Fianna Fáil (, Irish: [ˌfʲiən̪ˠə ˈfˠaːlʲ] (); meaning 'Soldiers of Destiny' or 'Warriors of Fál'), officially Fianna Fáil – The Republican Party (Irish: Fianna Fáil – An Páirtí Poblachtánach), is a conservative and Christian-democratic political party in Ireland.
The party was founded as an Irish republican party on 16 May 1926 by Éamon de Valera and his supporters after they split from Sinn Féin in the aftermath of the Irish Civil War on the issue of abstentionism on taking the Oath of Allegiance to the British Monarchy, which De Valera advocated in order to keep his position as a Teachta Dála (TD) in the Irish parliament, in contrast to his position before the Irish Civil War. Since 1927, Fianna Fáil has been one of Ireland's two major parties, along with Fine Gael since 1933; both are seen as being centre-right parties, and as being to the right of the Labour Party and Sinn Féin. The party dominated Irish political life for most of the 20th century, and, since its foundation, either it or Fine Gael has led every government. Between 1932 and 2011, it was the largest party in Dáil Éireann, but latterly with a decline in its vote share; from 1989 onwards, its periods of government were in coalition with parties of either the left or the right.
Fianna Fáil's vote collapsed in the 2011 general election; it emerged in third place, in what was widely seen as a political realignment in the wake of the post-2008 Irish economic downturn. By 2016, it had recovered enough to become the largest opposition party, and it entered a confidence and supply arrangement with a Fine Gael-led minority government. In 2020, after a number of months of political stalemate following the general election, Fianna Fáil agreed with Fine Gael and the Green Party to enter into an unprecedented coalition, with the leaders of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael rotating between the roles of Taoiseach and Tánaiste.
Fianna Fáil is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and of Liberal International. Since 9 February 2019, Fianna Fáil has been in partnership with the Social Democratic and Labour Party in Northern Ireland.
Fianna Fáil was founded by Éamon de Valera, a former leader of Sinn Féin. He and a number of other members split from Sinn Féin when a motion he proposed—which called for elected members to be allowed to take their seats in Dáil Éireann if and when the controversial Oath of Allegiance was removed—failed to pass at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in 1926. His new party adopted its name on 2 April of the same year. While it was also opposed to the Treaty settlement, it rejected abstentionism, instead aiming to republicanise the Irish Free State from within. Fianna Fáil's platform of economic autarky had appeal among the farmers, working-class people and the poor, while alienating more affluent classes.
The party first entered government on 9 March 1932. It was in power for 61 of the 79 years between then and the election of 2011. Its longest continuous period in office has been 15 years and 11 months (March 1932 – February 1948). Its longest single period out of office in the 20th century was four years and four months (March 1973 – July 1977). All of the party's leaders have served as Taoiseach.
The party's most dominant era was the 41-year period between 1932 and 1973, when party leaders Eamon de Valera, Seán Lemass and Jack Lynch served as Taoiseach in an almost unbroken chain save for six years that John A. Costello of Fine Gael briefly interrupted. De Valera's reign is acknowledged for having successfully guided Ireland through World War II unscathed but is criticised for leaving Ireland in economic and cultural stagnation. His successors such as Lemass however were able to turn around Ireland's economic fortunes as well as primed the country for entry into the European Economic Community, later the European Union.
Fianna Fáil's fortunes began to falter in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1970 the Arms Crisis threatened to split the entire party in two when Fianna Fáil cabinet ministers Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney were dismissed by Jack Lynch after being accused of seeking to provide arms to the newly emergent Provisional Irish Republican Army. Factional infighting over Northern Ireland, economics and the "moral issues ” such as the legalization of divorce, abortion, and contraception plagued the party in this era and grew particularly intense when Charles Haughey later became party leader. Under Haughey, Fianna Fáil lost both the 1981 general election and November 1982 general election to Garret FitzGerald's Fine Gael during a particularly chaotic time in Ireland's political and economic history. Numerous failed internal attempts to oust Haughey as leader of the party culminated in the most significant split in the party's history when a large portion of the membership walked out to create the Progressive Democrats in 1985, under the leadership of Haughey archrival Desmond O'Malley. Haughey was forced to resign as Taoiseach and party leader in 1992 following revelations about his role in a phone tapping scandal.
Although the two parties had seemed poised to be bitter enemies owning to the personal conflicts between the memberships, from 1989 onwards Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats served repeatedly in coalition governments together, helping to stabilise Fianna Fáil. In 1994 Fianna Fáil came under the new leadership of Haughey protégé Bertie Ahern, who also became Taoiseach in 1997. Under Ahern, Fianna Fáil was able to claim credit for helping to broker the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 which began the peace process in Northern Ireland, as well the economic upswing caused by the Celtic Tiger which saw Ireland's economy boom during the 2000s. However, this momentum came to a sharp and sudden haul following two events. Firstly, Ahern was forced to resign as Taoiseach and left the party in 2008 following revelations made in the Mahon Tribunal that Ahern had accepted money from property developers. Secondly, the party, which was still in government under a new leader and Taoiseach Brian Cowen, was held responsible for the effects of the post-2008 Irish economic downturn. The party's popularity crashed: an opinion poll on 27 February 2009 indicated that only 10% of voters were satisfied with the Government's performance.
In the 2011 general election, it suffered the worst defeat of a sitting government in the history of the Irish state. This loss was described as "historic" in its proportions and "unthinkable". The party sank from being the largest in the Dáil to the third-largest, losing 58 of its 78 seats. This broke 79 consecutive years of Fianna Fáil being the largest single party in the Dáil. That election took place with Michael Martin as leader, as Cowen had resigned as party leader in January 2011, although retained his role as Taoiseach until the election. Cowen's premiership was sharpely criticised in the media, with The Sunday Times describing Cowen's tenure as Taoiseach as "a dismal failure" and in 2011 the Irish Independent calling Cowen the "worst Taoiseach in the history of the State."
Martin continued to lead Fianna Fáil past 2011; In the 2016 general election Martin's Fianna Fáil made a moderate recovery while Fine Gael retained control of the government as a minority government, made possible by a confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáíl. In 2018 the party was divided internally over how the party would handle that year's referendum on the Eighth Amendment, the provision in the Irish constitution which forbid abortion, with a significant portion of both the parliamentary party and the ordinary membership in favour of a No vote. Leader Michael Martin signalled his own desire for a Yes vote, but was unable to bring the party under one stance, and ultimately more than half of Fianna Fáil's TDs campaigned for a No vote. On polling day the Yes side won, 66% to 33%.
After the 2020 general election, for the first time in history, Fianna Fáil entered into a coalition government with its traditional rival Fine Gael, as well as the Green Party, with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin serving as Taoiseach. That same year a number of Fianna Fáil members were involved in the "Golfgate" scandal, an event that ultimately led to the resignation of Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary. In July 2021 Fianna Fáil suffered what a number of sources suggested might have been the single worse result in its history when the party polled extremly poorly in the 2021 Dublin Bay South by-election. The result prompted Jim O'Callaghan and Cathal Crowe to question whether Martin should lead the party into its next general election.
Fianna Fáil uses a structure called a cumann system. The basic unit was the cumann (branch); these were grouped into comhairle ceantair (district branch) and a comhairle dáil ceantair (constituency branch) in every constituency. At the party's height it had 3,000 cumainn, an average of 75 per constituency. The party claimed that in 2005 they had 50,000 registered names, but only an estimated 10,000-15,000 members were considered active.
However, from the early 1990s onward the cumann structure was weakened. Every cumann was entitled to three votes to selection conventions irrespective of its size; hence, a large number of cumainn had become in effect "paper cumainn", the only use of which was to ensure an aspiring or sitting candidate got enough votes. Another problem had arisen with the emergence of parallel organisations grouped around candidates or elected officials. Supporters and election workers for a particular candidate were loyal to a candidate and not to the party. If the candidate were to leave the party, through either resignation, retirement or defeat at an election, the candidate's supporters would often depart. Although this phenomenon was nothing new (the most famous example being Neil Blaney's "Donegal Mafia") it increased significantly from the early 1990s, particularly in the Dublin Region with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's "Drumcondra mafia" and the groups supporting Tom Kitt and Séamus Brennan in Dublin South that were largely separate from the official party structure.
Since the 2007 election, the party's structure has significantly weakened. This was in part exacerbated by significant infighting between candidates in the run-up to the 2011 general election. The Irish Times estimated that half of its 3,000 cumainn were effectively moribund. This fraction rose in Dublin with the exception of Dublin West, the former seat of both Brian Lenihan Snr and Brian Lenihan Jnr.
Fianna Fáil is seen as a typical catch-all party. R. Ken Carty wrote of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that they were "heterogeneous in their bases of support, relatively undifferentiated in terms of policy or programme, and remarkably stable in their support levels". Evidence from expert surveys, opinion polls and candidate surveys all fail to identify strong distinctions between the two parties. Many point to Ireland's Civil War politics, and feel that the basis for the division is the disagreement about the strategy to achieve a united Ireland. Kevin Byrne and political scientist Eoin O'Malley rejected this, and have argued that the differences between the two parties goes much further back in Irish history. They linked the parties to different nationalist traditions (Irish Enlightenment and Gaelic Nationalist) which in turn could be linked to migrations of Anglo-Norman and new English into Ireland and the native Gaelic population.
In the 1990s, Fianna Fáil was described as a conservative party but also as a nationalist party. It has presented itself as a "broad church" and attracted support from across disparate social classes. Between 1989 and 2011, it led coalition governments with parties of both the left and the right. Fianna Fáil's platform contains a number of enduring commitments: to Irish unity; to the promotion and protection of the Irish language; and to maintaining Ireland's tradition of military neutrality. While the party is distinctly more populist, nationalist, and generally more economically interventionist than Fine Gael, the party shares its rival's support of the European Union. Although part of the ALDE (liberal) group in the European Parliament, the party has not supported the group's positions on civil liberties, and its liberal nature is disputed; however, the party legislated for same-sex civil partnerships in 2010.
The party's name and logo incorporates the words 'The Republican Party'. According to Fianna Fáil, "Republican here stands both for the unity of the island and a commitment to the historic principles of European republican philosophy, namely liberty, equality and fraternity". The party's main goal at its beginning was to reunite the North and the South.
The posts of leader and party president of Fianna Fáil are separate, with the former elected by the Parliamentary Party and the latter elected by the Ardfheis (thus allowing for the posts to be held by different people, in theory). However, in practice they have always been held by the one person. As the Ardfheis may have already been held in any given year by the time a new leader is elected, the selection of the new party president might not take place until the next year.
The following are the terms of office as party leader and as Taoiseach:
Fianna Fáil's youth wing is called Ógra Fianna Fáil. Formed in 1975, it plays an active role in recruiting new members and supporting election campaigns. Ógra also plays an important role in the party organisation, where it has five representatives on the Ard Chomhairle (National Executive).
Deputy Thomas Byrne was the last nominated head or Cathaoirleach (Chairperson) of Ógra Fianna Fáil, before the youth wing introduced widespread organisational reform following the heavy electoral defeat suffered by the whole party in 2011.
On 17 September 2007, Fianna Fáil announced that the party would for the first time organise in Northern Ireland. The then Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern was asked to chair a committee on the matter: "In the period ahead Dermot Ahern will lead efforts to develop that strategy for carrying through this policy, examining timescales and structures. We will act gradually and strategically. We are under no illusions. It will not be easy. It will challenge us all. But I am confident we will succeed".
The party embarked on its first ever recruitment drive north of the border in September 2007 in northern universities, and established two 'Political Societies', the William Drennan Cumann in Queens University, Belfast, and the Watty Graham Cumann in UU Magee, Derry, which subsequently became official units of Fianna Fáil's youth wing, attaining full membership and voting rights, and attained official voting delegates at the 2012 Árd Fheis. On 23 February 2008, it was announced that a former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) councillor, Colonel Harvey Bicker, had joined Fianna Fáil.
Bertie Ahern announced on 7 December 2007 that Fianna Fáil had been registered in Northern Ireland by the UK Electoral Commission. The party's Ard Fheis in 2009 unanimously passed a motion to organise in Northern Ireland by establishing forums, rather than cumainn, in each of its six counties. In December 2009, Fianna Fáil secured its first Northern Ireland Assembly MLA when Gerry McHugh, an independent MLA, announced he had joined the party. Mr. McHugh confirmed that although he had joined the party, he would continue to sit as an independent MLA. In June 2010, Fianna Fáil opened its first official office in Northern Ireland, in Crossmaglen, County Armagh. The then Taoiseach Brian Cowen officially opened the office, accompanied by Ministers Éamon Ó Cuív and Dermot Ahern and Deputies Rory O’Hanlon and Margaret Conlon. Discussing the party's slow development towards all-Ireland politics, Mr. Cowen observed: "We have a very open and pragmatic approach. We are a constitutional republican party and we make no secret of the aspirations on which this party was founded. It has always been very clear in our mind what it is we are seeking to achieve, that is to reconcile this country and not being prisoners of our past history. To be part of a generation that will build a new Ireland, an Ireland of which we can all be proud".
Fianna Fáil has not contested any elections in Northern Ireland since its registration and recognition there in 2007. At the party's 2014 Ard Fheis, a motion was passed without debate to stand candidates for election north of the border for the first time in 2019.
In 2017, Omagh councillor Sorcha McAnespy said she wished to run in the 2019 Northern Ireland local government election in the constituency under a Fianna Fáil ticket. In October 2017 she was elected as northern representative on the party's national executive, the "committee of 15".
Since 24 January 2019, the party have been in partnership with the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) formerly the main Irish nationalist party in Northern Ireland, but now smaller than Sinn Féin. There had long been speculation about the eventual partnership for several years prior. This was initially met with a negative reaction from Seamus Mallon, former Deputy Leader of the SDLP, who stated he would be opposed to any such merger. Former leader of the SDLP Margaret Ritchie originally stated publicly that she opposed any merger, announcing to the Labour Party Conference that such a merger would not happen on her "watch". On 10 January 2019, Richie stated that she now supported a new partnership with Fianna Fáil.
Both Fianna Fáil and the SDLP currently have shared policies on key areas including addressing the current political situation in Northern Ireland, improving public services in both jurisdictions of Ireland, such as healthcare, housing, education, and governmental reform, and bringing about the further unity and cooperation of the people on the island and arrangements for a future poll on Irish reunification.
Fianna Fáil joined the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) party on 16 April 2009, and the party's Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) sat in the ALDE Group during the 7th European Parliament term from June 2009 to 1 July 2014. The party is a full member of the Liberal International. Prior to this, the party was part of the Eurosceptic Union for Europe of the Nations parliamentary group between 1999 and 2009.
In the European Parliament from 1999 to 2009, Fianna Fáil was a leading member of Union for Europe of the Nations (UEN), a small national-conservative and Eurosceptic parliamentary group. European political commentators had often noted substantive ideological differences between the party and its colleagues, whose strongly conservative stances had at times prompted domestic criticism of Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil MEPs had been an attached to the European Progressive Democrats (1973–1984), European Democratic Alliance (1984–1995), and Union for Europe (1995–1999) groups before the creation of UEN.
Party headquarters, over the objections of some MEPs, had made several attempts to sever the party's links to the European right, including an aborted 2004 agreement to join the European Liberal Democrat and Reform (ELDR) Party, with whom it already sat in the Council of Europe under the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) banner. On 27 February 2009, Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced that Fianna Fáil proposed to join the ELDR Party and intended to sit with them in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Group in the European Parliament after the 2009 European elections. The change was made official on 17 April 2009, when FF joined the ELDR Party.
In October 2009, it was reported that Fianna Fáil had irritated its new Liberal colleagues by failing to vote for the motion on press freedom in Italy (resulting in its defeat by a majority of one in the Parliament) and by trying to scupper their party colleagues' initiative for gay rights. In January 2010, a report by academic experts writing for the votewatch.eu site found that FF "do not seem to toe the political line" of the ALDE Group "when it comes to budget and civil liberties" issues.
In the 2014 European elections, Fianna Fáil received 22.3% of first-preference votes but only returned a single MEP, a reduction in representation of two MEPs from the previous term. This was due to a combination of the party's vote further dropping in Dublin and a two candidate strategy in the Midlands North West constituency, which backfired, resulting in sitting MEP Pat "the Cope" Gallagher losing his seat. On 23 June 2014, returning MEP Brian Crowley announced that he intended to sit with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) rather than the ALDE group during the upcoming 8th term of the European parliament. The following day on 24 June 2014 Crowley had the Fianna Fáil party whip withdrawn. He has since been re-added to Fianna Fáil's website.
In the European Committee of the Regions, Fianna Fáil sits in the Renew Europe CoR group, with two full and two alternate members for the 2020–2025 mandate. Cllr. Kate Feeney is member of the Renew Europe CoR Bureau and Group Coordinator in the SEDEC commission. Cllr. Gillian Coughlan is Deputy Coordinator in the ECON Commission.