Family dynasties held hostage to ruined political fortunes of Fianna Fáil

Mon, Feb 28, 2011, 00:00

WHO WOULD have imagined a new Dáil without any member of the Coughlan, Hanafin and Haughey political families? The Lenihans will still be represented, but only just.

Perhaps the biggest change in dynastic terms is the fact that the new Dáil includes no member of the Haughey or Lemass families. A junior minister at the Department of Education and the Department of Enterprise, Seán Haughey was first elected a TD in 1992 but has now lost his seat in Dublin North Central. Both his father and grandfather held the office of taoiseach: he is a son of the late Charles Haughey, and his mother, Maureen, is a daughter of Seán Lemass. His uncle, Noel Lemass Jnr, and aunt, Eileen Lemass, were also members of the Dáil.

The Lenihans had three representatives in the outgoing Dáil but this has been reduced to one. Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan made it on the fifth count in Dublin West but he will no longer be accompanied by his brother Conor, who lost out in Dublin South West. Their aunt, Mary O’Rourke (née Lenihan) was eliminated on the second count in Longford-Westmeath. Brian Lenihan Snr, (1930-1995) father of Brian Jnr and Conor and brother of Mary, held the office of tánaiste and a variety of cabinet posts; he was first elected a TD in 1961 and, unusually, his father, Patrick Lenihan (1902-1970), joined him in the Dáil after the general election of 1965, and they served together for five years.

Outgoing Minister for Tourism Mary Hanafin, who has lost her seat in Dún Laoghaire, is a daughter of Des Hanafin, who was a senator for many years as well as being chief fundraiser for the Fianna Fáil party. Her brother, John, is a member of the outgoing Seanad.

The higher they rise, the harder they fall. Mary Coughlan’s descent from Tánaiste and Minister for Education to electoral defeat at the hands of left-wing Independent Thomas Pringle was very steep indeed. The family tradition in politics started with her uncle, Clement Coughlan, who won a byelection for Fianna Fáil in November 1980 and was returned for Donegal South West in three general elections during the hectic period of 1981 to 1982. The former Donegal senior footballer died in a road crash on February 1st, 1983. His older brother, Cathal, won the byelection but died in June 1986. No byelection was held but Cathal’s daughter, Mary, took a seat in 1987.

Two other members of a prominent Fianna Fáil family who lost their seats were Minister of State for Children Barry Andrews in Dún Laoghaire and his cousin, Chris, who lost his seat in Dublin South East. Barry’s father is former minister for foreign affairs David Andrews and Chris is a son of the late Niall Andrews MEP (and previously TD).

Two brothers and a sister, Tom and Michael Kitt and Áine Brady (née Kitt), were members of the outgoing Dáil, but only Michael remains. Tom, a former government chief whip, did not contest the election; Áine, Minister of State for Older People and Health Promotion, lost her seat in Kildare North; Michael, a former junior minister, was expected to save his seat although Galway East is subject to a recount at time of writing.

Three generations of McEllistrims, all called Tom, have successively been Fianna Fáil TDs for Kerry, since the party’s inception in 1926. The founder of the dynasty, War of Independence activist Tom McEllistrim (1894-1973), was elected to the fourth Dáil in 1923 as a republican candidate. However, the current election has seen another dynasty taking over through Arthur Spring, nephew of former tánaiste and Labour leader Dick Spring.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen may be on his way out of politics but his younger brother Barry is expected to be elected in Laois-Offaly, where a recount was continuing last night. De Valera’s grandson Minister for Social Protection Éamon Ó Cuív went against the trend by topping the poll in Galway West.

Although the dynastic factor has been more prevalent in Fianna Fáil, it is not unknown in other parties. Enda Kenny is a son of the late Henry Kenny, who was a TD for Mayo from 1954 to 1975. All the dynasty losses were not in Fianna Fáil as Fine Gael’s Deirdre Clune, daughter of former minister for foreign affairs Peter Barry, lost her seat in Cork South Central. Labour’s Henry Upton, nephew of outgoing TD Dr Mary Upton and eldest son of the late Pat Upton, who previously represented the constituency, failed to win a seat in Dublin South Central.