Ward, Francis Constantine (‘F. C.’, ‘Con’) (1891–1966), medical doctor and politician, was born 12 February 1891 in Corlygorm, Donaghmoyne, Co. Monaghan, son of Patrick Ward, farmer, and Elizabeth Ward (née Ruddin). He was educated at the Patrician Brothers' schools, Carrickmacross. While a medical student at UCD he was a founder-member of the Irish Volunteers at the Dublin Rotunda meeting (25 November 1913). Qualifying as a doctor in 1914, he was medical officer in Scotstown, Co. Monaghan (1915–19), and Dundalk, Co. Louth (1919–20). Selected to contest the December 1918 general election for Sinn Féin in Monaghan North, he stood aside in favour of Ernest Blythe (qv), who won the seat. Elected vice-chairman of Monaghan county council, he served on the council of agriculture and the general council of county councils (1920–22). A senior officer in the IRA, by the July 1921 truce he held the rank of colonel-commandant. One of the few Sinn Féin or IRA leaders in Monaghan to oppose the treaty, he represented the IRA on the 1922 border liaison committee. Prominent in the post-civil-war reorganisation of Sinn Féin in Monaghan, he was a founder-member of Fianna Fáil (1926). Defeated in the June 1927 general election, after the withdrawal of sitting Fianna Fáil TD Patrick McCarvill (presumably in opposition to the reversal of the party's abstentionist policy), he secured election to Dáil Éireann in the September 1927 election, remaining a TD until 1948.
Amid acrimonious election campaigns, marked by frequent violence and intimidation, Ward commanded a powerful personal and party political machine, tightly organised at local level throughout the county. As parliamentary secretary in the Department of Local Government and Public Health (1932–46), serving under successive ministers Seán T. O'Kelly (qv) and Sean MacEntee (qv) he was delegated ever-increasing responsibility for health and public assistance. During the 1930s he concentrated resources on overhaul and extension of the hospital system. Utilising funds made available to the department from the hospitals sweepstakes, he authorised construction of twenty-four county and district hospitals and fourteen specialist hospitals. He established an advisory hospitals commission and unified friendly societies into a single national health insurance society. Aspirations to rationalise and coordinate hospital services – eliminating redundancies in specialisation and assuring access, especially to the poor – foundered amid government lassitude and resistance from the voluntary hospital sector, while standards in hospitals and medical services generally continued to lag. Ward's policies generated deep opposition and resentment within the medical profession, exacerbated by his abrasive personality and inflexibility in disciplinary cases involving public-service doctors. Frequently consulting with catholic church authorities (notably Dublin archbishop John Charles McQuaid (qv)) over medical matters, at episcopal behest he banned sale of the newly marketed sanitary tampons (1944) out of concerns regarding the sexual arousal of girls at an impressionable age.
With wartime conditions exposing the severity of deficiencies in the state of public health (marked by exceptionally high incidences of tuberculosis and louse-borne typhus) and amid mounting public pressure for a modernised service, Ward worked closely with the chief medical adviser to the department, the highly capable Dr James Deeny (qv), on policy formulation. The report of a departmental committee (September 1945), ‘probably the most radical document ever produced on the Irish health services’ (Barrington, 165), while never published, was adopted by Ward as the blueprint for a major systemic reform. Heavily influenced by the UK Beveridge report and reflecting the pan-European trend towards communal medicine, the Irish report proposed sweeping administrative reorganisation and phased introduction of a free comprehensive service, funded largely from general taxation, employing the bulk of general practitioners as state district medical officers, with private medicine a peripheral activity. Ward's 1945 public health bill aroused fierce controversy over its draconian provisions regarding confinement of persons with infectious diseases (probably intended in fact to be directed solely against prostitutes and Travellers) and compulsory medical inspection of schoolchildren. Provisions regarding free comprehensive care for mothers and children aroused little comment. After the conference of superiors of convent secondary schools objected to the propriety of inspecting adolescent girls, Ward agreed privately with Archbishop McQuaid to an amendment exempting children (predominantly middle-class) who could present certificates from family doctors.
Poised to become the state's first health minister in view of announced government intentions to establish a separate Department of Health, Ward dramatically fell victim to the state's first political scandal involving allegations of personal impropriety. Amid the health bill furore, Dr Patrick McCarvill, the former Monaghan TD, then a noted Dublin-based skin specialist and former president of the Irish Medical Association (IMA), on dismissal of his brother as manager of the Ward family's Monaghan bacon-curing firm, made wide-ranging accusations against Ward of misconduct in management of the business and of local government corruption. A tribunal of inquiry cleared Ward of all charges but one: that he and other company directors had made incomplete tax returns regarding personal income from the firm. Ward resigned his office (13 July 1946) and – embittered at the failure of party colleagues to rally to his support – from Fianna Fáil (September 1946). He never again attended at Leinster House and did not contest the 1948 general election (in which MacCarvill stood in Monaghan for Clann na Poblachta). The Ward scandal contributed to the undermining of public confidence in the Fianna Fáil government and its 1948 electoral defeat. The substance of the 1945 health bill, purged of its more draconian features, was incorporated into the 1947 public health act, the basis of the 1951 mother-and-child-scheme crisis when minister Noel Browne (qv) sought to implement its relevant provisions. According to Browne's biographer, in the reaction against the prospect of communal medicine, Ward was the IMA's ‘first scalp’ (Horgan, 40). Ward resumed active service as dispensary doctor to Monaghan county council, and was appointed to the health council (1953). Failing to secure the 1961 Monaghan Fianna Fáil nomination, he stood unsuccessfully as an independent.
Intelligent, energetic, and capable, Ward alienated many by his ambition and combativeness. Brusque in manner, respected – even feared – rather than liked, he made few friends in either parliament or his department, a factor contributing to his downfall. A Gaelic footballer at club level, he played on two Monaghan Harps sides that won county championships (1922, captain 1923). An officer of the club over many years, he served on Monaghan GAA county board (chairman, 1931–2). The Dr Ward Cup, presented by him to Monaghan GAA in 1933, represents an annual county junior football knock-out competition. He resided at Swan Park, Monaghan. He died in the Mater Misericordiae private nursing home, Dublin, on 15 December 1966, survived by his wife Sheila, four sons and two daughters.