The Republic of Ireland is a parliamentary democracy, modelled after that of Great Britain. As such, the head of government is the Prime Minister, though in Ireland that post is always referred to by its Irish language equivalent of Taoiseach (tee-shuck). The term "Prime Minister" is only used by foreign media, and occasionally foreign leaders, as the word "Taoiseach" would simply fall on confused ears when spoken outside of Ireland. It is for this same reason that this page is titled "Prime Ministers of Ireland" rather than "Taoisigh na hÉireann". The post was officially created in December 1937, replacing the existing (but functionally identical) title of President of the Executive Council. Though Eamon de Valera was the first person to hold the title "An Taoiseach", his predecessor as President, W. T. Cosgrave, is usually included in historical rankings. The current (and 13th) Taoiseach is Enda Kenny, who has held the role since March 2011.
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1. W.T. Cosgrave
Years: 1923 — 1932 Party: Cumann na nGaedheal While never actually Taoiseach (he instead held the predecessor role of President of the Executive Council), William Thomas Cosgrave (1880—1965) is usually restrospectively considered the first, as the role was pretty much the same. Often overlooked in favour of his much more famous successor, Cosgrave's largest accomplishment was stabilising the new, confused and violent Irish Free State. In the space of ten years he transformed a nation ravaged by civil war to a fledgling democracy with a budding economy and stable infrastructure. Cosgrave himself was amazed at how well this worked. He retired from politics in 1944 and died in 1965. His son Liam would later serve as Taoiseach in the 1970s. His Cumann na nGaedheal party would later merge with the Catholic Centre Party and the quasi-facsist Blueshirts to become Fine Gael.
2. Eamon de Valera
Years: 1932 — 1948; 1951 — 1954; 1957 — 1959 Party: Fianna Fáil The most well-known (and longest lasting) of past Taoisigh, "Dev" (1882—1975) as he was affectionately known cast a huge shadow over Irish politics which is still there to this day. The current Irish constitution was largely drafted by him in the 1930s; he founded the Fianna Fáil party which has had political dominance for much of the state's existance (though with the direction they're currently headed, that may not last much longer); his protectionist economic policies resulted in an economic war with Britain, which put Ireland's development back a decade or two; he kept Ireland out of World War II, which many historians agree was the right decision to make to defend the still fledgling state; and he maintained a view of Ireland as a quaint rural nation filled with community spirit (and comely maidens). After stepping down from the Dáil in 1959, he became President (a figurehead position) until finally retiring completely in 1973. He died two years later, and an era of Irish politics was over. His granddaughter Síle de Valera served in the Dáil until 2007, while his grandson Eamon O Cuív has held many cabinet positions. Portrayed by Alan Rickman in the 1996 film Michael Collins.
3. John A. Costello
Years: 1948 — 1951; 1954 — 1957 Party: Fine Gael John A. Costello (1891—1976) was simply a regular Fine Gael TD (Irish MP) who wanted to see his party in power. Then, in 1948, his party did get in to power, and he found himself in charge. The actual leader of Fine Gael, Richard Mulachy, carried too much baggage from the civil war for others to accept him as Taoiseach, so Costello was chosen as a compromise. Between 1948 and 1951, and again from 1954 to 1957, Costello headed a motley band of parties in so-called "Inter-Party Governments", where the parties' only uniting factor was a desire to keep Fianna Fáil out of power. As any politician will tell you, coalitions are dangerous because the other party could quickly withdraw support over a key issue, causing the government to collapse. With a coalition five parties, Costello had this problem turned Up to Eleven. Nonetheless, his administration has a large legacy on the state: it was Costello who declared that the Irish Free State would leave The Commonwealth Of Nations and become a Republic, and in 1949 he did just that, establishing the modern Republic of Ireland.
4. Seán Lemass
Years: 1959 — 1966 Party: Fianna Fáil Having spent decades as de Valera's right hand man, Seán Lemass (1899—1971) finally gained leadership of Fianna Fáil — and the nation — when Dev retired to the presidency. He abandoned the old protectionist policies of his predecessor and began Ireland's transformation to a modern industrial power in the 1960s. His efforts receieved worldwide recognition, and he is the only Taoiseach besides de Valera to be featured on the cover of Time magazine. He was also the last person from the civil war era to hold the office, a fact he illustrated by promoting many fresh young faces to his cabinet, hearalding the end of the "Old Guard" generation in frontline politics. He's widely recognized for his pragmatism and his vision of Ireland as a modern European country with an industrial, export-oriented economy — in other words, exactly what happened, so some (including some Fine Gael members!) see him as the main architect of modern Ireland. He died in 1971.
5. Jack Lynch
Years: 1966 — 1973; 1977 — 1979 Party: Fianna Fáil The first Taoiseach without roots in the civil war, Jack Lynch (1917—1999) enjoyed a fast track career which saw him hold the Education, Industry and Finance portfolios under Lemass, before succeeding him as Taoiseach in 1966. Possibly the least polarising Taoiseach so far, he had an image as a kindly old man, rarely seen without his cap and pipe. One of his first term's signature achievements was negotiating Ireland's entry into the European Economic Community in 1973, alongside the UK and Denmark. Lynch was Taoiseach when The Troubles broke out, and was the first of many Taoisigh who had to deal with the terrorism this would result in. This became a personal nightmare for him when it was discovered one of his own ministers, Charles Haughey, had been involved in running arms to republican groups in Northern Ireland. His reputation was further damaged during his second term, when he faced a backbench revolt over Haughey's re-instatement and policies. He retired in 1979, with Haughey succeeding him. In his retirement he was well-liked, and turned down the offer of the Presidency in favour of private directorships. He received a number of honours, including the naming of the Jack Lynch road tunnel under the River Lee in Cork. He died in 1999 and his funeral procession attracted huge crowds.
6. Liam Cosgrave
Years: 1973 — 1977 Party: Fine Gael The son of W.T. Cosgrave, Liam Cosgrave (b 1920) is the only Taoiseach descended from a predecessor. He held office in between Jack Lynch's two terms, and inherited the growing problem in Northern Ireland. As well as this he had a number of his own problems, including the energy and inflation crisis caused by the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, his party's electoral defeat in the presidential election that same year, and the political opposition to his party's planned legalisation of contraceptives, a matter which resulted in Cosgrave (despite being Taoiseach) voted against his own administration in parliament. A brief solution to The Troubles ended in failure a year later. Cosgrave was the first Taoiseach to speak before a Joint Session of the United States Congress. He is the oldest surviving Taoiseach, and largely stayed out of public life after his retirement in 1981. In 2010 he made a rare public appearance at the launch of a biography of John A. Costello, his Fine Gael predecessor as Taoiseach.
7. Charles Haughey
Years: 1979 — 1981; 1982; 1987 — 1992 Party: Fianna Fáil Charles J. Haughey (1925—2006) is probably the most polarising of all the people on this list. Opinions on him range from saint to Jerk with a Heart of Gold to Ireland's answer to Richard Nixon. Even before his premiership he achieved infamy for being one of two government ministers found to be running arms to the IRA during The Troubles. He was dismissed from frontline politics, but staged a return a few years later with grassroots support, much to then Taioseach Jack Lynch's chagrin. He attained the premiership in 1979, and oversaw Ireland's first economic recession in the 1980s. Naturally he was blamed for this, though as well as the typical amount of blame that befalls any national leader during economic hardship, Haughey came in for special criticism. He infamously gave a televised address to the nation in 1980 where he told the public that "we are living well beyond our means", proceeded to crank up government spending, taxation and borrowing for his first two terms, and then introduced severe austerity policies upon returning to power in 1987. By the time of his retirement in 1992, his reputation (which had already weathered the economic mismanagement of his first two terms) had been extremely damaged from the revelations. He became subject to numerous tribunals and investigations until his death in 2006. His biggest legacy is the unintended shift in Fianna Fáil's image from patriotic idealists to corrupt greedy politicians.
8. Garret Fitzgerald
Years: 1981 — 1982; 1982 — 1987 Party: Fine Gael Taoiseach for those parts of the 80s when Haughey wasn't, Garret Fitzgerald (1926—2011) had the advantage over his rival of not being accused of shady financial dealings. He was, however, criticised for being too intellectual at times. He brought the Fine Gael party to its strongest position yet, a feat the party
9. Albert Reynolds
Years: 1992 — 1994 Party: Fianna Fáil A government minister under Charles Haughey, Reynolds (b 1932) became Fianna Fáil leader and Taoiseach after Starscreaming the increasingly unpopular Haughey out of office. He has had the shortest tenure of any Taoiseach so far, at just two years (other Taoisigh may have had shorter terms, but they at least had more than one). Much of these two years were dogged by controversy, as well as the spectre of corruption visited by Haughey over the party. In 1994 his administration collapsed when it was revealed that the Attorney General had played a part in covering up the actions of a paedophile priest in the country. The Labour Party, who were in coalition with Fianna Fáil, withdrew their support and joined Fine Gael in forming the next government, pending the next general election in 1997. He retired after the 2002 general election, and has mostly kept out of public life since then.
10. John Bruton
Years: 1994 — 1997 Party: Fine Gael John Bruton (b 1947) holds the honour of being the Gerald Ford of Irish politics. He held the premiership despite coming second in the election, but under Irish parliamentary law there was nothing wrong with this. Albert Reynolds had resigned but parliament was not dissolved, so Bruton's Fine Gael formed the next Government with Labour, which had performed a Heel-Face Turn after one too many disagreements with their former coalition partners. The Bruton years saw marked economic growth and an improvement in the standard of living, but a worsening situation in Northern Ireland. A series of IRA attacks in London and Manchester, as well as the IRA killing of an Irish police officer had increased the pressure on politicians to do something. Bruton's attempts to end the crisis with diplomacy led to him being dubbed "John Unionist" for his aquisience to Unionist demands, as well as his rather verbose welcome to Prince Charles when the latter made the first British royal visit to Ireland since independence. Bruton lost the 1997 general election to a revitalised Fianna Fáil party. He remained leader of Fine Gael until the party removed him in 2001, and in 2004 left Irish politics to become EU Ambassador to the United States. His brother Richard was the deputy leader of Fine Gael until June 2010, when he attempted to oust his superior, Enda Kenny. He failed and was relegated to the backbenches, but many commentators predict he'll try again. Being a Starscream is a popular pasttime in Irish politics.
11. Bertie Ahern
Years: 1997 — 2008 Party: Fianna Fáil Leading Fianna Fáil in a spectacular three consecutive terms from 1997 to 2008, Bertie Ahern (b 1951) was, at one time, regarded by many as one of the best Taoisigh the nation has ever seen. He presided over the "Celtic Tiger" period of incredible economic and industrial growth, oversaw the permanent ceasefire of the IRA and end to The Troubles, and helped to establish a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland. He has been referred to as "the most skilfull, the most devious, the most cunning of them all". This praise came from Charles Haughey. But the good times were not to last. By the mid to late 2000s, economic forecasters were warning that economic decline — perhaps even a recession — were on the way. Ahern's response to these forecasters was one of complete dismissal. Also around this time, details of shady personal finance deals and unexplained transactions started to surface. While decrying these allegations as unfair personal attacks, Ahern was left with no choice but to stand down as Taoiseach in May 2008. He remains in the Dáil, and had his eyes on the Presidency, last up for election in 2011. His reputation has been somewhat sullied by his personal revelations, as well as how quickly Ireland's booming economy collapsed into a recession under his watch, though he will argue that none of this is his fault. This tendancy towards arrogant statements, especially in the last few years of his premiership and afterwards, have led to a marked decline in his popularity, to the extent that he wasn't even considered as a candidate for the 2011 presidential elections. He was the first bachelor Taoiseach — a previous marriage had ended in seperation some years before he achieved office. For most of his tenure he was in a relationship with businesswoman Celia Larkin, who was once mistakenly introduced by Mexican President Vincente Fox as "the Taoiseach's wife". He has two daughters: Georgina is married to Westlife singer Nicky Byrne, and Cecelia is the best-selling author of P.S. I Love You.
12. Brian Cowen
Years: 2008 — 2011 Party: Fianna Fáil Representing Laois-Offaly in the Dáil between 1984 and 2011, Brian Cowen (b 1960) served in a number of ministerial posts from 1994 up until his appointment as Finance Minister in 2004. Became Taoiseach when Bertie Ahern resigned, and despite initially high approval ratings saw the total collapse of both own and Fianna Fáil's popularity. In early 2011 he stepped aside as leader of Fianna Fáil and announced he would not be contesting his seat in the February election. Neither move did much to appease public anger.
13. Enda Kenny
Years: 2011 — Party: Fine Gael Enda Kenny (b 1951) is notable for several things: at 59 he was the second oldest 'first time' Taoiseach (only Lemass was older) and is the current Father of the Dáil having represented Mayo since 1975. He also holds the largest majority in the Dáil of any Taoiseach ever thanks to the best ever performance of both Fine Gael and his coalition partners Labour and the worst ever result for Fianna Fáil.