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Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Political Parties of Ireland - Clann na Talmhan

Clann na Talmhan [ˈkʰl̪ˠan̪ˠ n̪ˠə t̪ˠal̪ˠuːnˠ] (English: Offspring of the Land), abbreviated CnaT, was an Irish agrarian political party active between 1939 and 1965.

Clann na Talmhan was founded on 29 June 1939 in Athenry, County Galway, in the wake of the breakdown of unification talks between the Irish Farmers Federation (IFF) and representatives of farmers in Connacht on the rate-paying issue. While the IFF supprted full derating, the western view was that the largest farmers should not be relieved of all their rate-paying obligations. Were this to happen, indirect taxation would inevitably increase and small farmers and workers would find themselves appreciably worse off.

The party was led initially by Galway farmer Michael Donnellan. Its foundation represented a revival of agrarian politics in Ireland; from 1922 to 1933, a series of parties had represented farming interests, namely the Farmers' Party and the National Centre Party. However, these groups mostly attracted large farmers in the east. In contrast, Clann na Talmhan appealed explicitly to the more numerous small farmers of the west of Ireland. The party's objectives included the promotion of the interests of small farmers, call for government support for land reclamation, lowering of taxes on farmland, a more progressive system of land rates which would help small farmers and more intensive afforestation. During the 40's it began to adopt Social Democratic policies. It was a supporter of free secondary education and subsidized university education as well as state investment in a public healthcare system.

In contrast to the earlier Farmers' Party, Clann na Talmhan emphasised grass-roots campaigning and political agitation. It also developed an efficient electoral machine largely due to the advice and skills employed from former members of Fianna Fáil. Although the party was hindered to a degree by wartime restrictions on public meetings and the press the party did have five years to prepare for its first election. Clann na Talmhan first entered national politics when it contested the 1943 general election. On that occasion, the party won ten seats. This was reduced to nine at the 1944 general election. Donnellan resigned as leader following the election and was replaced by Joseph Blowick, another western farmer.

The party became a prominent participant in the first inter-party government (1948–1951), with Blowick serving as Minister for Lands and Donnellan becoming a Parliamentary Secretary. The party also went on to become a component of the second inter-party government, with Blowick and Donnellan reprising their ministerial roles. However, this period saw a retrenchment rather than expansion of the party, which did not expand its support beyond western and southern small farmers. Like their spiritual predecessors, Clann na Talmhan could not unite small and large farmers in one party, and this restricted its electoral appeal.

The party began to lose its position after being in government, as people again began to vote for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael rather than small parties. A lack of improvement in the economy also lead to disillusionment with the party. During the 1950s many activists had departed and the party became little more than a collection of personal electoral machines. By 1961, Donnellan and Blowick were the only party TDs remaining, and the party ceased to exist as an organisation independent of those men. When Donnellan died in 1964, his son was elected, but for Fine Gael rather than his father's party. Blowick decided not to contest the 1965 general election, and the party was formally wound up.

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