History of Fine Gael - The Just Society and Tom O'Higgins

The Just Society and Tom O'Higgins

Out of government, Fine Gael again went into decline. In the mid-1960s, however, it launched a new policy statement, known as The Just Society, advocating policies based on principles of social justice and equality. That document was the brainchild of Declan Costello, a Fine Gael TD and son of former Taoiseach John A. Costello, and reflected an emerging faction in the party that was being influenced by Social Democracy. This new strand of thinking in Fine Gael paved the way for the rise within the party of liberal thinkers such as Garret FitzGerald. Party leaders of the time remained conservative but the seeds of the 1980s revolution had been sown. In 1966, Fine Gael's young presidential candidate, Tom O'Higgins, came within 1% of defeating the apparently unbeatable sitting president, Éamon de Valera, in that year's presidential election. This was regarded as a substantial achievement as Fianna Fáil had persuaded RTÉ to provide no coverage of the campaign and the election was held in the year of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in which de Valera had played a prominent role. O'Higgins came from the emerging social democratic wing of the party.

When James Dillon resigned as Fine Gael leader in 1965, Liam Cosgrave (the son of Cumann na nGaedheal founder W. T. Cosgrave) was chosen to replace him. The swift changeover was viewed as a means of keeping control of the party away from the emerging centre-left wing. However, the party's two factions continued to feud. With events in Northern Ireland spiralling out of control, Liam Cosgrave sought to focus Fine Gael minds on its role as protector of the state's institutions. At the Fine gael Ard Fheis in May 1972, the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the state, Cosgrave rounded on his enemies. He ridiculed liberals in the party who were distracting his efforts to bring about a settlement in the North. His speech memorably likened his critics to "mongrel foxes" that had gone to ground. In the wake of the Fianna Fáil Arms Crisis and Cosgrave's strong performances in opposition in defending the institutions of the State, the party was well-positioned to return to Government with the Labour Party (which had altered its 1960s anti-coalition stance).

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