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Patrick Hillery
Irish President Patrick Hillery in the Netherlands 1986 (cropped).jpg
Hillery in the Netherlands, November 1986
6th President of Ireland
In office
3 December 1976 – 2 December 1990
Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave
Jack Lynch
Charles Haughey
Garret FitzGerald
Preceded by Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh
Succeeded by Mary Robinson
Vice-President of the European Commission
In office
6 January 1973 – 5 January 1977
President François-Xavier Ortoli
Preceded by Wilhelm Haferkamp
Succeeded by Wilhelm Haferkamp
European Commissioner for Social Affairs
In office
6 January 1973 – 2 December 1976
President François-Xavier Ortoli
Preceded by Albert Coppé
Succeeded by Henk Vredeling
Minister for External Affairs
In office
2 July 1969 – 3 January 1973
Taoiseach Jack Lynch
Preceded by Frank Aiken
Succeeded by Brian Lenihan
Minister for Labour
In office
13 July 1966 – 2 July 1969
Preceded by New office
Succeeded by Joseph Brennan
Minister for Industry and Commerce
In office
21 April 1965 – 13 July 1966
Taoiseach Seán Lemass
Preceded by Jack Lynch
Succeeded by George Colley
Minister for Education
In office
23 June 1959 – 21 April 1965
Taoiseach Seán Lemass
Preceded by Jack Lynch
Succeeded by George Colley
Teachta Dála
In office
May 1951 – 6 January 1973
Constituency Clare
Personal details
Patrick John Hillery

(1923-05-02)2 May 1923
Spanish Point, Clare, Ireland
Died 12 April 2008(2008-04-12) (aged 84)
Glasnevin, Dublin, Ireland
Resting place St. Fintan's Cemetery, Sutton, Dublin, Ireland
Political party Fianna Fáil
Spouses Maeve Finnegan
(m. 1955)
Children 2
  • Michael Joseph Hillery
  • Ellen McMahon
Alma mater

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

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. As 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

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

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

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.


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

In 2002, state papers released by the British Public Record Office under the 'Thirty Year Rule' 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.

Political career

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

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See also

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