4/16/2008

Dr. Patrick J Hillery

The funeral has taken place of Ireland's sixth President, Dr. Patrick Hillery. At this very moment his cortege is on its way to his final resting place with his daughter.

Let's be clear on this from the outset, as Hillery was a Lynch loyalist I would have had serious problems with the political direction in which he and his Fianna Fáil colleagues handled the crisis in the North.

Today is not a day for such discussions though; instead it's a time to look upon his successes.

His father fought in the Tan War and indeed the family home was burnt down by the Black and Tans. He stood for election in 1951 after much pressure from De Valera in his native Clare.

After nearly a decade on the back benches he was appointed as Minister for Education in Seán Lemass's new cabinet. He paved the way for free secondary education and also held the post of Minster for Labour before he moved on to Minster for External Affairs in Jack Lynch's government.

It was at this time that the troubles broke out in the 6 counties and Paddy Hillery irked the British by making a visit to the Falls Road. The British described it as "a serious diplomatic discourtesy" but Paddy Hillery said that as a Minister in the Irish Government he would travel to any part of the country that he wished, including Belfast.

After Bloody Sunday he travelled to the UN and made an impassioned plea for UN peacekeepers in the North.

He said that "a near neighbour was practising the arts of war in his country". This came to nothing but he shocked both the American's and the British by suggesting that he hadn't "ruled out turning to the East", at the time he was encouraging the government to set up diplomatic relations with the USSR.

Most people will remember his angry remarks at the 1971 Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis. This was after the Arms Crisis involving Charlie Haughey and Neil Blaney. Kevin Boland resigned from the cabinet in protest at Lynch's policy on the North and at the Ard Fheis he stormed the podium and challenged Lynch to one last show down.

While Boland was, quite rightly, lambasting Lynch Hillery grabbed the nearest microphone and challenged Boland. As Boland's supporters starting to chant for Kevin Boland Paddy Hillery roared the famous line, "Ye can have Boland but ye can't have Fianna Fáil".

Loyalty was an important quality for Paddy Hillery.

Hillery was Ireland's first European Commissioner and indeed negotiated Ireland's accession to the EEC.

As Vice President of the Commission with responsibility for Social Welfare he was the one who introduced equal pay for men and women.

In 1976, following on from the resignation of Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh as President, Patrick Hillery was chosen as the Fianna Fáil candidate to contest the election and was endorsed by most of the parties.

He was then re-elected in his second term and remarked that it was the only sentence in which after 7 years good behaviour you got another 7.

He was never elected as president because he was the only candidate on both occasions.

He held the independence of the Presidency as sacrosanct and in 1982 resisted pressure from Haughey to help bring down the opposing coalition government. In this instance Hillery put country before party, famously refusing to take phone calls from Haughey and others.

Paddy Hillery lead a life of public service, loyalty and integrity were bywords of that public service.

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