At a recent press conference to announce the launch of a new party, Lucinda Creighton set herself the target of raising €1million to help fund an election campaign. Such a move would seem essential given that a lack of sufficient resources has been among the myriad reasons new parties have failed to break the ‘two and a half party system’ in Ireland.
While the most successful party of the last century, Fianna Fáil, launched itself in the 1920s from those who had left Sinn Féin, at least one other example from the same period highlights how inadequate funding makes it impossible to sustain a party. Launched in September 1926, the National League led by John Redmond’s son William, sought to appeal to the Irish Parliamentary Party’s old supporters. (The photograph shows Redmond with Tom O’Donnell, another of the founders of the League.) Similarly to Creighton’s proposed party, the League had approximately a year to prepare for a general election amid a crowded field of new parties.
However, the National League suffered financially from its inception. The League sought to organise by reconnecting with old IPP supporters and received numerous small donations from individuals but, even with support from vintners, it failed to attract major financial backers.
In spite of running a loss at the June 1927 general election, the party still won eight seats. However, the League’s failed attempt to enter coalition with Labour and Fianna Fáil in August (one of their TDs defected while another John Jinks was famously absent on the day of a no confidence motion in the Government) sent the League into a tailspin.
Costs had to be met and the League still owed money for the hire of trains and bands from its launch the previous September. Beaten June candidates also began looking for their £100 deposits to be reimbursed but with a debt in the region of £500 by July, the League was in no position to do so. A newspaper appeal for funds cost £160 but yielded little in return while rent on its O’Connell Street office was heavily in arrears. As Thomas Lawler, himself employed as a full time secretary at £400 per annum, admitted to one beaten candidate they were ‘faced with a serious adverse bank balance due entirely to the fact that outside Dublin we received no financial help from the constituencies. In point of fact, if the actual truth were published, we could be rightfully accused of colossal impudence in entering the general election on the resources at our disposal’.
As a result, the struggling party fielded only six candidates in another election in September and were reduced to two seats. By late 1927, the League was forced to write supplicant letters to supporters asking for £10 each with the aim that 100 such donations would provide them with a fund to start again. Although one councillor promised to fundraise to ensure no son of John Redmond would personally go bankrupt, the League itself would suffer that very fate in 1928 before being eventually wound up three years later.
Amid the botched attempt at coalition and a number of other problems, it would be stretching credulity to attribute the National League’s demise solely to financial concerns. Nevertheless, failure to cover debts was deeply embarrassing. If the National League’s example proves anything, it is the enduring value of a fund to any Irish political party.