James Ryan (Irish politician)

James Ryan (Irish politician)

Infobox Minister
name =James Ryan

office = Minister for Finance
term_start = 20 March 1957
term_end = 21 April 1965
predecessor = Gerard Sweetman
successor = Jack Lynch
office2 = Minister for Agriculture
term_start2 = 9 March 1932
term_end2 = 21 January 1947
predecessor2 = Patrick Hogan
successor2 = Paddy Smith
birth_date = birth date|1891|12|6|df=y
birth_place =Taghmon, County Wexford, Ireland
death_date =death date and age|1970|09|25|1891|12|6|df=y
death_place =Kendlestown, County Wicklow, Ireland
party = Fianna Fáil
residence =
salary =
spouse = Máirín Creegan
religion = Roman Catholic
children =
website =
footnotes =

James Ryan (6 December 1891 – 25 September 1970) was a senior Irish politician. He was elected to the First Dáil at the 1918 general election and, apart from the Third Dáil (1922–1923), held his seat for Wexford until his retirement at the 1965 general election. During his long career he served as Minister for Agriculture (1932–1947), Minister for Health & Social Welfare (1947–1948 and 1951–1954) and Minister for Finance (1957–1965).

Early & private life

James Ryan was born on the family farm at Tomcoole, near Taghmon, County Wexford in 1891. The second youngest of twelve children he was educated at St Peter's College, Wexford and Ring College, Waterford. In 1911 Ryan won a county council scholarship to University College Dublin where he studied medicine. He passed his final medical exam in March 1917 and subsequently opened a medical practice in Wexford town. Four years later in 1921 Ryan moved to Dublin where he opened a practice at Harcourt Street, specialising in skin diseases at the Skin and Cancer Hospital on Holles Street. He left medicine in 1925 after he bought Kendlestown, a large farm near Delgany, County Wicklow. Ryan lived there and it remained a working farm until his death.

In July 1919 Ryan married Máirín Creegan, originally from County Kerry and a close friend of Sinéad de Valera throughout her life. Creegan, like her husband, had also fought in the Easter Rising and was subsequently an author of children’s stories in Irish. They had three children together.

One of Ryan’s sisters, Mary Kate, married Seán T. O'Kelly, one of Ryan’s future cabinet colleagues and a future President of Ireland. Following her death O'Kelly married her sister, Phyllis Ryan. Another of Ryan’s sisters, Máirin, married Richard Mulcahy, a future leader of Fine Gael.

Revolutionary career

While studying at university in 1913 Ryan became a founder-member of the Irish Volunteers and was sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood the following year. During the Easter Rising in 1916 Ryan was the medical officer in the General Post Office (GPO). He was, along with James Connolly, one of the last people to leave the GPO when the evacuation took place. Following the surrender of the rebels Ryan was deported to Stafford Jail in England and subsequently at Frongoch. He was released in August 1916.

Ryan rejoined the Volunteers immediately after his release from prison, and in June 1917 he was elected Commandant of the Wexford Battalion. His political career began the following year when he was elected as a Sinn Féin candidate for the constituency of Wexford South in the 1918 general election. Like his fellow Sinn Féin MPs Ryan refused to attend the parliament in Westminster. Instead he attended the proceedings of the First Dáil on 21 January 1919. As the War of Independence went on Ryan became Brigade Commandant of South Wexford and was also elected to Wexford County Council, serving as chairman on one occasion. In September 1919 he was arrested by the British and interned on Spike Island and later Beare Island until he was released after the truce with the other TDs to attend the deliberations of the Dáil concerning the Anglo-Irish Treaty which he voted against. Ryan was later imprisoned again during the subsequent Civil War, however, while interned he won back his Dáil seat as an abstentionist Sinn Féin TD in the 1923 general election.

Political career

In 1926 Ryan, as a Sinn Féin TD, supported the party leader, Éamon de Valera, in his attempt to bring the party into the Dáil. When this proposal failed Ryan left the party along with de Valera and dozens of other Sinn Féin TDs. One month after this he became a founder-member of the new Fianna Fáil political party. The new party entered the Dáil in 1927 and spent five years on the opposition benches.

Minister for Agriculture

Following the 1932 general election Fianna Fáil came to power and Ryan was appointed Minister for Agriculture, a position he would continuously hold for fifteen years. In agriculture the government’s policy was based on the idea of self-sufficiency. Ryan was given the task of implementing the following policies:
* Imports of wheat, sugar and other agricultural produce were restricted.
* Farmers were given a guaranteed price for wheat.
* Farmers were forced to use home-produced grain in animal feed and bakers had to use a certain percentage of Irish flour in their bread.
* The sugar beet industry was expanded with the opening of new factories.

While these policies saw increases in sugar-beet production and in the growing of wheat the small farmers of Munster and Connacht gained little while the large farmers were the real beneficiaries. Ryan also faced severe criticism over the so-called Economic War with Britain. The economic war did serious harm to the cattle trade, Ireland’s main export earner. The government tried to compensate by giving bounties equal to the British duties, however, these had to be paid for by the taxpayer. The economic war ended in 1938 with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement between both governments, after a serious of talks in London between the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, de Valera, Ryan and Sean Lemass.

During World War II self-sufficiency in food became essential. The Department of Agriculture ordered every farmer was ordered to till one-eighth of his land. This was raised to three-eighths in 1944. In spite of strict rationing and severe shortages basic foodstuffs remained available. The end of the war saw farmer discontent emerge once again. A new political party, Clann na Talmhan, was established in the late 1930s to represent the interests of smaller farmers in the west of Ireland. Similarly, much of the country’s land had become exhausted due to increased productivity during the war and a shortage of fertilisers.

Minister for Health & Social Welfare

In 1947, after spending fifteen years as Minister for Agriculture, Ryan was appointed to the newly created position of Minister for Health & Social Welfare. As Minister, he brought the draft Health Bill to cabinet later that year. This was a radical and innovative piece of legislation which proposed to modernise the health service into two aspects – mother and child welfare and infectious diseases. De Valera was anxious about accepting these measures as government policy due to opposition from the Catholic Church. In fact, much of the legislation was controversially enacted by Noel Browne, Ryan’s successor as Minister from 1948 to 1951. Following Fianna Fáil’s return to power at the 1951 general election Ryan returned as Minister for Health & Social Welfare. During his second period in this office he clashed with the Church once again over the implementation of the remaining aspects of the ‘Mother & Child Scheme’. Following negotiations with the hierarchy, adjustments on such issues as means testing and medical inspections were made and the legislation was passed in the Dáil. Following the 1954 general election Fianna Fáil lost power and Ryan moved to the backbenches once again.

Minister for Finance

Following the 1957 general election Fianna Fáil were back in power and de Valera’s cabinet had a new look to it. In a clear message that there would be a change in economic policy Ryan, a close ally of Seán Lemass, was appointed Minister for Finance, replacing the conservative Seán MacEntee. The first sign of a new economic approach came in 1958 when Ryan brought the First Programme for Economic Development to the cabinet table. This plan, the brainchild of T. K. Whitaker, recognised that Ireland would have to move away from self-sufficiency towards free trade. It also proposed that foreign firms should be given grants and tax breaks to set up in Ireland.

When Seán Lemass succeeded de Valera as Taoiseach in 1959 Ryan was retained in the Finance portfolio. Lemass also wanted to reward him for his loyalty by naming him Tánaiste, however, the new leader felt obliged to appoint Seán MacEntee, one of the party elders to the position. Ryan continued to implement the First Programme throughout the early 1960s, achieving a record growth rate of 4 per cent by 1963. That year an even more ambitious Second Programme was introduced, however, it proved to be too ambitious and had to be abandoned. In spite of this the annual growth rate averaged five per cent, the highest achieved since independence.


Ryan retired as a TD at the 1965 general election and, shortly afterwards, he was elected to Seanad Éireann where he joined his son, Eoin Ryan, Snr. His grandson, also called Eoin Ryan, is a former TD, Senator and current Member of the European Parliament. Ryan served in the upper house of the Oireachtas until 1969 before retiring to his farm at Kendlestown in County Wicklow.

James Ryan died on 25 September 1970.

External links

* [http://electionsireland.org/candidate.cfm?ID=1096 James Ryan's electoral history] (ElectionsIreland.org)

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