Patrick Hillery

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Patrick Hillery
Pádraig Seán Ó hIrighile
6th President of Ireland
In office
3 December 1976 – 2 December 1990
Preceded by Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh
Succeeded by Mary Robinson
European Commissioner for Social Affairs
In office
January 6, 1973 – December 2, 1976
Preceded by Albert Coppé
Succeeded by Henk Vredeling
Minister for External Affairs
In office
July 2, 1969 – January 3, 1973
Preceded by Frank Aiken
Succeeded by Brian Lenihan
Personal details
Born 2 May 1923(1923-05-02)
Spanish Point, Miltown Malbay,
County Clare, Ireland
Died 12 April 2008(2008-04-12) (aged 84)
Dublin, Ireland
Political party Fianna Fáil
Spouse(s) Mary Beatrice Finnegan
Religion Roman Catholic

Dr Patrick John Hillery (Irish: Pádraig Seán Ó hIrighile; 2 May 1923 – April 12, 2008) was an Irish Fianna Fáil politician and the sixth President of Ireland from 1976 until 1990. First elected at the 1951 general election as a Fianna Fáil TD for County Clare, he remained in Dáil Éireann until 1973. During this time he served as:

  • Minister for Education (1959–1965),
  • Minister for Industry & Commerce (1965–1966),
  • Minister for Labour (1966–1969) and
  • Minister for External Affairs (1969–1973).

He was Ireland's first European Commissioner, serving for three years until he became President in 1976. He never faced an election, because both time he ran for president he was unopposed.

Early & private life[change | change source]

Patrick John Hillery, known as Paddy Hillery, was born in Spanish Point, Miltown Malbay, County Clare in 1923. He attended University College Dublin, where he studied medicine. In 1947 he returned to his home town where he followed in his father’s footsteps as a doctor. A a doctor he also spent a year working as coroner for West Clare.

Hillery married Mary Beatrice (Maeve) Finnegan on October 27, 1955. Together they had a son, John, and a daughter, Vivienne, who died after a long illness in 1985, shortly before her eighteenth birthday.

Domestic political career[change | change source]

Hillery was asked by Éamon de Valera to be his running mate in the 1951 general election. He won the election and Hillery was successful on his first attempt to get elected. He only became a minister after de Valera retired as Taoiseach in 1959.

Government minister: 1959-1973[change | change source]

As Minister for Education, Hillery established comprehensive schools and Regional Technical Colleges.

After another election win in 1969 Hillery became Minister for External Affairs (renamed Foreign Affairs in 1972), one of the top cabinet posts. After "Bloody Sunday"), he travelled to the United Nations in New York to demand UN involvement in peace-keeping on the streets of Northern Ireland. In 1972, he negotiated Irish membership of the European Economic Community, a process that was completed in 1973.

European Commissioner[change | change source]

Following Ireland's successful entry into Europe Hillery was rewarded by becoming the first Irishman to serve on the European Commission. He was appointed Vice-President of the Commission as well as having special responsibility for Social Affairs. Hillery's most famous policy was to force EEC member states to give equal pay to women.

In 1976 the new Fine GaelLabour Party National Coalition Government of Liam Cosgrave said they would not re-appoint him to the Commission. He thought about returning to medicine, perhaps moving with his wife, Maeve (also a doctor) to Africa. When President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh resigned, Hillery agreed to become the Fianna Fáil candidate in the election.

President[change | change source]

He was elected without a contest as the only candidate, becoming President of Ireland on 3 December 1976.

After 1982 people thought he was a very good and honest President. Before then he had been written off as boring and dull. In 1982 the Taoiseach, Fine Gael's Garret FitzGerald, lost a vote in Dáil Eireann. Dr Fitzgerald asked for a general election. As President he did not have to agree, and Dr Fitzgerald would have had to resign. This meant Dáil Éireann might choose Charles Haughey as Taoiseach. Hillery thought a new election was best, but many people from the President's own party tried to persuade him otherwise.

President Hillery refused to speak to any opposition party politicians, but when Charles Haughey, who was Leader of the Opposition, had rang the President's Office he threatened to end the career of the army officer answered and refused on Hillery's explicit orders to put the call through to the President. Hillery called the Irish Army's Chief of Staff the following day and as Commander-in-Chief of the Army had ordered the Chief of Staff to make sure that no politician ever interfered with the career of the young army officer.

In 1983 Hillery was again elected unopposed. Hillery left office in 1990 (he had served the maximum two terms), widely applauded for his integrity, honesty and devotion to duty. However he re-entered public life in 2002 during the second referendum on the Nice Treaty, when he urged a yes vote. The referendum was carried.

Hillery: a foreign assessment[change | change source]

In 2002, state papers released by the British Public Record Office under the 'Thirty Year Rule' [1] and published in the Irish media, revealed how Hillery was viewed. A briefing paper, prepared for then British Foreign Secretary, Sir Alec Douglas-Home and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw, observed about Hillery:

Dr. Hillery is regarded as a powerhouse of ideas, one of the few members of Fianna Fáil who has new policies and is eager to implement them.
The greatest example has been in his present job (then, Minister for Foreign Affairs), where he has perforce concentrated on Anglo-Irish relations and, in particular Northern Ireland. Policy in this field is determined primarily between him and the Taoiseach; and it is likely that the Fianna Fáil new line owes much to Dr. Hillery. . . .
Dr. Hillery has a pleasant manner. He can appear diffident and casual but has an undoubted intellectual capacity and a strong will; since the government crisis of 1970 he has appeared much more assured -- even brash -- and has handled the Dáil with confidence.[2]

Footnotes[change | change source]

  1. Irish and British state papers are generally released after a delay of thirty years with the exception of papers that are deemed to 'damage the country's image or foreign relations' if they were to be released. In January 2003 the papers from 1972 were released. Irish and British newspapers give extensive coverage to the new releases from the National Archives in Dublin and the Public Records Office in Belfast and London at the start of every year.
  2. "British were impressed by Hillery's manner and intellectual capacity", The Irish Times, 3 January 2003

Further reading[change | change source]

  • Collins, Stephen (2000) – The Power Game: Ireland Under Fianna Fáil (Dublin: O'Brien Press)

Other websites[change | change source]

Political career[change | change source]

Oireachtas
Preceded by
Seán O'Grady
(Fianna Fáil)
Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Clare
1951–1973
Succeeded by
Brendan Daly
(Fianna Fáil)
Political offices
Preceded by
Jack Lynch
Minister for Education
1959–1965
Succeeded by
George Colley
Minister for Industry & Commerce
1965–1966
Preceded by
Newly created office
Minister for Labour
1966–1969
Succeeded by
Joseph Brennan
Preceded by
Frank Aiken
Minister for Foreign Affairs
1969–1973
Succeeded by
Brian Lenihan
Preceded by
New office due to Irish membership of the EEC
Irish European Commissioner
1973–1976
Succeeded by
Richard Burke
Preceded by
Albert Coppé
European Commissioner for Social Affairs
1973–1976
Succeeded by
Henk Vredeling
Preceded by
Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh
President of Ireland
1976–1990
Succeeded by
Mary Robinson