Fine Gael (literally meaning "Family" or "Tribe of the Irish") is the second largest political party in Ireland in terms of parliamentary seat numbers and the largest in terms of local government members and members of the European Parliament. It has a membership of 30,000, and is the largest opposition party in the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament.
Fine Gael was founded on the 8 September 1933 following the merger of its parent party Cumann na nGaedheal, the National Centre Party and the National Guard, popularly known as the "Blueshirts". Its origins lie in the struggle for Irish independence and the pro-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War, identifying in particular Michael Collins as the founder of the movement.
Fine Gael is generally seen as more to the political right than its major rival Fianna Fáil but has always been in power with the centre-left Labour Party. Fine Gael is variously described as a centre-right or centrist party, though it identifies itself as a party of the progressive centre. The party lists its core values as equality of opportunity, fiscal rectitude, free enterprise and reward, individual rights and responsibilities. It is strongly pro-EU and opposed to violent Irish republicanism. Fine Gael is Ireland's only party in the European People's Party (EPP); its MEPs sit with the European People's Party group. The party's youth wing, Young Fine Gael, was formed in 1977 and has approximately four thousand members.
The current party leader is Enda Kenny. He was elected by a secret ballot of the parliamentary party on 5 June 2002.
Law and order party:
Although Ireland's political spectrum was traditionally divided along Civil War lines, rather than the traditional European left-right spectrum, Fine Gael is described generally as a Christian-democratic party, with a focus on law and order, enterprise and reward, and fiscal rectitude. As the descendent of the pro-Treaty factions in the Irish Civil War, Fine Gael has a strong affinity with Michael Collins and his legacy. He remains a symbol for the party, and the anniversary of his death is commemorated each year in August.
Fine Gael has, since its inception, portrayed itself as a party of fiscal rectitude and minimal government interference in economics, advocating pro-enterprise policies. Newly elected politicians for the party in the Dáil have strongly advocated liberal economic policies. Lucinda Creighton and Leo Varadkar in particular have been seen as strong advocates of a more neo-liberal approach to Ireland's economics woes and Ireland's unemployment problems. Varadkar in particular has been a strong proponent of small, indigenous business, advocating that smaller firms should benefit from the government's recapitalisation program Its former finance spokesman Richard Bruton's proposals have been seen as approaching problems from a pro-enterprise point of view. Its fairer budget website suggests that its solutions are "tough but fair". Other solutions conform generally to conservative governments' policies throughout Europe, focusing on cutting numbers in the public sector, while maintaining investment in infrastructure.
Fine Gael's proposals have been criticised mostly by smaller political groupings in Ireland, and by some of the trade unions, who have raised the idea that the party's solutions are more conscious of business interests than the interests of the worker. The SIPTU trade union has stated its opposition to Enda Kenny's assertion that the national wage agreement should be suspended. Kenny's comments have support however and the party attributes its significant rise in polls in 2008 to this. In spite of this perceived opposition to Fine Gael from the left of the Irish political spectrum, the party has never entered into government except with the backing of the Labour Party.
Under Kenny the party has also strongly opposed the perceived "rip-off" society that has developed in Ireland, advocating reform of stealth taxes and stamp duty.
Fine Gael's Simon Coveney launched what the party termed a radical re-organisation of the Irish Semi-State Company sector. Styled the New Economy and Recovery Authority (or NewERA), Coveney said that it is an economic stimulus plan that will "reshape the Irish economy for the challenges of the 21st Century". Requiring an €18.2 billion investment in Energy, Communications and Water infrastructure over a four year period, it was promoted as a way to enhance energy security and digital reputation of Ireland. A very broad ranging document, it proposes the combined management of a portfolio of semi-state assets, and the sale of all other, non-essential services. The release of equity through the sale of the various state resources, including electricity generation services belonging to the ESB, Bord na Móna and Bord Gáis, in combination with use of money in the National Pensions Reserve Fund, is the means by which Fine Gael is proposing to fund its national stimulus package.
The plan is a seen at being the basis of a Fine Gael program for government. Seen as being the longer term contribution to Fine Gael's economic plan, it has been publicised in combination with a more short term policy proposal from FG TD, Dr. Leo Varadkar. This document, termed "Hope for a Lost Generation", promises to bring 30,000 young Irish people off the Live Register in a year by combining a National Internship Program, a Second Chance Education Scheme, an Apprenticeship Guarantee and Community Work Program, as well as instituting a German style, Workshare program.
Commentary on the FG's economic proposals has generally been positive from some economic commentators including Eddie Hobbs and David McWilliams who have praised the proposals stating that they have considerable potential. Eamon Gilmore's Labour Party has launched policies which are seen to be broadly consistent with the FG platform.
Constitutional reform policies:
Fine Gael is seen as being a constitutional party, with members and public representatives always showing considerable deference to the institutional organs of the Irish state. The party leadership has been eager to be seen to engage in an ongoing constitutional debate in Ireland on the topic of political reform. The debate which has been monitored by the Irish Times in its Renewing the Republic opinion pieces, has largely centred on the make up of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament. FG's Phil Hogan TD, has published the party's answer to the political and constitutional reform question. In a policy document entitled New Politics, deputy Hogan has suggested creating a country with "a smaller, more dynamic and more responsive political system," reducing the size of the Dáil by 20, changing the way the Dáil works, and in a controversial move, abolishing the Irish senate, Seanad Éireann.
Aiming to carry out the parties proposals through a series of constitutional referendums, the proposals were echoed by Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, when he proposed his own constitutional crusade at his 2010 party conference, shortly after.
Fine Gael has been traditionally conservative in social matters for most of the twentieth century. This was due to the conservative Christian ethos of Irish society during this time. Possibly because of the Celtic tiger, a decline in Sunday church attendance and the rise of international media and social influences, significant opinion polls suggest that support has grown in Ireland for liberalisation. Fine Gael has adapted to these new social influences and while in government in 1996, it legalised divorce in Ireland after a referendum held on 24 November 1995.
Under Enda Kenny, the party has pledged its support for the issue of civil unions in Ireland. Though opposing same sex marriage, the party ran advertisements in GCN (Gay Community News) advertising its commitments to same-sex couples. Support in the republic for same-sex marriage is estimated at roughly 63%, with 37% against. Polls show that numbers supporting same-sex civil unions are much higher, at 84%.
Fine Gael supports making the Irish language an optional subject in the secondary school curriculum after the Junior Certificate.
The Irish health system, being administered centrally by the Health Service Executive, is seen to be poor by comparison to other countries in Europe, ranking outside expected levels at 25th according to the Euro Health Consumer Index 2006. Fine Gael has become the first party in Ireland to break with the system of private health insurance, public medical cards and what it calls the two tiers of the health system and has launched a campaign to see the system reformed. Speaking in favour of the campaign, Fine Gael health spokesman James Reilly stated "Over the last 10 years the health service has become a shambles. We regularly have over 350 people on trolleys in A&E, waiting lists that go on for months, outpatient waiting lists that go on for years and cancelled operations across the country..."
Fine Gael launched its FairCare campaign and website in April 2009, which states that the health service would be reformed away from a costly ineffective endeavour, into a publicly regulated system where universal health insurance would replace the existing provisions.
This strategy was criticised by Fianna Fáil Minister for Children, Barry Andrews. The spokesperson for family law and children, Alan Shatter TD, robustly defended its proposals as the only means of reducing public expenditure, and providing a service in Ireland more akin to the German, Dutch and Canadian health systems.
The party is a member of the Centrist Democrat International and the European Peoples Party, while it sits with the European People's Party group in the European Parliament. Young Fine Gael is a member of the Youth of the European People's Party (YEPP).
Fine Gael is among the most pro-European integration parties in the Republic of Ireland, having supported the European Constitution, the Lisbon Treaty, and advocating participation in European common defence. Under Enda Kenny, the party has questioned Irish neutrality, with Kenny claiming that "the truth is, Ireland is not neutral. We are merely unaligned."
It is inferred from Fine Gael's relationship to European counterparts via the EPP that it belongs on the centre-right. Currently, the party conforms generally with European political parties that identify themselves as being Christian-democratic. Some younger parliamentarians are identified with the centre right. The Irish Times supplement described front bench member Leo Varadkar TD as having explicitly centre-right views. Members in the party are happy with a description of the "progressive centre".
At the 2007 general election, Fine Gael gained 20 seats bringing them to a total of 51. The party ran candidates in all 43 constituencies, and had candidates elected in every constituency except Dublin Central, Dublin Mid West, Dublin North West and Kildare South.
Fine Gael won 14 seats in Seanad Éireann following the 2007 election, a loss of one from the previous election in 2002. With the eventual demise of the Progressive Democrats, their leader, Senator Ciarán Cannon joined Fine Gael bringing their representation in the Seanad to 15.
At the 2009 Local elections held on 5 June 2009, Fine Gael won 556 seats, surpassing Fianna Fáil which won 407 seats, and making Fine Gael the largest party of local government nationally. They gained 88 seats from their 2004 result.
At 2009 European Parliament election held on the same day as the Local elections, which saw a reduction in the number seats from 13 to 12 for Ireland, the party won four seats, retaining the largest number of seats of an Irish party in the European Parliament. This was a loss of one seat from its 2004 result.
While Fine Gael was responsible for the initial nomination of the uncontested, first President of Ireland, Douglas Hyde, a Fine Gael candidate has never won an election to the office of President. The most recent Fine Gael presidential candidate, Mary Banotti, finished second in the 1997 presidential election, with 29.3% of the vote. In 2004, Fine Gael supported the re-election of President Mary McAleese.
Planning and Payment Tribunals:
The Moriarty Tribunal has sat since 1997 and has investigated the granting of a mobile phone license to Esat Telecom by Michael Lowry when he was Fine Gael Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications in the Rainbow Coalition of the mid-1990s. Lowry resigned from the Cabinet after it was revealed at the Moriarty Tribunal that businessman Ben Dunne had paid for a IR£395,000 extension to Lowry's Tipperary home. Lowry, currently an independent TD, supports the Fianna Fáil-Green Party government in Dáil Éireann.
Following revelations at the Moriarty Tribunal on the 16th February, 1999, in relation to Charles Haughey and his relationship with AIB, former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald confirmed that AIB and Ansbacher wrote off debts of almost £200,000 that he owed in 1993, when he was in financial difficulties because of the collapse of the aircraft leasing company, GPA, in which he was a shareholder. The write-off occurred after Dr Fitzgerald left politics and Dr. Fitzgerald also said he believed his then Fine Gael colleague, Peter Sutherland, who was chairman of AIB at the time, was unaware of the situation.
Mayo TD Enda Kenny was elected leader of Fine Gael in a secret ballot of the parliamentary party on 5 June 2002. Kenny defeated Richard Bruton, Phil Hogan and Gay Mitchell in the leadership election, which was triggered by the resignation of Michael Noonan following the 2002 general election. The position of deputy leader has been held since July 2010 by James Reilly. It was previously held by Dublin North Central TD Richard Bruton from 2002 until 2010. He was preceded as deputy leader by Jim Mitchell.
Young Fine Gael:
Young Fine Gael (YFG) is the youth movement of Fine Gael. It was founded in 1976 by the then leader Garret Fitzgerald. It caters for young people under 30 with an interest in Fine Gael and politics, in cities, towns, parishes and third level colleges throughout Ireland. YFG has 4,000 members nationwide. YFG is led by its national executive consisting of eleven members elected on a regional basis, and on a national panel.