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Dick Spring

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Title: Dick Spring  
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Subject: Ruairi Quinn, Labour Party (Ireland), Ray Burke (Irish politician), Brendan Howlin, Garret FitzGerald
Collection: 1950 Births, Alumni of Trinity College, Dublin, Austin Stacks Hurlers, Crotta O'Neill's Hurlers, Dual Players, Gaelic Footballers Who Switched Code, Ireland International Rugby Union Players, Irish Businesspeople, Irish Rugby Union Players, Kerins O'Rahilly's Gaelic Footballers, Kerry Gaelic Footballers, Kerry Hurlers, Labour Party (Ireland) Tds, Lansdowne Football Club Players, Leaders of the Labour Party (Ireland), Living People, Local Councillors in County Kerry, London Irish Players, Members of the 22Nd Dáil, Members of the 23Rd Dáil, Members of the 24Th Dáil, Members of the 25Th Dáil, Members of the 26Th Dáil, Members of the 27Th Dáil, Members of the 28Th Dáil, Ministers for Foreign Affairs (Ireland), Ministers for the Environment (Ireland), Ministers of State of the 22Nd Dáil, Munster Rugby Players, People from Tralee, Politicians from County Kerry, Rugby Union Fullbacks, Tánaistí of Ireland, Teachtaí Dála
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Dick Spring

Dick Spring
In office
14 December 1982 – 20 January 1987
Preceded by Ray MacSharry
Succeeded by Peter Barry
In office
12 January 1993 – 17 November 1994
Preceded by John Wilson
Succeeded by Bertie Ahern
In office
15 December 1994 – 26 June 1997
Preceded by Bertie Ahern
Succeeded by Mary Harney
Minister for Foreign Affairs
In office
12 January 1993 – 17 November 1994
Preceded by David Andrews
Succeeded by Albert Reynolds
In office
15 December 1994 – 26 June 1997
Preceded by Albert Reynolds
Succeeded by Ray Burke
Leader of the Labour Party
In office
1 November 1982 – 13 November 1997
Preceded by Michael O'Leary
Succeeded by Ruairi Quinn
Teachta Dála
In office
June 1981 – May 2002
Constituency Kerry North
Personal details
Born (1950-08-29) 29 August 1950
Tralee, County Kerry,
Political party Labour Party
Spouse(s) Kristi Hutcheson
Children 3
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin

Richard "Dick" Spring (born 29 August 1950) is an Irish businessman and former politician. He was first elected as a Labour Party Teachta Dála (TD) in 1981 and retained his seat until 2002. He became leader of the Labour Party in 1982, and held this position until 1997. He served as Minister for the Environment (1982–83), Minister for Energy (1983–87) and Minister for Foreign Affairs (1993–Nov. 1994, Dec. 1994–97). He also served as Tánaiste during those three governments.[1] Prior to his political career Spring was a successful sportsman who played for the Ireland national rugby union team.


  • Early life 1
  • Sporting career 2
  • Political career 3
    • Early career 3.1
    • Ministerial appointment 3.2
    • Opposition 3.3
    • "Spring Tide" and return to power 3.4
    • Resignation as party leader and defeat as TD 3.5
  • Political legacy 4
  • Subsequent life 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7

Early life

Spring was born in Tralee, County Kerry in 1950 and was educated at Cistercian College in Roscrea, County Tipperary, and at Trinity College, Dublin, and qualified as a barrister at King's Inns. He is a descendant of the Anglo-Irish Spring family that settled in County Kerry in the 17th century.[2]

Sporting career

Spring played Gaelic football and hurling for Kerry in the seventies.[3] He played his club football with the Kerins O'Rahilly's club in Tralee and hurling with Crotta O'Neill's, he also played underage hurling with Austin Stacks and won a minor county championship in 1967. His father Dan won 2 All-Ireland Senior Football Championships in 1939 and 1940.

He then won rugby union caps for Munster, and lined out for London Irish in England. He also was capped for Ireland three times during the 1979 Five Nations Championship, debuting against France on 20 January 1979 at Lansdowne Road, and receiving his last international cap on 17 February 1979 against England at Lansdowne Road.[4]

Political career

Early career

Spring's political life began in 1979 when he successfully contested the local elections in Tralee. He replaced his father Dan Spring TD on Kerry County Council that year. Spring Senior had been a TD for Kerry North since 1943 and was briefly a member of National Labour.

He was first elected to Dáil Éireann in the general election of 1981 for the constituency of Kerry North, the seat previously held by his father Dan Spring.[5] The Labour Party formed a coalition Government with Fine Gael and Spring was appointed a junior minister on his first day as a deputy. When Michael O'Leary resigned as Party leader after the February 1982 general election, Spring allowed his name go forward in the leadership contest. He easily defeated Barry Desmond and Michael D. Higgins but inherited the leadership of a deeply divided party. Spring was a strong opponent of far left wing anti-coalition politics and systematically removed trotskyist left-wing activists from the party. Most notably he expelled the Militant Tendency (later Socialist Party), including Joe Higgins and Clare Daly.

Ministerial appointment

Following the November 1982 general election Labour again formed a coalition government with Fine Gael. Spring was appointed Tánaiste and Minister for the Environment. He was closely involved in the negotiations which led to the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. In 1987 Spring and the Labour Party withdrew from the government on budgetary issues and Fianna Fáil took power in the subsequent election. Spring himself narrowly escaped losing his seat when he was re-elected by just 4 votes.


Under Spring, the Labour Party selected Mary Robinson as its candidate in the 1990 presidential election. Robinson was elected, and this success enhanced the credibility of his leadership of the party. For Spring, his period in opposition coincided, with the exposure of a number of business scandals and gave him the opportunity to shine as critic of the Fianna Fáil government led by the controversial Charles Haughey.

"Spring Tide" and return to power

As a result, in the 1992 general election the party increased its Dáil seats from 15 to 33, its then largest ever number of seats, an event which is referred to as the "Spring Tide". After the election, no government could be elected when the new Dáil met. After some weeks of stalemate, Spring decided to enter negotiations with Reynolds over the Christmas period on a new Programme for Government. The Labour Party then entered a coalition government with Fianna Fáil, and thus returned Albert Reynolds, who had taken over as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) from Mr. Haughey at the beginning of the year, to power. Spring was appointed Tánaiste for the second time, and also Minister for Foreign Affairs. This was approved by a special party conference of over 1,000 delegates at Dublin's National Concert Hall in January 1993, though there were some Labour Party TDs, who dissented from the leadership position.

Labour took six of the fifteen cabinet ministries and had much of its election manifesto accepted by Fianna Fáil. New Departments of Equality and Law Reform, and of Arts and Culture, were established. Ethics legislation was to outlaw conflicts of interest. Male homosexual acts were to be decrminalised. Purchase of condoms without medical prescription was to be allowed. An extensive programme of family law reform and provision for a divorce referendum was to be undertaken. Spring insisted on a formalised system of programme managers, and state paid advisers to push the new Government's policy platform.

However support for the Labour Party declined, particularly as many voters felt betrayed at Labour for going into government with Fianna Fáil. In 1994, the Labour Party performed disastrously in by-elections, in Dublin South–Central and in Cork North–Central. In both these cases, these seats were won by Democratic Left. This had grave implications for the policy of the Labour leadership within the party. Clearly Labour was not doing well electorally, and needed to assess its role in the coalition.

Reynolds had wished to appoint the Attorney General, Harry Whelehan, as President of the High Court, for over one month. Spring had reservations about Whelehan being suitable, due to the alleged laxity of his handling of a particular child abuse criminal case, involving a disgraced Catholic priest. Reynolds, for his part could not understand why Spring was against Whelehan being nominated to the High Court, but had no concerns with Whelehan serving as attorney general. Reynolds became annoyed with Spring's stance, his failure to communicate his reservations, and decided to proceed anyway, whilst calling Spring's bluff. Spring withdrew with his ministers from the cabinet meeting which proceeded to recommend Mr Whelehan's appointment to the President. Immediately after, Reynolds implemented the decision.

There then continued a rather heated discussion in the Dáil, concerning the appointment. Fine Gael started asking questions about Whelehans suitability, and objectivity. This was supportive of Spring's position. Democratic Left TD Pat Rabbitte then implied that the Catholic hierarchy were instructing Reynolds to appoint Whelehan. Reynolds became irate with this allegation, and responded angrily. Reynolds now realised that Spring was uncompromising about Whelehan. In an effort to regain the government, Reynolds removed Whelehan. However Spring refused to go back into government with Reynolds. Whelehan served as President of the High Court for one day.

Spring proceeded to withdraw from government. The minority Reynolds government then lost a vote of confidence in the Dáil. Reynolds resigned as party leader, but continued as a caretaker Taoiseach. Spring entered into negotiations with Reynolds' new successor, Bertie Ahern, the Minister for Finance. They agreed to reform the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government in early December. On the eve of that government being formed, the Irish Times published a report that Mr Ahern knew more about an aspect of the scandal that had brought down Reynolds than had previously been known. Spring broke off negotiations with Fianna Fáil. Spring pursued negotiations to form a coalition with Fine Gael and Democratic Left. In December Labour, with Fine Gael and Democratic Left formed a coalition government, referred to as the 'Rainbow Coalition', before an election was called. Spring returned to his positions as Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs. This was the first occasion on which a new Irish government was formed without a general election. The previous Fianna Fáil and Labour Programme for Government was substantially adopted by the new government and in return for making John Bruton the Taoiseach, Ruairi Quinn of Labour became the first ever Labour Minister for Finance.

During his period as Foreign Minister, Spring with Reynolds was involved in negotiations leading to the NATO a controversial issue due to Ireland's policy of neutrality.

Resignation as party leader and defeat as TD

In the 1997 general election the Labour Party returned to opposition, winning only 17 of its outgoing 33 seats. This was considered by some to be a punishment by the electorate for the 1993 decision to enter coalition with Fianna Fáil. By others, it was considered a punishment for changing horses at the end of 1994, in order to remain in power. A front page article in the Irish Independent, on the day prior to the election titled 'Payback Time', calling on support for Fianna Fáil, had a direct and severe impact on the Labour Party. The Independent newspaper group had revealed many scandals involving Labour ministers abusing the perks of office in the year leading up to the election. The article was controversial as Spring had taken decisions in office which went against the broader business interests of the Independent's owner Anthony O'Reilly who was accused by Labour supporters of having attempted to use his paper's political influence to intimidate the Government into favouring companies linked to O'Reilly. The impact of the article is uncertain but the Labour Party suffered significant electoral losses and the outgoing coalition was defeated. In the Presidential election of the same year the Labour Party candidate, Adi Roche, came fourth out of five candidates. Following that defeat, Spring resigned as Labour Party leader, having served 15 years – one of the longest serving party leaders of Ireland.

He remained a TD, being appointed a director in the formerly state owned recently privatized telecommunications company Eircom in 1999. Its initial flotation led to a stock market bubble which affected a large number of small shareholders.[6] It was later revealed that he did not purchase shares in the company.[7]

Spring lost his seat in a shock result at the 2002 general election. He has not sought political office since.

Political legacy

In Irish political circles, the role of foreign minister was considered a poisoned chalice because of the challenge of resolving the delicate problem of how to de-escalate tensions in Northern Ireland, when both sides were wary of Irish governmental policy. Albert Reynolds, and Dick Spring, placed Northern Ireland at the top of the government agenda. Both were helped considerably by the initiative of John Hume, and the understanding built up between Reynolds, and British Prime Minister John Major. Spring devoted considerable energy and resources towards increasing Ireland's international influence and diplomatic ties in UN, in the post Cold War world.

As Foreign Minister, there was much critical comment in the media on Spring's extensive foreign travel. Spring got even harsher criticism, for using the Government Jet to reduce journey times between his home in Tralee and his office in Dublin. However, he did conduct, for the first time, a public consultative process that involved a wide range of citizenry and social groups as well as members of the diaspora, in the re-shaping of Irish foreign policy through the first ever White Paper on Foreign Policy in 1996.[8]

Critics of Dick Spring, have described him as a Champagne socialist due to his choice of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel when staying in New York as Foreign Minister, instead of staying in the then Irish-owned Fitzpatrick Hotel.[9] Spring brought the Irish Labour party unprecedented exposure and power in government, at a time when the two significantly larger, right-of-centre political blocs, had precedence in every election.

Subsequent life

Spring later became involved in the Cyprus dispute as a United Nations envoy.

Spring received a directorship appointment to the Irish state telecom enterprise, Killorglin, County Kerry.

Spring lives in Tralee with his wife Kristi (née Hutcheson), an American whom he met while working in New York as a bartender. They have three children. His nephew Arthur Spring is a Labour Party TD for Kerry North–West Limerick having first been a councillor for the Tralee electoral area of Kerry County Council. Spring is a member of Ballybunion Golf Club, and has invited former U.S. President Bill Clinton, amongst others to this location.

He is a director of Allied Irish Bank and receives annual pension payments of €121,108.[10]

See also


  1. ^ "Mr. Dick Spring". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 24 September 2010. 
  2. ^ Michael C. O'Laughlin, Families of Co. Kerry, Ireland (Irish Roots Cafe, 1994), 137–38.
  3. ^ "How rugby put Spring in step". The Irish Times. 27 February 2008. 
  4. ^ "Ireland/Players & Officials/Dick Spring". ESPN Scrum dot Com. 28 February 2011. 
  5. ^ "Dick Spring". Retrieved 24 September 2010. 
  6. ^ "Eircom Directors heavily criticised by shareholders". RTÉ. 13 September 2000. Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  7. ^ "Spring has yet to invest in Eircom shares". Irish Independent. 24 September 2000. 
  8. ^ Challenges and Opportunities Abroad - White Paper on Foreign Policy, Department of Foreign Affairs, Stationery Office, Dublin 1996 [ISBN 0-7076-2385-5]
  9. ^ "O'Garas lay rift rumours to rest in NY". Irish Independent. 4 November 2007. Retrieved 18 January 2009. 
  10. ^ Kelly, Fiach (10 November 2011). "Thanks big fellas: Ahern and Cowen get massive pensions".  
Preceded by
Dan Spring
(Labour Party)
Labour Party Teachta Dála for Kerry North
Succeeded by
Martin Ferris
(Sinn Féin)
Political offices
Preceded by
Seán Doherty
Minister of State for Law Reform
Succeeded by
Office abolished
Preceded by
Ray MacSharry
Succeeded by
Brian Lenihan
Preceded by
Ray Burke
Minister for the Environment
Succeeded by
Liam Kavanagh
Preceded by
John Bruton
Minister for Energy
Succeeded by
Michael Noonan
Preceded by
John Wilson
Succeeded by
Bertie Ahern
Preceded by
David Andrews
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Albert Reynolds
Preceded by
Bertie Ahern
Succeeded by
Mary Harney
Preceded by
Albert Reynolds
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Ray Burke
Party political offices
Preceded by
Michael O'Leary
Leader of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Ruairi Quinn
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