Fianna Fáil

Fianna Fáil
/foyl, fuyl/
a political party in Ireland, organized in 1927 by Eamon De Valera, that was one of the leading parties in the establishment of the Irish republic.
[ < Ir: Fenians of Ireland]

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(Irish; "Soldiers of Destiny")

Political party in Ireland, also called, loosely, the Republican Party.

It was formally constituted in 1926 by those opposed to the treaty with Britain that in 1921 brought about the Irish Free State. They were organized and led by Eamon de Valera. Fianna Fáil remained the principal governing party from 1932 until 1973, but from 1961 it did so with the aid of other parties. It returned to power in coalition governments in the 1980s and '90s. Its main opposition was from Fine Gael.

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Irish“Soldiers of Destiny”

      the dominant political party in the Republic of Ireland since the 1930s.

      Constituted in May 1926, Fianna Fáil comprised opponents of the Anglo-Irish Treaty (1921) that had brought the Irish Free State into existence. The antitreaty republicans, known from 1925 as Fianna Fáil, were organized and led by Eamon de Valera (de Valera, Eamon), who had been imprisoned in 1923 for supporting republican armed resistance to the treaty. Members of Fianna Fáil at first refused to be seated in the Dáil (lower house of Parliament) but finally entered in 1927. In 1932 Fianna Fáil gained 48 percent of the seats in the Dáil, and de Valera became prime minister. The party's nationalism and its organizational ability, together with the fragmentation of the opposition, enabled it to dominate Irish politics for the following 42 years, when it was out of office only during 1948–51 and 1954–57. Often ruling without an overall majority and obtaining support from independents and in some cases from the Labour Party, Fianna Fáil governed as a single party until 1973, when the advent of a coalition government of the Fine Gael party and Labour signaled the onset of greater competition. Although a revitalized Fianna Fáil returned to office with a record vote (51 percent) in 1977, the party never again obtained an overall majority of seats.

      De Valera was succeeded as prime minister in 1959 by Sean Lemass (Lemass, Sean F). By this time the party's economic policies, which formerly had aimed at Irish self-sufficiency, were revised to eliminate protections for domestic industries and encourage foreign investment, a change that was accelerated with Ireland's accession to the European Community in 1973. Modernization put new issues on the political agenda, and divisions within the party were intensified when the outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland forced a reevaluation of the party's traditional support for Irish unification. Factional conflict—over issues such as Northern Ireland, economic development, and the “moral agenda” (the legalization of divorce, abortion, and contraception), as well as over shares in the spoils of office—plagued the party for the next two decades. It was particularly acute in the early 1980s under the leadership of Charles Haughey (Haughey, Charles) and provoked some members to leave in 1985 to found a new party, the Progressive Democrats.

      Despite the defection, Fianna Fáil continued to dominate Irish politics, heading governments from the late 1980s (except 1994–97 when it was out of power). Led by Bertie Ahern (Ahern, Bertie), the party played a major role in brokering peace in Northern Ireland. In 1998 the Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement) was signed by the Irish and British governments and nationalist (Roman Catholic) and unionist (Protestant) political parties in Northern Ireland. As part of the peace plan, the Northern Ireland Assembly was subsequently established.

Policy and structure
      The party's ideology has some enduring aspects, notably a commitment to Irish unity, to the Irish language, and to neutrality, though these commitments are essentially aspirational and occasionally merely rhetorical. Generally, the party has been pragmatically cautious on most issues. It has broadly supported an interventionist approach to economic management and, particularly in recent years, has sought agreement on economic policy among major economic interest groups. Socially radical and redistributive in its early years, it soon became more conservative, and it was particularly so under Haughey on such issues as divorce. From the 1940s it promoted itself as the only possible source of stable government.

      The basic unit of party organization is the local branch. Above this level are delegate bodies based on constituencies, including those based on the Dáil constituency, called Comhairle Dáilcheantair. The latter bodies select Dáil candidates, though strategy is influenced by the head office, and the party leader may also impose candidates on a constituency. The Ard-Fheis (Annual Conference) is the supreme governing body but in practice cedes most of its authority to a much smaller Executive Committee, which oversees the organization, and to senior ministers or spokesmen (when the party is in opposition), who effectively determine policy. The Ard-Fheis elects the president of the party, but in practice he is always the parliamentary party leader, who is elected by the party's deputies.

      Fianna Fáil's massive following, averaging more than two-fifths of the vote since 1927, has traditionally cut across class divisions, justifying its image as a national movement. However, the party has done less well in the Dublin region since 1969, as the Labour Party and new minor parties have eaten into its vote. Although it remains easily the largest party in Ireland, its support is apparently in slow decline.

Michael Marsh

Additional Reading
Philip Hannon and Jackie Gallagher (eds.), Taking the Long View: 70 Years of Fianna Fáil (1996), is a good general history. A more analytic treatment can be found in Michael Gallagher, Political Parties in the Republic of Ireland (1985). Joe Joyce and Peter Murtagh, The Boss (1997), an account of the drama of the Haughey years, is both entertaining and informative.

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Universalium. 2010.

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