Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh

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Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh
5th President of Ireland
In office
19 December 1974 – 22 October 1976
Preceded by Erskine Childers
Succeeded by Patrick Hillery
Personal details
Political party Fianna Fáil
Spouse(s) Mairín Bean Uí Dhálaigh
Profession Barrister, judge, journalist

Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh (12 February 1911 – 21 March 1978, IPA: ['caɾˠwaɫ̪ o: 'dˠa:ɫ̪i]) served as fifth President of Ireland, from 1974 to 1976. He was elected after the death of President Childers, but he resigned in 1976 after a clash with the government. He also had a notable legal career, including serving as Chief Justice of Ireland.

Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh was born in Bray, County Wicklow.

Career[change | change source]

Ó Dálaigh trained as a lawyer. He became Ireland's youngest Attorney-General in 1946 under Taoiseach Éamon de Valera. He was re-appointed as Attorney-General in 1951 and in 1953 he became the youngest member of the Supreme Court. Less than a decade later, he became the youngest Chief Justice of Ireland.

When Ireland joined the European Economic Community, Jack Lynch appointed Ó Dálaigh as Ireland's judge on the European Court of Justice. When President Childers died suddenly in 1974, all parties agreed to nominate Ó Dálaigh for the post.

President of Ireland[change | change source]

Ó Dálaigh proved to be a mixed success as president. While popular with Irish language enthusiasts and artists he had a strained relationship with the Coalition Government.

In 1976 he decided to refer a series of tough state security Bills to the Supreme Court to test their constitutionality. This worried and angered members of the Fine Gael-Labour national coalition government. Ó Dálaigh then announced that he would sign the bill at midnight of the 15th of October, which he made public. There was a historical precedent for the referral of this bill. Dubhghlas de hÍde referred the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act of 1939 to the Supreme Court. Jim Duffy claims that, as a result of this, the PIRA arranged an attack in Mountmellick which resulted in the killing of Garda Clerkin.[1] Others would dispute that the PIRA would have held the President's opinion in such high regard as their members at the time did not recognise the State of which Ó Dálaigh was then the Head.

Ó Dálaigh's actions were seen by government ministers to have contributed to the killing of this Garda and greatly angered them. The following day, following a minor car accident, Paddy Donegan, a controversial and outspoken Minister for Defence, described the incident as a "thundering disgrace". The president thought the minister meant that the President was a disgrace, not what the President was doing was a disgrace. Donegan, a known alcoholic, was likely under the influence of alcohol at the time he spoke. He was speaking to members of the Irish Defence Forces, and was only at the barracks to open a new cookhouse. Donegan insulted the President, who is Head of the Defence Forces in front of the defence forces. created a major political incident. Ó Dálaigh thought that the President and the Minister of Defence would be unable to work together.[2]

The apologetic Donegan immediately offered his resignation. But Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave refused the offers, an offer he repeated subsequently. Cosgrave never met the President personally to apologise[1]. That added to two years in which Cosgrave had failed to do his constitutional duty to regularly brief the President. The manner in which his government treated the President was the last straw for President Ó Dálaigh.

He became the first Irish president to resign.

The incident meant even more people saw the Government as arrogant and out of touch with public opinion and contributed to their defeat in the 1977 general election.[3]

The opposition proposed outgoing EEC Commissioner Patrick Hillery for the presidency. Hillery served two unchallenged terms of office before retiring at the end of his second term in 1990.

Death and assessment[change | change source]

Ó Dálaigh died in 1978, less than two years after leaving office. He is buried in Sneem, County Kerry.

Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh was the most politically naïve president, but the Government he worked with was notable for its own inability to offer him the help to overcome the problem. The Taoiseach did not support Ó Dálaigh when Donegan attacked him.

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Naivete blighted Ó Dálaigh's tenure" by Jim Duffy in the Irish Times, Tuesday, 24 October 2006
  2. Sunday Independent, 29 October 2006 – The many resignations of Ó Dálaigh
  3. Gene Kerrigan and Patrick Brennan (1999) This Great Little Nation: The A to Z of Irish Scandals and Controversies

Other websites[change | change source]

Political offices
Preceded by
Kevin Dixon
Attorney General of Ireland
1946–1948
Succeeded by
Cecil Lavery
Preceded by
Charles Casey
Attorney General of Ireland
1951–1953
Succeeded by
Thomas Teevan
Preceded by
Conor Maguire
Chief Justice of Ireland
1961–1973
Succeeded by
William Fitzgerald
Preceded by
Erskine H. Childers
President of Ireland
1974–1976
Succeeded by
Patrick Hillery