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Lemass, Séan (1899–1971)

Irish politician, cofounder and leader of Fianna Fáil (the Republican Party), and Irish prime minister (1959–1966). Born on 15 July 1899 as John Francis Lemass in Dublin, Ireland, Séan Lemass joined the Irish Volunteers in January 1915, where he met his future political companion, Eamon De Valera. Involved in the 1916 Easter Rising, the Anglo-Irish War (1919–1921), and the Irish Civil War (1922–1923), Lemass went to prison three times. After his final release, he was elected to the Irish parliament as a Sinn Féin party member in November 1924. In March 1926 he resigned from the party because of ideological differences. Together with De Valera he formed a new party, Fianna Fáil, in 1930.

When Fianna Fáil won power in 1932, Lemass became minister for industry and commerce in De Valera's cabinet and remained in this position until 1939, when he became minister for supplies during World War II. Lemass's success at provisioning Ireland, which was a neutral power during the war, convinced De Valera to name him deputy prime minister in 1945. Fianna Fáil lost the 1948 election but won again in 1951. With De Valera again as prime minister, Lemass served once more as minister for industry and commerce during 1951–1954 and 1957–1959. On 23 June 1959, Lemass succeeded the retiring De Valera as prime minister and party leader.

The Lemass government's successful economic policies went along with continued progress in international affairs. Ireland was elected to the United Nations (UN) Security Council in 1962 and was visited by U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Moreover, Lemass's more moderate stance on the Irish partitioning issue enabled him to improve relations with Northern Ireland. He resigned as prime minister and party leader on 10 November 1966 but remained a member of parliament until 1969. Lemass died on 11 May 1971 in Dublin.

Matthias Trefs


Further Reading
Farrell, Brian. Séan Lemass. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1983.; Lee, Joseph J. Ireland 1912–1985: Politics and Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
 

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