Seán Lemass was Taoiseach from 1959 to 1966. This was a critical transition period for Irish politics and for the economy. The first generation of leaders, many of them veterans of the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence, were retiring from active politics, and in 1965 Lemass boasted that Ireland had the youngest Cabinet in Europe. Lemass was determined to transform the Irish economy, and as part of that process industrialists, trade union leaders, civil servants and government ministers began to meet on a regular basis to exchange views and plan strategies. His meetings in 1965 with Terence O'Neill, prime minister of Northern Ireland, represented the first official talks between the leader of an independent Ireland and his counterpart from Northern Ireland.

Lemass's Cabinet meetings were short, less frequent than before, and decisive; his successor Jack Lynch preferred a slower, more deliberative pace of decision-making. The outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland in August 1969 did not give the government the luxury of long reflection. An emergency Cabinet meeting, with ministers summoned back from summer holidays, revealed strong divisions between those who were in favour of intervening to protect the nationalist community in Northern Ireland and more cautious voices. The divisions within the government over Northern Ireland came to a head in May 1970 with the Arms Crisis and the resignation and dismissal of four Cabinet ministers.

Above: Letter from Seán Lemass to Eamon de Valera after his appointment as Taoiseach
Image: UCD-OFM partnership