John Bruton

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An Taoiseach John Bruton

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Rank 9th Taoiseach
Term of office December 15, 1994 -
June 26, 1997
Predecessor Albert Reynolds
Successor Bertie Ahern
Date of birth Sunday, May 18, 1947
Place of birth Meath, Ireland
Political party Fine Gael
Profession Lawyer

John Gerard Bruton (born May 18, 1947) was the ninth Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland. He was a senior Irish politician who served in the cabinet of Garret FitzGerald as Minister for Finance (1981-1982 and 1986-1987), Minister for Industry & Energy (1982-1983) and Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism (1983-1986). He became leader of Fine Gael in 1990 and served as Taoiseach from 1994 until 1997, leading the Rainbow Coalition government of Fine Gael-Labour-Democratic Left.

Bruton was first elected to Dáil Éireann as a TD for Meath in 1969, and served continuously until his retirement from domestic politics in 2004. He is currently the Ambassador of the European Union to the United States of America, and Vice-President of the European People's Party (EPP).


Early life

John Gerard Bruton was born in County Meath and educated at Clongowes Wood, an exclusive Catholic public school. He later went on to study at University College Dublin (UCD) where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree and he finally qualified as a barrister from King's Inns. Bruton was first elected to Dáil Éireann in 1969 as a Fine Gael deputy. At the age of 22 he was the youngest member of the Dáil at the time. After four years on the opposition benches Fine Gael returned to power as part of the National Coalition with the Labour Party. During the four years of that government Bruton served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry & Commerce and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education.

In 1977 Fine Gael lost power and Garret FitzGerald became the new leader of the party, following the resignation of Liam Cosgrave. Bruton was appointed to the new front bench as Spokesperson on Agriculture. Following the 1981 General Election Fine Gael were back in power in another coalition with the Labour Party with FitzGerald as Taoiseach. Bruton was appointed Minister for Finance, the most senior position in the Cabinet. The new government had to abandon its election promises to cut taxes in the light of overwhelming economic realities. The government collapsed unexpectedly on the night of January 27, 1982 when Bruton's controversial Budget was defeated in the Dáil. The Independent socialist TD, Jim Kemmy, voted against the Budget, which proposed the introduction of VAT on childrens shoes, thus causing the Dáil to be dissolved and Fine Gael to lose power.

The minority Fianna Fáil which followed only lasted until November 1982 when Fine Gael once again returned to power in a coalition government with the Labour Party. When the new government was formed Bruton was moved from the Finance portfolio to become Minister for Industry, Trade, Commerce & Tourism. The following year (1983) the Trade and Tourism portfolios were removed from his brief. In 1986 the Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, carried out an extensive Cabinet re-shuffle which saw Bruton return to as Minister for Finance. Although he was Minister for Finance, Bruton never presented his Budget. The Labour Party withdrew from the government due to a disagreement over budget proposals. The government continued nonetheless with Bruton taking on the Public Service portfolio as well. However, the minority Fine Gael government couldn't last and it eventually collapsed after a few weeks.

Following the 1987 General Election Fine Gael suffered a heavy defeat. Garret FitzGerald resigned as leader immediately, and a leadership contest erupted between Alan Dukes, Peter Barry and Bruton himself. Dukes was the eventual victor but, after only six years in the Dáil, he proved to lack political experience and judgement. His Tallaght Strategy, in which he offered his support to Fianna Fáil if they adopted sensible economic policies, proved to be good in the national interest but was a disaster for Dukes's authority on his own party. Another general election defeat in 1989 added to the mounting pressure on Dukes. However, it was the poor performance in the 1990 Presidential Election that proved to be the final straw for the party and he was eventually ousted shortly after. Bruton, who was the deputy-leader of Fine Gael at the time, succeeded in becoming leader of the party without a contest. He also assumed the largely nominal role of Leader of the Opposition.

Career in opposition (1990-1994)

Whereas Dukes came from the left Social Democratic wing of Fine Gael, Bruton came from the more conservative Christian Democratic wing. However to the surprise of critics and of conservatives, in his first policy initiative he called for the introduction of divorce to Ireland.

Fine Gael had been in decline for nearly a decade; from the highpoint of the November 1982 general election when it achieved 70 seats in Dáil Éireann, only five seats short of Fianna Fáil's total1 the party had lost a considerable number of seats. Following the inexperienced Dukes' disastrous period of leadership, Bruton's election was seen as offering Fine Gael a chance to rebuild under a far more politically experienced albeit less photogenic and less popular leader. However Bruton's perceived right wing persona and his rural background was used against him by critics and particularly by the media. He was also overshadowed by longterm Labour leader Dick Spring.

By the 1992 general election, the anti-Fianna Fáil mood in the country produced a major swing to the opposition, but that support went to Labour, not Bruton's Fine Gael. To the astonishment of the electorate, who had voted for Labour to get Fianna Fáil out of power, Labour chose to enter into a new coalition with Fianna Fáil. It was too prove costly for Labour. Angry voters turned against the party in opinion polls straight away and in 1997, many of Labour's gains (which had produced a historic high of 33 seats for the party in 1992) were swept away again. By then, however, following the collapse of the Fianna Fáil-Labour administration of Albert Reynolds in December 1994, Bruton to his own surprise (having been on the brink of deposition from the leadership days earlier) became Taoiseach at the head of a three party coalition, made up of Fine Gael, Labour and a small left wing party called Democratic Left (which had its origins in the marxist Workers Party and which ultimately merged with Labour.

As Taoiseach (1994-1997)

Bruton's politics was markedly different to most Irish leaders. Whereas most leaders had come from or identified with the independence movement Sinn Féin (in its 1917-22 phase), Bruton identified more with the more moderate Irish Parliamentary Party tradition that Sinn Féin had eclipsed in the 1918 general election. He hung a picture of his political hero, the IIP's leader John Redmond on a wall in his office as taoiseach, in preference to other figures like Patrick Pearse. But as evidence of Bruton's complexity, he also kept a picture of former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Sean Lemass which had been hung there by Reynolds, and which Bruton kept because he like most political scientists saw Lemass as perhaps the best and most reforming Taoiseach in the history of the state.

Bruton's Rainbow Coalition was generally perceived to be a good government, with Bruton, who was initially the most unpopular of modern political leaders and whom was meant to have had a bad relationship with Spring, being seen as its star performer. His popularity soared while he and Spring (along with Proinsias de Rossa, leader of DL) were seen as an effective team. His government ensured the passage of a constitutional amendment to allow for the introduction of divorce. Bruton also presided over the first official visit by a member of the British Royal Family, the Prince of Wales, though Bruton's over the top comments during the visit overshadowed it somewhat.

Continued developments in the Northern Ireland peace process and his attitude to Anglo-Irish relations came to define Bruton's tenure as Taoiseach. In February 1995 he launched the Anglo-Irish ‘Framework Document’ with the British Prime Minister, John Major. This document outlined new proposed relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Some of Bruton's opponents considered him to be excessively understanding towards Unionists, however, he took a strongly critical position on British prevarication during the IRA ceasefire over all-party talks on the future of the North.

Bruton also established a working relationship with Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, however, the relationship became frayed following the ending of the ceasefire in 1996, resulting in a bomb explosion in London. These relations worsened when the IRA killed Gerry McCabe, a member of the Gardaí, in a post office robbery in County Limerick, and another bomb explosion in Manchester. Bruton resisted advice to end all talks with Sinn Féin, however, he did become one of their most vocal critics and advocated another IRA ceasefire before Sinn Féin would be allowed join all-party talks. Bruton received widespread praise in the Republic for condemning the British authorities for yielding to force at Drumcree by allowing members of the Orange Order march through a Catholic district, and for being neither impartial nor consistent in applying the law. His outrage and criticism led to a tense atmosphere regarding relations between London and Dublin.

Bruton came to power at a time when Ireland's economy was achieving substantial growth. With the Celtic Tiger in its infancy the standard of living increased dramatically. Constitutional reform was also on the government's agenda when a referendum to abolish the prohibition on divorce was passed by a narrow majority. The government was not void of scandal. In 1996 his Minister for Transport, Michael Lowry, resigned from the Cabinet after allegations that he accepted payments from the supermarket tycoon, Ben Dunne. The scandal initially threatened Bruton, however it was Fianna Fáil that eventually fell foul when the tribunals were set up.

Post-Taoiseach period

The government was widely expected to win re-election. However, whilst Fine Gael gained nine seats, the public anger towards Labour cost it 16 seats and denied the government enough support to be re-elected. Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats under Bertie Ahern came into power instead and Bruton went back to being Leader of the Opposition. Fine Gael sunk into paralysis in opposition. Fearing that the party would face collapse, he was deposed from the party's leadership in 2001. However the new leader Michael Noonan, proved disastrous and the party was anniliated to a far worse extent that was expected to be the case under Bruton. Having gone into the election expecting to increase its seat numbers from 54 to 60, instead it collapsed, winning a mere 31, 39 seats less than at its highpoint twenty years earlier in 1982.

Bruton, a passionate supporter of European integration, was appointed by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to be one of Ireland's delegates drafing the proposed constitution for the European Union. His brother, Richard Bruton, is the current deputy leader of Fine Gael. He accepted an offer to become European Union ambassador to the United States in the summer of 2004, and after resigning from the Dail in November 2004, he assumed that office. As a former prime minister and native Enlgish speaker, his appointment is seen as a strategic choice in improving transatlantic relations.

John Bruton regularly lectures at national and international universities. In early 2004 he accepted a position as Adjunct Faculty Member in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University.

Bruton's Government (December 1994 - June 1997)



1 Fianna Fáil had dominated Irish politics continually since 1932, on occasion being twice as big as the next nearest party, Fine Gael.

Preceded by:
Jim Tunney
Parliamentary Sectretary to the Minister for Education
Succeeded by:
Patrick J. Reynolds
Preceded by:
Newly Created Office
Parliamentary Sectretary to the Minister for Industry & Commerce
Succeeded by:
Máire Geoghegan-Quinn
Preceded by:
Gene FitzGerald
Minister for Finance
Succeeded by:
Ray MacSharry
Preceded by:
Albert Reynolds
Minister for Industry & Energy
Succeeded by:
Dick Spring
Preceded by:
Frank Cluskey
Minister for Industry, Trade, Commerce & Tourism
Succeeded by:
Michael Noonan

Template:Succession box two to one

Preceded by:
Alan Dukes
Leader of the Fine Gael Party
Succeeded by:
Michael Noonan
Preceded by:
Albert Reynolds
Succeeded by:
Bertie Ahern
Preceded by:
Günter Burghardt
EU Ambassador to Washington
Succeeded by:
(Current Incumbent)

Template:End box

Template:Taoisigh na hÉireannfr:John Bruton nl:John Bruton


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