John Bruton’s long life in politics: He used to joke it all started at a Sinn Féin meeting in 1966

The former taoiseach was steeped in the Fine Gael tradition, joining the party at age 18

John Bruton was born in May 1947, and would go on to enter politics at the age of 18 when he joined the Fine Gael party in Dunboyne in 1965.

He previously wrote jokingly about how his politics career kicked off in 1966 after he turned up uninvited to a public meeting organised by Sinn Féin to oppose the common market. He spoke from the floor and managed to get his views into a local paper.

He graduated from University College Dublin with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and politics in 1968.

Mr Bruton was first elected to Dáil Éireann in 1969 at the age of 22 as a member of Fine Gael and would go on to join the front bench in 1972.


In one of his earliest speeches in the Dáil in 1970, he criticised the alleged involvement of Irish government ministers in the importation of arms for use by nationalists in Northern Ireland. The Arms Crisis is one of the most memorable scandals in Irish history.

Mr Bruton was called to the Bar of Ireland in 1972.

He served as parliamentary secretary, or junior minister, from 1973 until 1977.

Mr Bruton became minister for finance in 1981 at a time when the State was teetering on the brink financially. In this role, he proposed the overhaul of budgetary procedures to allow for long-term planning for future generations.

In 1982, as minister for finance, he presided over the infamous budget decision to impose VAT on clothing and footwear. Mr Bruton decided to change the VAT rating for those items from zero to 18 per cent — including for children’s items. The vote on the budget was lost, 82-81. That government fell because some key independents, notably Limerick socialist TD Jim Kemmy, decided not to offer their support.

In 1986, he became minister for finance again, although he never got the chance to produce a budget.

He became leader of Fine Gael in 1990, leading the party into government in 1994 when he became taoiseach that December.

In August 1994, the IRA announced “a complete cessation of military activities” but Mr Bruton would go on to argue that in the 14 months after the IRA announced its “complete cessation”, 48 punishment beatings were conducted. In his role as Taoiseach, about Northern Ireland he said he was “anxious to build on the work” of his predecessor Albert Reynolds.

In November 1995, he persuaded British prime minister John Major to agree to a formula to allow talks including Sinn Féin to get under way. This would come to be known as the twin-track approach, which many viewed as a diplomatic coup. The two also agreed at the same meeting to establish an International Body on Decommissioning, chaired by George Mitchell. Shortly after Mr Major suggested an elective body to activate twin-track talks, the IRA ignited a bomb in Canary Wharf in London.

Despite this, twin-track talks were launched in June 1996. In the years after, Mr Bruton said that those talks paved the way towards the Belfast Agreement.

That same year, 1996, he addressed a joint session of the US Congress on September 11th as only the 30th head of state or government of an EU country to do so since 1945.

By the time of the Belfast Agreement in 1998, Mr Bruton was leader of the Opposition and at the time he welcomed the agreement and commended all those involved.

In 2002, he was picked as one of the representatives of Dáil Éireann to the Convention on the Future of Europe, the body charged with revising the EU treaties and shaping the future of the EU. He was elected to the 12-member Praesidium of the Convention.

In 2004, he was appointed to be the Ambassador of the European Union to the United States of America, a role he held until 2009.

From 2010 to 2015, he was chairman of IFSC, a private-sector body set up to develop the financial services industry in Ireland.

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