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Ruairi Quinn TD

Assumed office 
February 1982
In office
June 1977 – June 1981
Constituency Dublin South East

In office
October 1981 – February 1982
Constituency Industrial and Commercial Panel
In office
July 1976 – June 1977
Constituency Nominated by the Taoiseach

In office
October 1997 – August 2002
Preceded by Dick Spring
Succeeded by Pat Rabbitte

In office
12 January 1993 – 17 November 1994
Preceded by Pádraig Flynn
Succeeded by Charlie McCreevy

In office
15 December 1994 – 26 June 1997
Preceded by Bertie Ahern
Succeeded by Charlie McCreevy

Born 2 April 1946 (1946-04-02) (age 63)
Dublin, Ireland
Political party Labour Party
Spouse(s) Liz Allman
Children 3
Alma mater University College Dublin
Website Official website

Ruairi Quinn (born 2 April 1946) is an Irish Labour Party politician. He is currently a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin South East constituency.[1] He was Minister for Finance from 1994 to 1997, and leader of the Labour Party from 1997 to 2002.


Early life

Quinn was born on 2 April 1946. His family were prominent republicans in the South Down area in the 1920s, taking an active part in the IRA during the War of Independence and the Civil War. The Quinns were prosperous merchants in Newry, County Down, but were forced to move south to Dublin in the 1930s where Quinn's father built a successful business career. Quinn was educated at Blackrock College where he was academically successful and an outstanding athlete and a member of the Senior Cup rugby team. From an early age, he was interested in art and won the all-Ireland Texaco Children's Art competition. This led him to study architecture at University College Dublin (UCD) in 1964 and later at the School of Ekistics in Athens. In 1965, Quinn joined the Labour Party working for Michael O'Leary's successful campaign in Dublin North Central. In the following years, Quinn was a leading student radical in UCD demanding reform of the University's structures and the old fashioned architectural course that then prevailed. He rejected the Catholicism of his youth and became an existential atheist. He also travelled in Europe and became a europhile which was to be a defining characteristic of his political career. He qualified as an architect in 1969 and married for the first time that year before embarking on studies in Athens. He and his first wife had a son and a daughter. He married again in 1990 and has a son with his second wife Liz Allman. He became an architect with Dublin Corporation in 1971.

In 1972, Quinn decided he would stand for the Labour Party in the next general election and hoped he would be the running mate of the sitting Labour deputy for Dublin South East, Noel Browne. The party organisation was largely moribund since Browne's election in 1969 as Browne had been ill and little work had been done locally. When the election was called in February 1973, Quinn found he was the only Labour Party candidate as Browne refused to stand in principled opposition to Labour's decision to enter into a pre-election pact with Fine Gael to form a National Coalition. Quinn lost by 39 votes to Fergus O'Brien of Fine Gael in the final count. Following the 1973 election, Quinn began to rebuild the Labour Party in Dublin South East with his mainly youthful supporters. He won a council seat on Dublin Corporation at the local elections in 1974 in his own ward and took a leading role in the Labour Party group on the city council.

He was a partner in an architecture firm from 1973 to 1982. In 1976 he was nominated by the Taoiseach, Liam Cosgrave, to Seanad Éireann when Brendan Halligan won a by-election in Dublin South West and his Senate seat became vacant. He was first elected a Labour Party TD for Dublin South East at the 1977 general election. Quinn was at this time closely associated with environmental issues being the first professional architect and town planner ever elected to the Dáil. He served as environment spokesperson for the Labour Party and was very close to the party leader, Frank Cluskey, whom he had voted for in the leadership contest of 1977. He lost his seat at the 1981 general election and was elected to the 15th Seanad on the Industrial and Commercial Panel. He was re-elected as TD at the February 1982 general election and has retained his seat since.[2]

Early ministerial career

In 1982 he became Minister of State at the Department of the Environment. Between 1983 and 1986 he served as Minister for Labour. From 1986 to 1987 he was appointed Minister for the Public Service, held in addition to the Labour portfolio. In 1989 he became deputy leader of the Labour Party. He was director of elections for Mary Robinson's successful Presidential election campaign in 1990.

Minister for Enterprise and Employment

In the Fianna FáilLabour Party coalition government of 1993–1994 Quinn became Minister for Enterprise and Employment.

He oversaw the merger of the former Department of Industry and Commerce with the former Department of Labour, with a new focus on enterprise development and the reduction of the then high level of unemployment. Quinn implemented reform of industrial strategy and reorganised the industrial development agencies. He also introduced the Community Employment Programme to provide activity and involvement for unemployed workers in 1994. This proved to be particularly successful.

Quinn was seen as comfortable with the Fianna Fáil members of the cabinet. He also tended to be a moderniser in economic terms but, despite attempts, failed to close the Irish Steel company in Haulbowline, County Cork, a classic loss-making smoke stack industry that harked back to an earlier era. Nevertheless, it was in August, 1994, while Quinn and Fianna Fáil's Bertie Ahern were economic ministers, that the Irish economy was first described as the "Celtic Tiger".

Quinn, along with many of his Labour cabinet colleagues, strove unsuccessfully to keep the Fianna Fáil Labour Government together during the Father Brendan Smyth crisis in November 1994. He records in his autobiography that he still cannot understand why that Government fell.

Minister for Finance

The following year he became Minister for Finance in the Fine Gael, Labour Party and Democratic Left "Rainbow Coalition" government. Quinn took a relatively conservative line as Finance Minister, being conscious of his position as the first Labour Minister for Finance in Irish political history. He quickly proved his competence, dispelling opposition jibes and stock market fears about a social democratic minister holding the sensitive finance portfolio. The Irish economy continued to perform, while inflation and the government finances were kept under firm control. Unemployment gradually fell and public debt levels improved.

During Quinn's tenure as Minister for Finance, the overall tax burden in Ireland (the ratio of tax revenue, including pay related social insurance levies, to gross national product) fell from 38.7% to 34.8%, of by 1.3 percentage points each year. He achieved this by limiting current government spending to grow by 6.8% in nominal terms or 4.8% in real terms, against a backdrop of improving economic fortunes, due to increasing investment in technology intensive sectors of the Irish economy.

Under Quinn, the General Government Balance went from a deficit of 2.1% in 1995 to a surplus of 1.1% in 1997. The General Government Debt went from 81% of GNP in 1995 to 63.6% in 1997. The year before Quinn became an economic Minister in 1993, Irish economic growth was 2.5% (1992). In 1993 GNP growth was 3%; in 1994, 6.5%; in 1995, 8%; in 1996, 7.8%; and finally in 1997, 10.3%. The unemployment rate fell from 1993 to 1997 as follows: 15.7% in 1993; 14.7% in 1994; 12.2% in 1995; 11.9% in 1996; and finally, 10.3% in 1997.

Quinn served as the President of the Ecofin Council of the European Union in 1996, and worked to accelerate the launch of the European Single Currency, whilst securing Ireland's qualification for the eurozone. Quinn, and his party leader and Tánaiste, Foreign Minister Dick Spring enjoyed a somewhat uneasy relationship during the Rainbow Coalition, as recounted in Quinn's 2005 memoir. At the 1997 general election the Labour Party returned to opposition, winning only 17 of its outgoing 33 seats. Many other ministers of the Labour Party were under significant pressure form the media (particularly the Irish Independent) concerning allegations of cronyism ("jobs for the boys") and abusing the privileges of office. In comparison, the then opposition, under Bertie Ahern, placed heavy reliance on economic policy, and claimed credit for the country's improving economy.

Leader of the Labour Party

Accession to leadership

In October 1997, Dick Spring retired as leader of the Labour Party following an unsuccessful campaign by the Labour Party candidate, Adi Roche, in the 1997 Irish presidential election. Quinn defeated Brendan Howlin to become the new leader. In 1999 the Labour Party and Democratic Left merged. Proinsias De Rossa of the latter party became president, while Quinn remained as leader of the party. He used the years of leadership to develop a strong policy platform, publishing a Spatial Strategy for future development of the country, promoting universal access to health insurance, advocating reform of the Garda Síochána (police), and arguing for closer European integration. Fianna Fáil countered by cleverly exploiting Quinn's comfortable middle class background, labelling him "Mr Angry from Sandymount," the middle class district of Dublin where Quinn is a longtime resident, and representative of, in the Dáil.

2002 general election

At the 2002 general election, which saw the ruling Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats government re-elected, the Labour Party returned with 1 seat less than it had held previously. Quinn fought that election on an independent platform although he indicated a preference to enter government with Fine Gael, which he had served with in the Rainbow coalition era. Quinn's strategy was predicated on the Labour Party holding the balance of power and keeping a distance from the two bigger parties. This underestimated the attraction for the electorate of the outgoing Ahern Government that had enjoyed extraordinary economic growth and prosperity.

Realising that the choice was between a majority Fianna Fáil government on the one hand, or a government of Fianna Fáil with a watchful partner on the other, the Progressive Democrats, through their president, Michael McDowell, a constituency rival of Quinn's, seized the moment and put themselves forward as the guarantor of the public interest in a new Fianna Fáil government. This left the Labour Party stranded and almost as irrelevant to the outcome of the election. Under the leadership of Michael Noonan, Fine Gael lost 23 seats, being reduced to 31 seats, their worst performance in decades.

Meanwhile, the Progressive Democrats doubled their seats to eight and emerged with two full cabinet positions in a new coalition with Fianna Fáil. Quinn was gravely disappointed that he had failed to increase the number of seats his party held, in an election that resulted in new gains for small parties on the left end of the political spectrum, even though Fine Gael had lost 23 seats. Accepting that he would now be in opposition for another term, and seeking to spend more time with his young family, Quinn announced that he would not seek re-election for another six year term as leader of the Labour Party, at the end of August 2002.


In October 2002 Quinn's term as party leader expired and he retired as Labour leader, being replaced in a leadership election by Pat Rabbitte. When Rabbitte resigned as party leader in 2007, Quinn supported the successful candidacy of Eamon Gilmore. His public support of Gilmore, where he also brought the endorsement of all the Dublin City Councillors in his area, was seen as instrumental in discouraging other candidates from entering the race.

He led the European Movement Ireland, a civil society organisation campaigning on European issues in Ireland until late 2007, when he re-founded the Irish Alliance for Europe to campaign on the Treaty of Lisbon. Quinn is also Vice-President and Treasurer of the Party of European Socialists. He is a brother of Lochlann Quinn, former Chairman of Allied Irish Banks, and a first cousin of Senator Feargal Quinn. His nephew, Oisín Quinn, is a Labour Party Dublin City Councillor and former Dáil candidate.

In 2005, his political memoir, Straight Left, was published.

2007 general election

At the 2007 general election, Quinn increased his share of the poll by some 4% and was returned to the 30th Dáil. He was nominated for the post of Ceann Comhairle but was defeated by John O'Donoghue. Quinn became Labour Party spokesperson on Education and Science as a member of Eamon Gilmore's front bench in September 2007.

See also


  • Ruairi Quinn (2005). Straight Left: A Journey in Politics. Dublin: Hodder Headline Ireland. ISBN 0340832967.  


External links

Preceded by
Fergus O'Brien
(Fine Gael)
Labour Party Teachta Dála for Dublin South East
Succeeded by
Constituency redrawn
Preceded by
Seán Moore
(Fianna Fáil)
Labour Party Teachta Dála for Dublin South East
Political offices
Preceded by
Ger Connolly
Minister of State
(with special responsibility for Housing)

Succeeded by
Fergus O'Brien
Preceded by
Gerard Brady
Minister of State
(with special responsibility for Urban Affairs)

Preceded by
Liam Kavanagh
Minister for Labour
Succeeded by
Bertie Ahern
Preceded by
John Boland
Minister for the Public Service
Succeeded by
John Bruton
Preceded by
Pádraig Flynn
as Minister for Industry and Commerce
Minister for Enterprise and Employment
Succeeded by
Richard Bruton
Preceded by
Bertie Ahern
Minister for Finance
Succeeded by
Charlie McCreevy
Party political offices
Preceded by
Dick Spring
Leader of the Irish Labour Party
Succeeded by
Pat Rabbitte

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