Republic of Ireland political party. It was founded by the Irish nationalist Éamon de Valera in 1926, and led since 2011 by Micheál Martin. A broad-based party, it is conservative socially and economically, and generally right of centre. It was the governing party in the Republic of Ireland 1932–48, 1951–54, 1957–73, 1977–81, 1982, 1987–94 (from 1993 in coalition with Labour), and 1997–2011. It suffered a crushing defeat at the 2011 general election, the worst of any sitting government in Irish history, having been blamed for its handling of the 2008–11 Irish financial and economic crisis. Its official aims include the establishment of a united and completely independent all-Ireland republic.
Fianna Fáil was founded as a result of a split within Sinn Fein, which refused to enter the Dáil (parliament) following the establishment of the Irish Free State under the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty. It attracted the majority of Sinn Fein's support and became the main opposition party. In part due to skilful organization, it soon became the largest political party in the Republic, never yielding that position. In the early years of government it was associated with protectionist policies and small farmers, although it always drew support from all sections of Irish society. Although descended from the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the party was especially tough on IRA members in the early years of the Irish Free State.
De Valera, a conservative Catholic, remained leader and dominated the party until his retirement in 1959. His successor, Seán Lemass, a co-founder of the party, moved to modernize the party and the country. Fianna Fáil began to be associated with more closely with business interests, although it still retained its appeal amongst the working class. The arms crisis split the party between traditional republicans and moderates, and this division continued under the leadership of Charles Haughey, and led eventually to the establishment of a breakaway party, the Progressive Democrats. Albert Reynolds gained the leadership of the party in 1992, and he developed closer relations with the British government, a policy continued under Bertie Ahern, leader 1994–2008 and Taoiseach 1997–2008, and Brian Cowen, leader and Taoiseach 2008–11.
While remaining the most popular party in the country, it has been hit by financial scandals relating to former leaders and senior members. In 1989 Fianna Fáil abandoned its traditional refusal to enter a coalition government and it has not governed alone since that time.
Ireland: Home Rule 1868–1918
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