2002 – Former Fine Gael deputy leader Jim Mitchell loses his three-year battle with cancer.

Jim Mitchell (19 October 1946 – 2 December 2002) was a senior Irish politician who served in the cabinets of Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald (1981-82; 1982-87). He was deputy leader of the Fine Gael party from 2001 until 2002.

Jim Mitchell began his political involvement when he supported Seán MacBride, leader of the radical republican Clann na Poblachta in the 1957 general election. He joined Fine Gael in 1967, becoming that party’s candidate in a by-election in 1970. He sought a party nomination to run in the 1973 Irish general election. However he agreed not to contest the seat to allow Declan Costello, a senior figure in his party and son of former Taoiseach John A. Costello, to be elected. Costello went on to serve as Attorney-General in the 1973-1977 National Coalition of Fine Gael and Labour.

Mitchell was elected to Dublin Corporation in 1974. In 1976, aged 29, he became the youngest ever Lord Mayor of Dublin. He was an unsuccessful candidate for Dáil Éireann in the 1973 general election in Dublin South West and lost again in the 1976 by-election in the same constituency, to Labour’s Brendan Halligan.

In the 1977 general election he was elected to the 21st Dáil for the new constituency of Dublin Ballyfermot. With the party’s loss of power in 1977, the new leader, Garret FitzGerald appointed Mitchell to the Party’s Front Bench as spokesman on Labour. At the 1981 general election Mitchell was elected for the Dublin West and Fine Gael dramatically increased its number of seats, form a coalition government with nthe Labour Party. On his appointment as Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald caused some surprise by excluding some of the older conservative ex-ministers from his cabinet. Instead young liberals like Mitchell were appointed, with Mitchell receiving the high profile post of Minister for Justice, taking responsibility for policing, criminal and civil law reform, penal justice, etc. The Fine Gael-Labour government collapsed in January 1982, but regained power in December of that year. Mitchell again was included in a FitzGerald cabinet, as Minister for Transport.

Mitchell, who was seen as to the left of Fine Gael was however out of favour with John Bruton when he became Fine Gael leader in 1990. When Bruton formed the Rainbow Coalition in December 1994 Mitchell was not appointed to any cabinet post.

Mitchell contested and won Dáil elections in 1977, 1981, (February and November) 1982, 1987, 1989, 1992, 1997. He ran for his party as its candidate to become a member of the European Parliament in the 1994 and 1998 elections. He also was Director of Elections for Austin Currie, the Fine Gael candidate, in the 1990 presidential election.

In 2001, Bruton was deposed as Fine Gael leader, and replaced by Michael Noonan. Mitchell served as his deputy from 2001 to 2002. Mitchell also chaired the key Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. The Committee’s work under Mitchell’s chairmanship was widely praised for its inquiry into allegations of corruption and widescale tax evasion in the banking sector.

Though regarded in politics as one of Fine Gael’s “survivors”, who held onto his seat amid major boundary changes, constituency changes and by attracting working class votes in a party whose appeal was primarily middle class, Mitchell lost his Dublin Central seat in the June 2002 general election. That election witnessed a large scale collapse in the Fine Gael vote, with the party dropping from 54 to 31 seats in Dáil Éireann. Mitchell had earlier had a liver transplant in an attempt to beat a rare form of cancer which had cost the lives of a number of his siblings. Though the operation was successful, the cancer returned. Though he appeared to be making a recovery, Jim Mitchell ultimately died of the disease in December 2002.

His former constituency colleague and rival, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, described Jim Mitchell as having made an “outstanding contribution to Irish politics.” His brother Gay Mitchell remains a Fine Gael MEP.

As Minister for Transport, Mitchell granted the aviation license to a fledgling airline called Ryanair on 29th of November 1985. This was granted despite strong opposition by Ireland’s national carrier Aer Lingus. The issue of the license broke Aer Lingus’ stranglehold on flights to London from the Republic of Ireland.

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