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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Members of the Eighth Dáil - James Matthew Dillon

James Matthew Dillon

James Matthew Dillon (16 September 1902 – 10 February 1986) was an Irish politician and leader of Fine Gael from 1959 to 1965.

Dillon was born in Dublin. He was the son of John Dillon, the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party (1918), which had been swept away by Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election.

He was educated at Mount St Benedict's, in Gorey, County Wexford, University College Galway and King's Inns. He qualified as a barrister and was called to the Bar in 1931. Dillon studied business methods at Selfridge's in London. After some time at Marshall Fields in Chicago, he returned to Ireland where he became manager of the family business known as Monica Duff's in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon.

Between 1932 and 1937, Dillon served as TD for Donegal West for the Centre Party and after its merger with Cumann na nGaedheal, the new party Fine Gael. Dillon played a key role in instigating the creation of Fine Gael and would become a key member of the party in later years. He remained as TD for Monaghan from 1937 to 1969. Dillon became deputy leader of Fine Gael under W.T. Cosgrave.

He resigned from Fine Gael in 1942 over their stance on Irish neutrality during World War II, when he urged the government to abandon neutrality and side with the Allies. He was the only TD to do so. In the first inter-party government (1948–1951), Dillon was appointed Minister for Agriculture as an Independent TD. As Minister, Dillon was responsible for huge improvements in Irish agriculture. Money was spent on land reclamation projects in the areas of less fertile land while the overall quality of Irish agricultural produce increased.

Dillon rejoined Fine Gael in 1953.

He became Minister for Agriculture again in the second inter-party government (1954–1957). In 1959 James Dillon became the leader of Fine Gael, the party he was expelled from in 1942. He became president of the party in 1960. In 1965 Fine Gael only narrowly lost the election to Seán Lemass and Fianna Fáil.

Dillon was a colourful contributor to Dáil proceedings and was noted for his high standard of oratory. He retired as party leader having narrowly failed to become Taoiseach in 1965. He remained on as a TD until 1969. He then retired from politics completely and died in the Republic of Ireland at the age of 83.

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