1981 Irish general election

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1981 Irish general election

← 1977 11 June 1981 Feb 1982 →

166 seats in Dáil Éireann[a]
84 seats needed for a majority
Turnout76.2% Decrease 0.1pp
  First party Second party Third party
Charles Haughey, 1990.jpg
Garret FitzGerald 1975 (cropped).jpg
Leader Charles Haughey Garret FitzGerald Frank Cluskey
Party Fianna Fáil Fine Gael Labour
Leader since 7 December 1979 1977 1977
Leader's seat Dublin North-Central Dublin South-East Dublin South-Central
Last election 84 seats, 50.6% 43 seats, 30.5% 17 seats, 11.6%
Seats before 83 45 15
Seats won 78[a] 65 15
Seat change Decrease 5 Increase 22 Steady 0
Percentage 45.3% 36.5% 9.9%
Swing Decrease 5.3% Increase 6.0% Decrease 1.7%

  Fourth party Fifth party Sixth party
MacGiolla cropped.jpg
Leader Anti H-Block Committee Tomás Mac Giolla Noël Browne
Party Anti H-Block Sinn Féin the Workers' Party Socialist Labour
Leader since N/A 1977 1981
Leader's seat N/A N/A Dublin North-Central
Last election New 0 seats, 1.7% New
Seats before 0 0 0
Seats won 2 1 1
Seat change New Increase 1 New
Percentage 2.5% 1.7% 0.4%
Swing New Steady New

Irish general election 1981.png
Percentage of seats gained by each of the three major parties, and number of seats gained by smaller parties and independents.

Taoiseach before election

Charles Haughey
Fianna Fáil

Taoiseach after election

Garret FitzGerald
Fine Gael

The 1981 Irish general election was held on Thursday, 11 June, three weeks after the dissolution of the Dáil on 21 May. The 22nd Dáil assembled at Leinster House on 30 June when a new Taoiseach and government were appointed.

The general election took place in 41 parliamentary constituencies throughout Ireland for 166 seats in the lower house of parliament, Dáil Éireann. The number of seats in the Dáil was increased by 18 from 148 to 166 under the Electoral (Amendment) Act 1980.


The general election of 1981 was the first one of five during the 1980s. The election also saw three new leaders of the three main parties fight their first general election. Charles Haughey had become Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil at the end of 1979, Garret FitzGerald was the new leader of Fine Gael and Frank Cluskey was leading the Labour Party.

Haughey and Fianna Fáil seemed extremely popular with the electorate in early 1981. He was expected to call the election at the time of the Fianna Fáil ardfheis on 14 February, but the Stardust fire caused the ardfheis to be postponed, and the Republican hunger strike in the Maze Prison began in March.[3] By the dissolution in May, much of the earlier optimism in the party had filtered out. The Anti H-Block movement fielded abstentionist candidates in solidarity with the hunger strikers, undermining the Republican credentials of Fianna Fáil.

Fianna Fáil's manifesto promised the electorate more spending programmes and Fine Gael put forward a series of tax-cutting plans.


Election to the 22nd Dáil – 11 June 1981[4][5][6][7]
Irish general election 1981.svg
Party Leader Seats ± % of
First pref.
% FPv ±%
Fianna Fáil Charles Haughey 78[a] –6 47.0 777,616 45.3 –5.3
Fine Gael Garret FitzGerald 65 +22 39.2 626,376 36.5 +6.0
Labour Frank Cluskey 15 –2 9.0 169,990 9.9 –1.7
Anti H-Block None 2 New 1.2 42,803 2.5
Workers' Party Tomás Mac Giolla 1 +1 0.6 29,561 1.7 0
Socialist Labour Noël Browne 1 New 0.6 7,107 0.4
Socialist Party of Ireland Eamonn O'Brien 0 New 0 571 0.0
Communist Party Eugene McCartan 0 0 0.0 358 0.0
Independent N/A 4 0 2.4 63,829 3.7 –1.8
Spoilt votes 16,168
Total 166[a] +18 100 1,734,379 100
Electorate/Turnout 2,275,450 76.2%

Independents include Independent Fianna Fáil (13,546 votes, 1 seat).

Voting summary[edit]

First preference vote
Fianna Fáil
Fine Gael
Anti H-Block
Sinn Féin (Workers' Party)

Seats summary[edit]

Dáil seats
Fianna Fáil
Fine Gael
Anti H-Block
Sinn Féin (Workers' Party)
Socialist Labour Party

Government formation[edit]

Fianna Fáil lost seats as a result of sympathy to the Anti H-Block candidates and the attractive tax proposals of Fine Gael. It was the worst performance for Fianna Fáil in twenty years. Meanwhile, Labour Party leader Frank Cluskey lost his seat, necessitating a leadership change with Michael O'Leary succeeding Cluskey. A Fine Gael–Labour Party coalition government came to power. Fine Gael and the Labour Party formed the 17th Government of Ireland, a minority coalition government, with Garret FitzGerald becoming Taoiseach.

Dáil membership changes[edit]

The following changes took place at this election:

  • 20 outgoing TDs retired
  • 18 additional seats added to the Dáil
  • 127 outgoing TDs stood for re-election (also Pádraig Faulkner, the outgoing Ceann Comhairle who was automatically returned)
    • 109 of those were re-elected
    • 18 failed to be re-elected
  • 56 successor TDs were elected
    • 50 were elected for the first time
    • 6 had previously been TDs
  • There were 7 successor female TDs, replacing 3 outgoing, increasing the total by 4 to 11.

Where more than one change took place in a constituency the concept of successor is an approximation for presentation only. Where a number of related constituency changes took place in an area, such as Cork, the outgoing constituency for retiring TDs and the allocation of new seats are approximations for presentation only. Outgoing TDs re-elected in a new constituency, with no related changes, are not recorded as a change

Constituency Departing TD Party Change Comment Successor TD Party
Carlow–Kilkenny Jim Gibbons Fianna Fáil Lost seat Governey: Former TD Desmond Governey Fine Gael
Cavan–Monaghan Jimmy Leonard Fianna Fáil Lost seat Doherty: Was on hunger strike at the time of his election Kieran Doherty Anti H-Block
Clare Frank Taylor Fine Gael Retired Madeleine Taylor Fine Gael
Seat added Loughnane: moved from Galway West Bill Loughnane Fianna Fáil
Cork East Jerry Cronin Fianna Fáil Retired (from Cork North-East) Carey Joyce Fianna Fáil
Richard Barry Fine Gael Retired (from Cork North-East) First TD to be elected for Official Sinn Féin/ The Workers' Party. Joe Sherlock Sinn Féin – The Workers' Party
Cork North-Central Jack Lynch Fianna Fáil Retired (from Cork City) Denis Lyons Fianna Fáil
Seat added Bernard Allen Fine Gael
Seat added Toddy O'Sullivan Labour
Cork North-West Frank Crowley Fine Gael
Cork South-Central Barry Cogan Fianna Fáil Lost seat (moved from Cork Mid) Hugh Coveney Fine Gael
Cork South-West Michael Pat Murphy Labour Retired P. J. Sheehan Fine Gael
Joe Walsh Fianna Fáil Lost seat Crowley: Former TD Flor Crowley Fianna Fáil
Donegal North-East No membership changes
Donegal South-West Seat added Pat "the Cope" Gallagher Fianna Fáil
Dublin North Joe Fox Fianna Fáil Lost seat (moved from Dublin County North) Nora Owen Fine Gael
Dublin North-Central Seat added George Birmingham Fine Gael
Dublin Central Vivion de Valera Fianna Fáil Retired (from Dublin Cabra) (Ahern: moved from Dublin Finglas) Bertie Ahern Fianna Fáil
Tom Leonard Fianna Fáil Lost seat (moved from Dublin Cabra) (Colley: from Dublin Clontarf) George Colley Fianna Fáil
Luke Belton Fine Gael Lost seat (moved from Dublin Finglas) Alice Glenn Fine Gael
Dublin North-East Liam Fitzgerald Fianna Fáil
Seán Loftus Independent
Dublin North-West Mary Flaherty Fine Gael
Timothy Killeen Fianna Fáil Lost seat (moved from Dublin Artane) Michael Barrett Fianna Fáil
Dublin South Nuala Fennell Fine Gael
Síle de Valera Fianna Fáil Lost seat (moved from Dublin County Mid) Séamus Brennan Fianna Fáil
John Horgan Labour Lost seat(moved from Dublin County South) Alan Shatter Fine Gael
Dublin South-West Mary Harney Fianna Fáil
Mervyn Taylor Labour
Dublin West Burke: Former TD Richard Burke Fine Gael
Mark Clinton Fine Gael Retired (from Dublin County West) Brian Fleming Fine Gael
Liam Lawlor Fianna Fáil Lost seat (moved from Dublin County West) (Lemass: from Dublin Ballyfermot) Eileen Lemass Fianna Fáil
Dublin South-Central Seat added (Briscoe: from Dublin Rathmines West) Ben Briscoe Fianna Fáil
Seat added Gay Mitchell Fine Gael
Frank Cluskey Labour Lost seat (O'Connell:from Dublin Ballyfermot) John O'Connell Independent
Dublin South-East Seat added (Brady: from Dublin Rathimines West) Gerard Brady Fianna Fáil
Ruairi Quinn Labour Lost seat (Ryan: from Dublin Rathimines West) Richie Ryan Fine Gael
Dún Laoghaire Liam Cosgrave Fine Gael Retired Liam T. Cosgrave Fine Gael
Seat added Sean Barrett Fine Gael
Galway East John Donnellan Fine Gael (moved to Galway West) Paul Connaughton Snr Fine Gael
Mark Killilea Jnr Fianna Fáil (moved to Galway West) Kitt: Former TD Michael P. Kitt Fianna Fáil
Thomas Hussey Fianna Fáil Lost seat Seat abolished
Galway West John Mannion Jnr Fine Gael Retired (Donnellan: from Galway East) John Donnellan Fine Gael
Seat added Michael D. Higgins Labour
Bill Loughnane Fianna Fáil (moved to Clare) (Killilea moved from Galway East) Mark Killilea Jnr Fianna Fáil
Kerry North Kit Ahern Fianna Fáil Lost seat Denis Foley Fianna Fáil
Dan Spring Labour Retired Dick Spring Labour
Kerry South Timothy O'Connor Fianna Fáil Lost seat Michael Moynihan Labour
Kildare Seat added Bernard Durkan Fine Gael
Seat added Alan Dukes Fine Gael
Laois–Offaly Patrick Lalor Fianna Fáil Retired Liam Hyland Fianna Fáil
Limerick East Michael Herbert Fianna Fáil Retired Peadar Clohessy Fianna Fáil
Michael Lipper Labour Lost seat Jim Kemmy Independent
Seat added Michael Noonan Fine Gael
Limerick West No membership changes
Longford–Westmeath Joseph Sheridan Independent Retired Cooney: Former TD Patrick Cooney Fine Gael
Louth Paddy Donegan Fine Gael Retired Bernard Markey Fine Gael
Joseph Farrell Fianna Fáil Retired Republican prisoner in Long Kesh, not on hunger strike. Paddy Agnew Anti H-Block
Mayo East No membership changes
Mayo West No membership changes
Meath Seat added John Farrelly Fine Gael
Roscommon Joan Burke Fine Gael Retired John Connor Fine Gael
Sligo–Leitrim James Gallagher Fianna Fáil Retired John Ellis Fianna Fáil
Eugene Gilhawley Fine Gael Retired Joe McCartin Fine Gael
Seat added Ted Nealon Fine Gael
Tipperary North Michael O'Kennedy Fianna Fáil Retired David Molony Fine Gael
Tipperary South Noel Davern Fianna Fáil Retired Carrie Acheson Fianna Fáil
Seat added Seán McCarthy Fianna Fáil
Waterford No membership changes
Wexford Seán Browne Fianna Fáil Lost seat Hugh Byrne Fianna Fáil
Seat added Ivan Yates Fine Gael
Wicklow Seat added Brennan: Former TD Paudge Brennan Fianna Fáil

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Including Pádraig Faulkner (FF), returned automatically for Louth as outgoing Ceann Comhairle, under Art. 16.6 of the Constitution and the Electoral Act 1963, as amended.[1][2]


  1. ^ Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1980, s. 1: Amendment of section 14 of Electoral Act 1963 (No. 40 of 1980, s. 1). Signed on 23 December 1980. Act of the Oireachtas. Irish Statute Book.
  2. ^ "22nd Dáil 1981: Louth". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  3. ^ Penniman, Howard Rae; Farrell, Brian (1987). Ireland at the polls, 1981, 1982, and 1987: a study of four general elections. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Duke University Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-8223-0786-0.
  4. ^ "Election results and transfer of votes in general election (June, 1981) for twenty-second Dáil and bye-elections to twenty-first Dáil (1977–1981)" (PDF). Houses of the Oireachtas. Dublin Stationery Office. September 1981. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  5. ^ "22nd Dáil 1981 General Election". ElectionsIreland.org. Archived from the original on 7 May 2009. Retrieved 20 June 2009.
  6. ^ "Dáil elections since 1918". ARK Northern Ireland. Archived from the original on 27 November 2020. Retrieved 20 June 2009.
  7. ^ Nohlen, Dieter; Stöver, Philip (2010). Elections in Europe: A data handbook. pp. 1009–1017. ISBN 978-3-8329-5609-7.

Further reading[edit]