1997 Irish general election

The 1997 Irish general election to the 28th Dáil was held on Friday, 6 June, following the dissolution of the 27th Dáil on 15 May by President Mary Robinson, on the request of Taoiseach John Bruton. The general election took place in 41 Dáil constituencies throughout Ireland for 166 seats in Dáil Éireann, the house of representatives of the Oireachtas, under a revision in the Electoral (Amendment) Act 1995.

1997 Irish general election

← 1992 6 June 1997 2002 →

166 seats in Dáil Éireann
84 seats needed for a majority
Turnout65.9% Decrease 2.6pp
  First party Second party Third party
Bertie Ahern 1997 (cropped).jpg
John Bruton, December 1996 (cropped).jpg
Dick Spring 1995 (headshot).jpg
Leader Bertie Ahern John Bruton Dick Spring
Party Fianna Fáil Fine Gael Labour
Leader since 19 December 1994 20 November 1990 November 1982
Leader's seat Dublin Central Meath Kerry North
Last election 68 seats, 39.1% 45 seats, 24.5% 33 seats, 19.9%
Seats before 67 47 32
Seats won 77 54 17
Seat change Increase 9 Increase 9 Decrease 16
Popular vote 703,700 499,900 186,000
Percentage 39.3% 27.9% 10.4%
Swing Increase 0.2% Increase 3.4% Decrease 8.9%

  Fourth party Fifth party Sixth party
Mary Harney, 2004 (headshot).jpg
Proinsias De Rossa, July 1996 (cropped).png
Leader Mary Harney Proinsias De Rossa
Party Progressive Democrats Democratic Left Green
Leader since 12 October 1993 1992
Leader's seat Dublin South-West Dublin North-West
Last election 10 seats, 4.7% 4 seats, 2.8% 1 seat, 1.4%
Seats before 8 6 1
Seats won 4 4 2
Seat change Decrease 6 Steady 0 Increase 1
Popular vote 83,800 44,900 49,300
Percentage 4.7% 2.5% 2.8%
Swing Steady 0.0% Decrease 0.3% Increase 1.4%

  Seventh party Eighth party
Gerry Adams, 1997.jpg
Joe Higgins TD, 2014.jpg
Leader Gerry Adams Joe Higgins
Party Sinn Féin Socialist Party
Leader since 13 November 1983
Leader's seat Did not stand[a] Dublin West
Last election 0 Did not exist
Seats before 0 0
Seats won 1 1
Seat change Increase 1 Increase 1
Popular vote 45,614 12,445
Percentage 2.5% 0.7%
Swing Increase 0.9% New

Taoiseach before election

John Bruton
Fine Gael

Taoiseach after election

Bertie Ahern
Fianna Fáil

The two largest parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, increased both their vote totals and representation, while both the junior parties in the Dáil, the Labour Party and the Progressive Democrats, had disastrous campaigns that saw their representation in the Dáil slashed by 50% or greater. However, some of the other minor parties in the Dáil saw improvements: for the first time in 75 years a Sinn Féin TD took their seat in the Dáil after Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin was elected, while the Green party added a second TD and the Socialist Party gained their first ever national representative in Joe Higgins.

Following the election, the 28th Dáil met at Leinster House on 26 June to nominate the Taoiseach for appointment by the president and to approve the appointment of a new government of Ireland. Bertie Ahern was appointed Taoiseach, forming the 25th government of Ireland, a minority coalition government of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.

The election has been described by Irish Independent journalist Shane Coleman as a prelude to the "golden years" of the Celtic Tiger, and thus one of the most significant general elections in Irish history.[1]



The maximum amount of time between a general election in Ireland is five years, and thus the governing Rainbow Coalition of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Democratic Left knew an election would have to be called in mid to late 1997. Fine Gael had wanted to wait until the autumn to call the election, but Labour were keen to fight their campaign in the summer. Anticipating the election, on 14 April 1997 during their annual party conference, Labour leader Dick Spring declared "I will not, in the aftermath of the next general election, come before you and recommend any form of coalition with either of the parties that make up the centre-right alternative, the Progressive Democrats or Fianna Fail", which ruled out the possibility of Labour being able to play kingmaker between possible coalition blocs.[2]

Both Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats were delighted by the decision to hold the election in the summer instead of the autumn; Fianna Fáil in particular feared the release in October or November of the report by the McCracken Tribunal, which was investing allegations that Ben Dunne Jnr. had bribed members of Fianna Fáil and that they had aided him in tax evasion.[1]

The 1997 general election saw the public offered a choice of two possible coalitions. The existing government was a coalition of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Democratic Left – called the Rainbow Coalition, while the opposition "alternative coalition" consisted of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.



Rainbow coalition (Fine Gael, Labour, Democratic Left)


The outgoing Rainbow parties campaigned to re-elect the coalition and thus emphasized the working relationship that they had developed, running with the slogan 'Partnership That Works'.[3] They claimed credit for a booming economy, improving social services and reforms such as the introduction of divorce. Despite this united front, each party fought its own campaign. Labour emphasised the number of campaign pledges it had managed to implement not only as part of the Rainbow government but also during its coalition with Fianna Fáil.

Fianna Fáil campaign


Fianna Fáil under Bertie Ahern had been restructuring itself after its turbulent period under Charles Haughey and Albert Reynolds. The party's central office gained control of candidate selection and modernised its campaigning strategy, especially concerning vote management and controlling transfers under Ireland's PR electoral system. In addition, the bitter internal feuding that had dogged the party for decades was ended by Ahern's more unifying style of leadership. This leadership also allowed Fianna Fáil to run a very energetic campaign that emphasised Ahern's relative youth and enthusiasm, which distanced the party from scandals that had beset the party.[2][1][4]

Progressive Democrats' campaign


Despite entering the election with polls suggesting they would overtake Labour as the third biggest party, and with Mary Harney as the most popular party leader, the Progressive Democrats struggled. Initially, it ran a presidential-style campaign that emphasized Harney. However, entering a pact with a resurgent Fianna Fáil meant it struggled to assert itself. In response, the PDs hastily published a manifesto — a move that backfired as it controversially called for single parent benefits to be cut in order to encourage single mothers to live with their parents.[2] This drew fire from Pronsias De Rossa, who claimed Harney did "not have a bull's notion about social welfare".[5] The Progressive Democrat's manifesto also called for the laying off of 25,000 public sector workers over five years, a proposal that was heavily criticised by the left-wing parties.[2] In response, Fianna Fáil's leadership demanded a sit-down meeting with the Progressive Democrat leadership, and after the two parties publicly announced together that no layoffs would be made in the public sector without the consent of Irish trade unions. Harney also claimed her comments about unwed mothers had been misrepresented by the media.[2]

Party slogans/Manifestos

Party Slogan/Manifesto name Refs
Fine Gael
Fianna Fáil People before Politics [6][7]
Labour Party Labour makes the vital difference [8]
Progressive Democrats Real answers, not idle promises [9]
Democratic Left Make the future work [10]
Green Party For Quality of Life [11]
Sinn Féin
  • Building a dynamic for change
  • A New Opportunity for Peace
Socialist Party

Campaign topics


Sinn Féin and Northern Ireland


1997 was a pivotal year politically across the island of Ireland as the Troubles drew to an end and progress towards the forthcoming Good Friday Agreement was being made. Inevitably, the issue of Sinn Féin's participation in the election and each party's policy on Northern Ireland came up repeatedly during the campaign. Previous to the May 1997 United Kingdom general election, leader of Fine Gael John Bruton declared that if the IRA had not declared a ceasefire, then a vote for Sinn Féin would be a vote for violence. However, on 26 May, Labour leader and coalition partner Dick Spring stated that a vote for Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland would be a vote for peace. The opposition in the Dáil responded by declaring that the government was sending out mixed messaging about Sinn Féin and Northern Ireland.[2]

In late May/early June, Bernie Ahern began attacking Bruton on the topic of Northern Ireland, criticising Bruton for not being the leading voice of "Nationalist Ireland" and promising that he would take this mantle if elected Taoiseach. Simultaneously, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams involved himself in the election by criticising Bruton's handling of the peace process. On 31 May, an active Provisional IRA landmine was discovered in Belfast, prompting Bruton to state he would "think very hard" before allowing any further contact between members of the government and Sinn Féin. Afterwards, the leader of the Democratic Left, Proinsias De Rossa, asked Ahern to clarify his "electoral support for Sinn Féin". Ahern denied he had ever lent support to Sinn Féin and went further by stating categorially he would rule Sinn Féin out of any possible coalition talks following the election. Ahern justified this by saying it would send the wrong message to Unionists in Northern Ireland to add Sinn Féin to a coalition.[2]



The murder of journalist Veronica Guerin in June 1996 by drug lords in Dublin ensured that the subject of crime was a pressing one during the election. Although Fine Gael had traditionally been the "party of law and order" in Ireland, Fianna Fáil were able to seize on the subject of crime and declared they would have a "zero tolerance" approach to crime. Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Crime, John O'Donoghue, was able to dictate the conversation and was also able, previous to the election, to convince the government to support his bill which gave greater powers to the Criminal Assets Bureau.[1]

Opinion polls

Polling firm Date FF FG Lab PDs DL GP Ind/Oth
Irish Times/MRBI 7 June 44 27 8 4 3 3 11
Independent Newspapers-IMS 2 June 44 29 9 5 2 3 6
Irish Times/MRBI 28 May 42 26 11 7 2 4 8
Independent Newspapers-IMS 29 May 40 29 11 6 2 4 8
Independent Newspapers-IMS 26 May 41 26 10 5 2 4 12
Irish Times/MRBI 20 May 43 26 10 7 2 3 9
Irish Times/MRBI 5 May 43 26 12 8 2 3 6


Party Fianna Fáil Fine Gael Labour Party Progressive Democrats Green Party Sinn Féin Democratic Left Socialist Party
Leader Bertie Ahern John Bruton Dick Spring Mary Harney Gerry Adams Proinsias De Rossa Joe Higgins
Votes 39.3%, 703,682 27.9%, 499,936 10.4%, 186,044 4.7%, 83,765 2.8%, 49,323 2.5%, 45,614 2.5%, 44,901 0.7%, 12,445
Seats 77 (46.4%) 54 (32.5%) 17 (10.2%) 4 (2.4%) 2 (1.2%) 1 (0.6%) 4 (2.4%) 1 (0.6%)
77 4 6 54 17 4
Fianna Fáil PD Inds Fine Gael Labour DL

Vote Share of different parties in the election.

  Fianna Fáil (39.3%)
  Fine Gael (27.9%)
  Labour Party (10.4%)
  Green Party (2.8%)
  Sinn Féin (2.5%)
  Democratic Left (2.5%)
  National Party (1.1%)
  Socialist Party (0.6%)
  Other (8.2%)
Election to the 28th Dáil – 6 June 1997[13][14][15]
Party Leader Seats ± % of
First pref.
% FPv ±%
Fianna Fáil Bertie Ahern 77  10 46.4 703,682 39.3  0.2
Fine Gael John Bruton 54  9 32.5 499,936 27.9  3.4
Labour Dick Spring 17  16 10.2 186,044 10.4  8.9
Progressive Democrats Mary Harney 4  6 2.4 83,765 4.7 ±0.0
Green 2  1 1.2 49,323 2.8  1.4
Sinn Féin Gerry Adams[a] 1  1 0.6 45,614 2.5  0.9
Democratic Left Proinsias De Rossa 4   0 2.4 44,901 2.5  0.3
National Party Nora Bennis 0 New 0 19,077 1.1 New
Socialist Party Joe Higgins 1 New 0.6 12,445 0.7 New
Christian Solidarity Gerard Casey 0 New 0 8,357 0.5 New
Workers' Party Tom French 0   0 0 7,808 0.4  0.3
Socialist Workers N/A 0 New 0 2,028 0.1 New
Natural Law Party N/A 0 New 0 1,515 0.1 New
SKIA 0 New 0 1,388 0.1 New
Independent N/A 6  2 3.6 123,102 7.9  1.1
Spoilt votes 17,947
Total 166 0 100 1,806,932 100
Electorate/Turnout 2,741,262 65.9%

The outgoing Ceann Comhairle retired at this election. Independents include Independent Fianna Fáil (11,607 votes, 1 seat).

Voting summary

First preference vote
Fianna Fáil
Fine Gael
Progressive Democrats
Sinn Féin
Democratic Left

Seats summary

Dáil seats
Fianna Fáil
Fine Gael
Progressive Democrats
Democratic Left
Sinn Féin

Although Fine Gael gained seats, it crossed the Dáil chamber to the Opposition benches. Fianna Fáil also increased its representation, but the Progressive Democrats had a disastrous election, maintaining its share of the vote, but winning only four seats compared to ten at the previous election, losing seats thought safe such as Cork North-Central and Dún Laoghaire.

The Green Party won a second seat, with John Gormley elected in Dublin South-East. He was elected by just over 30 votes after a recount lasting four days saw Progressive Democrat Michael McDowell defeated. The loss of McDowell was particularly stinging to the Progressive Democrats as McDowell was their "chief ideologue".[2]

One of the main features of the election, however, was the collapse of the Labour Party vote. Not only did it lose seats it had picked up in the 1992 general election, when its vote was at an all-time high – such as in Clare and Laois–Offaly – but it also lost reasonably safe seats, such as in Dublin North, Dublin Central and Cork South-Central. Dick Spring would retire as leader of the Labour Party later that year, after further disappointment in the presidential election.

Democratic Left also suffered, losing its two gains made in by-elections during the 27th Dáil. Sinn Féin won its first Dáil seat since 1957, with the party winning a seat in the Cavan–Monaghan constituency with the election of Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, and taking seats for the first time since 1922. It also narrowly missed a seat in Kerry North. The Socialist Party, a Trotskyist party which consisted of former members of the Labour Party expelled in 1989, won its first seat in the Dublin West constituency.

Another seat change of note was the first capture of Cavan–Monaghan by Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. When Ó Caoláin subsequently took his seat in the Dáil, it was the first time in 75 years a member of Sinn Féin had done so.[16][17][18] Ó Caoláin's entry into the Dáil marked a major turning point in the history of Sinn Féin, who would continue to hold a presence in the Dáil to the present day.

Government formation


Following the election, none of the major parties had a clear majority. Negotiations resulted in a Fianna Fáil–Progressive Democrats coalition taking office. Four Independent Teachta Dála (TDs) also supported the government ensuring a working majority. Bertie Ahern became the Taoiseach while Mary Harney of the Progressive Democrats became Tánaiste.

Dáil membership changes


The following changes took place as a result of the election:

  • 17 outgoing TDs retired, including the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Treacy
  • 149 TDs stood for re-election
    • 121 were re-elected
    • 28 failed to be re-elected
  • 45 successor TDs were elected
    • 32 were elected for the first time
    • 13 had previously been TDs
  • There were 6 successor female TDs, replacing 9 outgoing, decreasing the total number by 3 to 20
  • There were changes in 34 of the 41 constituencies contested

Outgoing TDs are listed in the constituency they contested in the election. For some, such as Kildare North, this differs from the constituency they represented in the outgoing Dáil. Where more than one change took place in a constituency the concept of successor is an approximation for presentation only.

Constituency Departing TD Party Change Comment Successor TD Party
Carlow–Kilkenny M. J. Nolan Fianna Fáil Lost seat John McGuinness Fianna Fáil
Cavan–Monaghan Jimmy Leonard Fianna Fáil Retired Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Sinn Féin
Clare Moosajee Bhamjee Labour Party Retired Daly – Former TD Brendan Daly Fianna Fáil
Cork East John Mulvihill Labour Party Lost seat David Stanton Fine Gael
Cork North-Central Kathleen Lynch Democratic Left Lost seat Noel O'Flynn Fianna Fáil
Máirín Quill Progressive Democrats Lost seat Billy Kelleher Fianna Fáil
Cork North-West Frank Crowley Fine Gael Lost seat Michael Moynihan Fianna Fáil
Cork South-Central Peter Barry Fine Gael Retired Deirdre Clune Fine Gael
Toddy O'Sullivan Labour Party Lost seat Dennehy – Former TD John Dennehy Fianna Fáil
Cork South-West No membership changes
Donegal North-East Paddy Harte Fine Gael Lost seat Harry Blaney Ind. Fianna Fáil
Donegal South-West Pat "the Cope" Gallagher Fianna Fáil Retired Tom Gildea Independent
Dublin Central Joe Costello Labour Party Lost seat Marian McGennis Fianna Fáil
Dublin North Seán Ryan Labour Party Lost seat Wright – Former TD G. V. Wright Fianna Fáil
Dublin North-Central No membership changes
Dublin North-East Seán Kenny Labour Party Lost seat Cosgrave – Former TD Michael Joe Cosgrave Fine Gael
Liam Fitzgerald Fianna Fáil Lost seat Martin Brady Fianna Fáil
Dublin North-West Mary Flaherty Fine Gael Lost seat Pat Carey Fianna Fáil
Dublin South Eithne FitzGerald Labour Party Lost seat Olivia Mitchell Fine Gael
Dublin South-Central Eric Byrne Democratic Left Lost seat Seán Ardagh Fianna Fáil
Dublin South-East Michael McDowell Progressive Democrats Lost seat John Gormley Green Party
Dublin South-West Éamonn Walsh Labour Party Lost seat Conor Lenihan Fianna Fáil
Mervyn Taylor Labour Party Retired Brian Hayes Fine Gael
Dublin West Joan Burton Labour Party Lost seat Joe Higgins Socialist Party
Dún Laoghaire Niamh Bhreathnach Labour Party Lost seat Mary Hanafin Fianna Fáil
Helen Keogh Progressive Democrats Lost seat Barnes – Former TD Monica Barnes Fine Gael
Galway East New seat Ulick Burke Fine Gael
Galway West Máire Geoghegan-Quinn Fianna Fáil Retired Fahey – Former TD Frank Fahey Fianna Fáil
Kerry North No membership changes
Kerry South John O'Leary Fianna Fáil Retired Jackie Healy-Rae Independent
Kildare North No membership changes
Kildare South New constituency, new seat Jack Wall Labour Party
Laois–Offaly Liam Hyland Fianna Fáil Retired Seán Fleming Fianna Fáil
Pat Gallagher Labour Party Lost seat Enright – Former TD Tom Enright Fine Gael
Ger Connolly Fianna Fáil Retired John Moloney Fianna Fáil
Limerick East Peadar Clohessy Progressive Democrats Retired Eddie Wade Fianna Fáil
Limerick West Gerry Collins Fianna Fáil Retired Michael Collins Fianna Fáil
Michael J. Noonan Fianna Fáil Retired Dan Neville Fine Gael
Longford–Roscommon John Connor Fine Gael Lost seat Denis Naughten Fine Gael
Tom Foxe Independent Lost seat Belton – Former TD Louis Belton Fine Gael
Louth No membership changes
Mayo P. J. Morley Fianna Fáil Lost seat Beverley Flynn Fianna Fáil
Séamus Hughes Fianna Fáil Lost seat Constituency reduced to 5 seats
Meath Colm Hilliard Fianna Fáil Retired Johnny Brady Fianna Fáil
Brian Fitzgerald Labour Party Lost seat Farrelly – Former TD John V. Farrelly Fine Gael
Sligo–Leitrim Ted Nealon Fine Gael Retired John Perry Fine Gael
Declan Bree Labour Party Lost seat Reynolds – Former TD Gerry Reynolds Fine Gael
Tipperary North John Ryan Labour Party Retired O'Kennedy – Former TD Michael O'Kennedy Fianna Fáil
Tipperary South Seán Treacy Labour Party Retired Constituency seats from 4 to 3
Waterford No membership changes
Westmeath No membership changes
Wexford Avril Doyle Fine Gael Lost seat D'Arcy – Former TD Michael D'Arcy Fine Gael
Wicklow Godfrey Timmins Fine Gael Retired Billy Timmins Fine Gael
Liam Kavanagh Labour Party Lost seat Roche – Former TD Dick Roche Fianna Fáil

See also



  1. ^ a b Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin, was an MP for Belfast West. After the election, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin became sole member of the Sinn Féin parliamentary party.


  1. ^ a b c d Coleman, Shane (3 June 2022). "Changes and a charm offensive: how Bertie Ahern propelled himself over the Rainbow in the 1997 election". Irish Independent. Retrieved 11 February 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Gary Murphy (19 October 2007). "The 1997 general election in the republic of Ireland". Irish Political Studies. 13 (1): 127–134. doi:10.1080/07907189808406588. Retrieved 11 February 2023.
  3. ^ ""Partnership That Works" -Rainbow Coalition Flyer 1997 election | Irish Election Literature". 23 September 2009. Archived from the original on 5 December 2020. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  4. ^ "Bertie Episode 3 - United We Stand". YouTube. Archived from the original on 5 December 2021.
  5. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "The PDs: From Boom to Bust | Part 1 - Party On | RTÉ Documentary 2010". YouTube.
  6. ^ "Flyer for Pat Carey , Noel Ahern -Fianna Fail- 1997 GE Dublin North West". 5 January 2011.
  7. ^ "Noel Whelan , Eoin Ryan -Fianna Fail- 1997 GE Dublin South East". 26 February 2010.
  8. ^ Labour Party 1997
  9. ^ "Mary Heaslip -Progressive Democrats -1997 General Election -Wicklow". 10 May 2010.
  10. ^ "Democratic Left 1997 Manifesto- 'Make the Future Work'". 18 September 2009.
  11. ^ Green Party 2019
  12. ^ "Sinn Fein Leinster House Election Manifesto 1997".
  13. ^ Government of Ireland (1993). 28th Dáil general election: June, 1997: election results and transfer of votes (PDF). Stationery Office. Retrieved 15 August 2022. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  14. ^ "28th Dáil – General Election: 6 June 1997". ElectionsIreland.org. Archived from the original on 26 February 2009. Retrieved 9 April 2009.
  15. ^ Nohlen, Dieter; Stöver, Philip (2010). Elections in Europe: A data handbook. Nomos. pp. 1009–1017. ISBN 978-3-8329-5609-7.
  16. ^ "Irish election: Recalling when the Dáil was a Sinn Féin 'cold house'". BBC News. 16 February 2020. Archived from the original on 17 February 2020. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  17. ^ White 2017, p. 292.
  18. ^ Feeney 2002, p. 10.

Further reading

  • Feeney, Brian (2002). Sinn Féin : a hundred turbulent years. Dublin: O'Brien. ISBN 978-0862786953.
  • Nealon, Ted (1997). Nealon's guide to the 28th Dáil & Seanad: election '97. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan. ISBN 0717126749.
  • White, Robert W. (2017). Out of the ashes : an oral history of provisional Irish Republican movement (Social movements vs terrorism). Merrion Press. ISBN 9781785370939.