31 key Irish politicians and what we can learn from them
It has become fashionable to always be the one who puts something down. We love to give our country or system a kick and hope that that makes us sound edgy. There is no doubt that there is a lot wrong with Ireland and politics, but it will certainly never be fixed by perpetuating a myth that the entire country is a ‘kip’ or that we have only ever elected ‘gobshites’. We especially like to do this if the people in control don’t happen to be of our political persuasion. Anyway, it occurred to me that there are many politicians who have achieved various things and this needs to be noted.
It is of course a dangerous task to embark upon. Firstly there is the matter of each individuals political leanings, those who support one party are rarely willing to listen to the virtues of an opponent. Secondly there is the problem that all politicians are human. There are no perfect people here. If one is to focus on the faults or failings of every individual then quite clearly, nobody can ever make a list anywhere in the world. From JFK to Ghandi you can find people who will tell you why they were not that great at all. Jesus himself would not make a list on that basis.
So to make the list, which is far from exhaustive, I have listened to suggestions from Twitter and tried to put some of these politicians in context. The rules are quite simple, I look to see if the person did anything that might be considered positive, were they ever groundbreaking and is there anything we can learn from it today? There were some people like Harry Boland and Michael Collins who did not make the list simply because we didn’t get a chance to see them as normal peacetime politicians. While many on the list had faults there is no doubt each had positive traits to show us. Most importantly it illustrates that we can talk systems and society until we are blue in the face, but it is the individual that makes the difference. A system is no block to an individual with real vision or talent. The list is not going to rate politicians and they appear in random order, but give an insight into fact that we have had better than the ‘incompetent fool’ stereotype. Of course there are politicians I haven’t included due to space, so please feel free to use the comment section to add a similar bio of any politician you think is worth a mention
David Andrews – It is rare to find a politician that is admired by all sides of the house. David Andrews is probably as close as one will get. He was never viewed as a partisan voice and people from all backgrounds respected his views. Andrews was an outspoken critic of Haughey and suffered for this. He campaigned for the Guildford 4 and Birmingham 6, and earned himself an enviable record on human rights issues. A Labour TD once described him to me as the ‘most decent man in the Dail’. Andrews was patient and never displayed the ego that so many in his position have. He took the knocks and got on with the job. His role in the peace process is hugely underrated. Perhaps though, the most valuable thing he teaches us is that one does not always have to be partisan or vicious to succeed in politics. He was a politician with a firm view of the things he wanted to impact upon and a sense of his own decency that he never let slide.
Des O’Malley – When O’Malley arrived on the scene he was immediately recognised for being a man with great promise. It would not be long before people saw him as a potential future leader of Fianna Fail. O’Malley was not the type to keep out of trouble though. Through the arms trial and the heave against Jack Lynch, O’Malley took his side in unwavering fashion. He was a man that many found difficult at times but undoubtedly was also a man of deep principle. His views on the IRA and security in Ireland were fearless and determined. Anybody that stood up to Haughey needed a lot of backbone and O’Malley certainly had that. He set up the Progressive Democrats and sought to make bring forward ‘moral’ arguments in politics. He famously voted with his ‘conscience’ over the issue of contraceptives and there can be no doubt that O’Malley always stood firmly by what he believed right. For this reason alone he deserves inclusion, he shows us that no matter what everyone else is doing or thinking, a strong politician has no difficulty doing the opposite.
Donogh O’Malley – A name that will be forever remembered for a dynamic and decisive approach to politics. O’Malley was a colourful character but as Minister for Education he acted swiftly to reform the sector. His introduction of free education and free transport to schools was revolutionary. O’Malley could have been tempted to take things slower and set up reports and committees but that was not his style. He acted, and in a few short years saw massive change in the sector. He was also responsible for the setting up of RTC’s in areas with no university and the first non-denominational schools. He remains a beacon for forward thinking in politics. He shows us that one does not need to be decades in power to bring about reform, 2 years was more than enough as education minister for O’Malley to change everything.
Tony Gregory – Arguably the most famous of all Independent TD’s Gregory marked his entry on the political scene with the famous ‘Gregory Deal’. This deal saw Charles Haughey agree to a massive cash injection for Gregory’s constituency. Some criticised the move but there can be no doubt but that the area was probably the most deprived in the country and had been ignored for years by the powers that be. As a community style politician Gregory fearlessly worked to combat drugs and drug dealers and was at the forefront of all campaigns in this area. He became respected across all parties and political outlooks, seen as a decent and highly experienced politician there could be little doubt that Gregory’s heart always remained true to his efforts on behalf of those he represented. His lesson to us is simple. One person can make a big difference.
Noel Browne – Appointed as a Minister on his first day in the Dail, one could be forgiven for thinking that Browne would take a while to have an impact. However, the previous government had introduced a new Health Act with many reforms and it now fell to Browne to implement them. He did this with gusto setting up screening schemes for TB and BCG vaccines. The same Act also set up the ‘Mother and Child Scheme’, once again however it fell to Browne to implement it. The Church took a dislike to this measure and Browne courageously stood up and sacrificed his own political career in the attempt. He served in many parties and became embroiled in many rows but yet his name is well remembered in Irish politics today. He provides yet another example of a man who put what he believed ahead of his career and saved his legacy as a result. Browne was only a minister for 3 years and yet his impact was enormous.
Seamus Brennan – Brennan started out his career as a backroom organiser and is responsible for many of the key features of political organisation that we see today across parties. He was a brilliant organiser and strategist who loved the study of the political game. In the early ‘80s he was a key figure in the efforts to remove Charles Haughey but even so Haughey himself later relented and appointed Brennan to Cabinet as rifts began to heal. He subsequently was one of the few Ministers to survive Albert Reynolds cull of the old guard. Much of this was down to the fact that few could argue against Brennan’s capabilities. He was a strong minister and rarely found wanting in any portfolio. Brennan was particularly strong at seeing a longer term picture and help devise strategies that would last long after he was gone. He shows us that a quick fix and photo op is not necessary for political success, but having a mind of your own and the desire to do things properly is.
Gerry Adams – Quite a few might be surprised to see Adams on the list, given his background with IRA and an increasing uneasiness about his leadership in the current environment. However, Gerry Adams was central to the peace process in Ireland. If he had not been close to the IRA they would never have trusted his judgment. It is easy now to think of the risks as something anyone would do, but they were not. Adams grew up in a difficult time in Northern Ireland, he entered politics and moved SF from an also ran dominated by the IRA to a body that eventually had equal status with the IRA in decision making. He took risks and that should be remembered. It is a clear lesson that when politics fails, guns and bombs take over; Adams did move the republican tradition back to politics. In many ways he has been reinvented and shows that it is never to late to make a big change.
Brendan Corish – Corish was a politician who spent his life struggling against the tide. He was a socialist and he was also a strong catholic. These sometimes conflicted. However it must be remembered that Corish took over the Labour party at a difficult time. Most left wing voters were quite happy with Fianna Fail and Labour suffered heavily for going into government with Fine Gael. The survival of the party depended on new thinking and a clear separate path from the others. Corish tried this and worked hard to carve out a new socialist vision. He returned the Labour party to new heights. He had a definite vision that was halted only by a lack of organisation in the political sense. Corish remains a towering reminder that belief and passion are integral to politics.
Sean Lemass – When assembling this list it will be no surprise that Lemass was a name on almost everyone’s lips. The streetwise IRA gunman who grew up overcoming personal tragedy and became a strong and pragmatic voice. Lemass was a man of decisiveness and clear vision. He did not fall for ego politics or ever become self serving. As Minister for Social Welfare and Minister for Supplies during the war, he has a long list of achievements. As Taoiseach he did not hang about but got straight to work, his actions were not always understood until much later when benefits were felt. Indeed Lemass failed to win an overall majority at the polls, and yet his legacy is safe. He modernised Ireland and possessed vision and ability in equal measure. His lesson to us? Just get on with the job.
W T Cosgrave – Another name that most people agree should be on any list. W.T. Cosgrave was not of the big personality mould that was so favoured in the ‘20s; he was a pious and unassuming man. He was also a brilliant administrator and a man who enjoyed tacking problems. His performance in those early years of state hood should not be underestimated. When today we look at our problems one can then put the gargantuan task Cosgrave faced into context. He had to organise a whole state, set up new bodies and agencies, overcome a civil war and see Ireland move into peaceful democracy. Cosgrave was every inch of a true public servant, fearless and determined. You don’t always need a big personality if you are capable of doing big things.
Garret Fitzgerald – The true legacy of Garret Fitzgerald still sparks controversial debate. There is no doubt that there were a number of things that he failed badly on. However, Fitzgerald was also a great moderniser, a man before his time in many respects. On social policy Fitzgerald was particularly strong with a very definite vision of what society should become. He was also a statesman of the highest calibre particularly on European matters and his knowledge of this sphere was a great asset to Ireland in its early years of membership of the EC. He was also a tireless worker on issues in the North of Ireland, whether one agreed or not with the outcomes, there is no doubting that Fitzgerald tried desperately to bring about a result and his efforts were crucial to later events. He proves to us that there is room for thinkers in Irish politics, that leadership is about trying to do what you believe and even if not everything goes right, you can still walk away with your head held high if that is the route you take.
John M. Kelly – An academic in the halls of power is a rare thing. Some might be surprised at Kelly’s inclusion, but as was pointed out to me his true strength lay in the fact that he did see ministerial office as the aim of a career. Kelly was a voice that sought to focus on longer term objectives, measures and reforms. He was not tied closely to the necessary political thinking but he was well respected and influential none the less. He long ago argued for FG and FF to join and realign politics. He was moved from one position to another always filling a gap where necessary for the government, never getting a proper run at any particular role, yet he did this and served his time. He was also an outspoken voice and a man who was very much his own man. His inclusion here is a lesson that it is not all about achieving high office or big deals.
Jack Lynch – Lynch was a rare breed of politician: a highly popular one. It is somewhat surprising that this quiet individual should gain such popularity in an era where he was surrounded by big personalities. He was a leading GAA sportsman in his day and this perhaps helped that image. Con Houlihan described him as ‘a man who never lost the run of himself’. Lynch was not famed for dynamism or particularly new ideas, but he was a man with an enormous ability to appreciate details. Lynch poured over proposals and possessed a strong grasp of every role he served in. On Northern Ireland Lynch set out the stall of new republicans, who did not feel that they needed a gun to define their nationality or beliefs. He came under enormous pressure even at cabinet to intervene in Northern Ireland in 1969 and engage Britain militarily. He resisted this and all should note that it took incredible leadership to do so. It was the right decision but not an easy one to make. Wherever he went people loved him and that is a mark of leadership. He had his failings too, particularly in the control of cabinet and in several economic matters but none the less, Lynch remains a lesson to all that nice guys can and do have an impact.
Charles Haughey – Already I can hear the huffs and puffs of controversy. There is no doubt that Haughey was a man with several major flaws. His private affairs were nothing short of a disgrace and he was a politician who often used people and issues when it was expedient to do so. However, there was another side to Haughey. A side we can learn something from. He was the dominant politician of his generation, nobody would dare suggest that if Haughey was Minister he would be controlled by civil servants or told what to do by others. He had a strong visionary streak, the succession Act, the Adoption Act, setting up of special courts for IRA offences, first anti- smoking campaigns, legalising contraception, balancing the budget, free travel for the elderly and a lifelong association with and support of the Arts. Haughey achieved much in his political career largely because he was not afraid to run with an idea, to take on conflict and he had the charisma that made people follow. As Taoiseach he started badly with two unimpressive governments that nearly brought his end, he did not cover himself in glory in opposition but as Taoiseach from 1987 to 1992, he was a reformed man who oversaw much of the groundwork for economic recovery. His hard-line strategy with the EU brought him into conflict with other EU leaders yet there is no doubt that the funding he secured for Ireland would not have been possible without such tactics. We can certainly learn that a true leader has confidence and vision, most importantly it is a lesson that a politician can stand up and be their own man and it’s a powerful thing when used correctly.
Ray MacSharry – It is difficult to ever talk about Irelands recovery form its recessions without mentioning MacSharry. He was a powerful individual who exuded confidence and belief. He was also one of the most powerful orators to grace Irish politics. His first stint as Minister for Finance was short lived but it saw Mac Sharry accept the inevitable problems and place large income tax increases in order to plug the holes in the economy. When he returned as Minister for Finance in 1987 MacSharry took on the next stage in this work. He made clear that Income tax increase had been necessary but could go no further and now had to be matched by cuts in spending. This was unpopular but he did it fearlessly and while it cost some votes it was accepted by many as necessary largely because they trusted MacSharry and his plan. As EU Commissioner he introduced the first ever real agreement on CAP reforms and laid the way for agriculture policy for years to come. He proved that the ability to take decisions and communicate the thinking is crucial to politics and that personal strength will always be admired.
Dick Spring – Arguably the Labour party’s strongest leader, Dick Spring took over a deeply divided party and set about establishing it as a political force. He showed hug political strength in reshaping Labour as a non militant grouping and pushing out those who were of a hard left tendencies. Spring believed that to have a real impact Labour needed to be in government and to do this they had to appeal to the broad mass of people and look after their interests. He moved Labour away from being only a party for sectional or minority interests. He believed Labour could impact positively on these groups while still helping the majority of ordinary working people. He played a key role in the negotiations of the Anglo Irish Agreement and spearheaded several reforms while in government with both FF and FG. From ethics to family law, Spring oversaw a period of increasing influence for Labour in the Irish state. He held firm to his principles and was never afraid to walk away from a government if he did not believe the policies were correct. He placed a high emphasis on trust and integrity and perhaps most importantly he never got embroiled too deeply in personal relationships in government. He saw politics as a professional occupation rather than a friendship where people looked out for each other. Spring is still hailed today as a man of principle and courage he showed himself willing to accept some difficult decisions but always knew where his red line was.
Brian Lenihan Snr – This was a man of rare popularity and courage. Too often Lenihan hid his light under a bushel, he was also far too loyal, taking up positions on behalf of party or leader that even he did not necessarily believe. Responsible for the repeal of censorship laws, Lenihan was also a Dynamic minister who was famed for his ability to speed read and to understand complex topics in a very short period of time. Despite some over nationalistic exuberance in Foreign Affairs he was well respected when he spoke on International matters. For many Lenihan was a lost leader who had the personality and oratorical skill to bring people with him. The standing he was held in was evidenced by all sides of Leinster house when he became the oldest person to successfully undergo a liver transplant. Despite his failure in the 1990 presidential campaign Lenihan became an icon in Irish politics, even if people did not agree with his politics or policies nobody doubted that he did what he believed right. He was influential in the forming of the first FF and Labour coalition which was a marriage that he said was a natural alignment for politics as he saw it. There is no doubt Lenihan was a man of courage and strength and nobody can hope to get a nation to follow a policy without these attributes.
Brian Lenihan Jnr – The bank guarantee will be forever associated with Brian Lenihan Jnr. He spent many years in something of a political wilderness because Bertie Ahern did not like him. By the time he took over as Minister for Finance the damage had already been done. Lenihan moved quickly to try pull back spending and stabilise the budget. It should be noted that he displayed a rare decisiveness in a government that was more notable for the lack of it. The night of the guarantee is and the truth behind the negotiations of the EU/IMF bailout are two episodes where we have yet to hear the truth and much information is still not available to the public. All that said Lenihan battled within a government that was lacking strategy or plans and sought to bring some sanity to an increasingly desperate situation. In the end, perhaps, Lenihan was really trying to keep the lights on on the titanic for as long as possible. He did this bravely and through difficult personal circumstances. There can be no doubt that he had backbone and intelligence it was perhaps a pity that he did not get the opportunity to use them before the crisis had become a fait accompli. Nonetheless Lenihan’s four year plan is still the basis of Irish government policy and like MacSharry before him, at some point in the future the cuts he introduced and the action he took will be credited with helping to amend the damage that populist policies had done
Gemma Hussey – Its not easy being a woman in politics but Gemma Hussey was never one to shy away from a fight. A strong independently minded TD she did all her party asked of her but never let go of her own strong personal beliefs. Her liberal views brought her into conflict with others such as Alice Glenn within FG but Hussey continued to argue for a more liberal society. From divorce to abortion Hussey was never afraid of wading into the argument. She had a difficult tenure as Minister for Education but she held firm to her position on each issue she met. She has become renowned for the candour and honesty with which she speaks about politics and is a tireless campaigner for the participation of women in politics across the EU. She showed that if you want to leave a true legacy then you have to be willing to offend people sometimes and even if the world seems against you, you must carry on.
Maire Geoghegan Quinn – Usually referred to as MGQ, she established a reputation for being one of the most formidable politicians of her generation. Her appointment as a minister in 1979 was an historic move as she became the first woman to attain such a post since Countess Markievicz in 1922. She was outspoken and unafraid of conflict; she resigned her post in support of Albert Reynolds and in opposition to Charles haughey in 1991. This loyalty was repaid when Reynolds made he minister for Justice where she undertook a series of substantial reforms. When Reynolds departed she was his choice as successor and she stood against Bertie Ahern, creating the possibility of Irelands first female Taoiseach had she won. However, the wind was with Ahern and she opted not to let her name go forward on the day of the vote. She served on the FF front bench but quit national politics some years later. She subsequently went on to serve in the European Court of Auditors and as European Commissioner. She was part of a generation of women that changed how politics saw female TDs and she was impressive in every role she held. Once again she was not the type to be controlled or dictated to within a party or by civil servants and that was crucial to the forging of her career.
Mary Robinson – There is little that can be said about Robinson that has not already been said. She was a true mould breaker and a woman with very definite political views and principles. Although she failed to get elected as a TD she was an impressive Senator and a tireless campaigner across a range of issues. Her success in the 1990 presidential election alone would ensure her place on any list. She has since that gone on to be come a voice recognised the world over on human rights. She already stands over a proud legacy and a name that will be forever remembered. She is a signal to all that even if the odds are stacked against you, if you remain true to yourself then you can eventually break through. Mary Robinson is a woman who never gave up no matter what obstacles were placed in her way.
James Ryan – Ryan gained a reputation for being a man who would see a policy through to its conclusion. He was a tough politician and he needed to be, his early years as a minister were marked by serious problems in Agriculture and the Economic War with Britain. It was in later years that saw Ryan come into his own. It was he who introduced the Health Act containing the Mother and Child scheme and the measures to deal with infectious diseases. De Valera was concerned about the church’s reaction to these, when Fianna Fail lost the election, Noel Browne fell victim to the churches ire when he tried to implement the measures contained in the Act. When Ryan returned to government he finished the implementation but still came into conflict with church authorities and had to negotiate a settlement on a number of fronts. Ryan proved however that he was not afraid of taking on interests or facing a challenge. Ryan went on to become finance minister and was responsible for bringing forward the plans of T K Whittaker along with Sean Lemass. If anything he was overambitious but he did oversee the strongest period of growth since independence. His determination and strength of character were essential ingredients in all he did.
Eamon De Valera – Another controversial inclusion for some, however a list would not be complete without a figure who had such enormous impact. De Valera certainly did not get everything right, protectionism, economic war, and staying on too long as leader were all major failings. However, he was a politician of the highest ability, he gave us the constitution that still serves us today protecting and enshrining many rights, he led governments that saw many reforms that are often forgotten. He saved Ireland a great deal of hardship by avoiding getting sucked into the Second World War. The legacy of De Valera will still cause debate for generations to come, he was however a noble man a man who served his country with distinction. He held fast to his core beliefs but knew enough about politics to know when one has to compromise.
Patrick Hillery – When talking about politicians it’s easy to overlook Paddy Hillery, yet he was effective and forward thinking. As Minister for education he laid the groundwork for many innovative policies for decades to come. He started the work of free education that Donogh O’Malley later introduced. As Minister for Foreign Affairs he played a crucial role in the reaction to Bloody Sunday. As a firm believer in peaceful republicanism and a supporter of Lynch’s policy of avoiding military intervention in the North he took a strong stand at a Fianna Fail Ard Fheis where his passion and conviction was plainly evident. He went on to negotiate Irelands entry into the EC and this was a particularly historic achievement. He was appointed European Commissioner and became Vice President of the Commission. In his role in Social affairs he spearheaded the drive to force EEC member states to give equal pay to women. As President he managed to restore the quiet dignity that many expected of the role and was the mark of the man himself. This was important after the controversy encountered by his predecessor. One does not always have to be boisterous or loud to have an impact and sometimes the record can speak for itself given time.
Albert Reynolds – I will of course be accused of bias, but so be it. Reynolds was arguably, to use a boxing term, pound for pound, one of Ireland’s most effective politicians. Yet Reynolds was not a highly political man in the sense of playing the game or doing the PR. Instead Reynolds was a decision maker, he was willing to accept when that some decisions were wrong but he held it as the duty of the executive to take decisions and live with the consequences rather than prevaricate. He was Minister for Post and Telegraphs for less than 2 years, yet in that time he brought an end to long waiting lists for telephone installations, charted a course through industrial relations quagmire and modernised Irelands telecommunications service through a series of deals that was to have impact right up until the introduction of mobile phone networks in the late 90s. As Transport Minister he advanced the cause of electric trains and in particular the DART and he was responsible for the introduction of bus lanes. In Industry and Commerce he sat down with the IDA to develop targets for investment and secured several major deals, In Finance he established the NTMA to manage debt reducing the burden almost immediately, at the same time he introduced massive tax cuts but kept spending under tight control. HE was the first Taoiseach to bring the Shamrock to the President of the USA and use the occasion to advance Irelands cause; he was a fierce and merciless negotiator at EU level when it came to funds for Ireland, caring little who he upset along the way. All of that is before we mention the Downing Street Declaration and Northern Ireland. The important thing to remember about Reynolds is that his tenure in any role was never more than 3 years and yet he could stand over big advances in each and every one. He was a gambler, he got some decisions like export insurance to Goodman International wrong, like appointing Harry Whelehan to the High Court, but he always believed success would outweigh failures. He was a fearless decision maker and as modern leaders of FF go, his reputation stands up very well. His lesson? Be decisive, do what you think is right and the legacy will follow.
Michael D. Higgins – Michael D. is one of Irelands best known politicians. Even those who may disagree with his politics would be forced to admit that he is a man of considerable intellect and wide ranging ability. Higgins has always been passionate about his beliefs and his strength lay in the fact that he has always been a man with the courage of his convictions. As Minister he was responsible for the lifting of section 31 that banned voices of groups with paramilitary wings from the airwaves. He also set up TnaG and he will always be remembered as a powerful advocate for the arts. HE has been influential in the fight for youth rights and equality as well as the fight for a liberal society. His election as president was the culmination of a long and proud career where his personal integrity and genuine passion has always shone through.
Peter Barry – Foreign Affairs ministers can often be forgotten but that should not be the case with Peter Barry. As the minister at the time he was central to the Anglo Irish Agreement and he faced tough opposition from many people in developing this agreement. It was historic because it laid groundwork for a new relationship and that was essential to the peace process that developed later. Barry was a tough politician who was loyal to his party and his beliefs. In previous roles in Transport and Education he proved himself a man well capable of handling problems and finding solutions. He was for many the Leader Fine Gael never had, losing out to Alan Dukes when Garret Fitzgerald resigned.
James Dillon – Dillon is another figure that is often overlooked in Irish politics. He was a key figure in the establishment of Fine Gael. He was fearless and brave when it came to expressing his opinions. He resigned from Fine Gael over neutrality during World War 2. He strongly believed Ireland should have sided with the allies and this was a brave position to take at the time. The first Inter party government saw Dillon appointed agriculture Minister, one of the only times that an Independent has been given a cabinet post in such a deal. He proved himself and able and forward thinking minister doing much to improve agriculture in Ireland. Land reclamations were vital to this and production increased substantially in the sector. A powerful speaker Dillon was highly respected and he rejoined FG going on to become leader of the party. He gives us a clear example that sometimes being controversial or going against the mainstream does not always hurt or mean your career has to be over.
Frank Cluskey – A man of deep political belief and firm conviction Cluskey held the core of Labour thought close to his heart. As junior minister in the department of Social Welfare he oversaw several important reforms and was passionate about delivering on them. He led a major anti poverty campaign and played a central role in initiating the EU programmes in this regard. There should be little doubt but that Cluskey’s impact upon politics and society was a positive one. His opportunities were limited due to the position of the Labour party but yet his impact could still be felt. As leader of Labour he faced was hampered by divisions within the party and electoral instability, he eventually resigned from government in 1983 over a point of principle on the future of Dublin Gas. It was in keeping with a man who was well known and liked because of his staunch views. Cluskey spent his life trying to obtain a better and fairer society and despite problems along the way he never stopped trying to overcome the difficulties he saw in society.
Paddy McGilligan – Yet another name that is at risk of falling into the forgotten depths of history but should never be allowed to. As part of the first Free State government this man was an incredible visionary with a work ethic and table of achievement that would put many modern politicians to shame. He set up the Shannon Hydroelectric Scheme at Ardnacrusha, a project that in an infant and poor state was almost inconceivable, yet he succeeded. He also established the ESB and the ACC, a man who clearly saw the need for speedy and radical plans in order to get the country established and working. He later served as Minister for Finance where he again showed a strong spirit of reform and new thinking. He finally served as Attorney general and is well known for his impact in terms of legal affairs also. Like many in that first cabinet this was a man who was not prepared to accept boundaries or limits, he had vision and more importantly the ability to know how to implement a vision. Ireland owes him a debt of gratitude and he is a remarkable figure to study now, in times of difficulty, just to see what can be achieved in the face of almost overwhelming adversity.
Bertie Ahern – Well there was some debate about Bertie’s inclusion. Eventually enough, non FF people suggested to me that he should make the list for his more positive contributions. This is only fair. It’s easy to dismiss people while we are still feeling the effects of some of their failings but like anyone else on this list, Ahern was a mix of failings and success. We can and should learn from that success. Unlike his predecessors Ahern was an incredibly unifying figure and this is often forgotten, within FF and wider society, Bertie had a way of making people come together and overcome their differences. During the Good Friday Agreement negotiations he showed how committed he was to his job. Nobody can take this from him, he loved the role and there has probably never been a politician who gave as much time to it. Ahern would sacrifice anything in his life for the job. He was a strong Minister for Labour, he performed very well as finance minister overseeing growth in the economy and helping to establish a firm basis for the next decade. The Good Friday agreement and his efforts at the EU probably would ensure his place on this list but he also oversaw some very good policies and major reforms in government too. His first term from 1997 to 2002 was by no means a bad government, the economy was stable and Ahern ensured that this was managed well. It was the period after 2004 where things began to go off the rails for Bertie. He was a long time in politics and had thought perhaps that he had seen it all, it is the immense failures of this period that besmirch his name and that of FF. However, we can learn from him, the power of compromise and the ability to bring people with you. There is also perhaps a lesson about staying on too long. The truth remains that if Bertie had resigned in the aftermath of the poor FF showing in the local elections (presuming same polices followed in years after) he would probably be a hero today and people would say it all went wrong when he left.