Jim Gibbons (Irish politician)


Jim Gibbons (Irish politician)

James "Jim" Gibbons ( _ga. Séamus Mac Giobúin; 3 August 1924 – 20 December 1997) was a senior Irish Fianna Fáil politician. He was first elected in 1957 as a Teachta Dála (Member of Parliament) for Carlow-Kilkenny. He held his seat until 1982. Gibbons also served as Minister for Defence (1969–1970) and Minister for Agriculture (1970–1973 and 1977–1979).

Biography

Jim Gibbons was born in County Kilkenny in 1924. He came from a family that had a strong Fianna Fáil background, his uncle Seán Gibbons having been a TD and then a Senator. Jim joined the party in his youth, entering local politics in 1954 when he was elected to Kilkenny County Council, an authority that he served on until 1967. Gibbons was elected to Dáil Éireann as a Fianna Fáil TD for the first time at the 1957 General Election. Following Seán Lemass's re-election as Taoiseach in 1965, Gibbons was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, Jack Lynch.

Four years later in 1969 Lynch was Taoiseach and Gibbons joined the Cabinet as Minister for Defence. In 1970 the Arms Crisis broke when Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney were sacked by Lynch as he believed they were involved in a plot to import arms into Northern Ireland. At the subsequent Arms Trial Gibbons would be the chief prosecutorial witness and his evidence would contradict Haughey's. Haughey was found not guilty, therefore Gibbons was alleged to have been the dishonest one, an allegation that affected him deeply. Years later when Haughey returned to the Fianna Fáil front bench Gibbons hoped for a 'rapprochment' with Haughey. This never happened. Following the whole episode Gibbons was appointed Minister for Agriculture. In his new role Gibbons played a key role in the agricultural negotiations concerning entry into the European Economic Community and in the amalgamation of creameries in the country.

In 1973, Gibbons was appointed a member of the second delegation from the Oireachtas to the European Parliament.

A general election victory for Fianna Fáil in 1979 saw Haughey and Gibbons back in the Cabinet together. In 1979 Gibbons voted against a "Family Planning Bill" introduced by Haughey that legalised the sale of contraceptives. He was the first Minister in the history of the state to do this yet the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, took no action against him. In December of that year Haughey replaced Lynch as Fianna Fáil leader and Taoiseach. Subsequently Gibbons lost his place at Cabinet.

After he lost his seat at the 1981 General Election he called for a change of leadership within the party. He regained his seat at the February 1982 General Election and voted against Haughey in the leadership challenge that was proposed by Charlie McCreevy. Leaving the Dáil after the vote he was attacked by a number of drunken Fianna Fáil supporters and forced to the ground. A friend of his saw off the attackers. In the aftermath, new swivel doors were erected to prevent mobs pushing their way into the parliament building. The incident is recounted by Desmond O'Malley in the RTÉ documentary series Seven Ages, although O'Malley does not mention Gibbons by name. After his death over a decade later, Gibbons' son Martin revealed that his father had never fully recovered from the physical assault on him. [cite news |url=http://www.unison.ie/irish_independent/stories.php3?ca=9&si=630938&issue_id=6299 |title=Ex-minister's health declined after turbulent political life |author= |work=The Irish Independent |date=22 December 1997 |accessdate=2008-01-13]

A few weeks after this he suffered a heart attack and was unable to vote for Haughey later that year in a no-confidence motion at which point the government fell. He lost his seat at the November 1982 General Election and retired from politics. He suffered from ill health during the last years of his life and suffered a number of heart attacks and strokes.

Jim Gibbons died on 20 December 1997 aged 73. He had married Margaret (Peg) O'Neill in 1950, and they had five sons and six daughters. One son, Michael, died from cancer in 1994. A few months before Gibbons's death, his son Jim Gibbons, Jnr was nominated by the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern as a member of the 21st Seanad. His other son, Martin had briefly been a Progressive Democrats TD for Carlow-Kilkenny, from 1987–1989.

After his death controversy continued over the extent, if any, to which he — and Lynch — were aware of and implicated in the plan to import arms. State papers released at the end of 2000 tended to suggest that both Gibbons and Lynch were rather more involved than they thought politic to admit in 1970.

References

* [http://electionsireland.org/candidate.cfm?id=2549 ElectionsIreland.org - electoral history]
* [http://oireachtas.ie/members-hist/default.asp?MemberFirstName=James&MemberName=Gibbons&disp=src Oireachtas Members Database - Profile]

ee also

*Families in the Oireachtas

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