Ruairí Quinn a model of prudence in finance role

Careful control helped pave the way for the boom

The highlight of Ruairí  Quinn’s career was undoubtedly his tenure as the Labour Party’s first minister for finance between 1994 and 1997 in the rainbow coalition led by John Bruton.

The highlight of Ruairí Quinn’s career was undoubtedly his tenure as the Labour Party’s first minister for finance between 1994 and 1997 in the rainbow coalition led by John Bruton.

Thu, Jul 3, 2014, 01:00

Ruairí Quinn is a serious politician who has had a significant impact on Irish politics and society for more than three decades.

His decision to resign from the Cabinet before the election of a new Labour leader tomorrow was a wise move that allowed him to depart with a flourish.

He knew that he was not going to be reappointed by the incoming Labour leader and by going yesterday he managed to focus attention on his considerable political achievements rather than having them swamped in the hubbub that will follow next week’s Cabinet reshuffle.

The highlight of Quinn’s career was undoubtedly his tenure as the Labour Party’s first minister for finance between 1994 and 1997 in the rainbow coalition led by John Bruton.

As the first Labour minister to take charge of the nation’s finances he was determined to prove that he could do a good job for the people of the country. His prudent approach to tax and spending meant he became the first minister for finance in decades to bring in a budget surplus.

In the run-up to the 1997 general election he resisted pressure from Labour and Fine Gael colleagues to loosen the purse strings in an effort to buy votes in the traditional manner. That stance, adopted in the national interest, probably contributed to the rainbow government narrowly losing the election.

Reckless abandon

Quinn and the other former rainbow ministers then had to look on helplessly as Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats proceeded with reckless abandon to fuel an unsustainable boom.

By that stage Quinn had become Labour leader. His big achievement in that position was the way he pulled off the merger with Democratic Left.

His big problem was that he had done such a good job in getting the State’s finances in order that the Ahern-led government was able to preside over an initial five years of economic expansion involving significant tax cuts, pay increases and rising employment levels.

Quinn faced an uphill battle when he led the Labour Party into the general election of 2002. The party gained four seats and saw a marginal increase in its vote to 10.8 per cent but the Fianna Fáil-PD coalition was comfortably re-elected on the back of the economic boom.

Quinn stood down as leader but made a comeback to frontline politics in March 2011 when he was appointed Minister for Education. One of his key initiatives was to open debate on the management and control of schools.

Lost seat

Ruairí Quinn first ran for the Dáil in the Dublin South East constituency in 1973 and was elected as a TD four years later. He lost his seat in 1981 but bounced back in 1982 and held on at every subsequent election. He was appointed a junior minister at the Department of the Environment in 1982 and entered cabinet as minister for labour in 1983.

Along with Michael Noonan he is the only member of the current Coalition who has served in government in the 1980s, 1990s and the current decade. Both of them brought a depth of experience to the Government that helped to provide stability as it faced extremely difficult decisions.

Announcing his decision to resign yesterday, Quinn strongly defended Labour’s record in government over the decades.

“In the 1990s, Labour in government made Ireland a stable, prosperous nation, moving towards full employment for our people,” he said, adding that over the past three years every decision taken in office had been designed to restore the sovereignty of the nation.

Quinn, who is 68, will not be a candidate at the next election, bringing to an end 40 years in political life, which included spells on Dublin City Council and the Seanad as well as in the Dáil.