84 years ago today, on Tuesday 16 February 1932, Ireland went to the polls to elect the 7th Dáil.
It's hard to believe that there once was a time that the government was so scared of a challenge to their rule that they saw fit to take out full page ad's in the local and national papers on the day of the General Election. It's even harder to believe the champions of the poor that threatened the status quo were Fianna Fáil.
Warning people that "the gunmen and communists" were voting for Fianna Fáil, the advertisements contained the following quote:
"It is said we killed people. We did kill. Killing is a hard thing and we make no apology for what we have done, and if circumstances arose we would kill again. It is said we took money from the banks. There were millions in the coffers of the Bank of Ireland, and who had a better right to it than the men who were fighting for their country?" — Mr. Dan Breen, Fianna Fáil candidate, 1932 general election.
Despite this, Fianna Fáil won the majority of seats (72 0ut 0f 153) and formed a coalition government with Labour (7 seats) and The Farmers Party (3 seats), declared a general amnesty and promptly released all the republican prisoners.
Fianna Fáil maintained links with the IRA until 1934 and in 1936 declared them an illegal organisation. Dan Breen, the veteran IRA man, went on to represent the people of Tipperary as their T.D. until he retired in 1967.
The 7th Dáil lasted less than a year, but it was to be the beginning of a 16-year stretch for Fianna Fáil in government, for most of which they had an overall majority.
This reign came to an end in 1948 when the General Election for the 13th Dáil returned a Fine Gael led government with Labour, the newly formed Clan na Poblachta (CnP) and others.
What was unusual about this coalition was that the leader of CnP, Seán McBride, was a former Chief of Staff of the IRA and had only resigned this position in 1937.
Another interesting feature of this coalition was that none of the party leaders became Taoiseach as there were objections from CnP to the Fine Gael leader, Richard Mulcahy, a former Free-State Army General that was considered to be responsible for having 77 republican prisoners executed during the Civil War (53 more than the British had executed during the War of Independence).
Unable to form a government without CnP, Mulcahy stepped aside and Fine Gael’s John A. Costello was elected Taoiseach.
As we face into the General Election for the 32nd Dáil there are some lessons to be learned from all this history; negative campaigning and anti-republican media campaigns have a tendency to backfire and Irish politics can make for strange bedfellows.