AN IRISH LEADER: SEAN LEMASS
Sean Lemass was Taoiseach (leader) of Ireland from 1959 to 1966. He is regarded by many historians as the greatest of all political leaders of Ireland and is credited with laying the foundations of the modern economic success in Ireland.
Born in Dublin in 1899 Lemass was a veteran of the Easter Rising in 1916. He fought in the War of Independence and was imprisoned in Ballykinlar in County Down for a year. He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty and fought against the Michael Collins Free State in the subsequent Civil War. He was among the rebels who occupied the Four Courts which were famously bombed by the Free State forces. He was again interned in Mountjoy and the Curragh.
He was first elected to the Irish parliament in 1924 as member of Sinn Fein and was re-elected from his Dublin South constituency at every election that followed, up until his retirement in 1969. With DeValera he was a founder member of the new Fianna Fail party in 1926 which had abandoned armed struggle in favour of using political means to achieve its goals. He served as Minister for Commerce, Minister for Supplies and finally as Tanaiste (Deputy-Taoiseach) before being elected leader in 1959. His dealings in economic matters on behalf of the State were to serve him well.
Ireland during the 1950s and 1960s was an economic wasteland with little industry and huge emigration. Costello worked incessantly to develop industry and trade. His Programme for Economic Development saw the creation of Bord na Mona, Aer Lingus and the Irish Shipping industry. He worked to develop and expand the tourist industry, to extend the supply of electricity countrywide, to develop the sugar industry, and a myriad of other schemes and developments.
Irish society was changing at a rapid pace, with RTE being set up in 1961. The old conservatism was being challenged as never before. Ireland had applied for membership of the EEC and was becoming part of the wider modern European society.
Lemass favoured an attitude of co-operation with the new political entity that was Northern Ireland. In 1965 he became the first Irish leader to visit Stormont for talks with Prime Minister Terence O'Neill. The subsequent controversy as well as failing health may have convinced him that it was time to step down.
Sean Lemass retired as Taoiseach in 1966 and eventually retired from politics in 1969. He died in 1971.
His legacy of economic reform in Ireland is perhaps his greatest achievement and is being evidenced in the economic boom which began in the mid-1990s.
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