History of Fine Gael - Origins

Origins

In the face of intimidation of Cumann na nGaedheal meetings by the anti-treaty IRA and the rise in support for Éamon de Valera's Fianna Fáil from 1926, a new strategy was required to strengthen the voice of the pro-Treaty tradition who now found themselves in opposition. The National Guard (popularly known as the 'Blueshirts', originally the 'Army Comrades Association'), a nationalist-conservative movement led by Eoin O'Duffy, took up the task of defending Cumann na nGaedheal rallies from republican intimidation. When they planned a 'march on Dublin' de Valera banned the demonstration, fearing a repeat of Mussolini's infamous 'March on Rome'. As a result 'Fine Gael–The United Ireland Party' was founded as an independent party on 8 September 1933, following a merger of Cumann na nGaedheal, the National Centre Party and the National Guard. The merger brought together two strands of Irish nationalism namely the pro-treaty wing of revolutionary Sinn Féin and the old Home Rule party represented by Dillon and the Centre Party. In reality, the new party was a larger version of Cumann na nGaedheal, the party created in 1923 by the Pro-Treaty leaders of the Irish Free State under W. T. Cosgrave.

The new party sought to end the Economic War, improve relations with Britain while advocating a United Ireland within the framework of the Commonwealth. After a short hiatus under the disastrous leadership of General Eoin O'Duffy, Cosgrave returned to lead the new party, continuing in the leadership until 1944. During this time, the party reverted to what it had been like during the days of Cumann na nGaedheal, much to the disappointment of those who had advocated a merger on the basis of creating a better organised party machine. Although the people who formed the party had been in government for ten years in the Irish Free State (1922–32), once Fianna Fáil under Éamon de Valera came to power in 1932, Fine Gael spent the next sixteen years in the doldrums, overshadowed by the larger party. Indeed at times, it went into what was thought to be terminal decline on the opposition benches. Cosgrave finally resigned as leader in 1944 and was replaced by General Richard Mulcahy The party's fortunes seemed to be on the rise as the new leader sought to cast away the legacy of a weak party organisation that Cosgrave had bequeathed to Fine Gael. By the time the 1948 election was called, a number of first time candidates had been selected, with four of these subsequently elected as TDs.

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