John Bruton

John Bruton

Infobox Prime Minister
name = John Bruton

width = 175px
birth_date = birth date and age|1947|05|18|df=y
birth_place = County Meath, Ireland
office = Taoiseach
term_start = 15 December 1994
term_end = 26 June 1997
president = Mary Robinson
1blankname = Tánaiste
1namedata = Dick Spring
predecessor = Albert Reynolds
successor = Bertie Ahern
office2 = EU Ambassador to the United States
term_start2 = 24 November 2004
term_end2 = present
president2 = José Manuel Barroso
predecessor2 = Günter Burghardt
successor2 =
office3= Minister for Finance
term_start3 = 14 February 1986
term_end3 = 10 March 1987
1blankname3 = Taoiseach
1namedata3 = Garret FitzGerald
predecessor3 = Alan Dukes
successor3 = Ray MacSharry
term_start4 = 30 June 1981
term_end4 = 9 March 1982
predecessor4 = Gene FitzGerald
successor4 = Ray MacSharry
office5= Minister for Industry, Trade, Commerce & Tourism
term_start5 = 13 December 1983
term_end5 = 14 February 1986
predecessor5 = Garret FitzGerald
successor5 = Michael Noonan
spouse = Finola Bruton
profession = Barrister
religion = Roman Catholic
party = Fine Gael

John Gerard Bruton ( _ga. Seán de Briotún; born 18 May 1947) served as the ninth Taoiseach of Ireland. A minister under two taoisigh, Liam Cosgrave and Garret FitzGerald, Bruton held a number of the top posts in Irish government, including Minister for Finance (1981–1982 and 1986–1987), and Minister for Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism (1983–1986). He became leader of Fine Gael in 1990 and served as Taoiseach from 1994 until 1997, leading the Rainbow Coalition government of Fine Gael–Labour Party–Democratic Left.

Bruton was first elected to Dáil Éireann as a TD for Meath in 1969, and served continuously until his retirement from domestic politics in 2004. He is currently the Ambassador of the European Union to the United States, and is a former Vice-President of the European People's Party (EPP). He is married to Finola Bruton and has 4 children.

Early life

John Gerard Bruton was born to a wealthy farming family in Dunboyne, County Meath and educated at Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit-run independent fee-paying secondary school, which numbers James Joyce among its former students.

Oliver Coogan notes in his "Politics and War in Meath 1913-23" that Bruton's grandfather was one of the farmers in south Meath who prevented the traditionally Anglo-Irish ascendency hunt from proceeding in the area during the Irish War of Independence.

Bruton later went on to study at University College Dublin where he received an honours Bachelor of Arts degree and qualified as a barrister from King's Inns, but never went on to practice law. Bruton was narrowly elected to Dáil Éireann in the 1969 general election as a Fine Gael TD. [cite web
title=John Bruton – Dáil Éireann Members' Database
work=Houses of the Oireachtas Website
] At the age of 22 he was the fourth youngest ever member of the Dáil up to that point. He more than doubled his vote in the general election of 1973, which brought Fine Gael to power as part of the National Coalition with the Labour Party. Bruton was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry & Commerce and to the Minister for Education, by the National Coalition in 1973. He remained in office until 1977.

hadow cabinet and in government

Following Fine Gael's defeat in the 1977 general election, Bruton was appointed to the new front bench as Spokesperson on Agriculture by its new leader, Garret FitzGerald. He was later promoted to the shadow Finance portfolio, making a particular effective speech in the Dáil in response to the budget of 1980. He played a prominent role in Fine Gael's campaign in the 1981 general election which resulted in another coalition with the Labour Party and with FitzGerald as Taoiseach. Bruton received a huge personal vote in Meath, and at the age of only 34 was appointed Minister for Finance, the most senior position in the Cabinet. The new government had to abandon its election promises to cut taxes in the light of overwhelming economic realities. The government collapsed unexpectedly on the night of 27 January 1982 when Bruton's controversial Budget was defeated in the Dáil. The previously supportive Independent Socialist TD, Jim Kemmy, voted against the Budget, which proposed the introduction of VAT on children's shoes, thus causing the Dáil to be dissolved and Fine Gael to lose power.

First leadership bid

The minority Fianna Fáil government which followed only lasted until November 1982 when Fine Gael once again returned to power in a coalition government with the Labour Party but when the new government was formed Bruton was moved from Finance to become Minister for Industry, Trade, Commerce & Tourism. The following year (1983) the Trade and Tourism portfolios were removed from his brief. A 1986 Cabinet re-shuffle saw Bruton return as Minister for Finance. Although he was Minister for Finance, Bruton never presented his Budget. The Labour Party withdrew from the government due to a disagreement over his budget proposals leading to the collapse of the government and another election.

Following the 1987 general election Fine Gael suffered a heavy defeat. Garret FitzGerald resigned as leader immediately, and a leadership contest ensued between Alan Dukes, Peter Barry and Bruton himself. The exact result of the vote was not published. [Different reports suggested that either Barry or Bruton came a poor third.] This was a severe blow as the victor, Dukes, was, like Bruton, one of the younger generation of politicians (albeit a couple of years older than Bruton) but had been a TD for 12 years fewer. Bruton was of Fine Gael's Christian Democrat tradition, whereas Dukes was in FitzGerald's Social Democratic mould. Dukes was perceived to be a lacklustre leader however, who alienated his party's TDs and made little progress in recovering the ground lost by Fine Gael in 1987. The disastrous performance in the 1990 presidential election in which the party finished a humiliating and unprecedented third in a national election, [Fine Gael candidate Austin Currie finished a poor third with 17%, behind Labour's Mary Robinson and Fianna Fáil's Brian Lenihan.] proved to be the final straw for the party and Dukes forced to resign as leader shortly after. [Fergus Finlay, "Mary Robinson: A President with a Purpose" (O'Brien Press, 1990) pp 145-146.] Bruton, who was the deputy-leader of Fine Gael at the time, was unopposed in the ensuing leadership election.

Leadership of Fine Gael

Whereas Dukes came from the left wing of Fine Gael, Bruton came from the more conservative wing. However to the surprise of critics and of conservatives, in his first policy initiative he called for the introduction of divorce to Ireland.

Fine Gael had been in decline for nearly a decade; from the highpoint of the November 1982 general election when it achieved 70 seats in Dáil Éireann, only five seats short of Fianna Fáil's total [Fianna Fáil since 1932 had been by far the bigger of the two parties, often with double the number of Dáil seats of Fine Gael.] the party had lost a considerable number of seats. Following the inexperienced Dukes' disastrous period of leadership, Bruton's election was seen as offering Fine Gael a chance to rebuild under a far more politically experienced leader. However Bruton's perceived right wing persona and his rural background was used against him by critics and particularly by the media.

By the 1992 general election, the anti-Fianna Fáil mood in the country produced a major swing to the opposition, but that support went to Labour, not Bruton's Fine Gael, which actually lost a further 10 seats. To the astonishment of many the electorate and most of the media, who had voted for or backed the Labour Party to get Fianna Fáil out of power, the Labour Party chose to enter into a new coalition "with" Fianna Fáil. It was a humiliating blow to Bruton. Fine Gael, and Bruton personally, continued to perform poorly in opinion polls throughout 1993 and early 1994 and Bruton narrowly survived a challenge to his leadership in early 1994. However a couple of by-election victories, and a good performance in the 1994 European Elections, coupled with a disastrous showing by the Labour Party, shored up his position. When in late 1994 the government collapsed, Bruton was able to form a government with the Labour Party and Democratic Left, a small left-wing party. Bruton faced charges of hypocrisy for agreeing to enter government with Democratic Left, as Fine Gael campaigned in the 1992 General Election on a promise not to enter government with the party. Nevertheless, on 15 December, aged 47, Bruton became the then youngest ever Taoiseach.

Taoiseach 1994–1997

Bruton's politics were markedly different from most Irish leaders. Whereas most leaders had come from or identified with the independence movement Sinn Féin (in its 1917-22 phase), Bruton identified more with the more moderate Irish Parliamentary Party (IIP) tradition that Sinn Féin had eclipsed in the 1918 general election. He hung a picture of his political hero, the IIP's leader John Redmond on a wall in his office as Taoiseach, in preference to other figures like Patrick Pearse. But as evidence of Bruton's complexity, he also kept a picture of former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Seán Lemass which had been hung there by Reynolds, and which Bruton kept because he viewed Lemass as the best and most reforming Taoiseach in the history of the state.

Bruton's Rainbow Coalition was generally perceived to be a good government, with Bruton, who was meant to have had a bad relationship with Tánaiste Dick Spring, being seen as its star performer. [Bruton's radio interview in the final week of the referendum on divorce in 1996 was seen as tipping the scales in favour of a "yes" vote. The referendum was narrowly won by the "yes" side.] His popularity soared while he and Spring (along with Proinsias De Rossa, leader of Democratic Left) were seen as an effective team. His government ensured the passage of a constitutional amendment to allow for the introduction of divorce. Bruton also presided over the first official visit by a member of the British Royal Family since 1912, the Prince of Wales

Continued developments in the Northern Ireland peace process and his attitude to Anglo-Irish relations came to define Bruton's tenure as Taoiseach. In February 1995 he launched the Anglo-Irish ‘Framework Document’ with the British Prime Minister, John Major. This document outlined new proposed relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Many of Bruton's opponents considered him to be too willing to accommodate unionist demands. However, he took a strongly critical position on the British Government's reluctance to engage with Sinn Féin during the IRA's 1994–1997 ceasefire.

Bruton also established a working relationship with Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin. However, the relationship became frayed following the ending of the ceasefire in 1996, resulting in a bomb explosion in London. These relations worsened when the IRA killed Jerry McCabe, a member of the Gardaí, in a post office robbery in County Limerick, and another bomb explosion in Manchester. Bruton resisted advice to end all talks with Sinn Féin, though he continued to be one of their most vocal critics and advocated another IRA ceasefire before Sinn Féin would be allowed to join all-party talks. Bruton received widespread praise in the Republic for condemning the Royal Ulster Constabulary for yielding to loyalist threats at Drumcree by allowing members of the Orange Order to parade through a nationalist district. He stated that the RUC had been neither impartial nor consistent in applying the law. His outrage and criticism led to a tense atmosphere between London and Dublin. The IRA resumed their ceasefire soon after Fine Gael were removed from government in 1997.

Bruton came to power at a time when Ireland's economy was achieving substantial growth. With the Celtic Tiger in its infancy, the standard of living increased dramatically. In the year before he took office (1993) the Irish economy had grown by 2.7%. During his time as Taoiseach, though, the economy grew at an annual average rate of 8.7%, an exceptional pace by any international comparison.

He also presided over a successful Irish EU Presidency in 1996 and helped finalise the Stability and Growth Pact, which establishes macroeconomic parameters for countries participating in the single European currency, the euro. Bruton addressed a joint session of the United States Congress on 11 September 1996, as only the 30th head of state or government of an EU country to do so since 1945.

Constitutional reform was also on the government's agenda, and a referendum to abolish the prohibition on divorce was passed by a narrow majority.

The government was not devoid of scandal. In 1996 his Minister for Transport, Michael Lowry, resigned from the Cabinet after allegations that he accepted payments from the supermarket tycoon, Ben Dunne.

Post-Taoiseach period

The government was widely expected to win re-election in 1997. While Fine Gael gained nine seats, Labour was severely mauled, losing 16 seats and leaving the coalition far short of the parliamentary support it needed to retain office. A Fianna Fáil–Progressive Democrat coalition led by Bertie Ahern came into power, with Bruton reverting to leadership of the opposition.

Fine Gael sunk into paralysis in opposition. Fearing that the party would face collapse, he was deposed from leadership in 2001. However the new leader Michael Noonan failed to live up to expectations and the party's ratings fell to a far worse extent than had been expected under Bruton. Having gone into the election expecting to increase its seat numbers from 54 to 60, instead it collapsed, winning a mere 31, 39 seats less than at its highpoint twenty years earlier in 1982.

Bruton, a passionate supporter of European integration, was chosen as one of the two Irish Parliament Representatives to the European Convention which helped draft the proposed European Constitution. He was one of two National Parliament Representatives to sit on the 12-member Praesidium, which helped steer the European Convention. He is a member of the Comite d'Honneur of the Institute of European Affairs, along with Peter Sutherland and Bertie Ahern. He accepted an offer to become European Union ambassador to the United States in the summer of 2004, and after resigning from the Dáil on 31 October 2004, he assumed that office. As a former head of government and native English speaker, his appointment is seen as a strategic choice in improving transatlantic relations. On his appointment, Bruton was praised by Ahern, who said Bruton had played "a pivotal role in developing Ireland’s relations with the European Union." [ [ The Irish Voice.] ]

He became an Honorary Patron of the University Philosophical Society before leaving for the US in 2004. He regularly lectures at national and international universities. In early 2004 he accepted a position as Adjunct Faculty Member in the School of Law and Government at Dublin City University.

His brother, Richard Bruton, is the current deputy leader of Fine Gael.


* 24th Government of Ireland (December 1994–June 1997)

External links

* [ Washington Diplomat Bio]
* [ John Bruton's electoral history] (


title=John Bruton

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