Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> Ireland
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 268-269
IRELAND: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

In one way or another, the British ruled Ireland for centuries. In most of Ireland, British rule was strongly resented, leading to demands for complete freedom and culminating in civil strife. An Anglo Irish "treaty" of 1921 was struck between the government of the United Kingdom and representatives of Sinn Fein, a nationalistic movement that sought to establish a government of Ireland independent of Britain. This treaty recognized the partition of Ireland into the Irish Free State, composed of all 26 counties in southern and western Ireland, and the Ulster region, 6 of whose counties chose to remain a part of Britain. Under the treaty, the Irish Free State was to have dominion status within the British Commonwealth. But this arrangement was not satisfactory to a militant segment of Sinn Fein, and the movement split into the two major parties of today. The antitreaty faction became known as the Fianna Fail (Soldiers of Destiny) and the protreaty emerged as the Cumann na nGaedheal (Gaelic Party), which evolved into the Fine Gael (Gaelic race) or United Ireland Party. The Labour Party predated both these parties but lacked a clear position on the important question of the treaty and was relegated to permanent minor party status. The conflict between the two groups of former allies erupted into a brief civil war, which ended in 1922. Increasingly autonomous of Britain, Ireland demonstrated its independence in 1948 by announcing its intentions to leave the Commonwealth and verified it in 1949 by declaring itself a republic. Although the civil war ended long before and the issue of independence became muted by practice, the patterns of political alignment set by the treaty remained long afterward.

Fine Gael held control of the government from 1922 to 1932, when Eamon de Valera of Fianna Fail became prime minister. Thereafter and throughout our time period Fianna Fail held a plurality of seats in the lower house of parliament (the Dáil) but not always a majority. By 1948, Fine Gael managed to return to government in coalition with the Labour and Farmer parties. John Costello of Fine Gael became prime minister and lasted until the elections of 1951, when Fianna Fail and do Valera returned to power. The elections of 1954 restore Costello to leadership in another Fine Gael dominated' coalition government, which closed out the first half of our period.

The second half of our time period begins with an' election in 1957 that terminated Fine Gael's repeat attempt at coalition government and left Fianna Fail with a clear majority at the Dáil, installing de Valera as prime minister once again. In 1959, de Valera won election as president, and Sean Lemass was his successor as prime minister. The last election during our time period occurred in 1961 and left Fianna Fail and Lemass in control of the government, opposed by Fine Gael and Labour as usual.

Continuity and Change since 1962

Led by the tranquil graph of seats held by time, Ireland has a very low party system instability score, one of the lowest in our study. All original parties continued through 1978, parties obtained enough support to qualify.

Original Parties, Continuing

051 Soldiers of Destiny. The Gaelic name of the party is Fianna Fail, which translates as Soldiers of Destiny, but the party is often called the Republican Party. In every election in our study, Fianna Fail received at least a plurality of the votes and seats but not always enough to form a government. The 1977 elections, however, returned the party with the largest majority since 1950, and the party controlled the government under Jack Lynch as prime minister.

052 United Ireland. The Gaelic name of the party is Fine Gael, and the party has consistently run second to Hanna Fail in votes and seats. Occasionally, however, it is able to form a coalition government with the support of the Labour Party. This was done most recently from 1973 to 1977, when Liam Cosgrave was prime minister.

053 Labour Party. The Labour Party traditionally finishes a distant third in Irish elections. Its main hope for government is in a coalition with United Ireland, which it once again enjoyed for four years in the mid-1970s.


From the standpoint of party politics, all is normal in Ireland entering 1979. Government is held by Fianna Fail, while Fine Gael and Labour provide the major opposition. The party system manifests stability more than change.

1. Our study of party politics in Ireland is based on a file of 811 pages from 79 documents, all of which are in English (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Jeffrey Millstone. Mary Welfling, Alan Kaplan, and Qonnie Laughlin used the file to code the Irish parties on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Our consultant was Paul Sacks.