Seán MacEntee

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Seán MacEntee
Seán MacEntee.jpg
Tánaiste
In office
23 June 1959 – 21 April 1965
Preceded by Seán Lemass
Succeeded by Frank Aiken
Minister for Social Welfare
In office
27 November 1957 – 12 October 1961
Preceded by Paddy Smith
Succeeded by Kevin Boland
Minister for Health
In office
20 March 1957 – 21 April 1965
Preceded by Tom O'Higgins
Succeeded by Donogh O'Malley
Minister for Local Government and Public Health
In office
18 August 1941 – 18 February 1948
Preceded by Éamon de Valera
Succeeded by Timothy J. Murphy
Minister for Industry and Commerce
In office
16 September 1939 – 18 August 1941
Preceded by Éamon de Valera
Succeeded by Timothy J. Murphy
Minister for Finance
In office
13 June 1951 – 2 June 1954
Preceded by Patrick McGilligan
Succeeded by Gerard Sweetman
In office
9 March 1932 – 16 September 1939
Preceded by Ernest Blythe
Succeeded by Seán T. O'Kelly
Personal details
Born (1889-08-22)22 August 1889
Belfast, Ireland
Died 10 January 1984(1984-01-10) (aged 94)
Dublin, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Political party Fianna Fáil
Other political
affiliations
Sinn Féin (1918–26)
Spouse(s) Margaret Browne
Children 3
Religion Roman Catholicism

Seán MacEntee (Irish: Seán Mac an tSaoi; 22 August 1889 – 10 January 1984) was an Irish politician.[1] In a career that spanned over forty years as a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála, MacEntee was one of the most important figures in post-independence Ireland. He served in the governments of Éamon de Valera and Seán Lemass in a range of ministerial positions, including Finance, Industry and Commerce, and Health. He was a member of every Fianna Fáil cabinet from 1932 to April 1965. He and Lemass introduced a protectionist policy from 1932 that is now considered a failure. He served as Tánaiste of Ireland from 1959 to 1965. At the time of his death, he was the last surviving member of the First Dáil.

Early life[edit]

Seán MacEntee was born in College Square, Belfast in 1889. He was educated at St Mary's Christian Brothers School, St. Malachy's College and the Belfast Municipal College of Technology where he qualified as an electrical engineer. His early political involvement was with the Irish Socialist Republican Party in Belfast city. Following his education MacEntee worked as an engineer in Dundalk, County Louth, and was involved in the establishment of a local corps of the Irish Volunteers in the town. He mobilised in Dundalk and fought in the General Post Office Garrison in the Easter Rising in 1916. He was sentenced to death for his part in the rising. This sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. MacEntee was released in the general amnesty in 1917, and was later elected a member of the National Executives of both Sinn Féin and the Irish Volunteers in October 1917. MacEntee was later elected Sinn Féin Member of Parliament (MP) for Monaghan South at the 1918 general election.

Rebellion years[edit]

An attempt to develop his career as a consulting engineer in Belfast was interrupted by the War of Independence in 1919. MacEntee served as Vice-Commandant of the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army. He was also a member of the Volunteer Executive, a sort of Cabinet and Directory for the Minister for Defence and the HQ Staff[2] But MacEntee remained one of the few Sinn Feiners from the north.[3] On 6 August 1920, MacEntee presented 'a Memorial' lecture to the Dail from the Belfast Corporation. He told the Dail it was the only custodian of public order, and that a Nationalist pogrom was taking place, he advised them to fight Belfast.[4] The Dail government's policy was dubbed [5]Hibernia Irredenta or 'Greening Ireland'. But many nationalist towns in Ulster wanted to remain British. Sean MacEntee was asked to resign his South Monaghan seat, after voting against a bunting celebration in Lurgan to mark the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

The path to civil war[edit]

From April 1921 when MacEntee was transferred to Dublin to direct a special anti-partition campaign in connection with the May general election. It remained Collins policy, he declared, that the largely protestant shipyard workers of Belfast were being directed by the British, urging all Irishmen to rejoin the Republic.[6] Correspondingly the Ulster Unionist Council rejected the call for a review of the boundary commission decision made on the six counties. But when Ulstermen chose James Craig as Premier, Collins denounced democracy in the north as a sham.[7] It was on the partition of Ireland issue that MacEntee voted against the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.[8] During the subsequent Civil War MacEntee commanded the IRA unit in Marlboro Street Post Office in Dublin. He later fought with Cathal Brugha in the Hamman Hotel, and was subsequently interned in Kilmainham and Gormanstown until December 1923.

A politician in the Free State[edit]

After his release MacEntee devoted himself more fully to his engineering practice, although he did contest unsuccessfully the county Dublin by-election of 1924. He became a founder-member of Fianna Fáil in 1926 and was elected Teachta Dála for County Dublin in the June 1927 general election.[9]

MacEntee founded the Association of Patent Agents in 1929, having gained his interest in Patents when he worked as an assistant engineer in Dundalk Urban District Council.[10] On Mr. MacEntee’s appointment as Minister for Finance in 1932, his colleague, Francis Litton who was acting as Secretary of the Association, circulated the members with a notice to the effect that the Association was “suspended” until such time as Mr. MacEntee could return as he now had to devote his energies to the affairs of the State. However, the other members decided to carry on. MacEntee must have valued his status as a Patent Agent since he maintained his name on the Register for over 30 years while he held Ministerial rank in the Irish Government, although he is not thought to have taken any active part in the patent business, which was carried on by his business partners.

A founder of Fianna Fail (1932–1948)[edit]

In 1932 Fianna Fáil came to power for the very first time, with MacEntee becoming Minister for Finance. In keeping with the party's protectionist economic policies his first budget in March of that year saw the introduction of new duties on forty-three imports, many of them coming from Britain. This saw retaliation from the British government, which in turn provoked a response from the Irish government. This was the beginning of the Economic War between the two nations, however, a treaty in 1938, signed by MacEntee and other senior members brought an end to the issue.

In 1939 World War II broke out and a cabinet reshuffle resulted in MacEntee being appointed Minister for Industry and Commerce, taking over from his rival Seán Lemass. During his tenure at this department MacEntee introduced the important Trade Union Act (1941). In 1941 another reshuffle of ministers took place, with MacEntee becoming Minister for Local Government and Public Health. The Health portfolio was transferred to a new Department of Health in 1947. Following the 1948 general election Fianna Fáil returned to the opposition benches for the first time in sixteen years.

In government (1951–1965)[edit]

In 1951 Fianna Fáil were back with a minority government. MacEntee once again returned to the position of Minister for Finance where he felt it was vital to deal with the balance of payments deficit. He brought in a harsh budget in 1951 which raised income tax and tariffs on imports. His chief aim was to cut spending and reduce imports, however, this came at a cost as unemployment increased sharply. The increases were retained in his next two budgets in 1952 and 1953. It is often said that it was MacEntee's performance during this period that cost Fianna Fáil the general election in 1954. The poor grasp on economics also did his political career tremendous damage as up to that point he was seen as a likely successor as Taoiseach. Now, however, Seán Lemass was firmly seen as the "heir apparent".

In 1957 Fianna Fáil returned to power with an overall majority with MacEntee being appointed Minister for Health. The financial and economic portfolios were dominated by Lemass and other like-minded ministers who wanted to move away from protection to free trade. He is credited during this period with the reorganisation of the health services, the establishment of separate departments of health and social welfare, and the fluoridation of water supplies in Ireland. In 1959 MacEntee became Tánaiste when Seán Lemass was elected Taoiseach.

Retirement[edit]

Following the 1965 general election MacEntee was 76 years old and retired from the government. This did not mean that he went quietly to the backbenches. He re-emerged in 1966 to launch a verbal attack on Seán Lemass for deciding to step down as party leader and Taoiseach. The two men, however, patched up their differences shortly afterwards. MacEntee retired from Dáil Éireann in 1969 at the age of 80, making him the oldest TD in Irish history.

Seán MacEntee died in Dublin on 10 January 1984, at the age of 94. He had married a fiercely nationalistic woman from Tipperary, Margaret Browne, and their daughter is the Irish poet Máire Mhac an tSaoi. She was married to the politician Conor Cruise O'Brien until his death.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Mr. Seán MacEntee". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 13 February 2012. 
  2. ^ Kevin B Nolan, 'Dail Eireann and the Army: Unity and Division 1919-21, in Williams (ed.), "Irish Struggle", p.271, cited in Townshend, p.87.
  3. ^ Others were Eoin Macneill and Ernest Blythe. William Forbes Patterson, a Canadian protestant convert to Sein Finn was commissioned by Dublin to investigate. He found that Republicans faced a pogrom in Ulster. Townshend, "The Republic", pp.172-3.
  4. ^ Dail Debates, 6 Aug 1920, as cited by Townshend, p.176.
  5. ^ Bureau of Military History (Ireland) WS 1096 ( J J Murray), citing in Townshend, p.376-7.
  6. ^ Coogan, Tim Pat, "Michael Collins", p.357, cited by Townshend, p.378.
  7. ^ Collins and Craig had a meeting at the Colonial Office, London on 21 January 1922.
  8. ^ Dáil Éireann – Volume 3 – 22 December 1921, Debate on Treaty
  9. ^ "Seán MacEntee". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 13 February 2012. 
  10. ^ http://www.aptma.ie/history.htm

Biblographical sources[edit]

  • Beaslai, Piaras, Michael Collins and the Making of a New Ireland 2 vols, (Dublin 1926)
  • Boyce, George D & Alan O' Day (eds.) The Ulster Crisis 1885-1921 (Basingstoke 2006)
  • Coogan, Tim Pat, Michael Collins: A biography (London 1990)
  • Costello, Francis, Enduring the Most: The Life and Death of Terence MacSwiney (Dingle 1995)
  • Curran, Joseph, The Birth of the Irish Free State (Tuscaloosa, Ala, USA 1980)
  • Doherty, Gabriel & Dermot Keogh (eds) Michael Collins and the Making of the Irish State (Cork 1998)
  • Farrell, Brian, Creation of the Dail (Dublin 1994)
  • Foy, Michael T., Michael Collins' Intelligence War: The Struggle between the British and the IRA 1919-1921 (Stroud 2006)
  • Lynch, Robert, The Northern IRA and the Early Years of Partition, 1920-1922 (Dublin 2006)
  • McDermott, Jim, Northern Divisions: The Old IRA and the Belfast Pogroms 1920-22 (Belfast 2001)
  • Morgan, Austen, Labour and Partition: The Belfast Working Class 1905-23 (London 1990)
  • Phoenix, Eamon, Northern Nationalism: Nationalist Politics, Partition and the Catholic Minority in Northern Ireland, 1890-1940 (Belfast 1994)
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John McKean
(Irish Parliamentary Party)
Sinn Féin MP for Monaghan South
1918–1922
Succeeded by
Constituency abolished
Oireachtas
New constituency Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Monaghan South
1918–1921
Succeeded by
Constituency abolished
New constituency Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Monaghan
1921–1922
Succeeded by
Patrick McCarvill
(Sinn Féin)
Preceded by
Darrell Figgis
(Independent)
Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Dublin County
1927–1937
Succeeded by
Constituency redrawn
New constituency Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Dublin Townships
1937–1948
Succeeded by
Constituency abolished
New constituency Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Dublin South–East
1948–1969
Succeeded by
Noël Browne
(Labour Party)
Political offices
Preceded by
Ernest Blythe
Minister for Finance
1932–1939
Succeeded by
Seán T. O'Kelly
Preceded by
Seán Lemass
Minister for Industry and Commerce
1939–1941
Succeeded by
Seán Lemass
Preceded by
Éamon de Valera
Minister for Local Government and Public Health
1941–1948
Succeeded by
Timothy J. Murphy
Preceded by
Patrick McGilligan
Minister for Finance
1951–1954
Succeeded by
Gerard Sweetman
Preceded by
Tom O'Higgins
Minister for Health
1957–1965
Succeeded by
Donogh O'Malley
Preceded by
Paddy Smith
Minister for Social Welfare
1957–1961
Succeeded by
Kevin Boland
Preceded by
Seán Lemass
Tánaiste
1959–1965
Succeeded by
Frank Aiken