John Mary Lynch was born one hundred years ago this week (15th August 1917) to parents who worked in the clothing industry. He went on to be educated at St Vincents, the North Mon, University College Cork, and the King's Inns. Lynch was Minister for Education, and later Minister for Industry & Commerce, before taking over as Minister for Finance. His appointment as Minister for Finance was symbolic of the changes in Irish society and politics. Before Lynch only one Minister for Finance was not involved in the War of Independence. From Lynch onward, none had been involved. This new breed of politicians were better educated but, as the record shows, it was no guarantee of better decision making.
The time he spent in the Department of Finance was relatively short and uneventful. History has shown that a formal training in Law, rather than Economics, is not necessarily a disadvantage for a Finance Minister (as I have written about here). Like so many of his predecessors he did have to deal with the twin deficits (budgetary and trade). Lynch was Minister when the prevailing budgetary philosophy permitted the running of a deficit for capital purposes but not for non-capital (or current) purposes. Interestingly, in his Budget speech of 1966 he did talk about using a non-capital budget deficit as a means of "reactivating the economy". This was six years before the Finance Minister in a Lynch-led government (George Colley) introduced a budget that was the first to have a planned non-capital budget deficit in the history of the State.
After the 1973 General Election, Lynch and his Fianna Fail party went into opposition. As a result, they avoided having to deal with the economic consequences of the first Oil Price Shock. When the 1977 General Election came around, Lynch went to the electorate with a series of promises involving more public expenditure and less taxes. A huge parliamentary majority was secured. The promises were kept. A public finance crisis followed. By this stage Lynch had stepped down as Taoiseach. He was replaced by Charles Haughey, the man who had succeeded Lynch as Minister for Finance 13 years earlier. A man who Lynch removed as Minister for Finance during the Arms Crisis but later reinstated to his political team.
Biographers like Dermot Keogh and Bruce Arnold make the case that Lynch's approach to politics was largely influenced by his earlier sporting exploits (and to a lesser extent by his legal training). They suggest he was a team player who trusted other members of his team to do their job. It is difficult to say if the relatively expansionary approach to budgetary matters that occurred during his time was driven by Lynch or by the members of his team. His team members included civil servants like T.K. Whitaker and economist/politician Martin O'Donoghue.
Other politicians have leveraged their sporting profile to secure the votes of the electorate but none have been as successful on either the sporting and political fronts. A detailed account of those who made the transition from the sporting arena to the political one can be found in Dail Stars: From Croke Park to Leinster House written by Conor McMorrow. McMorrow picks a political team of those who played gaelic games. There is a chapter dedicated to each of his 15 team members. Lynch is the only one to have won six All-Ireland medals. He is the only one to have won both hurling and football All-Ireland medals. And, his is the only one to have become Minister for Finance and Prime Minister (Taoiseach). A truly remarkable life.