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Dick Spring

In office
14 December 1982 – 20 January 1987
Preceded by Ray MacSharry
Succeeded by Peter Barry
In office
12 January 1993 – 17 November 1994
Preceded by John Wilson
Succeeded by Bertie Ahern
In office
15 December 1994 – 26 June 1997
Preceded by Bertie Ahern
Succeeded by Mary Harney

In office
12 January 1993 – 17 November 1994
Preceded by David Andrews
Succeeded by Albert Reynolds
In office
15 December 1994 – 26 June 1997
Preceded by Albert Reynolds
Succeeded by Ray Burke

Born 29 August 1950 (1950-08-29) (age 59)
Tralee,
County Kerry,
Ireland
Political party Labour Party
Spouse(s) Kristi Hutcheson

Richard "Dick" Spring (born 29 August 1950 in Tralee, County Kerry), is a businessman and former senior Irish politician. He was first elected as a Labour Party TD in 1981 and retained his seat until 2002. He became Party Leader in 1982, and held this position until 1997. He served as Minister for the Environment (1982–1983), Minister for Energy (1983–1987) and Minister for Foreign Affairs (1993–Nov. 1994, Dec. 1994–1997). He also served as Tánaiste during those three governments.

Contents

Education

He was educated by the Cistercian monks at Cistercian College, Roscrea in County Tipperary, and at Trinity College, Dublin, and qualified as a barrister at King's Inns.

Sporting career

He played Gaelic football and hurling for Kerry in the seventies [1]. His father Dan won 2 All-Ireland Senior Football Championships in 1939 and 1940. He then won rugby union caps for Ireland (1979) and Munster, and lined out for London Irish in England.

Early political career

His political life began in 1979 when he successfully contested the local elections in Tralee. He was first elected to Dáil Éireann in the general election of 1981 for the constituency of Kerry North, the seat previously held by his father Dan Spring. The Labour Party formed a coalition Government with Fine Gael and Spring was appointed a Junior Minister on his first day as a deputy. When Michael O'Leary resigned as Party leader in 1982, Spring allowed his name go forward in the leadership contest. He easily defeated Barry Desmond and Michael D. Higgins but inherited the leadership of a deeply divided party. Spring was a strong opponent of far left wing anti-coalition politics and systematically removed trotskyite left-wing activists from the party. Most notably he expelled the Militant Tendency (later Socialist Party), including Joe Higgins and Clare Daly.

Ministerial appointment

Following the November 1982 general election Labour again formed a coalition government with Fine Gael. Spring was appointed Tánaiste and Minister for the Environment. He was closely involved in the negotiations which led to the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. In 1987 Spring and the Labour Party withdrew from the government on budgetary issues and Fianna Fáil took power in the subsequent election. Spring himself narrowly escaped losing his seat when he was re-elected by just 4 votes.

Opposition

Under Spring, the Labour Party selected Mary Robinson as its candidate in the 1990 presidential election. Robinson was elected, and this success enhanced the credibility of his leadership of the party. For Spring, his period in opposition coincided, with the exposure of a number of business scandals and gave him the opportunity to shine as critic of the Fianna Fáil government led by the controversial Charles Haughey.

"Spring Tide" and return to power

As a result, in the 1992 general election the party increased its Dáil seats from 15 to 33, its largest ever number of seats, an event which is referred to as the 'Spring Tide'. After the election, no government could be elected when the new Dáil met. After some weeks of stalemate, Spring decided to enter negotiations with Reynolds over the Christmas period on a new Programme for Government. The Labour Party then entered a coalition government with Fianna Fáil, and thus returned Albert Reynolds, who had taken over as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) from Mr. Haughey at the beginning of the year, to power. Spring was appointed Tánaiste for the second time, and also Minister for Foreign Affairs. This was approved by a special party conference of over 1,000 delegates at Dublin's National Concert Hall in January, 1993, though there were some Labour Party TDs, who dissented from the leadership position.

Labour took six of the fifteen cabinet ministries and had much of its' election manifesto accepted by Fianna Fáil. New Departments of Equality and Law Reform, and of Arts and Culture, were established. Ethics legislation was to outlaw conflicts of interest. Male homosexual acts were to be decrminalised. Purchase of condoms without medical prescription was to be allowed. An extensive programme of family law reform and provision for a divorce referendum was to be undertaken. Spring insisted on a formalised system of programme managers, and state paid advisers to push the new Government's policy platform.

In November 1994, the Labour Party performed disastrously in by-elections, in Cork South Central and in Cork North Central. This had grave implications for the policy of the Labour leadership within the party. Clearly Labour was not doing well electorally, and needed to assess its role in the coalition.

Reynolds had wished to appoint the Attorney General, Harry Whelehan, as President of the High Court, for over one month. Spring had reservations about Whelehan being suitable, due to the alleged laxity of his handling of a particular child abuse criminal case, involving a disgraced Catholic priest. Reynolds, for his part could not understand why Spring was against Whelehan being nominated to the High Court, but had no concerns with Whelehan serving as attorney general. Reynolds became annoyed with Spring's stance, his failure to communicate his reservations, and decided to proceed anyway, whilst calling Spring's bluff. Spring withdrew with his ministers from the cabinet meeting which proceeded to recommend Mr Whelehan's appointment to the President. Immediately after, Reynolds implemented the decision.

There then continued a rather heated discussion in the Dáil, concerning the appointment. Fine Gael started asking questions about Whelehans suitability, and objectivity. This was supportive of Spring's position. Democratic Left TD Pat Rabbitte then implied that the Catholic hierarchy were instructing Reynolds to appoint Whelehan. Reynolds became irate with this allegation, and responeded angrily. Reynolds now realised that Spring was uncompromising about Whelehan. In an effort to regain the government, Reynolds removed Whelehan. However Spring refused to go back into government with Reynolds. Whelehan served as President of the High Court for one day.

Spring proceeded to withdraw from government. The minority Reynolds government then lost a vote of confidence in the Dáil. Reynolds resigned as party leader, but continued as a caretaker Taoiseach. Spring entered into negotiations with Reynolds' new successor, Bertie Ahern, the Minister for Finance. They agreed to reform the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government in early December. On the eve of that government being formed, the Irish Times published a report that Mr Ahern knew more about an aspect of the scandal that had brought down Reynolds than had previously been known. Spring broke off negotiations with Fianna Fáil. Spring pursued negotiations to form a coalition with Fine Gael and Democratic Left. In December Labour, with Fine Gael and Democratic Left formed a coalition government, referred to as the 'Rainbow Coalition', before an election was called. Spring returned to his positions as Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs. This was the first occasion on which a new Irish government was formed without a general election. The previous Fianna Fáil and Labour Programme for Government was substantially adopted by the new government and in return for making John Bruton the Taoiseach, Ruairi Quinn of Labour became the first ever Labour Minister for Finance.

During his period as Foreign Minister, Spring with Reynolds was involved in negotiations leading to the Provisional Irish Republican Army and loyalist ceasefires of 1994 and the Belfast Agreement of 1998. With Albert Reynolds, he received warm applause in the Dáil on the announcement of the Downing Street Declaration in December 1993. He also advanced Ireland's membership of the Partnership for Peace, a sister organization of NATO a controversial issue due to Ireland's policy of neutrality.

Resignation as party leader

In the 1997 general election the Labour Party returned to opposition, winning only 17 of its outgoing 33 seats. This was considered by some to be a punishment by the electorate for the 1993 decision to enter coalition with Fianna Fáil. By others, it was considered a punishment for changing horses at the end of 1994, in order to remain in power. A front page article in the Irish Independent, on the day prior to the election titled 'Payback Time', calling on support for Fianna Fáil, had a direct and severe impact on the Labour Party. The Independent newspaper group had revealed many scandals involving Labour ministers abusing the perks of office in the year leading up to the election. The article was controversial as Spring had taken decisions in office which went against the broader business interests of the Independent's owner Anthony O'Reilly who was accused by Labour supporters of having attempted to use his paper's political influence to intimidate the Government into favouring companies linked to O'Reilly. The impact of the article is uncertain but the Labour Party suffered significant electoral losses and the outgoing coalition was defeated. In the Presidential election of the same year the Labour Party candidate, Adi Roche, came fourth out of five candidates. Following that defeat, Spring resigned as Labour Party leader, having served 15 years - one of the longest serving party leaders of Ireland. He remained a TD, until he lost his seat in the general election of 2002 to the Sinn Féin candidate, Martin Ferris. He has not sought political office since.

After stepping down as party leader, Spring has been spoken of, in Labour Party circles, as a possible European Commissioner for Ireland, and as eventual Labour Party candidate for President of Ireland. He became involved in the Cyprus dispute as a United Nations envoy.

In Irish political circles, the role of foreign minister was considered a poisoned chalice because of the challenge of resolving the delicate problem of how to de-escalate tensions in Northern Ireland, when both sides were wary of Irish governmental policy. Albert Reynolds, and Dick Spring, placed Northern Ireland at the top of the government agenda. Both were helped considerably by the initiative of John Hume, and the understanding built up between Reynolds, and then British Prime Minister John Major. Spring devoted considerable energy and resources towards increasing Ireland's international influence and diplomatic ties in UN, in the post Cold War world. Due to the fact that he was married to an American, he was favourably regarded by the American government in particular.

As Foreign Minister, there was much critical comment in the media on Spring's extensive foreign travel. Spring got even harsher criticism, for using the Government Jet to reduce journey times between his home in Tralee and his office in Dublin. However, he did conduct, for the first time, a public consultative process that involved a wide range of citizenry and social groups as well as members of the diaspora, in the re-shaping of Irish foreign policy through the first ever White Paper on Foreign Policy in 1996[2].

Critics of Dick Spring, have described him as a Champagne socialist due to his choice of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel when staying in New York as Foreign Minister, instead of staying in the then Irish-owned Fitzpatrick Hotel.[3] Spring brought the Irish Labour party unprecedented visibility and power in government, at a time when the two significantly larger, right-of-centre political blocs, had precedence in every election. He advocated and successfully implemented, policies that were contrary to Catholic social teaching, which had always been a consideration in influencing Irish policy until the 1980s. In the aftermath of many scandals involving clerical sex abuse cases, and against a backdrop of rapidly declining confidence in the Catholic Church as an institution amongst the public at large, Spring found an opportunity to amend state policy, and steer social policy in a secular direction.

Spring received a directorship appointment to the Irish state telecom enterprise, Eircom, in advance of the scheduled privatisation. As leader of a left of centre party, this was to endorse the privatization, and gain consent from the labour unions to the privatisation plan. However the privatisation was a financial disaster for members of the public, who became ordinary shareholders in the privatisation process. Spring became the target for much of the discontent. Spring's low work involvement, and generous remuneration package, was openly described as 'scandalous', by shareholder advocate Senator Shane Ross.

Spring continues to hold a directorship, with the Financial Services firm FEXCO, based in Killorglin, County Kerry.

Spring lives in Tralee with his wife Kristi (née Hutcheson), an American whom he met while working in New York as a bartender. They have three children. Spring is a member of Ballybunion Golf Club, and has had the honour of inviting US President Clinton, amongst others to this location.

See also

References

  1. ^ ireland.com - The Irish Times - Wed, Feb 27, 2008 - How rugby put Spring in step
  2. ^ Challenges and Opportunities Abroad - White Paper on Foreign Policy, Department of Foreign Affairs, Stationary Office, Dublin 1996 [ISBN 0 07076 2385 5]
  3. ^ "O'Garas lay rift rumours to rest in NY". Irish Independent. 2007-11-04. http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/news-gossip/ogaras-lay-rift-rumours-to-rest-in-ny-1210902.html. Retrieved 2009-01-18.  
Oireachtas
Preceded by
Dan Spring
(Labour Party)
Labour Party Teachta Dála for Kerry North
19812002
Succeeded by
Martin Ferris
(Sinn Féin)
Political offices
Preceded by
Seán Doherty
Minister of State
(with special responsibility for Law Reform)

1981–1982
Succeeded by
Office abolished
Preceded by
Ray MacSharry
Tánaiste
1982–1987
Succeeded by
Brian Lenihan
Preceded by
Ray Burke
Minister for the Environment
1982–1983
Succeeded by
Liam Kavanagh
Preceded by
John Bruton
Minister for Energy
1983–1987
Succeeded by
Michael Noonan
Preceded by
John Wilson
Tánaiste
1993–1994
Succeeded by
Bertie Ahern
Preceded by
David Andrews
Minister for Foreign Affairs
1993–1994
Succeeded by
Albert Reynolds
Preceded by
Bertie Ahern
Tánaiste
1994–1997
Succeeded by
Mary Harney
Preceded by
Albert Reynolds
Minister for Foreign Affairs
1994–1997
Succeeded by
Ray Burke
Party political offices
Preceded by
Michael O'Leary
Leader of the Labour Party
1982–1997
Succeeded by
Ruairi Quinn







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