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President’s weekend words prove fire still burns within

World of Politics with Harry McGee

When I think of the role of Irish Presidents, what comes to mind is a line from Seamus Heaney’s epic poem Station Island. It’s his description of a young man he knew as a youth, he wrote:

A clerical student home for the summer,

doomed to the decent thing. Visiting neighbours.

Drinking tea and praising home-made bread.

When Eamon de Valera drew up the job description for the President in the 1937 Constitution, he gave them a magnificent residence but, in return, not a whole lot to do.

The position was mainly a titular one, seven years of doing the decent thing.

Sure, there were some reserved constitutional powers, including the power to refer a Bill to the Supreme Court, and the powers in relation to the formation of a Government. But in reality those powers rarely happened and were rarely invoked.

Most of the Presidents toed the line and did not stray outside the very limited remit of their office. The boat was rarely rocked. And if it was, it was always done gently.

There was one unforgettable exception.

Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh was a Constitutional expert and Chief Justice before he was appointed President in the 1970s. He invoked one of the few powers he had to convene a meeting of the Council of State to discuss the constitutionality of a Fine Gael Bill to increasing the State’s emergency powers. He then referred the Bill to the Supreme Court.

At an event in Co Westmeath, then minister for defence Paddy Donegan called Ó Dálaigh “a thundering disgrace; some accounts say he used more crude language.

It led to a crisis and Ó Dálaigh resigned on 22 October 1976. He said he was doing so “to protect the dignity and independence of the presidency as an institution”.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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