Past Irish Presidents
The President has just two functions independent of government: to refer a Bill to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality before it is signed into law; and to refuse to dissolve the Dáil on the advice of a Taoiseach who has lost the support of a majority of TDs.No other powers whatsoever.
In her 1997 campaign for the Presidency, Mary McAleese, who advertised herself as an expert on constitutional law, claimed the President was “Guardian of the Constitution”. It was a claim which has no basis in law, outside of the discretion to refer Bills to the Supreme Court.
All Presidents have acted as figureheads. But in the case of Mary McAleese's predecessor, Mary Robinson, she used the office, with great adroitness, effectively to campaign for women's rights, equality for Travellers and other disadvantaged groups and civil liberties generally. Mary McAleese has engaged in no such initiatives, reverting the role to its traditional contours.
Douglas Hyde 1860-1949: President from 1938-1945. He was chosen (there was no election) as first President by Eamon de Valera, then Taoiseach, in part because of his association with Conradh na Gaelige, in part because of his religion, he was a member of the Church of Ireland. He suffered a massive stroke in April 1940 and was not expected to survive. However he did and retired as President in 1945. He lived on in a small house near Aras an Uachtarain until his death in 1949.
Sean T O'Kelly 1982-1966): President from 1945 to 1959. He had been Fianna Fail Minister for Local Government (1932–1939) and Minister for Finance (1939–1945). O'Kelly served as Vice-President of the Executive Council from 1932 until 1937 and was the first Tánaiste from 1937 until 1945. Always regarded as very close to the Catholic Church and, for long, a member of the Knights of Columbanus.
Eamon de Valera 1882-1975: President from 1959 to 1973. One of the leaders of the 1916 Rising. Taoiseach from 1932 to 1948, from 1951-1954 and from 1957-1959. The most dominant personality in post-Independence Irish history. Studiously, avoided party politics during his 14 years as President.
Erskine Childers 1905-1974: President from 1973 to 1974. Previously Fianna Fail Minister in several Departments and Tánaiste from 1969 to 1973. Died suddenly in November 1974 while attending a function at the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin.
Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh 1911-1978: President from 1974 to 1976. Previously chief justice and Ireland's first representative on the European Court of Justice. He was an agreed candidate for the Presidency after the sudden death of his predecessor. He resigned in controversial circumstances on being called “a thundering disgrace” by the then Fine Gael Minister for Defence, Patrick Donegan.
Patrick Hillery 1923 - ; : President 1976 – 1990. Previously Minister for Education, Labour and Foreign Affairs. Negotiated Ireland's entry to the European Community in 1973. Was Ireland's first EU Commissioner. A reluctant President, was an agreed candidate in 1976 on the resignation of his predecessor. Reluctantly agreed to a second term in 1983.
Mary Robinson 1944 - : President from 1990 to 1997. She resigned a few moths before the expiry of her term as President to become the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 12 September 1997. She has been by far the most innovative of our Presidents.