Sweetman, (Hugh) Gerard (1908–70), politician, was born 20 June 1908 in Dublin, eldest son of James Michael Sweetman (1874–1939), barrister, of Longtown, Sallins, Co. Kildare, and his wife Agnes (d. 1964), daughter of Sir George Fottrell of North Great George's St., Dublin. His brothers, Séamus, George, and Denis, served in the second world war; Denis was killed 23 May 1940 at Boulogne and Séamus was awarded an MBE (1945). His uncle Roger Sweetman (1874–1954) won a seat in the 1918 general election for Wexford North as a Sinn Féin candidate and was a member of the dáil until 1922. Gerard was educated in England at Downside school and at TCD, graduating LLB with a moderatorship in legal and political science. He followed his father into the legal profession, becoming a solicitor (1930) and joining the practice of his maternal grandfather on Lower Baggot St., Dublin; he also began farming. A supporter of Cumann na nGaedheal, he was active in the Blueshirts, and at the second annual Blueshirt congress (August 1935) was elected to the national council of the League of Youth.
At the general election of 1937 he stood unsuccessfully for Fine Gael in Carlow–Kilkenny. Like his future party leader, James Dillon (qv), he endorsed the allied cause on the outbreak of war in 1939. His contribution was felt closer to home, however, as part of the Local Defence Force (LDF). A second attempt to secure election to the dáil ended in failure in 1943, but his loyalty to the party was rewarded with election to the seanad. As well as his role as a senator and his large solicitor's practice, he was broadening his business interests. A director of the Irish Tourist Association, he became its president in 1944. He also held directorships in City Estates Ltd, the Shield Insurance Co., and the Canadian–Irish enterprise at Silvermines, Co. Tipperary. A tireless and energetic worker, he served on Kildare county council (acting as chairman in 1946) and on the general council of county councils. He became a member of the Social and Statistical Inquiry Society of Ireland in 1943.
His hard work was rewarded in the 1948 general election when he was returned for the new three-seat Kildare constituency. This election marked the coming to power of the first inter-party government, which included deputies from five separate parties. This afforded him an opportunity to display his strong organisational skills as his party's chief whip. His influence within Fine Gael grew, and when the second inter-party government assumed power (1954) he was appointed minister for finance. For a first ministerial position this was an onerous task – the country had been experiencing a crippling balance-of-payments crisis, which the previous government had sought to alleviate by a series of deflationary budgets. In 1955 he convinced the Irish banks not to follow their British counterparts in raising interest rates by 1.5 per cent; however, this precipitated a surge in inflation and a swift reversal of Sweetman's policy. He regarded the easement of the tax burden as a key objective and established a commission to examine income-tax laws; however, in March 1956 he introduced sixty-eight new taxes on imports of ‘less than essential goods’, imposed under the Emergency Imposition of Duties Act, 1932. And the situation got worse before it got better: in his May 1956 budget he raised taxation considerably, notably on cigarettes, petrol, betting, and entertainment. The sheer unpopularity of these measures served to destabilise the government and damaged Sweetman's position within his own party. The experience of the second inter-party government coloured his future political outlook, and he became fiercely opposed to any alliances with other parties.
In May 1956 he appointed T. K. Whitaker to the post of secretary of the Department of Finance. This move occasioned general surprise at the time because it broke the department's long-held tradition of appointment by seniority. The new secretary was a contemporary of the minister, and this facilitated a good working relationship. Whitaker acknowledged some years later that Sweetman was a singularly unfortunate minister because his government was put out of office before the measures he introduced could bear fruit. Some of these measures included initiating Ireland's entry into the International Monetary Fund, the establishment of the prize bond scheme, and the setting up of a capital advisory committee.
In 1957 Sweetman became the national director of organisation for Fine Gael, a post he held for ten years. In the 1961 general election his party increased its representation in the dáil from forty to forty-seven seats and reached its highest total since 1954 of fifty seats in 1969. He endorsed James Dillon's candidature in the leadership contest of 1959, and in a period of unbroken Fianna Fáil government he remained the opposition's main spokesman on economic and financial affairs. This ended when Liam Cosgrave took over the leadership of the party in 1965. With a move towards a more socially defined set of policies, Fine Gael plotted a course for itself to the left of its traditional base, which almost resulted in Sweetman's removal from the front bench. He was an instinctive conservative with a business orientation, and was less than sympathetic towards the emergence of a new social democratic wing in the party. Nonetheless, in 1966 he acted as director of election for T. F. O'Higgins (qv) in his campaign for the presidency. Also in that year, Sweetman was appointed to the committee to examine the constitution. A committed parliamentarian, he was instantly recognisable in the dáil by his Anglo-Irish accent. In the run-up to the 1969 general election he became Fine Gael spokesman on foreign affairs. Known to his close friends as ‘Babe’, he was a keen sportsman who enjoyed outdoor pursuits such as shooting and horse-jumping. He was killed on 28 January 1970 in a collision with an oncoming lorry on his way to Silvermines, Co. Tipperary, where he was to attend a business meeting.
He married (17 April 1941) Rosalind, eldest daughter of Eustace Lattin Mansfield of Naas, Co. Kildare; they had one son and two daughters and lived in Killeen House, Kill, Co. Kildare. He left an estate of £104,384.