A look at Patrick Hillery's career in politics


The former President, Dr Patrick Hillery, had a long and varied career in Irish politics.

Always known as Paddy Hillery, he was born in Spanish Point, Co Clare in 1923.

The son of a local doctor, he qualified in medicine and returned to his native town where he followed in his father's footsteps.


Dr Hillery was persuaded to stand as running mate for the Fianna Fáil leader, Éamon de Valera, in 1951: both men were elected, and the doctor was to be a TD for Clare for the following 20 years.

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 one of the key negotiators during the talks ahead of Ireland's accession to the then European Economic Community, commonly known as the Common Market, now the EU.

In 1973 he was appointed Ireland's first European Commissioner, serving until 1976 when he was appointed President following the shock resignation of Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh.

Three years into his presidency, Ireland received a formal visit by the then Pope, John Paul II. In the background of that high-profile occasion, political and media circles were stunned by rumours of a sex scandall surrounding Dr Hillery.

It was being said that the President had a mistress who was living in Áras an Uachtaráin, that he and his wife were divorcing and he was resigning the presidency.

In fact, there was no truth in the story, but Dr Hillery took the unusual step of denying the rumours at a formal news conference.

In 1981, he declined an invitation to the wedding in London of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.

The following year, he dissolved the Dáil on the advice of the Taoiseach, Dr Garret Fitzgerald, whose coalition had lost a vote on the Budget.

Eight years later, during the campaign for the election of his successor, allegations that one of the candidates, Brian Lenihan, had improperly attempted to persuade the President to refuse the dissolution in 1982 became known publicly.

Mr Lenihan refusing to resign, Taoiseach Charles Haughey advised the President to dismiss him, which he did. His defeat in the ensuing election was largely ascribed to that sequence of events.

Dr Hillery refused to confirm or deny the reports underlying them, and had continued to do so since his returement.

He left office in 1990 having served the maximum two terms, widely applauded for his integrity, honesty and devotion to duty.

Audio & Video
Patrick J Hillery 1923-2008
Patrick J Hillery
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