The scene inside the oak room at the Mansion House, Dublin, during the formal ratification of the Irish Treaty in January 1922

THERE were more business people on the second Executive Council of the Irish Free State – the pre-cursor to the modern day cabinet – in the early 1920s than there are in the current government.

As ministers thrash out plans for a four-year budgetary plan of cutting €15bn, the Sunday Tribune has carried out an analysis of the occupations of cabinet members, stretching back as far as 1923, to see how the current ministers compare to past cabinets.

The analysis looked at the occupations of government ministers in the periods 1923-27, 1944-48, 1957-59, 1982-87 and the current cabinet table. It found that everyone from woodcarvers to rate collectors and tea merchants to butchers have sat at the cabinet table over the years.

Communications minister Eamon Ryan, who ran his own cycle tours company, and social protection minister Éamon Ó Cuív, who managed an agricultural co-operative in the Gaeltacht, are the only two of the current ministers to hail from business backgrounds. Six of the ministers were teachers before they entered full-time public life and three of them were either solicitors or barristers.

Of the five different cabinet groupings analysed, the Sunday Tribune has found there are more teachers in the current cabinet table making some of the most important economic decisions in the state's history than there has been in any of the other cabinets analysed.

Back in 1923, the Executive Council of the Irish Free State had more businessmen, as the council's president WT Cosgrave was a businessman, and the Minister for Defence, Richard Mulcahy, and the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Joseph McGrath, were both company directors.

Moving along to the fourth government of Ireland, which was in office from June 1944 to February 1948, there were fewer teachers at the cabinet table than there are currently. Taoiseach Eamon de Valera, a secondary teacher, and the Minister for Education, Thomas Derrig, who was a headmaster, were the only two teachers at the cabinet table in 1944 compared to the six teachers at present.

The 1944-48 cabinet of Fianna Fáil ministers contained two engineers (Gerald Boland and Sean MacEntee), a journalist (Sean T O'Kelly), a building contractor (Sean Moylan), an outfitter (Sean Lemass), a woodcarver (Oscar Traynor), a farmer (Frank Aiken), a solicitor (Patrick Little) and James Ryan who was a physician, a farmer and a company director.

The 1957-59 government featured a lot of the same characters as the 1944-48 cabinet with the addition of Jack Lynch, who was a barrister, and Kevin Boland, who was a civil engineer. De Valera was the only teacher in that cabinet.


If we fast forward to the Fine Gael/Labour coalition that was in government from December 1982 until March 1987, you can see that the cabinet was led by Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, who was a lecturer and economist. The Minister for Finance, Alan Dukes, was an economist and the Minister for Industry and Energy, John Bruton, was a lawyer, farmer and economist.

Last year, FitzGerald wrote that the Department of Finance had 17 economists during his tenure as Taoiseach compared to three the last time he checked. Including himself, he had three economists at the cabinet table in the 1980s, the same number that the entire Department of Finance had during the economic bubble.

In FitzGerald's government, the Minister for Agriculture, Austin Deasy, the Minister for Fisheries and Forestry, Paddy O'Toole, and the Minister for Justice, Michael Noonan, were all teachers. Like the current cabinet, there were a number of ministers drawn from the legal profession as Tánaiste Dick Spring was a barrister and defence minister Paddy Cooney was a solicitor.

Other members of that cabinet were posts and telegraphs minister, Jim Mitchell, who was brewery executive, the health minister Barry Desmond, who was a Ictu industrial officer, the education minister Gemma Hussey, who was the director of a language institute, and the Gaeltacht minister Peter Barry, who was a tea merchant.

Given their backgrounds, the remaining two members of Garret FitzGerald's cabinet – Liam Kavanagh and Frank Cluskey – would come in handy in the coming weeks as the government attempts to plan a route towards making the necessary €15bn in savings over the next four budgets. According to the Houses of the Oireachtas members' database, Kavanagh was a rate collector and Cluskey was a butcher. The current government talks tentatively about making "adjustments". But if the government is to make €15bn in swingeing cutbacks and increased taxes over the next four years, it may just need the instinct of a butcher.