In January 1919, members of Sinn Féin refused to take their seats in Westminster. Instead they formed their own parliament Dáil Éireann and pushed for self-governance. The Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 granted self-government to 26 counties of Ireland, to be named the Irish Free State, while the other 6 counties in the north remained a part of the United Kingdom. The treaty included a clause which stated that the government of Ireland had to swear allegiance to the British monarch. Members of Sinn Féin, including leader Éamon de Valera refused to take this oath and did not take their seats in government. In 1931 the Statute of Westminster passed full authority to the Irish Free State. Éamon de Valera founded a new party Fianna Fáil and when he was elected he abolished the Oath of Allegiance. In 1937 de Valera changed the constitution and the Irish Free State became Ireland. In 1949 Ireland became the Republic of Ireland.
Cathal Brugha – 22nd January 1919 – 1st April 1919
Cathal Brugha assumed temporary leadership of the newly formed Dáil Éireann because Éamon de Valera, leader of Sinn Féin was in prison.
Eamon de Valera – 1st April 1919 – 9th January 1922
Éamon de Valera became head of of the rebel parliament after his release from prison. On 26th August 1921 de Valera took the title of President of the Irish Republic. He did not support the Anglo-Irish Treaty and resigned after it was passed.
Arthur Griffith – 10th January 1922 – 12th August 1922
Sinn Féin – Pro-Treaty
Griffith became President of Dáil Éireann following the resignation of de Valera and remained in office until his death in August 1922. This government was not recognised by the British government.
Michael Collins – 16th January 1922 – 22nd August 1922
Sinn Féin Pro-Treaty
Under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty a Provisional Government had to be set up to govern until the establishment of the Irish Free State in December 1922. This government was recognised by the British government. Collins was assassinated in August 1922 by anti-Treaty members of Sinn Féin.
W. T. Cosgrave – 22nd August 1922 – 27th August 1923
Sinn Féin Pro-Treaty
Cosgrave took over control of both the Dáil Éireann and the Provisional Government following the deaths of Griffiths and Collins. In December 1922 Cosgrave was elected President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State.
W. T. Cosgrave – 27th August 1923 – 9th March 1932
Cumann na nGaedheal
In the first General Election of the Irish Free State, Cosgrave was elected President of the Executive Council. The Pro-Treaty branch of Sinn Féin had formed a new party Cumann na nGaedheal. Cosgrave was re-elected in June 1927 and September 1927 but lost the March 1932 election.
Éamon de Valera – 9th March 1932 – 18th February 1948
Éamon de Valera was elected President of the Executive Council after winning the March 1932 election. He had left Sinn Féin and formed a new Republican party, Fianna Fáil. He was re-elected in January 1933 and July 1937. In December 1937, following a change to the constitution he became Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland. He was re-elected in June 1938, June 1943 and May 1944. De Valera declared Irish neutrality during World War Two. He lost the February 1948 election.
John A Costello – 18th February 1948 – 13th June 1951
John A Costello was elected Taoiseach of a multi-party coalition government. Costello took Ireland out of the British Commonwealth on 18th April 1949 and Ireland became the Republic of Ireland. The Ireland Act, passed by the British government, recognised the new republic and also guaranteed the position of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.
Éamon de Valera – 13th June 1951 – 2nd June 1954
De Valera’s Fianna Fáil party won the most seats in the June 1951 election but did not have a majority. Éamon de Valera governed as head of a minority government. After losing more seats in by-elections he was forced to call a new election which Fianna Fáil lost.
John A Costello – 2nd June 1954 – 20th March 1957
John Costello returned as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of a coalition government. In 1955 Ireland became a member of the United Nations. In 1956 Costello visited the United States. On St Patrick’s day he presented the US President
with a bowl of shamrock, beginning a tradition that continues to this day. In December 1956 the Irish Republican Army (IRA) began a campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland. Costello did not want conflict with the British government and had IRA leaders arrested. This action led to a collapse of his coalition government. Fine Gael lost the 1957 election.
Éamon de Valera – 20th March 1957 – 23rd June 1959
Éamon de Valera returned as Taoiseach after Fianna Fáil secured a majority in the election. In 1959 de Valera ran for President of the Republic of Ireland and won. Sean Lemass took over as head of government.
Sean Lemass – 23rd June 1959 – 10th November 1966
Lemass took over as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland after Éamon de Valera became President. Lemass embarked on a successful programme of economic improvement which included a reduction on tarrifs for overseas trade. In 1961, after being re-elected, Lemass applied for Ireland to join the European Economic Community but was unsuccessful. In 1963 Sean Lemass hosted a visit from US President John F Kennedy. In 1965 Lemass met with Northern Ireland Prime Minister, Terence O’Neill but hopes of a thawing in relations between the north and south were short-lived. Lemass was re-elected in the April 1965 election but resigned on 10th November 1966.
Jack Lynch – 10th November 1966 – 14th March 1973
Jack Lynch was elected Taoiseach following the resignation of Sean Lemass. He continued Lemass’s work to modernise Ireland and won a majority in the June 1969 election. In 1967 and 1968 Lynch held meetings with Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terence O’Neill aimed at forming agreements but this faltered after the resignation of O’Neill in April 1969 after The Troubles began. Lynch called for the British government to request a Peace-Keeping force from the United Nations. After members of his cabinet were accused of supplying funds to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) he sacked them. His hard line on Republicans caused a split in his party and he lost the February 1973 election, one month after taking Ireland into the EU.
Liam Cosgrave – 14th March 1973 – 5th July 1977
Liam Cosgrave, son of W T Cosgrave, became leader of a coalition government. His plans to replace death duties with a Capital Gains Tax and a Wealth Tax were not popular with the richer classes. In 1974 Cosgrave controversially voted against his own government’s move to allow married couples access to contraceptives. Cosgrave’s stance against the Provisional IRA alienated Republican voters. Fine Gael suffered a huge defeat in the July 1977 election.
Jack Lynch – 5th July 1977 – 11th December 1979
Jack Lynch returned as Taoiseach following victory in the 1977 election. He tried to rebuild the economy but had lost the support of his party and resigned in December 1979. He was replaced by Charles Haughey.
Charles Haughey – 11th December 1979 – 30th June 1981
Haughey took over as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland following Lynch’s resignation. His efforts to improve the economic situation led to an increase in national debt. He called an election to try to strengthen his position but lost to Fine Gael.
Garret FitzGerald – 30th June 1981 – 9th March 1982
As leader of Fine Gael, Garret FitzGerald became Taoiseach of a minority coalition government after defeating Fianna Fáil in the March 1982 election. FitzGerald took a hard line against the Provisional IRA which included breaking up a march in support of hunger strikers in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland. He also introduced austerity measures to try to get the economy under control. His party failed to gain a majority in the February 1982 election.
Charles Haughey – 9th March 1982 – 14th December 1982
Although no party had a majority in the February election, as leader of the party with the most votes, Haughey became head of a minority government. His proposal for spending cuts led to defeat in the November 1982 election.
Garret FitzGerald – 14th December 1982 – 10th March 1987
FitzGerald returned to office as head of a coalition government. His immediate concern was to tackle the worsening economic situation but although it did not worsen, the economy did not grow. Widespread unemployment and poverty made this government unpopular. A referendum to allow people to divorce was defeated and despite FitzGerald’s objection his government introduced an anti-abortion clause to the Constitution. Garret Fitzgerald’s attempt to introduce a closer tie with Northern Ireland was outrightly rejected by British Prime Minister
, Margaret Thatcher. Fine Gael lost the March 1987 election.
Charles Haughey – 10th March 1987 – 11th February 1992
Fianna Fáil won the most seats in the election of 1987 but failed to gain a majority so Charles Haughey became head of a minority government. Haughey reformed the tax system in a bid to improve the economy. In June 1989 he called an election but lost 4 seats. However he retained his position as Taoiseach when Fianna Fáil formed a coalition with the Progressive Democrats. Haughey began to lose the support of his ministers and resigned in January 1992. Albert Reynolds took over as Taoiseach on 11th February.
Albert Reynolds – 11th February 1992 – 15th December 1994
Reynolds became Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Republic of Ireland after the resignation of Charles Haughey. He changed the cabinet, removing many of Haughey’s supporters and initially managed to hold the government together. However, he lost the support of the Progressive Democrats over an enquiry into the beef industry. He failed to gan a majority in the November 1992 election but joined forces with the Labour Party and returned at the head of a coalition government. Reynolds had been part of negotiations that led to the Downing Street Declaration of December 1993 which pledged all parties to seek a peaceful solution to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Reynolds resigned on 17th November 1994 after losing the support of the Labour Party. Bertie Ahern was elected leader of Fianna Fáil but did not become Taoiseach because the Labour Party had joined a coalition with the opposition parties.
John Bruton – 15th December 1994 – 26th June 1997
John Bruton, leader of Fine Gael found himself head of the government after the Labour Party defected from Fianna Fáil and joined forces with the opposition parties. Bruton worked with British Prime Minister John Major to further peace in Northern Ireland and he pushed for Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams to be included in talks. His party lost the election of June 1997.
Bertie Ahern – 26th June 1997 – 7th May 2008
After the 1997 election Bertie Ahern became Taoiseach of a minority coalition government. Ahern continued the work of his predecessors in working towards peace in Northern Ireland. The late 1990s also saw economic growth in Ireland and a property boom. In the 1992 election Fianna Fáil gained seats but did not have a majority. The party went into coalition with the Progressive Democrats and Bertie Ahern retained his position as leader. However, he soon lost popularity when, after promising not to make cuts, it was announced that cuts were needed due to a fall in the economy. However, the economy was soon on the up again and Fianna Fáil won the most seats at the 2007 election and formed a coalition with the Progressive Democrats and the Green Party. His reputation was damaged following allegations of accepting cash payments from businessmen and the opposition called for him to resign. Although he survived a vote of no confidence in September 2007, he resigned in May 2008.
Brian Cowen – 7th May 2008 – 9th March 2011
Brian Cowen took over as leader of the government following the resignation of Bertie Ahern. In June 2008 he suffered a blow when the people of Ireland chose to reject ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon. It was eventually approved in October 2009. The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 – 2009 hit Ireland badly and the Anglo Irish Bank had to be nationalised. Cuts had to be made and taxation increased. These measures were very unpopular and led to demonstrations. In 2009, Cowen survived a vote of no confidence by 6 votes. At the end of 2009 amid feats that Ireland would become bankrupt, the government introduced harsh austerity measures. He survived a second vote of no confidence in June 2010 by 5 votes. In order to improve Ireland’s financial situation Cowen requested support from the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) who approved a rescue deal. Facing mounting criticism from the opposition, his coalition partners and his own party, Cowen called a general election and resigned his position.
Enda Kenny – 9th March 2011 – 14th June 2017
Fine Gael won the most seats in the 2011 election but did not have a majority. Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael, formed a coalition with the Labour Party and was elected Taoiseach. In a cost-cutting move, Enda Kenny announced that minister’s salaries, and transportation costs would be reduced. Although this was popularly received, a subsequent announcement that the Central Bank of Ireland needed a government bailout was heavily criticised. Kenny successfully negotiated a reduction of the interest rate on the EU loan and a repayment extension. In the light of allegations of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Cloyne, Enda Kenny accused the Vatican of obstructing the investigation. In December 2011 Kenny spoke to the nation warning them that the upcoming budget would include tough measures designed to improve the economy by 2015. Fine Gael lost seats in the February 2016 election but remained the party with the most seats. Kenny resigned as Taoiseach in March 2016 but was re-elected in May as head of a minority coalition government. Kenny began negotiations with British Prime Minister Theresa May regarding Britain’s exit from Europe (Brexit
) and the implications on Ireland. Kenny resigned his position in May 2017.
Leo Varadkar – 14th June 2017 – Present
Leo Varadkar took over as Taoiseach following the resignation of Enda Kenny. He made history by becoming the first openly gay and mixed race Taoiseach. In 2018 a referendum on abortion legalised the procedure up to 12 weeks. Varadkar continued negotiations with Theresa May over Brexit with a sticking point being the Irish backstop. After the British people elected Boris Johnson in 2019 an acceptable solution was found. Varadkar also stated that he would not ratify an EU-Brazil trade deal unless Brazil made more commitment to protecting the environment. In the February 2020 election Varadkar’s Fine Gael Party lost seats to stand 3rd behind Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin.