6 July 2006 Edition
Remembering the Past
BY SHANE Mac THOMÁIS
Clann na Poblachta
Fifty years ago this week, Clann na Poblachta, was formed to challenge the stranglehold of Fianna Fáil on Irish politics. The Party was to last 19 years and failed in its objectives due to internal feuds and lack of unity.
Clann na Poblachta was founded on 6 July 1946 in Barry's Hotel, Dublin by former members of the IRA, who were very unhappy at the treatment of IRA prisoners during The Emergency and who were prepared to try and engage in parliamentary politics.
The group included people such as Con Lehane and former IRA Chief of Staff Seán MacBride. Some members of Fianna Fáil also joined the party, many of whom had become disillusioned with the leadership of Éamon de Valera, the party's approach to partition and its economic policies.
Clann na Poblachta realized that it had to place an emphasis on practical improvements to living standards and welfare issues such as public health. These policies attracted a number of younger members such as Noel Browne and Jack McQuillan. One potential problem for the future was that almost the entire Provisional Executive was resident in Dublin and the party had no Six County organisation.
In 1948, Eamon de Valera, dissolved the Dáil and called an election for February. Clann na Poblachta won only 10 seats in the election, less than the breakthrough many were expecting, caused in part by the error of running multiple candidates in many constituencies. The party thought there would be a landslide in their favour like the 1918 Westminster Election. Forty eight of their 93 candidates lost their deposits. The party won 13.3% of the vote but only 6.8% of the seats. Of their 10 TDs, six were elected in Dublin constituencies, two in Tipperary and one each in Cavan and Roscommon.
The party surprised everyone by joining the first Inter-Party Government with Fine Gael on condition that Richard Mulcahy, against whom many members had fought during the Civil War, did not become Taoiseach. As a result, John A. Costello became Taoiseach without being leader of his party - the only time to date that this has happened.
Sean MacBride became Minister for External Affairs, and Noel Browne was Minister for Health. The party was the driving force behind the 26 Counties exiting the British Commonwealth and the all-party Anti-Partition Campaign. The controversy of the 'Mother and Child Scheme', a progressive healthcare programme that was opposed by the Catholic Church helped bring down the government and led to the disintegration of the party. Many of the party TDs resigned in solidarity with Noel Browne and his scheme, so the official party won only two seats in the 1951 General Election.
In 1954 the Clann agreed to give outside support to the Fine Gael led government. In this election three TDs were returned - MacBride, John Tully and John Connor. Controversy dogged the party as Liam Kelly, a Northern based member Clann na Poblachta Senator was also active in Saor Uladh and led a number of military raids in Fermanagh and Tyrone against the RUC.
Clann withdrew its support from the government in late 1956 due to the its anti-IRA stance. The party, won only one seat at the 1957 General Election with MacBride being defeated by Fianna Fáil. John Tully remained the only Clann TD until his retirement in 1961 when he lost his seat. However Joseph Barron was elected in Dublin South-Central on his fourth attempt. In 1965 Tully won back his seat, but he was in effect an Independent, as the party only stood four candidates. There had been negotiations between MacBride and Brendan Corish, the new Labour leader about forming a political alliance but this did not come to fruition. A special Ard Fheis, held on 10 July 1965, agreed to dissolve Clan na Poblachta .