephen Collins, "The Cosgrave Legacy" (Blackwater, 1996) (ISBN 0-86121-658-X)
  • Garret FitzGerald, "Garret FitzGerald: An Autobiography" (Gill and Macmillan, 1991) (ISBN 0-7171-1600-X)
  • Jack Jones, In Your Opinion: Political and Social Trends in Ireland through the Eyes of the Electorate (Townhouse, 2001) (ISBN 1-86059-149-3)
  • Maurice Manning, James Dillon: A Biography (Wolfhound, 1999/2000) (ISBN 0-86327-823-X)
  • Stephen O'Byrnes, Hiding Behind a Face: Fine Gael under FitzGerald (Gill and Macmillan: 1986) (ISBN 0-7171-1448-1)
  • Raymond Smith, Garret: The Enigma (Aherlow, 1985) (no ISBN)

External links

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