- General Eoin O'Duffy (1933-34) [O'Duffy never had a seat in parliament]
- W.T. Cosgrave, TD (1934-44)
- General Richard Mulcahy, TD (1944-59)
- James Dillon, TD (1959-65)
- Liam Cosgrave, TD (1965-77), Taoiseach from 1973 to 1977
- Garret FitzGerald, TD (1977-87), Taoiseach from 1981 to 1982, and 1982 to 1987.
- Alan Dukes, TD (1987-90)
- John Bruton, TD (1990-2001), Taoiseach from 1994 to 1997.
- Michael Noonan, TD (2001-2002)
- Enda Kenny, TD (2002 - present)
The leader also serves as the President of the party
Fine Gael was founded in 1933, following the merger of the Centre Party, Cumann na nGaedhael and the Blueshirts. In origin, it was really a larger version of Cumann na nGaedhael, the party created in 1924 by the Pro-Treaty leaders of the Irish Free State under W.T. Cosgrave. After a short hiatus under the disastrous leadership of General Eoin O'Duffy (who never held a parliamentary seat), Cosgrave returned to lead the new party, continuing in the leadership until 1944. Although the people who formed the party had been in government for ten years in the Irish Free State (1922-32), once Fianna Fáil under Eamon de Valera came to power in 1932, Fine Gael spent the next sixteen years in the doldrums, overshadowed by the larger party. Indeed at times, it went into what was thought to be terminal decline. However to its own surprise it found itself in government in 1948, when all the anti-Fianna Fáil parties between them won enough seats in that year's general election to oust Fianna Fáil and take power. However, some of the other parties in the new First Inter-Party Government considered Fine Gael's new leader, General Richard Mulcahy, to be too controversial a potential taoiseach. Notably, Clann na Poblachta under former Irish Republican Army chief of staff, Sean MacBride, were opposed to him because of his role as Chief of Staff of the Irish Army in the execution of republicans during the Irish Civil War. Instead former Fine Gael Attorney-General John A. Costello was chosen to head the government, which lasted from 1948 to 1951. Costello also headed the Second Inter-Party Government from 1954 to 1957.
The Just Society and Tom O'Higgins
Out of government, Fine Gael went into decline. In the mid 1960s, however, it launched a new policy statement, known as The Just Society, advocating policies based on principles of social justice and equality. In 1966, Fine Gael achieved a near miracle when its young presidential candidate, Tom O'Higgins, came within 1% of defeating the apparently unbeatable sitting president, Eamon de Valera, in that year's presidential election.
The National Coalition
After a break of sixteen years, Fine Gael again won government in 1973, at the head of a National Coalition government with Labour, under the leadership of Fine Gael leader Liam Cosgrave, son of W.T. Cosgrave. That government has generally been regarded as a good government, but was hit by frequent problems. Some of these were outside its control (for example the 1970s oil crisis), while others were its own direct creation - notably the vicious verbal attack on President Ó Dalaigh by the alcoholic Minister for Defence, Patrick Donegan , in which he called the President a "thundering disgrace". The President's subsequent resignation in 1976 severely damaged the National Coalition's reputation. In 1977 it suffered a heavy defeat, with Fianna Fáil winning an unprecedented 20-seat majority in the 148-seat Dáil.
Cosgrave resigned the leadership and was replaced by Garret FitzGerald, Minister for Foreign Affairs in the National Coalition. FitzGerald was one of Ireland's most popular politicians and son of Desmond FitzGerald, a Cumann na nGaedhael Minister for External Affairs. He moved Fine Gael to the left and promoted the Liberal Agenda . Fine Gael's revitalisation was of such a scale that by the December 1982 general election, Fine Gael was only five seats behind Fianna Fáil in Dáil Éireann and bigger than the party in Oireachtas Éireann (both houses of parliament put together). FitzGerald headed three governments: 1981-February 1982, 1982-1987, and a shortlived Fine Gael minority government after Labour withdrew from the previous coalition. In 1987 the party was defeated in the general election. FitzGerald resigned and former Minister for Finance Alan Dukes replaced him.
Decline, then the Rainbow Coalition
From a highpoint in the 1980s, Fine Gael went into slight, then sharp decline. In 1990, its candidate in the Irish presidential election, Austin Currie, was pushed into a humiliating third place, behind the winner, Labour's Mary Robinson. This led to John Bruton replacing Alan Dukes as the party's leader. In 1989, political history was made when Fianna Fáil abandoned one of its "core principles", its opposition to coalition. Having failed in 1987 and 1989 to win outright majorities, Fianna Fáil entered into a coalition administration with the Progressive Democrats. Commentators predicted that that would leave Fine Gael isolated, with Fianna Fáil able to swap coalition partners to keep itself in continual power. That indeed seemed the case when, after the 1992 general election, Fianna Fáil replaced the Progressive Democrats with the Irish Labour Party. However the Fianna Fáil-Labour coalition disintegrated in 1994, allowing Bruton to his own surprise to emerge as Taoiseach of a three party Rainbow Coalition, involving Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left. However the party was defeated in the 1997 general election, by a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats coalition under Bertie Ahern.
General Election 2002 Meltdown
The party, facing a hostile media and criticism of Bruton's style of leadership, ditched him in 2001 in place of what was seen as the dream ticket of former Minister Michael Noonan for leader and former minister Jim Mitchell for deputy leader. However the dream ticket proved a disaster, as Fine Gael suffered its worst ever election result in the 2002 general election, declining from 54 TDs to 31. Most of its best TDs, including most of its Front Bench, in particular Deputy Leader Jim Mitchell, lost their seats. Noonan resigned on the night of the election result, and was replaced by Enda Kenny, who had been a Minister under Bruton. With the scale of the collapse, questions were asked as to whether the party had a future.
However, Fine Gael staged a remarkable recovery in local and European Parliament elections held on 11th June 2004. It won 5 of the Republic of Ireland's 13 European Parliament seats (compared to just 4 seats for the ruling Fianna Fáil party), and won almost the same number of local authority seats as Fianna Fáil.
Fine Gael generally follows centre-right policies and is allied with Christian Democrat parties in the European Union. However a large body of members, including leaders Garret FitzGerald and Alan Dukes, have argued that the party should move to the left and embrace social democracy.
- Nealon's Guide to the 29th Dáil and Seanad (Gill and Macmillan, 2002) (ISBN 0717132889)
- Stephen Collins, "The Cosgrave Legacy" (Blackwater, 1996) (ISBN 086121658X)
- Garret FitzGerald, "Garret FitzGerald: An Autobiography" (Gill and Macmillan, 1991) (ISBN 071711600X)
- Jack Jones, In Your Opinion: Political and Social Trends in Ireland through the Eyes of the Electorate (Townhouse, 2001) (ISBN 1860591493)
- Maurice Manning, James Dillon: A Biography (Wolfhound, 1999/2000) (ISBN 086327823X)
- Stephen O'Byrnes, Hiding Behind a Face: Fine Gael under FitzGerald (Gill and Macmillan: 1986) (ISBN 0717114481)
- Raymond Smith, Garret: The Enigma (Aherlow, 1985) (no ISBN)