Since the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, we have had 14 leaders of Ireland. While this represents a short period of time in the long history of Ireland, I found I knew quite little about the majority of these dudes. Ireland has changed enormously over the past century since began independently ruling ourselves. I thought it would be interesting to track the big decisions and moments that our leaders made over the past 100 years and try get a greater sense of how we got to where we are today!

Below is a list of all our past leaders with some quick facts. Blue links are for Fine Gael and green links are for Fianna Fail.



Breakdown by Party

  • Fianna Fail = 7 (Every leader of Fianna Fail has been Taoiseach up to Micheal Martin so final number is 7/8)
  • Fine Gael = 7 (including WT Cosgrave) (Fine Gael record in 6/11) for leaders holding the office of Taoiseach) *John A. Costello was never the party leader of Fine Gael

Constituency of the Leader

  • Dublin = 7
  • Connacht = 2.5
  • Leinster = 3
  • Munster = 1.5
  • Never from Ulster

Profession of Taoiseach

  • Accountancy = Haughey, Ahern
  • Barrister = Costello, Liam Cosgrave, Lynch, Bruton, Cowen
  • Business = WT Cosgrave (publican), Reynolds
  • Doctor = Varadkar
  • Economist = Fitzgerald
  • Teacher = Kenny, De Valera

Cowen (qualified as a solicitor and elected to Dail at 24) Bruton (elected to Dail at 22 but had been called to the bar) Lemass (professional politician)
Many Irish Taoisigh had close political ties via family

  • Liam Cosgrave - father was W.T. Cosgrave, the first leader of the Irish Free State
  • Garret Fitzgerald - father Desmond Fitzgerald TD served as Minister for External Affairs in W.T. Cosgrave's government
  • Charles Haughey - married to Sean Lemass's daughter
  • John Bruton - brother Richard Bruton served as a senior minister in multiple Fine Gael government
  • Brian Cowen - father was Bernard "Ber" Cowen TD. Cowen took his seat following a by-election caused by his father's death. He entered the Dail at the age of 24.
  • Enda Kenny - father Henry Kenny TD was in Dail from 1954 to 1975. Aged 24 when first elected.


1) W.T. Cosgrave


William Thomas Cosgrave Taoiseach Picture

Taoiseach: Dec 1922 - Mar 1932 | Lived: 1880 - 1965 |
Cosgrave became the first leader of the country following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921. Although his official title was the President of the Executive Council, he is retrospectively recognised as the first Taoiseach of Ireland. William Thomas Cosgrave was one of the founding members of the Cumann na nGaedheal party which emerged from the pro-Treaty side of the Irish Civil War (which eventually became Fine Gael). Before this, he was a member of Sinn Fein, attending their first convention in 1905 and was a member of the Irish Volunteers, fighting in the Easter Rising in 1916. Follwing the Rising, he was sentenced to death by the British. However this was later commuted to penal servitude for life. While in prison, Cosgrave was elected as an MP in a 1917 by-election for Sinn Fein and later again in the famous 1918 general election. He was released from prison in 1919 and in line with his fellow Sinn Fein MPs, refused to take his seat at Westminster and instead helped form the First Dail. He served within the first Cabinet under Eamon de Valera's leadership as the Minister for Local Government.
Eventually, he broke with de Valera over the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, siding with the pro-Treaty side led by Michael Collins who saw it as a stepping stone to republican status: "the freedom to achieve freedom". Following the vote to ratify the Treaty, Collins formed a Provisional Government that included Cosgrave in its membership. During the Irish civil war in 1922, the pro-Treaty lost two of its leaders, Michael Collins (assassinated) and Arthur Griffith (to natural causes). The pro-Treaty leadership turned to Cosgrave ahead of Collins' number two, General Richard Mulcahy, to lead their movement. The Irish Free State came into existence on 6 December 1922 with Cosgrave taking the position of the first President of the Exeutive Council.
By April 1923, the pro-Treaty members of Sinn Fein broke from the party and formed their own new party called Cumann na nGaedheal with Cosgrave installed as the first leader. Following 10 years of leadership, Cumann na nGaedheal moved to the Opposition benches after the 1932 election results. By 1933, Cumann na nGaedheal, the National Centre Party and the National Guard (Blueshirts - led by Eoin O'Duffy) joined forces to form the Fine Gael political party with Cosgrave serving as the first parliamentary leader until his retirement in 1944. As a side note, Eoin O'Duffy was the first party leader of Fine Gael.

Significant Achievements to be Remembered

  • Navigated the choppy waters of the early years of independence and ensured the country held together in these divisive times.
  • With a trend of dictatorships sweeping across Europe, Cosgrave's government stuck by democratic principles, holding free and fair elections in 1932 which saw the transfer of power to rival party Fianna Fail. Allegedly, advisors such as Eoin O'Duffy tried to persuade Cosgrave to place a military coup on the State to prevent Fianna Fail ascending to power.
  • Significantly reduced the Army size to a more manageable level to ensure that the State finances were in order
  • Negotiated for the Free State to escape the pro-rata share of the Imperial Debt in return for agreeing to leave the border in the North as it was following the Boundary Commission in 1926.
  • While Ireland remained a part of the British Commonwealth, Cosgrave's government took some radical foreign policy initiatives to distance Ireland's independent status from Britain. The Irish Free State joined the League of Nations in 1923 independently, sent a non-British representative to Washington D.C. and exchanged Irish diplomats with many European countries. The League of Nations formally accepted the status of the Anglo-Irish Treaty as an international agreement in 1924, and not merely an internal agreement between Ireland and the United Kingdom.
  • Establishment of the Electricity Supply Board, with the first national grid in Europe, provided employment and electricity to the new State.

The not so good...

  • Introduced the death penalty despite disagreeing with it in principle. This was brought in to restore order to the country and prevent the indefinite dragging on of guerrilla war and ensure the country held together and proved Ireland could govern themselves. Under this policy, 77 republican prisoners were executed by the Irish Free State without trial. For comparison, the British Army executed 14 IRA Volunteers during the War of Independence 1919-1921.
  • Depending on your point of view, Cosgrave failed to push on with the promise to end partition and bring the country under republican rule. The expected land gains in Catholic areas following the Border Commission in 1926 never came to fruition.
  • The newly minted Irish pound was linked to the British pound which caused Ireland's currency to be highly overvalued, damaging Irish economic competitiveness.
  • Little work done to develop Ireland's industrial sector which was largely overshadowed by the industrialisation by the North through its shipyards and factories. The mono-focus by the Irish Free State on an agricultural economy led to difficult periods through the economic depression of the 1930s.

Overall, Cosgrave was a stable leader that implemented a series of positive actions that helped guarantee the future longevity of the State and Ireland's international recognition as an independent nation.

2) Eamon de Valera


Eamon de Valera Taoiseach Picture

Taoiseach: Mar 1932 - Feb 1948, Jun 1951 - Jun 1954, Mar 1957 - Jun 1959 | Lived: 1882 - 1975 |
One of the most important figures in Ireland's history Eamon de Valera (Dev) was Ireland's longest serving leader holding the posts of Taoiseach and President. The founder of Fianna Fail and a political giant in the history of the Irish Free State, de Valera constantly pops up in so many of Ireland's biggest historical moments in the 20th century.
De Valera was a mathematics teacher in his early years teaching in various Dublin schools, before becoming a Commandant at Boland's Mill during the 1916 Rising, escaping the death penalty partly due to his birth in the US and the fierce political backlash to the executions of the 1916 leadership. Following his release, he became the leader of Sinn Fein and won election as an MP in 1918, while being detained in prison for his role in the 1916 Rising. These events led to the formation of the first Dail in 1919 under his leadership. Following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921, De Valera led the anti-Treaty movement, voting against it and resigning as President of the Dail. Eventually, Dev formed the Fianna Fail party with other anti-Treaty campaigners and ran for Dail elections in 1926. Fianna Fail won the 1932 election promising social reforms with De Valera serving his first spell as Taoiseach for the next 16 years.
By the mid-50s, his eye-sight had massively deteriorated and he was nearly blind for the remainder of his life. Realistically, at this stage, De Valera should have handed over the reigns to one of his perfectly competent Cabinet to run the country.
Fantastic De Valera quote that still rests on the lunar surface "May God grant that the skill and courage which have enabled man to alight upon the Moon will enable him, also, to secure peace and happiness upon the Earth and avoid the danger of self-destruction".
Significant Achievements to be Remembered

  • Passing of Bunreacht na hEireann, the 1937 revision of the Irish Constitution. The Constitution removed references to the monarch and governor-general and established the offices of Taoiseach and President of Ireland as well as establishing Irish as the official language of Ireland. The document itself was quite conservative leaning with the recognition of the special position of the Catholic Church.
  • Dismantled the influence of the British Commenwealth, put pressure for the British appointed Governor-General to resign and replaced him with a 1916 veteran.
  • Kept Ireland neutral during World War II during the Emergency, despite promises from Churchill of a push for Irish unity. De Valera declined believing Churchill could not deliver.
  • Signed the Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in 1938, bringing the trade war to an end and ending British use of Irish ports as had been negotiated during the 1921 Treaty.
  • His final term as Taoiseach saw the introduction of numerous reforms in health and welfare.

The not so good...

  • The country did not exactly prosper under his leadership. It was a time of social, cultural and economic conservatism with institutions such as the Catholic Church playing a major part in Irish society, the remnants of which we still see today
  • Seeing himself as the equivalent of King George V (i.e. Head of State) he argued that he should not attend the now historic Treaty negotiations in London in December 1921, handing this responsibility to a delegation of his Provisional Government led by Michael Collins. He was later accused of knowing of the potential outcome of the Treaty and therefore not attending in order to abdicate responsibilty for signing an agreement that was unsatisfactory in the eyes of many within Sinn Fein.
  • Upon taking office, he withheld land annuities owed to the UK as part of the 1921 Treaty. This led to a trade war with the British that lasted until 1938 with harsh economic sanctions placed on Irish exports.
  • His Constitution was overly conservative with extreme censorship laws and placed the Catholic church at the centre of the country.
  • Exploited the Emergency Powers act that was passed for the duration of World War II by keeping the legislation intact until the 1970s to maintain stronger government control of the economy as well as special censorship and internment powers.
  • Expressed condolences to the German Minister in Dublin following the death of Adolf Hitler in 1945.
  • Incredibly harsh to Irish soldiers who left the Irish Army to fight for the Allied forces in WWII. The Ministerial Order prohibited these soldiers from employment in the public sector for 7 years and deprived the soldiers of pension and unemployment benefits.
  • Despite 16 years of power, did not come close to ending partition on the island of Ireland. Despite all his promises, Ireland remained part of the British Commonwealth, not securing Republic status until his successor as Taoiseach, John A. Costello took office.
  • Kept us tied to the sterling which hampered growth
  • Engaged in the Anglo-Irish Trade War from 1933-38, which caused severe damage and hardship to the Irish economy.
  • No effort to expand exports anywhere beyond Britain. Remained in effect a colony of the British empire, political independence was a reality but in no real sense, did we have any economic sovereignty.
  • Lot of fingers point back to this period as a time where there should have been a greater emphasis placed on a robust Central Bank providing credit to fund much needed business endeavours around the nation, such as a food processing industry. We built an economy entirely based on attracting foreign investment - construction, law, banking, insurance were all the dominant industries.
  • Re-activated Part II of the Offences Against the State Act in response to the Border Campaign by the IRA in July 1957. This led to the internment witohut trial of Republican suspects, an action which curtailed the IRA's campaign.

Irish hero, formed the Fianna Fail party after Sinn Fein refused to recognise the existence of the Irish Parliament. Acknowledged the de facto existence of the Dail but remained strongly opposed to partition along with Sinn Fein.
Fianna Fail's rise to power in 1932 saw the implementation of tariffs and an effort to move towards the industrialisation of indigenous firms. An expansion beyond an economy built on solely agriculture
In 1955, De Valera spoke out against the formation of a European parliament and European federalism noting that Ireland "did not strive to get out of that British domination [...] to get into a worse [position]"

3) John A. Costello


John A. Costello Taoiseach Picture

Taoiseach: Feb 1948 - Jun 1951, Jun 1954 - Mar 1957 | Lived: 1891 - 1976 |
Costello served as Taoiseach on two different occasions as well as the Attorney General of Ireland from 1926 to 1932. Came to power after 16 years of Fianna Fail rule, saw them blamed for the economic downturn in the economy after World War II. By banding together with all other parties in the Dail, the first inter-party government was created, removing Fianna Fail from power. At the time, Richard Mulcahy was the leader of Fine Gael and the obvious choice to become Taoiseach. However, other members of the inter-party government found him an unacceptable choice, due to his record during the Irish Civil War. Therefore, Costello was put forward as a compromise candidate as Taoiseach. Amazingly, Costello was appalled when he was informed of his nomination as Taoiseach, content with his role as a barrister and politician, but was eventually persuaded by friends to accept the post.
Significant Achievements to be Remembered

  • Saw Ireland admitted to the UN, emerging from a long period of international isolation during and after the second World War.
  • In 1948, oversaw the Repeal of the External Relations Act of 1936 and the declaration of Ireland as a republic and therefore no longer a part of the British Commonwealth.
  • Oversaw Ireland's entry to the Council of Europe and the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation.
  • The provision of electricity to rural areas of the country was accelerated, records were set in terms of the number of houses built, and the Industrial Development Authority was established.
  • Initiated the tradition of the Irish Taoiseach travelling to the United States on St. Patrick's Day each year after a highly successful visit in 1956.

The not so good...

  • Disastrous Mother and Child Scheme saw power slip away fast. The scheme was the brainchild of the Minister of Health, Noel Browne - an ambitious plan which provided free maternity treatment and free medical care for children up to the age of sixteen. However, the Taoiseach sided with the Church who opposed the scheme, fearing it would spiral into the provision of birth control and abortion services by the State.
  • Made controversial statements in 1934 that appeared to throw his weight behind the Blueshirts movement in the Irish Free State. Remains a bone of contention and historical debate over how attached Costello was to the Blueshirt movement in Ireland


4) Sean Lemass


Sean Lemass Taoiseach Picture

Taoiseach: June 1959 - Nov 1966 | Lived: 1899 - 1971 |
The Taoiseach who set out the modernise Ireland. Construction, land, law and banking - the four economic sectors that rose Ireland during this period. He is widely regarded as the father of modern Ireland. In his early years, he became a member of the Irish Volunteers at the age of 15. He fought in the Battalion led by Dev. He fought in the GPO and on Moore Street during the Rising. His great organisational skills helped recruit many of Sinn Fein's branches around Ireland. Hugely influential figure in Irish history - was one of the founding members of the Fianna Fail party. Lemass held the role of Minister for Industry and Commerce under the leadership of de Valera for close to 16 years
Significant Achievements to be Remembered

  • Led the economic growth policies that opened up the economy and prepared Ireland for EU entry
  • Introduction of RTE (1961), Aer Lingus, ESB, Turf Development Board, and Irish Sugar Company ->(these were introduced as the Minister for Industry & Commerce) brought together a sense of national identity of Ireland
  • Aer Lingus was self-described as his proudest achievement
  • The economic expansion program philosophised within "A rising tide lifts all boats" - introduced tax breaks and grants for foreign firms wishing to set up in Ireland and lifted many of the protectionist policies introduced himself as Minister for Industry & Commerce
  • Optimism and prosperity dominated - huge investments in education made by the government, bans on books were lifted.
  • Met with Terence O'Neill, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in 1965 - perceived in the South to be an end to the "Irish Cold War"
  • Introduction of free scondary education to Ireland
  • Introduced free trade for a 10 year period between Ireland and Britain starting in 1965. Prepared Ireland for entry into the European Union

The not so good

  • Huge modernaisation focus that led to perhaps over-zealous movement. Certain inner city Georgian areas were neglected.
  • UN Peacekeepers at Jadotville

By 1964, the population grew for the first time since the famine with a considerable decrease in emmigration and unemployment
Church moved into these new urban areas as people flocked from the towns into the cities. However it is difficult to separate the two given that Lemass was the conductor of so many of these programs. TK Whitaker was the man who reversed them. Never got to see Ireland join the EEC, we eventually joined two years after his death.
The 1960s saw the introduction of money in politics in Ireland. Donations were taken by FF through the Taca organisation. - Civil Rights movement in the 1960s led to an uneducated Unionist backlash which descended into violence. Civil Rights movement only wanted a vote rather thna to overthrow the regime

5) Jack Lynch


Jack Lynch Taoiseach Picture

Taoiseach: Nov 1966 - Mar 1973, Jul 1977 - Dec 1979 | Lived: 1917 - 1999 |
Initially, a reluctant Taoiseach who became what many saw as an interim leader, Jack Lynch had other ideas and went on to become an influential leader of Ireland. The first Taoiseach to not be involved in the Irish War of Independence. Lynch was a sporting hero in both GAA and hurling winning titles for his native Cork. He remains the only player in the history of the GAA to captain both the inter-county hurling and football teams in the same year. He won a football All-Ireland medal and 5 hurling All-Ireland medals with Cork.
Lynch became the third leader of Fianna Fail and Taoiseach following the retirement of his predecessor, Sean Lemass. He initially ruled himself out of the leadership contest, only later to be coaxed by Lemass to put his name forward as a compromise candidate. As Diarmiud Ferriter notes this was not a job he was keen to take; he was not from a Fianna Fail dynasty or steeped in tribalism like some colleagues".
Lynch was one of the most popular politicians in the country, his demeanour and honesty was perceived favourably by the electorate. He led Fianna Fail to a landslide victory in the 1977 general election, unseating Liam Cosgrave's coalition from power. Yet this election unearthed new problems for Lynch personally. An influx of new TDs led to instability amongst his backbenches. Within 2 and a half years, he had stepped down with Charles Haughey succeeding him as leader.
Significant Achievements to be remembered

  • Effectively dealt with the Arms Crisis that threatened the nation by taking the necessary action against members of his Cabinet for their role in aiding the importing of arms for the Provisional IRA
  • Strong leadership during the Troubles escalation in the late 1960s. Praised for giving a sense of serenity to Southern Ireland in the midst of bloodshed in the North.
  • Personally steered Ireland's application into the EEC which was overwhelmingly passed by referendum. This remains one of the most important moments in Irish history

The not so good

  • Lost authority allowing party TD Jim Gibbons and Minister for Agriculture, to flout the party whip over Minister for Health, Charles Haughey's Family Planning Bill
  • Serious questions remain over his personal knowledge and lack of action during the arms crisis as Taoiseach of the country
  • Critics claim he was an unengaged and unassesrtive leader which led to negative consequences.


6) Liam Cosgrave


Liam Cosgrave Taoiseach Picture

Taoiseach: Mar 1973 - Jul 1977 | Lived: 1920 - 2017 |
Liam Cosgrave was a conservative politician who was part of the very upper-middle class Fine Gael party. His father was W.T. Cosgrave, the leader of Cumann na nGaedheal and the first leader of the Irish Free State. Went home for his lunch from the Dail everyday. Read the racing pages during Cabinet meetings, didn't give the media his phone number.
Significant Achievements to be remembered

  • Signed the Sunningdle Agreement in December 1973, establishing a power-sharing National Assembly, which at the time was a significant breakthrough following violent clashes in preceding years. This later was dissolved following violence and direct rule was re-imposed on Northern Ireland.
  • Introduced various important welfare reforms such as the provision of sickness insurance and unemployment insurance. Pension insurance was extended to all employees

The not so good..

  • Made a fatal error to call an election in 1977 based on a wrongly informed poll
  • Defeated his own party's bill following the significant McGee v Attorney General case. Despite Fine Gael tabling the Bill on the floor of the Dail, he sided with Fianna Fail on a free vote to help defeat his Government's Bill. The legislation for the selling of contraceptives was eventually introduced in by the later Fitzgerald led Fine Gael government.
  • Clashed strongly with the newly elected President of Ireland, Erskine Childers, and his successor Cearbhall O' Dalaigh. Childers, the Fianna Fail nominee, sought a more open and hands-on approach to the Irish Presidency, which Cosgrave refused. Cosgrave stepped on the President's constitutional powers, only holding Presidential briefings, once every six months and clashed with O'Dalaigh over his decision to refer the Emergency Powers Bill in 1976 to the Supreme Court. Eventually, O'Dalaigh resigned from office.
  • Curtailer of free speech. Through his Minister for Posts & Telegraphs, they issued a Statutory Order to curtail any speech by the Sinn Fein party on national airwaves.
  • Together with James Tully, the Minister for Local Government, Fine Gael and Labour worked together to redraw the constituency boundaries in order to permanently swing Dublin in their direction, coloquially known as "Tullymandering".

After the defeat in 1969, Cosgrave remained under threat to the more liberal components of the party, led by future Taoiseach, Garret Fitzgerald. Before the election in 1973, he deliberately called out these challengers to the leadership referring to them as "mongrel foxes" who he promised to dig out.
As Fintan O'Toole notes "given the challenges posed by the aftermath of the 1973 oil crisis, the continuing violence of the Troubles and the deepening divisions between social conservatives and liberals, Cosgrave's government was remarkably steady"

7) Charles Haughey


Charles Haughey Taoiseach Picture

Taoiseach: Dec 1979 - Jun 1981, Mar 1982 - Dec 1982, Mar 1987 - Feb 1992 | Lived: 1925 - 2006 |
Haughey served as Ireland's Taoiseach on 3 separate occasions. An incredibly influential and controversial Taoiseach. The end: series of scandals led to the end. Reynolds tried to push earlier and Haughey survived. However, the attempted Jim McDaid appointment as the Minister of Defence as well as the Minister of Justice, Sean Doherty revealing to RTE that Haughey knew about the phone-tapping scandal of the early 1980s. The PDs stated that they couldn't continue in a government where Haughey remained Taoiseach.
His political rival within FF, George Colley, was a classmate of his. He defeated Colley in the 1979 FF leadership contest. A commerce student, he set up an accountancy firm with Harry Boland, son of a FF minister. He married Sean Lemass's daughter, Maureen Lemass.
He was elected leader and then Taoiseach in 1979, displacing Jack Lynch and defeating Tanaiste George Colley who maintained almost unanimous support from Lynch's Cabinet. Haughey's surging popularity with back-benchers insured his rise.
Crazy Haughey stories: on the Dail dissolution in 1982, Haughey wanted the chance to form a government. His old adversary, Patrick Hillery, now the President of Ireland, wouldn't grant Haughey the chance. Famous quote to one of Hillery's aide-de-camps that he would be Taoiseach one day and "I intend to roast your fucking arse if you don't put me through immediately".
Worked with Tony Gregory and other independent TDs to pull together a majority to see him re-elected as Taoiseach for the second time.
Haughey bridged the gap between two different Irelands. As mentioned by Fintan O'Toole
Significant Achievements to be remembered

  • As the Minister for Health, he introduced the Family Planning Bill in response to the Supreme Court decision in McGee v Attorney General, which held that there was a constitutional right to contraceptives.
  • Political animal - survived many no-confidence votes and held his party together through crisis after crisis. O'Malley, McCreevy etc. were conflicted by the autocratic style and condradictions of the Haughey leadership. The GUBU government was a hiding. - FF Deputy who opposed Haughey was kicked and beaten.
  • Met Thatcher in 1980 to try to address the Northern issue. Made some progress but held to diplomatically to be badly handled for the use of the words partition. Poor relationship with Thatcher (criticised for his riling up Thatcher over the Falklands)
  • In 1987, with IMF hot on our heels, Ireland was under intense pressure to solve its finances. (Tallaght strateft - Dukes supported the policies of the minority government). The Social Partnerships gave outside interests a say in the future direction of the economy.
  • Under the influence of Dermot Desmond, he initiated a series of policies to create an economic zone in the centre of Dublin, the IFSC, with a corporation tax rate of 10%. This brought a great deal of new foreign business to Ireland, and is said to catalysed the exceptional economic growth the Irish State experienced in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The not so good..

  • The Arms Crisis in 1970. Haughey was viewed by many as staunch anti-IRA (given his actions during his period as the Minister for Finance). It suprised many when he was sacked from Jack Lynch's cabinet over the use of the Nationalist Fund (which was under his control) to import arms into the country for use by the IRA. Booted from the frontbenches, spent time in the political wilderness.
  • Incredibly dangerous populist. In first spell, had the infamous line of "living way beyond our means", then found out to be spending massively. did thedirect opposite of what he promised and led the country on a dangerous path. Procrastinated and failed to make the bold moves necessary. Public service pay went up by 36% (Fitzgerald - 10:00) All about power, nothing about policy as Taoiseach.
  • Phone-tapped journalists. Led to the fall of his Minister for Justice, Sean Doherty.
  • Cynically expelled Des O'Malley from Fianna Fail for abstaining from the 1985 Bill on liberalising the sale of contraceptives in Ireland. Mainly to remove his remaining political rival.
  • Supported the Germans in WW2
  • Sent Lenihan to Washington DC after the Anglo-Irish Agreement 1985 to oppose the deal. Saw it as a de facto recognition of formal partition (end of Dessie O'Malley). Lost lots of talent to the Progressive Democrats. Split the FF party.
  • The many questions that arose over the extravagant lifestyle he enjoyed on a government salary. The McCracken Tribunal revelaed that Haughey had received moneytary gifts from various businessmen and held off-shore bank accounts (Ansbacher Bank in the Cayman Islands). It was also revealed that he embezzled party funds and taxpayer money which were spent on personal items such as dinners and shirts. The later Moriarty Tribunal revealed that Haughney received trbibes, hid money, and performed multiple favours for friends and businesspeople, often in exchange for money. In the end, he was forced to repay €6.5 million in back taxes and penalties to the Revenue Commissioners.
  • Michael D on 47mins - the strong-man image which was dropped after he resigned. The willingness of the insiders to go along with it as they saw that it would probably work

Overall, a Taoiseach who goes down in the history books as a figure of conflicting opinion. His judgement and vision were often too clouded by power and money, but his legacy i

8) Garret Fitzgerald


Garret Fitzgerald Taoiseach Picture

Taoiseach: Jun 1981 - Mar 1982, Dec 1982 - Mar 1987 | Lived: 1926 - 2011 |
Elected as Taoiseach twice, both times the economy was in the doldrums. Unanimoulsy choosen to lead Fine Gael following the election defeat in 1977. Set out to reform the conservative party with more liberal and open ideas.
Significant Achievements to be remembered

  • Signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement with the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher ensuring the Republic of Ireland had a formal say in Northern Irish affairs.
  • New Ireland Forum introduced in 1983 to help introduce constitutional nationalism in Northern Ireland. The Forum's conclusions were famoulsy rejected by Thatcher in the famous "Out, out, out" speech. However, a later u-turn led to the Anglo-Irish Agreement that gave Ireland a say in the running of Northern Ireland.
  • Signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement - Thatcher got on better with Fitzgerald than Haughey. Incredibly important international treaty for Ireland
  • Stood up in Dail and called out Haughey in 1979 when he was nominated as Taoiseach
  • Blooded the next generation of FG leaders to run the party. Meritocracy of people who went straight to Cabinet.
  • Introduced the legislation that lifted the ban on the sale of contraceptives in Ireland
  • Took the bold move of moving the party to the left as it was what he believed was the right thing to do. Spoke about and introduced big and bold policy ideas sich as the creation of the non-sectarian nation of "Tone and Davis".
  • Incredible knowledge of Northern Ireland - realised that the Catholic Church had a stranglehold on divorce and family law that were so repugnant to northern Protestants that they were insurmountable stumbling blocks to peaceful progress.

The not so good...

  • Seen as too pro-European
  • Strong sense of humour that often got him in trouble. After the fall of the government, joked that the tax was necessary for women to not go of and buy children's shoes. Judged the budget issue terribly and cost him his government
  • Didn't chair meetings well - wanted unanimous decisions to prevent any collapse of the Government
  • Launched the 8th amendment campaign (with unsatisfactory legal wording) that the government no longer supported. Ended up personally voting against the referendum
  • Failed on the divorce referendum, strong urban-rural divide. Fitzgerald negotiated with the Church to prevent a political leaning, the Church attacked afterwards. William Binchy launched a property rights campaign.
  • Economic policies of the 1980s were unpopular. High unemployment and debt existed at the end of the 1980s. Led to the loss of 19 seats in 1987 election.

Much more likeable and nice man than Haughey - "Garrett the Good".
Lost the position of Taoiseach after the 1987 election for failing to get the support of Independents such as Tony Gregory who disliked the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Haughey returned to the Dail with the casting vote of the Ceann-Comhairle. Led to his resignation and Alan Dukes assuming the Fine Gael leadership.

9) Albert Reynolds


Albert Reynolds Taoiseach Picture

Taoiseach: Feb 1992 - Dec 1994 | Lived: 1932 - 2014 |
Abstained from alcohol. A successful businessman prior to a career in politics (late-night dance halls). Late entrant into politics, winning a seat at the age of 44 in the 1977 general election as a Fianna Fail candidate in the Longford-Westmeath constituency. In 1979, he aligned himself closely to Charlie Haughey, part of the "gang of five" which supported his leadership contest against Jack Lynch. A staunch Haughey loyalist throughout the 1980s, supported him in all his no-confidence motions.
Significant Achievements to be remembered

  • Successful legacy in Irsih foreign affairs. Worked with the then British Prime Minister, John Major to negotiate the Anglo-Irish Agreement 1993 which led to the IRA calling a complete ceasefire on 31 August 1994. He helped lay the initial foundations for what eventually became the Good Friday Agreement.

The not so good..

  • Poor handling of the X case. Alienated both sides of the case (Catholic Church and the pro-abortion activists). Government was defeated in the third strand of the referendum that would make abortion illegal except when the life of the mother was in danger.
  • Partially contributed to the fall of the government over the Beef Tribunal scandal by beefing with Des O'Malley, the leader of the PDs, which led to the PDs withdrawing from the coalition, leading to the dissolution of the 22nd Government. Politcally, this was a disastrous time to call an election, the world was in recession.
  • The state-funded export insurance which effectively subsidised Larry Goodman's business interests. Reynolds stuck by this even when the country was in a deep recession.
  • Blew up two coalition governments in the space of 3 years

Labour exited the Coalition agreement following the Harry Whelehan controversy. It was clear that Reynolds no longer had the support to govern and therefore

10) John Bruton


John Bruton Taoiseach Picture

Taoiseach: Dec 1994 - June 1997 | Lived: 1947 - |
John Bruton led the rainbow coalition from 1994 to 1997 following the collapse of Albert Reynold's government. By persuading Fianna Fail's coaliton partner, Labour and the Democratic Left party to join Fine Gael in government, he became Ireland's 10th Taoiseach. Interestingly, Bruton was a great admirer of John Redmond ahead of the typical Irish politcal figures such as Padraig Pearse. (Note: very foucsed on the EU project)
Significant Achievements to be remembered

  • Called a referendum on a Constitutional amendment to permit the enactment of divorce legislation in Ireland which was successfully passed
  • Established the CAB following the death of Veronica Guerin
  • Within his government, his Minister for Finance, Ruairi Quinn, estabished the Dublin Docklands Development Authority wich was was tasked with rejuvenating the city's redundant port area.

The not so good..
Following the loss in the 1997 election, he remained the main Opposition leader until he was replaced in 2001 by Michael Noonan.

11) Bertie Ahern


Bertie Ahern Taoiseach Picture

Taoiseach: June 1997 - May 2008 | Lived: 1951 - |
Bertie Ahern is Ireland's second longest serving Taoiseach, leading the country into a new century and a new era of Irish history on the back of the unprecedented Celtic Tiger. While a popular leader during his time in office, winning three consecutive general elections, subsequent events such as the economic crisis and the Mahon Tribunal have greatly tarnished Ahern's popularity and public image.
Ahern was first elected to the Dail in 1977. From an early age, Ahern was a loyal ally of Charlie Haughey, siding with the future-Taoiseach through leadership contests in the late 70s and into the 1980s. Ahern rose through the party ranks with Haughey, serving as the Assistant-Government Chief Whip. Haughey's famous quote of Ahern showed his admiration for his budding prodigy: "He's the most skillful, the most devious, the most cunning of them all".
Upon Haughey's resignation as Taoiseach in 1992, Ahern and Albert Reynolds allegedly struck a deal in which it was agreed that Reynolds would take the leadership with Ahern to later succeed him. By 1994, Reynold's second government had collapsed and he resigned the position of Taoiseach. Ahern was elected leader of Fianna Fail unopposed in 1994, taking the place as Leader of the Opposition following John Bruton's rainbow coalition negotiations. In 1997, Fianna Fail won the general election with Ahern becoming Ireland's eleventh Taoiseach.
Significant Achievements to be remembered

  • Played an integral role in the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement, leading to the end of 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland
  • Oversaw an economic transformation with investments in many areas of the country. (Croker, Aviva, )
  • President of the European Council in 2004. European Treaty negotiated in Ireland (before being ultimately defeated) in referenda in France and the Netherlands. This remains a particular highlight.

The not so good..

  • Ahern was investigated by the Mahon Tribunal for a series of payments made to them that pointed to alleged. Records showed he received payments from developers. Other suspicious behaviour such as not owning a bank account while being the Minister for Finance. While not judged to have been corrupt, the request for payments from developer Owen O'Callaghan were flagged on Pg. 730 as "entirely inappropriate, and was an abuse of political power and government authority". This ongoing controversy eventually led to Ahern stepping down as Taoiseach in 2008.
  • Best way he could frame his government's legacy was to call these mistakes rather than anything more caniving
  • Ahern had to accept responsibility for the failure to manage the economy. For instance, in February 2001 the EU Council censured Ireland for its failure to use fiscal policy to ensure economic stability given that we were now in a monetary union with other member states. Furthermore, at the Banking Inquiry in response to the financial crisis, Ahern admitted that no banking regualtion was implemented by the Financial Regulator during his reign.
  • Made the strongly contentious decision to allow U.S. planes to land at Shannon Airport to re-fuel during the Iraq war despite Ireland's status as a neutral country.
  • In later years, he used Cowen as his Minister of Finance, kicked out Charlie McCreevy to a European Commissioner post, with the brief to keep favourable economic policies up without the necessary funds. Put politics before economics.

Of course, Fianna Fail must take their share of criticism for the financial crisis given they managed the country's finances for 17 of the 20 years prior to the 2008 Great Recession. It can be diffcult to separate Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen. How much does of the criticism for all of this does he deserve? Often difficult to determine. Went from a revered figure in Irish society to a dispised politician and scapegoat. (Epitomised as the good times but everything that was wrong in Ireland about that time - the corruption, the sense that this was all ok because everyone was doing it (housing, shares, corruption - so willing to follow the lads and not say no). Seems like the perfect metaphor and epitomises the time.
There was a lot of blame of going around following the 2008 crisis. In hindsight, mistakes and bad decisions will be made when a country that was poor for so long, gets rich so fast. The government rode these good times for what they were worth, and made a lot of long-term and much-needed investments in the country. However, history demonstrates that we also needed some oversight and management through these times of growth. For that Fianna Fail take a large amount of the blame. However, this shouldn't completely tarnish the legacy of Ireland's second longest-serving Taoiseach. The Good Friday Agreement,

12) Brian Cowen


Brian Cowen Taoiseach Picture

Taoiseach: May 2008 - Mar 2011 | Lived: 1960 - |

History looks very poorly on Brian Cowen. The most positive sense to frame him would be the unlucky Taoiseach. Taking power in the summer of 2008, Ireland suffered an economic meltdown in September 2008 forcing the government to place a blanket guarantee on the banking system to prevent a nationwide bank-run. At worst, a stubborn and poor leader that failed to communicate adequately with the country and put Ireland on a dreadful trajectory which culminated in the State assuming the debts of the poorly run banks and led to Ireland being forced to accept a bail-out from the IMF and ECB. Despite the outer circumstances of economic catastrophe, there appears to be enough evidence from his own actions and responses to justify being voted Ireland's worst ever Taoiseach.

Significant Achievements to be remembered


The not so good...

  • The failure to carry the Lisbon Treaty leading to a second running of the referendum. The Taoiseach admitted that he did not read the text in full.
  • Poor leadership of the Irish Republic through the greatest economic crisis that has faced our nation which in hindsight escalated the damage.
  • Cowen was an unapologetic tribalist. He filled his Cabinet with his closest allies, people not capable of running the country. Mary Coughlan was not qualified to be an economic minister running the country's economic department. Brian Lenihan had no experience in finance or economics. Poor communication skills left even parts of his Cabinet who were not in his inner-circle informed about the latest developments.
  • Did not attack the core economic issues facing Ireland. He didn't address the massive deficits within Government departments until it was too late.
  • The banking crisis was miscommunicated as a liquidity issue rather than an insolvency issue. Copied the Swedish bank guarantee on all deposits and debts. However, the difficult tasks of sorting the inner working of their new "assets". Signed a blank cheque to guarantee all the banks liabilties and debts. Two months later it was determined that the banks needed to be recapitalised, with Anglo Irish Bank placed under public ownership. As the economist Morgan Kelly noted, "The proposed Anglo nationalisation marks a decisive watershed in Irish democracy, with it, an Irish governmnet has coolly looked its citizens in the eye and said: 'Sorry, but your priorities are not ours'"
  • Formed NAMA, a State run bank to help shore up the bad assets that existed in Ireland's banks and transfer into public ownership.
  • Had to u-turn on the tone-deaf medical card withdrawal, massive drop in the polls. Led to protests in the streets. Sided with financial backers and special interests ahead of the people
  • The financial mismanagement of the country put €100 billion of debt on the government's books which destroyed our international credit rating. In turn, following 3 deflationary and austere budgets that slashed public services, Ireland was forced to follow the fate of Greece and accept an €85 billion, three year bailout in November 2010. This stripped Ireland of its sovereignty and significantly damaged our international standing.

Poor reputational image for Ireland on the global stage such as GargleGate where Cowen was blasted for appearing to be drunk after a party sit-in conference. His handling of the Troika agreement proved to be the final straw for Cowen. He was essentially forced to resign the Fianna Fail leadership in January 2011 before the election of March 2011 where Fianna Fail took a hammering at the ballot box.

Cowen's period as Taoiseach was dominated by the awful state of the economy. Even discounting for this, one cannot deny that many serious mistakes were made and the response to the disastrous issues were pretty unsatisfactory. His time as Taoiseach was dogged by superfluous scandals, speaking on radio after a night of pints and golfing with Anglo bankers weeks before the guarantee was a PR disaster in waiting. Cowen can count himself lucky given the manner in which the economy recovered so quickly, many of the consequences were short term. Yet the legacy of debt and austerity will not be forgotten by the Irish people for a long time.

13) Enda Kenny


Enda Kenny Taoiseach Picture

Taoiseach: Mar 2011 - Jun 2017 | Lived: 1951 - |
Enda Kenny was first elected to Dail Eireann in 1975 following the death of his father, Henry. Enda took over his father's Fine Gael seat in Mayo. He has held that seat consistently for the past 43 years making him the current longest serving TD. Kenny assumed the Fine Gael leadership following the poor 2002 election results with the party headed by Michael Noonan. Kenny led Fine Gael into the 2007 election hoping to unseat Bertie Ahern's Fianna Fail dynasty of 10 years of power. While Fine Gael made significant seat gains, they ultimately remained in opposition with Ahern forming a new Fianna Fail coalition with the Green Party and Progressive Democrats. In hindsight, this may have a massive political stroke of luck given the economic catastrophe that awaited Fianna Fail's third term in government.
Enda Kenny was essentially a Taoiseach in waiting from 2008 given the unpopularity of Fianna Fail throughout the financial crisis. Kenny was never the most skilled communicator or debater but he was an extraordinarily whily political operator. In 2010, a cohort within Fine Gael headed by Richard Bruton initiated a leadership heave to attempt to remove Kenny from his leadership position. Kenny's political skill equipped him to hold his leadership and navigate the inner-party politics to present a united Fine Gael front for the 2011 election.
When he got the top job in February 2011, he guided his Fine Gael party into a coalition government with Labour ending 14 years of Fianna Fail led governments. Kenny inherited a nation that was massively indebted with an economy in an incredibly precarious position. The country sat in the midst of a deep economic debt crisis with unemployment at 14.4%. Kenny's government was forced to make some difficult and unpopular decisions, predominantly directed by the ECB and EU as part of the bailout terms to put public finances back to more manageable levels. His government made difficult but ultimately necessary choices to put Ireland back on an extremely solid path. When he left office that figure was down to 6.3%. Ireland exited the bailout in December 2013, ahead of schedule and was able to return to private debt markets.
Significant Achievements to be remembered

  • Led Ireland through a period of economic instability to return Ireland to fast economic growth levels and with a decline of unemployment in Ireland. Ireland is now the fastest growing economy in the EU
  • With the leadership of Labour, campaigned and ultimately won the same-sex marriage referendum. Ireland was the first nation-state in the world at the time to ratify this by popular vote. On a wider note, this catalysed a movement to move Ireland to a more socially liberal status. While Kenny did not lead these movements, his backing was essential within Fine Gael grass-roots.
  • December 2013 - led Ireland to exit the Troika bailout programme - ahead of schedule
  • Dignified response to the Catholic Church scandals that occured in Ireland such as Cloyne Report (strong criticism) & the Magdalene laundries(formal apology)

The not so good...

  • Water charges
  • Poor election result in 2016 - first FG Taoiseach to secure a consecutive term
  • Garda scandal
  • In March 2012, his government converted the promissory notes to IBRC (formerly Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society)of €3 billion into national sovereign debt. Used Bank of Ireland to remove this and place it separately outside the reach of NAMA which involved extensive fees to the bank for an accounting trick. No effort was made to go to Europe and request a write down of this debt
  • Then in 2013, the government liquidated IBRC. This ended any opportunity to negotiate a debt write-down from the EU. In effect, the entire liabilities of IBRC would be borne out as cold, hard sovereign debt, which would not be open to any further negotiation.

Quoting Teddy Roosevelt in his resignation speech:"Far and away, the best prize that life has to offer is a chance to work hard at work worth doing."
Overall a mixed legacy. Deserves enormous credit for strong leadership when it was required. However, problems such as health, Garda, homelessness all festered under his leadership. His conservatism was understandable yet perhaps a reasoning
A significant bone of contention with Enda Kenny in Ireland was that he appeared quite different on a global stage to national one.

14) Leo Varadkar


Leo Varadkar Taoiseach Picture

Taoiseach: Jun 2017 - | Lived: 1979 - |
The current Taoiseach of Ireland, Varadkar attracted a lot of global attention upon taking the office of Taoiseach given the fact he is openly gay and that he is half-Indian. Varadkar has been a TD since 2007 and served in various Cabinet positions under Enda Kenny's government. Following the general election in 2016, it was agreed that Enda Kenny would continue as Taoiseach to ensure a smooth transition into the minority government arrangement with Fianna Fail. He assured the party he would step down before the next general election. By early 2017, Fine Gael were dropping in polls and therefore Kenny eventually stepped down by June 2017. Varadkar beat Simon Coveney in the subsequent leadership contest and therefore became Ireland's 14th Taoiseach.
Significant Achievements to be Remembered

  • Varadkar's government has held a strong socially liberal outlook with numerous referenda already run to abolish the 8th amendment to the Constitution and to remove the constitutional ban on blasphemous language. Another referendum on liberalising Ireland's divorce laws is scheduled to take place in early 2019.
  • Varadkar's governmnet has maintained a strong line on the Irish position on the land border Ireland shares with Northern Ireland, ensuring no hard border will be placed on the Irish island which could risk a return to "the Troubles" which plagued Northern Ireland for 30 years.

The not so good...

  • The housing and homelessness issues have worsened over the past number of years. These issues and the government's response are likely to define Varadkar's legacy as Taoiseach.

Overall, it is too early to judge a Taoiseach's performance so early in his tenure. While the economy is growing fast and unemployment is low, Varadkar faces difficult economic challenges on housing, income inequality and homelessness which look set to steadily decline unless decisive action is taken in the short-term.

Derek Owens

Written by Derek Owens