Irish general election, 1977

1973                                                                                                                                            1981

In a surprise upset for the Fianna Fáil party in 1973, they found themselves on the Opposition benches as Fine Gael and Labour, which had campaigned as the National Coalition, went into government together. This government, with Fine Gael leader Liam Cosgrave as Taoiseach, found itself taking on several pressing issues, from the escalating violence in Northern Ireland to the economic fallout of the 1973 Oil Crisis. Though the government worked to solve these problems, they lingered as the 1970s progressed. By 1977, the Taoiseach decided to call a snap election.

Although this decision may seem ill-advised, Cosgrave based it on two factors. Opinion polling was not yet a feature of Irish politics, and the coalition government believed it was generally popular - at least popular enough to remain in power. Secondly, Local Government Minister James Tully of Labour had redrawn the electoral constituencies in what became known as the "Tullymander". The redrawing was designed to give the advantage to the coalition parties, particularly in the slew of new three seater constituencies in Dublin, where it was hoped that Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil would win one seat each, leaving Jack Lynch's party outnumbered by the coalition throughout the capital.

Summary of the seats won by parties in 1977. Click to enlarge.
As it turned out, this tactic backfired painfully on the coalition parties. Eager to return to power, Fianna Fáil campaigned on a giveaway manifesto, which saw them return to government with the best result the party has ever received in a general election.

Fianna Fáil

(84 seats, 50.6% of vote)

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Jack Lynch's party won not just a plurality but a majority of the first preference votes for the first time in the history of the state. In only seven constituencies was just one Fianna Fáil TD elected, and only in Donegal, where Independent Fianna Fáil TD Neil Blaney held considerably sway, and in two areas of Dublin, did the party's vote share drop below 40%. Lynch would remain as Taoiseach for two years before resigning and being replaced by Charles Haughey. Haughey would spend the next eleven years attempting to match Lynch's record, but would find himself unable to attain an overall majority.

Fine Gael 

(43 seats, 30.5% of vote)

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Fine Gael's vote share fell by roughly the same amount as Fianna Fáíl's rose, and where the latter party gained 19 seats, Fine Gael lost 12. It became apparent early during the count that the outgoing government would not be returning to power. The Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave subsequently announced his resignation as leader of Fine Gael, the first time in the history of the state that an outgoing Taoiseach had done such a thing. His replacement, outgoing Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Garret FitzGerald, went to work immediately to rebuild what had become a demoralised and stagnant party. Compared to other electoral hammerings Fine Gael had experienced however, this result was not a terrible one for them. Their vote remained reasonably strong in most constituencies, particularly in the Connacht-Ulster area, where TDs such as Joan Burke, John Conlan, Tom Fitzpatrick and a 26 year old Enda Kenny remained popular.

Labour Party

(17 seats, 11.6% of vote)

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The Tullymander backfired spectacularly for the Labour Party, which won just 7 of the 14 seats it expected to win in the Dublin constituencies. The Labour vote remained moderately strong however around Dublin and in surrounding Wicklow, Kildare and Meath, where Tully held his seat. Brendan Corish enjoyed the second highest personal vote for a Labour candidate in Wexford, but he followed Cosgrave in resigning the leadership of his party upon the government's defeat. He was replaced by Frank Cluskey, who had recieved the highest personal vote. Labour also held seats in Carlow-Kilkenny, Tipperary, Cork and Kerry. The party would find itself in government with Fine Gael again in just four years' time.

Independents

(4 seats, 5.5% of vote)

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As expected, Independent Fianna Fáil TD Neil Blaney held his seat in Donegal. Three other independents won seats in this election, each of them in the only constituencies where the combined Independent vote exceeded 15%. In Limerick East, Jim Kemmy gained a seat. He would go on to found the Democratic Socialist Party, for which he would hold his seat until its merger with Labour in 1990. Kemmy himself remained a Limerick East TD until his death in 1997. In Longford-Westmeath, former Fine Gael-turned-Independent TD Joe Sheridan retained the seat he had held since 1961. He would retire at the next election in 1981. Finally, in Dublin Artane, Noel Browne regained the seat he lost in 1973. He would retire at the February 1982 general election.

See also:

1973                                                                                                                                            1981