Jack Lynch

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An Taoiseach Jack M. Lynch

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Rank 4th Taoiseach
First term  November 10, 1966 -
March 14, 1973
Preceded by Seán F. Lemass
Succeeded by Liam Cosgrave
Second term  July 5, 1977 -
December 11, 1979
Preceded by Liam Cosgrave
Succeeded by Charles J. Haughey
Date of birth Wednesday, August 15, 1917
Place of birth Cork, Ireland
Date of death Wednesday, October 20, 1999
Place of death Dublin, Ireland
Party Fianna Fáil
Profession Barrister

John (Jack) Mary Lynch (Ir. Seán Ó Loingsigh) (August 15, 1917-October 20, 1999), was the fourth Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, serving two terms in office; 1966 to 1973 and 1977 to 1979. Lynch was first elected to Dáil Éireann as a TD for Cork in 1948, and was re-elected at each election until 1981. Lynch also served as Minister for Finance (1965-1966), Minister for Industry & Commerce (1959-1965), Minister for Education (1957-1959) and Minister for the Gaeltacht (1957). He also served as a Parliamentary Secretary. Lynch was the third leader of Fianna Fáil from 1966 until 1979 and was also a successful hurling and Gaelic football star, winning All-Ireland medals for both sports.


Early and Private Life

John Mary Lynch was born on August 15, 1917, just yards from the famous Shandon bells and St. Anne's in Cork City. The youngest of five boys, with two girls born after him, Jack, as he was known, was generally regarded as the "wild boy" of the family. He was educated at St. Vincent's Convent on Peacock Lane, and later at the North Monastery Christian Brothers School. When Lynch was just 13 years old his mother died suddenly. Lynch was particularly close to his mother had the entire episode had a deep affect on him. His aunt, who herself had a family of six, stepped in to look after the family in this time of great upheaval for them. Lynch sat his Leaving Certificate in 1936, after which he moved to Dublin and worked with the Dublin District Milk Board, before returning to Cork to take up a position in the Circuit Court Office.

Lynch began working at the Cork Circuit Court as a clerk while still only nineteen years old. His work in the court ignited his interest in law and in 1941 he began a night course at University College Cork studying law. After two years in UCC he moved to Dublin to complete his studies at King's Inns. While continuing his studies he also found work with the Department of Justice. In 1945 Lynch was called to the Bar and had to decide whether to remain in his Civil Service job or practice as a barrister. Lynch made the decision, on the toss of a coin, to move back to Cork and began a private practice on the Cork Circuit.

It was in 1943, while on holidays in Glengariff, West Cork, that Lynch met his future wife, Máirín O'Connor, the daughter of a Dublin judge. Lynch was to be her first and only boyfriend, and the couple were married three years later on August 10, 1946. Although she was apprehensive about her husband's decision to become active in politics, to become a Minister and even to become Taoiseach, she stood by him through it all and helped him make the tough decisions that would affect Lynch's life and her own. One story exists where Lynch, in spite of tremendous pressure from Seán F. Lemass and the entire Fianna Fáil party to stand for the leadership, only accepted the nomination after Máirín had agreed. The fact that the couple didn't have any children allowed Lynch to embark on a political career, without having to worry about his commitment to the family. However, he remained totally devoted to Máirín throughout his, and she became just as easily recognisable as her husband.

Sporting Career

From an early age Lynch showed an enormous interset and great accomplishment as a sportsman. Rugby, soccer, swimming, handball and Gaelic football were all favourite pastimes for Lynch, however it was the sport of hurling where Lynch showed particular flare. By the time he was in fifth Year in the 'North Monastery' Lynch was a central part of the Cork Senior Hurling team in the National League. His Hurling Championship debut would soon follow. Lynch also played with his local team, Glen Rovers, where he had much success and where he met his great friend and one of the greatest hurlers of all time, Christy Ring. In all Lynch won six All-Ireland medals with Cork teams. He captained the hurling teams of 1939, 1940 and 1942, with success coming in 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1946. Lynch won an All-Ireland Football medal in 1945. Not only did Lynch win six All-Ireland medals but he won all of them consecutively, a feat which has never been equalled. Throughout his life Lynch played in 79 championship and league finals, from 1929 at the age of 12, until his retirement in 1951. Throughout his highly successful sporting career he won a number of honours including being named as the "Hurling Captain of the 1940s", as well as being chosen by the Gaelic Athletic Association for their "Team of the Century" in 1984 and their "Team of the Millennium".

Political Life

Early Career

In 1946 Lynch had his first brush with politics when he was asked by his local Fianna Fáil cumann to stand for the Dáil in a by-election. He declined on this occasion, due to his lack of political experience, but indicated that he would be interested in standing in the next general election. In 1947 Lynch refused a similar offer to stand by the new political party Clann na Poblachta. A general election was eventually called for February 1948, Lynch topped the poll in his constituency and became a Fianna Fáil TD in the 13th Dáil. Although Fianna Fáil lost the election and were out of power for the first time in sixteen years, Lynch bcame speechwriter and research assistant for the party leader, Eamon de Valera.

In 1951 Fianna Fáil were back in power and Lynch was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Government, with special responsibilty for Gaeltacht areas. The party was out of power again between 1954 and 1957. During this period Lynch served as Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on the Gaeltacht. In 1957 Fianna Fáil returned to power and de Valera headed his last government. Lynch, at 39, became the youngest member to join the government, as Minister for Education, as well as holding the Gaeltacht portfolio for a short while. Lynch introduced new and much needed legislation, such as raising the school leaving age, reducing class sizes and lifting a 20-year ban on married women continuing as teachers.

Minister for Industry & Commerce

In 1959 de Valera was elected President of Ireland and Seán F. Lemass became the new Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader. Lynch was promoted to Lemass' old portfolio as Minister for Industry & Commerce. Here he inherited the most dynamic department in the government, however, having replaced such a political giant Lynch felt that his own scope for change was severely limited. Lynch was described as not being the most innovative of ministers but was particularly attentive when it came to legislation and detail. It was in this Department where Lynch worked closely with Lemass and T.K. Whitaker in generating economic growth and implementing the Programme for Economic Expansion. He was also noted for his astuteness in solving several industrial disputes during his tenure at the Department.

Minister for Finance

In 1965 Lemass was once again re-elected Taoiseach. The big change was the retirement of such political heavyweights as James Ryan and Seán MacEntee, with Lynch taking over from the former as Minister for Finance. This appointment was particularly significant because Lemass was coming to the end of his premiership and wanted to prepare a successor. As a result Lynch took charge of the second most important position in the Government, gaining widespread experience in a number of affairs, and accompanying Lemass to London to sign one of the most importamt trade agreements between Ireland and the United Kingdom. One occasion in which Lynch's authority was seen to be undermined as Minister for Finance was when the Minister for Education, Donagh O'Malley, announced that the government would provide free secondary school education for all. This proposal had not been discussed at Cabinet level and certainly hadn't been discussed with Lynch, the man who had to provide the funds for such a service. As it subsequently transpired, Lemass had approved the announcement in advance, however, not to inform Lynch seemed to undermine his authority somewhat.

Lemass Resignation

Lemass eventually retired in 1966 and a leadership race (the first contested race in the history of the party) threatened to tear Fianna Fáil apart. Lynch, and another favourite of Lemass's, Patrick Hillery, ruled themselves out of the struggle from the very beginning, however, other candidates such as Charles Haughey, George Colley and Neil Blaney threw their hats into the ring immediately. None of the candidates that were being offered to the party seemed particularly appealing and Lemass' made one last attempt to coax either Hillery or Lynch to join the race as a compromise candidate. Hillery remained adamant that he didn't want the leadership and eventually Lynch allowed his name to go forward. Upon hearing this Haughey and Blaney, the latter having never really entered the race in the first place, withdrew and announced their support for Lynch. Colley refused to withdraw and when it was put to a ballot Lynch comfortably defeated him by 52 votes to 19. Lynch was thus elected Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil on November 10, 1966.

The Lynch succession however, was not a smooth one. As we have seen three men openly expressed ambitions to do the job that Lynch was now in - Haughey, Blaney and Colley. Three other independent-minded Cabinet Ministers had also contemplated running - Brian Lenihan, Kevin Boland and Donagh O'Malley. All in all, Lynch inherited a deeply divided cabinet.

Taoiseach 1966-1973

Because Lynch was elected as somewhat of a "compromise candidate" it appeared to many that he would only remain as an interim Taoiseach. This thought couldn't be further from his mind, and he outlined this intentions shortly after coming to power. Lynch took particular exception to the title "Interim Taoiseach" or "Reluctant Taoiseach". He had no intention of stepping aside after a few years in favour of one of the other candidates who had been unsuccessful against him in 1966. He was however reluctant in naming his first Cabinet. He believed that the existing members of the government owed their positions to Lemass, and so he retained the entire Cabinet, albeit with some members moving to different departments. Lynch adopted a chairman-like approach to government allowing his Ministers a free run in their respective Departments. He continued the modernising and liberal approach that Lemass had begun, albeit at a slower pace. Lynch was lucky in the timing of Lemass's resignation. The new Taoiseach now had almost a full Dáil term before the next general election.

PR Referendum

With Fianna Fáil having been in power for eleven years by 1968 Lynch was persuaded once again to make an attempt to abolish the proportional representation method of voting in general elections in favour of a first-past-the-post system like in the United Kingdom. However, the campaign generated little enthuasiasm, even within Fianna Fáil. Fine Gael and the Labour Party opposed the referendum when it transpired that Fianna Fáil could win up to 80 or 90 seats in a 144 seat Dáil if the motion was passed. Much like 1959, when the party tried to make the same referendum, the electorate believed this to be an attempt to institutionalise Fianna Fáil in power, and thus they rejected the motion put to them. This cast doubts on Lynch and his ability to win a general election, however, he proved his critics wrong in the 1969 General Election when Fianna Fáil wons its first overall majority since Eamon de Valera in 1957, and Lynch proved himself to be a huge electoral asset for the party.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland, and Lynch's attitude to the situation which was about to develop there would come to define his first tenure as Taoiseach. Lynch continued Lemass's approach in regard to relations with Northern Ireland. Better relations had been forged between the two parts of Ireland with co-operation between Ministers on several practical issues such as trade, agriculture and tourism. In December 1967 Lynch travelled to Stormont for his first meeting with the Prime Minister Terence O'Neill, in the hope of forming even more links. However, the situation was already beginning to deteriorate in the North with civil unrest and the resignation of O'Neill to come.

Shortly after Lynch's election victory tensions in Northern Ireland finally spilled over and "the troubles" began. The sight of refugees from the North teeming across the border turned public opinion in the Republic. The Battle of the Bogside in Derry in August 1969 prompted Lynch to make, what some people consider, one of the most important broadcasts to the nation on RTÉ, commenting on the ever-increasingly violent situation. The speech went as follows:

The Irish Government can no longer stand by and see innocent people injured and perhaps worse. It is obvious that the RUC is no longer accepted as an impartial police force. Neither would the employment of British troops be acceptable nor would they be likely to restore peaceful conditions, certainly not in the long term. The Irish Government have, therefore, reqested the British Government to apply immediately to the United Nations for the urgent dispatch of a Peace-Keeping Force to the Six Counties of Northern Ireland and have instructed the Permanent Representative to the United Nations to inform the Secretary General of this request. We have also asked the British Government to see to it that police attacks on the people of Derry should cease immediately.
Very many people have been injured and some of them seriously. We know that many of these do not wish to be treated in Six County hospitals. We have, therefore, directed the Irish Army authorities to have field hospitals established in County Donegal adjacent to Derry and at other points along the Border where they may be necessary.
Recognising, however, that the re-unification of the national territory can provide the only permanent solution for the problem, it is our intention to request the British Government to enter into early negotiations with the Irish Government to review the present constitutional position of the Six Counties of Northern Ireland.
These measures which I have outlined to you seem to the Government to be those most immediately and urgently necessary.
All men and women of goodwill will hope and pray that the present deplorable and distressing situation will not further deteriorate but that it will soon be ended firstly by the granting of full equality of citizenship to every man and woman in the Six Counties area regardless of class, creed or political persuasion and, eventually, by the restoration of the historic unity of our country.

In this speech he used forceful language but it was language which fell short of inflaming tensions. Many people in the North thought that the government in the Republic would despatch troops over the border to protect nationalists. However, this course of action, which was urged by a number of ministers in the Cabinet such as Charles Haughey, Neil Blaney and Kevin Boland, was dismissed as a non-runner at the very beginning. As the violence continued the Minister for External Affairs, Patrick Hillery, met with the British Foreign Secretary and also went to the United Nations in a plea to send a peacekeeping force to the North and to highlight the Irish government's case. However, little else was achieved from these meetings other than media coverage of the activities in the North of Ireland. The situation in Northern Ireland continued to deteriorate during Lynch's first term. Bloody Sunday (January 30, 1972), saw the murder of 13 unarmed civilians by British paratroopers and a backlash of anti-British feeling in all parts of Ireland, including the burning of the British embassy in Dublin.

Arms Crisis

Lynch's attitude towards the Northern Ireland question and the application of Fianna Fáil party policy to same would eventually come to define his first period as Taoiseach, and would once again show his critics that far from being 'reluctant' he was in fact a strong and decisive leader. His strong leadership skills and determination were clearly evident in 1970 when allegations (later disproved in court, though questions since have emerged challenging that verdict in one case), that the hardline republican Minister for Agriculture, Neil Blaney, and the Minister for Finance, Charles Haughey, were involved in an attempt to use £100,000 in aid money to import arms for the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland. Both ministers were sacked after some initial procrastination on Lynch's part, his innocent but incompetent Minister for Justice, Micheál Ó Moráin, retired the day before and a fourth minister, Kevin Boland and his Parliamentary Secretary, resigned in sympathy with Haughey and Blaney. The whole affair, which became known as the Arms Crisis, allowed Lynch to stamp his control on his government, but would eventually lead to deep division in Fianna Fáil for many decades to come.

EEC Membership

One of the high points of Lynch's first term as Taoiseach, and possibly one of the most important events in modern Irish history, was Ireland's entry into the European Economic Community. Lynch personally steered the application for membership and the acceptance of membership by a five to one majority in a referendum shows that the vast majority of the country was behind him. Ireland officially joined, along with our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom and Denmark, on January 1, 1973. Dr. Patrick Hillery became Ireland's first European Commissioner. In appointing Hillery Europe was gaining one of Ireland's most experienced politicians, while on the other hand Lynch was loosing one of his staunchest allies. The admittance of Ireland was the culmination of a decade of preparation which was begun by Lynch and his predecessor, Seán F. Lemass, who unfortunately did not live to see what would have been his greatest achievement.

Opposition 1973-1977

Lynch's government was expected to collapse following the Arms Crisis, however it survived until 1973. Lynch had wanted to call the general election for the end of 1972, however, events had conspired against him and the date was set for February, 1973. Lynch's government was defeated by the National Coalition of Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Liam Cosgrave was elected Taoiseach and Lynch found himself on the opposition benches for the first time in sixteen years. Lynch's popularity remained steadfast, so much so that during his tenure as Leader of the Opposition he was frequently referred to as "the Real Taoiseach." Lynch had some success while out of power. He had finally expelled all the elements of the party which threatened his leadership and the unification of the party. Lynch was now in complete control. Fianna Fáil began its electoral comeback by securing the election of its candidate, Erskine Childers, in becoming President of Ireland in 1973, defeating the odds-on favourite, the National Coalition's Tom O'Higgins.

In 1975 Lynch allowed Charles Haughey to return to his Front Bech as Spokesperson on Health. there was much media criticism of Lynch for this move, however, Haughey was too politically dangerous to leave out. In the same year the Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Michael O'Kennedy, published a Fianna Fáil policy document calling for a withdrawal of British forces from the Six Counties of Northern Ireland. The document reverted back to the old republican rhetoric that Lynch had tried to change, however, he did nothing to stop it.

Controversy continued to dog the National Coalition when the President of Ireland, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, resigned in 1976 after being called a "thundering disgrace" by the Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan. Liam Cosgrave refused to sack his unruly Minister and the government's popularity took a downturn. A former Fianna Fáil cabinet minister and a political ally of Lynch, Dr. Patrick Hillery, was eventually appointed as Ó Dálaigh's successor and sixth President of Ireland.

In 1977 the government, although reasonably unpopular, felt sure of an election victory and June date for the poll was fixed. The National Coalition's spirits had been buoyed up by the actions of the Minister for Local Government, James Tully. In what became known as the Tullymander (a pun on the word gerrymander) he re-drew every constituency in Ireland, favouring Fine Gael and Labour Party candidates. However, when the election took place the coalition was swept out of office by Fianna Fáil who won an unprecedented twenty seat Dáil majority. Not only that but Lynch himself received the biggest personal vote than any other politician in the country. Although the large parliamentary majority seemed to restore Lynch as an electoral asset, the fact that the party was returned with an enormous vote allowed Lynch to be undermined by many new TDs who weren't loyal to Lynch and wanted him removed.

Taoiseach 1977-1979

Early on in his second term as Taoiseach, Lynch decided that he would not lead Fianna Fáil into another general election campaign. The date of January 1980 was in his mind as a retirement date, however nothing had been made definite. It was during this time, due to a combination of a large parliamentary majority and the search for a new leader, when party discipline began to break down.

The Economy

In the party's election manifesto in 1977 Fianna Fáil promised a whole range of new economic measures. These measures included the abolition of car tax, rates on houses and a number of other vote-winning "sweeteners." A new Department of Economic Planning & Development was set up to kick-start Ireland's flagging economy and to implement these new measures. The government did abolish domestic rates on houses and unemployment fell from 106,000 to 90,000 between 1977 and 1979, however other actrions that were taken were not so productive. The national debt increased by £2 billion in the same period, protest marches by PAYE workers, an increase in electricity charges and the oil crisis of 1979 also caused problems for the government and its economic policy.

Party Discipline

The year 1978 saw the first open revolt in party discipline. There was an open mutiny by many backbenchers when the Minister for Finance, George Colley, attempted to impose a 2% levy on farmers. Colley was forced into a humiliating climbdown at the behest of the backbenchers and the authority of the government was shaken. There was similar tension when a vote on the Family Planning Bill was proposed in the Dáil by the Minister for Health, Charles Haughey. The legislation proposed that only married people could buy contraception with a prescription and was described as "an Irish solution to an Irish problem." Jim Gibbons, who was a conscientious Catholic and had a deep hatred of Haughey failed to turn up and vote for this important legislation. It was the only time when a TD, let alone a cabinet minister, was allowed flout the party whip in Fianna Fáil and damaged Lynch's authotity when he failed to expel the minister from the government and parliamentary party.

Lynch's Resignation

1979 proved to be the year in which Lynch finally realised that his grip on power had slipped. The first direct elections to the European Parliament took place in June saw the electorate severly punish the ruling Fianna Fáil party. A five-month postal strike also led to deep anger amongst people all over the country. In September the Provisional IRA murdered Earl Mountbatten in County Sligo. On the same day the IRA killed 18 British soldiers in the North. Lynch discussed these developments with the new British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. A radical security review and greater cross-border co-operation were also discussed. These events led Síle de Valera, a backbench TD, to directly challenge the leadership at a commemoration service.

The visit of Pope John Paul II to Ireland in September proved to be a welcome break for Lynch from the day-to-day running of the country. In November, just before Lynch departed on a visit to the United States he decided that he would resign at the end of the year. This would allow him to complete his term as President of the European Community. The news that Fianna Fáil had lost two by-elections in his native Cork was the defining event which made up his mind. However, when he returned from America George Colley, the man who Lynch saw as his successor, went to him and encouraged him to resign sooner. Colley was convinced that he had enough support to defeat the other likely candidate, Charles J. Haughey, and that Lynch should resign early to catch his opponents on the hop. Lynch agreed to this and resigned as leader of Fianna Fáil and Taoiseach on December 5, 1979, assured that Colley had the votes necessary to win. However, Haughey and his supporters had been preparing for months to take over the leadership and Lynch's resignation cames as no surprise. He narrowly defeated Colley in the leadership contest and succeeded Lynch as Taoiseach.

Lynch remained on in Dáil Éireann as a TD until his retirement from politics at the 1981 General Election.


Following Lynch's retirement from politics the offers from various companies flooded in. He became directors at a number of companies, including Irish Distillers, Smurfit and Hibernian Insurance. He also embarked on a good deal of foreign travel. He was conferred with the freedom of his own native Cork City. He continued to speak on political issues, particularly in favour of Desmond O'Malley at the time of his expulsion from Fianna Fáil. Lynch also declined to accept nominations to become President of Ireland, a position he had little interest in. In 1992 he suffered a severe health set back, and in 1993 suffered a stroke in which he nearly lost his sight. Follwoing thishe withdrew from public life, preferring to remain at his home with his wife Máirín where he continued to be dogged by ill-health.

He continued to be honoured by, among others, the Gaelic Athletic Association and various other organisations. In 1999 Cork Corporation named the new tunnel under the river Lee in his honour and a plaque was erected at his birthplace. Lynch died in the Royal Hospital, Donnybrook, Dublin on October 20, 1999. He was honoured with a state funeral which was attended by President Mary McAleese, An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former Taoisigh John Bruton, Albert Reynolds and Charles J. Haughey and various political persons from all parties. Lynch's friend and political ally, Desmond O'Malley, delvered the graveside oration, paying tribute to Lynch's sense of decency.

Jack Lynch has been described as "the most popular Irish politician since Daniel O'Connell." This praise did not come from Lynch's allies or even his own party, instead it was the former leader of Fine Gael, Liam Cosgrave. This sentiment was certainly echoed by the vast majority of Irish people. As a sportsman Lynch earned a reputation for a decency and fair play, characteristics he brought to political life. It was for this that the man known as "the Real Taoiseach" or "the Reluctant Taoiseach", with his ever present pipe and the soft Cork lilt in his voice will for ever be remembered.

Political Career

Template:Succession box one to two
Preceded by:
Patrick Lindsay
Minister for the Gaeltacht
Mar. 1957–Jun. 1957
Succeeded by:
Micheál Ó Moráin

Template:Succession box two to one Template:Succession box two to one

Preceded by:
Seán F. Lemass
Succeeded by:
Liam Cosgrave
Preceded by:
Liam Cosgrave
Succeeded by:
Charles J. Haughey

Template:End box

Template:Taoisigh na hÉireann


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