Gerard Sweetman
Gerard Sweetman (10 June 1908 – 28 January 1970) was an Irish
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

 Fine Gael
Fine Gael
Fine Gael is a centre-right to centrist political party in the Republic of Ireland. It is the single largest party in Ireland in the Oireachtas, in local government, and in terms of Members of the European Parliament. The party has a membership of over 35,000...

 politician and solicitor.

Family and childhood

Hugh Gerard Sweetman was born on 10 June 1908 to a comfortably well-off Dublin family. His father James Sweetman was a practicing barrister, and the family's return for the 1911 census shows that they enjoyed the presence of three servants at their Lower Baggot Street home.

The Sweetman
Sweetman is an Irish surname derived from the Old English bynames of Swet, Sweta and Swete which are derived from the word 'Swete' and survived into the medieval period, being later gaelicised to 'Suatman'.-Family crest:...

s were no strangers to Irish politics. A relative of James, Roger Sweetman
Roger Sweetman
Roger Sweetman was an Irish Sinn Féin politician and barrister. His father was John Sweetman.He was elected as a Sinn Féin MP for the Wexford North constituency at the 1918 general election...

 was elected to the First Dáil
First Dáil
The First Dáil was Dáil Éireann as it convened from 1919–1921. In 1919 candidates who had been elected in the Westminster elections of 1918 refused to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead assembled as a unicameral, revolutionary parliament called "Dáil Éireann"...

 representing Wexford North, and was one of the first TDs to publicly call for a negotiated settlement to the Irish War of Independence
Irish War of Independence
The Irish War of Independence , Anglo-Irish War, Black and Tan War, or Tan War was a guerrilla war mounted by the Irish Republican Army against the British government and its forces in Ireland. It began in January 1919, following the Irish Republic's declaration of independence. Both sides agreed...


Gerard was educated at the Beaumont School in Britain, which may go some way towards describing his particularly un-Kildare accent. He completed his studies at Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin , formally known as the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, was founded in 1592 by letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I as the "mother of a university", Extracts from Letters Patent of Elizabeth I, 1592: "...we...found and...

 and went on to qualify as a solicitor in 1930.

Early political career

Three weeks after his 29th birthday, Gerard Sweetman contested the 1937 general election
Irish general election, 1937
The Irish general election of 1937 was held on 1 July 1937, just over two weeks after the dissolution of the Dáil on 14 June. A plebiscite to ratify the Constitution of Ireland was held on the same day...

. His target was the old four-seater Carlow–Kildare constituency. At the time, the constituency was represented by Labour leader William Norton
William Norton
William Norton was an Irish Labour Party politician, and leader of the party from 1932 to 1960.Norton was born in Dublin in 1900. He joined the postal service in 1916. By 1920 he was a prominent member in the trade union movement in Ireland. From 1924 to 1948 he served as secretary of the Post...

, two Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil – The Republican Party , more commonly known as Fianna Fáil is a centrist political party in the Republic of Ireland, founded on 23 March 1926. Fianna Fáil's name is traditionally translated into English as Soldiers of Destiny, although a more accurate rendition would be Warriors of Fál...

 deputies James Hughes
James Hughes (Irish politician)
James Hughes was an Irish Fine Gael politician. A farmer, he was first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Teachta Dála for the Carlow–Kildare constituency at the 1938 general election. He was re-elected at the 1943 and 1944 general elections. He died in 1948 during the course of the 12th Dáil, but no...

 and Francis Humphreys
Francis Humphreys
Francis Humphreys was an Irish Fianna Fáil Party politician who served as a TD for a total of 19 years between 1932 and 1961, winning a seat at seven general elections and losing it three times....

, and outgoing Fine Gael
Fine Gael
Fine Gael is a centre-right to centrist political party in the Republic of Ireland. It is the single largest party in Ireland in the Oireachtas, in local government, and in terms of Members of the European Parliament. The party has a membership of over 35,000...

 TD Sydney Minch
Sydney Minch
Sydney B. Minch was an Irish politician, army officer and brewer.From Athy, County Kildare, and educated at Clongowes Wood College, he fought with the 16th Division in France during World War I, achieving the rank of Captain.He was first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Cumann na nGaedheal Teachta...

 of the famous Athy
The town developed from a 12th century Anglo-Norman settlement to an important British military outpost on the border of the Pale.The first town charter dates from the 16th century and the town hall was constructed in the early 18th century...

 family. Out of a field of 7 candidates, Sweetman came sixth with 8.5% of the vote.

He did not contest the 1938 general election, but ran again in 1943, and once again failed to secure election. He secured a Seanad
Seanad Éireann
Seanad Éireann is the upper house of the Oireachtas , which also comprises the President of Ireland and Dáil Éireann . It is commonly called the Seanad or Senate and its members Senators or Seanadóirí . Unlike Dáil Éireann, it is not directly elected but consists of a mixture of members chosen by...

 seat in weeks that followed, and remained in the upper house through the 1944 election, until finally, with the creation of a separate Kildare constituency, he won a Dáil seat at the 1948 general election
Irish general election, 1948
The Irish general election of 1948 was held on 4 February 1948. The 147 newly elected members of the 13th Dáil assembled on 18 February when the First Inter-Party government in the history of the Irish state was appointed....


The 1948 general election returned the first inter-party government
Government of the 13th Dáil
The 13th Dáil was elected at the 1948 general election on 4 February 1948 and first met on 18 February when the 5th Government of Ireland was appointed. The 13th Dáil lasted for 1,211 days....

 under Taoiseach
The Taoiseach is the head of government or prime minister of Ireland. The Taoiseach is appointed by the President upon the nomination of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas , and must, in order to remain in office, retain the support of a majority in the Dáil.The current Taoiseach is...

 John A. Costello
John A. Costello
John Aloysius Costello , a successful barrister, was one of the main legal advisors to the government of the Irish Free State after independence, Attorney General of Ireland from 1926–1932 and Taoiseach from 1948–1951 and 1954–1957....

. This coalition represented an 'anybody-but-Fianna-Fáil' gathering from across the political spectrum, and the newest Kildare TD sat on the backbenches until the government fell in 1951.

After a brief FF return to power, a second inter-party government
Government of the 15th Dáil
The 15th Dáil was elected at the 1954 general election on 18 May 1954 and first met on 2 June when the 7th Government of Ireland was appointed. The 15th Dáil lasted for 1,022 days.-7th Government of Ireland:...

 took office in June 1954 with Sweetman promoted to Minister for Finance
Minister for Finance (Ireland)
The Minister for Finance is the title held by the Irish government minister responsible for all financial and monetary matters. The office-holder controls the Department of Finance and is considered one of the most important members of the Government of Ireland.The current Minister for Finance is...


In Professor Tom Garvin's review of the 1950s 'News from a New Republic', he comes in for praise as a moderniser and Garvin places him with a cross party group including Daniel Morrissey
Daniel Morrissey
Daniel Morrissey was an Irish politician who served in Dáil Éireann for thirty-five years.He was a native of Nenagh, County Tipperary. He was first elected to the 3rd Dáil at the 1922 general election as a Labour Party Teachta Dála for Tipperary Mid, North and South...

 of Fine Gael and William Norton of the Labour Party as well as Sean Lemass of Fianna Fáil who were pushing a modernising agenda

Sweetman also served as a member of Kildare County Council
Kildare County Council
Kildare County Council is the local authority which is responsible for County Kildare in Ireland. The Council is responsible for Housing and Community, Roads and Transportation, Urban planning and Development, Amenity and Culture, and Environment. The council is governed by the Local Government...

, including a term as chairman of the Council in the late 1940s.

Ministerial career

He was now 45 years old, and he inherited a national economy that was in crisis. Unemployment was at 421,000; over 100,000 people had left agriculture during the previous 8 years; the country was seeing a level of emigration unknown since the famine.

Sweetman differed in his thinking from the staid protectionist policies espoused by Éamon de Valera
Éamon de Valera
Éamon de Valera was one of the dominant political figures in twentieth century Ireland, serving as head of government of the Irish Free State and head of government and head of state of Ireland...

 since the 1930s. Rather than focussing on a self-sufficient Ireland, Sweetman enacted policies that would make Ireland a net exporter.

In his first budget in 1955, he introduced a thoroughly modern scheme whereby a tax exemption was provided for exported goods. He also established the Prize Bond
Prize Bond
A Prize Bond is a non-interest bearing security issued on behalf of the Irish Minister for Finance by the Prize Bond Company Limited. Funds raised are used to offset government borrowing and are refundable to the bond owner on demand...

s programme as a means of covering the national debt.

This debt was worrying in the mid-50s. Two major bond issues were placed during Sweetman's tenure for £20 million and £12 million. These were huge sums at a time when an average worker entered the tax net with an annual salary of just £533.

However, Sweetman's greatest initiative as Minister was the appointment of another young man of talent and vision. On 30 May 1956 he elevated a 39 year old civil servant named Ken Whitaker
T. K. Whitaker
T.K. "Ken" Whitaker is an Irish economist and former public servant, credited with a pivotal role in the economic development of Ireland...

 to the position of Secretary General of the Department of Finance. This was a revolutionary step, as it did not follow the convention of promotion based on time served.

Whittaker's time at the Department has been seen as absolutely instrumental in the economic development of the country, indeed a 2001 RTÉ contest named him 'Irishman of the 20th Century'.

Whittaker was inherited by the new FF government elected in 1957, and his seminal “First Programme for Economic Expansion” published in 1958 laid the foundations for economic growth in the 1960s.

Later career

For Sweetman, this brief period of government was not to be repeated and he would remain in opposition for the rest of his life.

During the 1960s, Fine Gael itself witnessed a major transformation. The decade began with a new leader, James Dillon, and a renewed focus on making the party relevant.

This internal revolution culminated in the 'Just Society
Just Society
The idea of a "just society" first gained modern attention when philosophers such as John Stuart Mill asked the question, "What is a 'just society?" Their writings covered several different perspectives including allowing individuals to live their lives as long as they didn't infringe on the...

' document produced by Declan Costello
Declan Costello
Declan Costello was an Irish jurist and Fine Gael party politician, who served as a Teachta Dála for twenty years, as Attorney General for four years and as a High Court judge for another twenty years before his retirement....

. The distinctly social democrat flavour of the document was very much at odds with Sweetman's deeply conservative views. However, the support of future Taoisigh Liam Cosgrave
Liam Cosgrave
Liam Cosgrave is an Irish Fine Gael politician who served as Taoiseach and as Leader of Fine Gael . He was a Teachta Dála from 1943 to 1981....

 and Garret FitzGerald
Garret FitzGerald
Garret FitzGerald was an Irish politician who was twice Taoiseach of Ireland, serving in office from July 1981 to February 1982 and again from December 1982 to March 1987. FitzGerald was elected to Seanad Éireann in 1965 and was subsequently elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fine Gael TD in 1969. He...

 ensured that the document was adopted as the party's manifesto for the 1965 election
Irish general election, 1965
The Irish general election of 1965 was held on 7 April 1965. The newly elected members of the 18th Dáil assembled at Leinster House on 21 April when the new Taoiseach and government were appointed....


In his last election, in June 1969, Sweetman was again returned to the Dáil for a 7th successive term. His party colleagues on the ticket for that election included Nancy Moore, mother of Christy
Christy Moore
Christopher Andrew "Christy" Moore is a popular Irish folk singer, songwriter, and guitarist. He is well known as one of the founding members of Planxty and Moving Hearts...

, and Kildare Town's own Michael McWey.

The election
Irish general election, 1969
The Irish general election of 1969 was held on 18 June 1969. The newly elected members of the 19th Dáil assembled at Leinster House on 2 July when the new Taoiseach and government were appointed...

 left only a handful of seats between FF and the opposition.

He was known for his high speed style of driving. The 28 January 1970 was a long day, which began with a return from a business meeting on the continent. On returning to Ireland, he had travelled down to Silvermines
Silvermines, historically known as Bellagowan , is a village in North Tipperary in Ireland. It lies immediately north of the Silvermine mountain range and takes its name from the extensive mines of lead, zinc, copper, baryte and silver nearby...

 in Tipperary
County Tipperary
County Tipperary is a county of Ireland. It is located in the province of Munster and is named after the town of Tipperary. The area of the county does not have a single local authority; local government is split between two authorities. In North Tipperary, part of the Mid-West Region, local...

 for another business meeting, and it was on the return journey that he lost control of his vehicle near Monasterevin
Situated 63 km from Dublin on the R445 road, Monasterevin has been relieved of much through traffic by the opening in 2004 of a new section of the M7 motorway bypassing the town on the N7 Dublin to Limerick route...

 in County Kildare
County Kildare
County Kildare is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Mid-East Region and is also located in the province of Leinster. It is named after the town of Kildare. Kildare County Council is the local authority for the county...


Speaking at the first session of the Dáil that followed, Taoiseach Jack Lynch
Jack Lynch
John Mary "Jack" Lynch was the Taoiseach of Ireland, serving two terms in office; from 1966 to 1973 and 1977 to 1979....

offered a sincere and moving tribute to the late Deputy. He spoke of a TD who 'commanded respect and attention', especially in matters of finance; a 'gifted parliamentarian who loved the cut-and-thrust of debate' and who was as 'fair an opponent as he was formidable'. And he noted a career cut short: 'Through his tragic and untimely death Dáil Éireann and Irish public life have suffered a grievous loss. That loss will be felt all the more because of his great impact on, and contribution to, Irish political life'.
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