Paddy Donegan – History Essay

Peadar Ó Lamhna’s Leaving Certificate History Essay, 2010 – Achieving an A+ grade

Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, fifth President of Ireland, resigned under a cloud of controversy over comments made by the then Minister for Defence, Patrick S. Donegan T.D over the President’s referral of the Emergency Powers Bill to the Supreme Court. Over the course of this essay, I will deal with the comments made by Minister Donegan, the legality and constitutionality of the President’s resignation and the protocol surrounding it. Let us first deal with Minister Donegan’s comments.

In a letter sent by Minister Donegan to President Ó Dálaigh drafted on 20th October 1976, Donegan, in apologising for his comments writes, “ I fully accept the gravamen of my utterance was comprehended in the offending words “thundering disgrace””. It can therefore be concluded that Minister Donegan used this phrase and no other that was reported in the media at the time. In the ministerial brief of 20/10/1976 point 2 states “I regret the remark which arose out of my deep feelings for the security of our citizens”. It can therefore be said that Minister Donegan did make an effort to apologise for his actions and in his own words “Newspapers have concluded that the President has snubbed me. If that is a correct conclusion, so be it”. It had been a common myth in the media and political circles that the words f****ing disgrace had been used; however it is clear from both these documents that the phrase was indeed “Thundering disgrace”.

Section 3 of Article 12 of Bunreacht na hÉireann provides “The President shall hold office for seven years from the date upon which he enters his office unless before the expiration of that period he dies or resigns”. As no President had ever resigned thus far in the history of the state, a protocol would have to be drawn up for the resignation to occur. The document that included the protocol was written, according to the Secretary General of the President, between the 20th and 22nd day of October. Section D Article 4 of the document states “The President could therefore resign either with immediate effect or from a future specified date. In practice of course it may be anticipated that a President would give ample notice” The President’s secretary general, in his account of the day’s events claims that the President came to him on the morning of the 22nd wishing to resign at midday with effect from 6pm that evening. To resign from the highest office in the state and only give eight hours notice would not be what I consider “ample notice”.

Section E –“Procedure” of the protocol document states that the resignation “Must be communicated to someone, the obvious recipient being An Taoiseach as head of government”. Whilst Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh did, according to his secretary, sign a copy of his resignation letter for the Presidential Commission (An Ceann Comhairle, Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and the Chief Justice), An Taoiseach, An Tánaiste and the leaders of the opposition parties, these were kept in the safe of Áras an Uachtaráin until 5:30p.m. They were then sent by dispatch rider to the Dept. of An Taoiseach, Dáil Éireann and each member of the Presidential Commission. Many did not receive the letter until after 6:00pm (the time which the resignation came into effect). Mr Ó Dálaigh breached both sections D and E by not giving ample notice and not communicating it to the Head of Government until he had actually resigned.

Section O “Position of Aides-de-Camp” states that “their appointment as such would automatically cease with the vacation of the office of the President” if this is the case, why did the Aide-de-Camp accompany the President to his Wicklow retreat? Ó Dálaigh should have requested his aide de camp not to accompany him after his last official engagement. By not surrendering his Aide-de-Camp, Ó Dálaigh was implying that he was still President of Ireland.

Section P –“Farewell ceremonies” states that “An Taoiseach and other members of the government should call upon the ex-President before his final departure”. An Taoiseach and the Government were denied this opportunity by the President. This would imply that the President, therefore, snubbed the protocol that surrounded his own resignation. Ó Dálaigh did however, meet with the staff of the Áras before his departure. According to his secretary, Ó Dálaigh ordered all staff to gather in the study at 2:30 and said farewell to them all. He states that in gathering all the staff he advised them that “The President would like to talk to the officers about a confidential matter”. It goes on to say that no staff member was allowed to leave the Áras until 6pm that evening – when the resignation was made public. If Ó Dálaigh was willing to meet with his cleaners, why could he not follow protocol and say farewell to An Taoiseach?

Referring back to Bunreacht na hÉireann, although there is no formal article dealing with the resignation of a President, through my reading of Article 13’4’ “The supreme command of the Defence Forces is hereby invested in the President”, I have come to the conclusion that Ó Dálaigh felt Donegan had made himself supreme commander of the Defence Forces and that he had no option only to resign as an army can’t have two supreme commanders. O Dálaigh therefore resigned to protect the integrity of the office of President of Ireland. Whilst Ó Dálaigh’s resignation cannot be defined as unconstitutional (as there is no specific article dealing with resignation procedure), serious issues arise with his following of the protocol surrounding a resignation. Could it therefore be considered that by not following correct procedure Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh did not actually resign? Were the elections of Presidents Hillary, Robinson and Mc Aleese uncalled for? These questions can only be considered if section C of the protocol document is read between the lines. It states “The constitution does not stipulate the manner in which the President should resign…it is a unilateral act which is effective from the mere fact of being done”. This would suggest as long as the President signs a piece of paper to say they are resigning, they have resigned and there is no need for a protocol to be attached to it.

In conclusion, it can therefore be established that the exact phrase used by Minister Donegan was “Thundering disgrace”. It can also be affirmed that the resignation of President Ó Dálaigh was in line with Bunreacht na hÉireann as no constitutional provision was violated. However, President Ó Dálaigh failed to follow the protocol established in tendering his resignation to the people of Ireland. He failed to give ample notice. He failed in his obligation to inform An Taoiseach (as Head of Government) in time. He failed to allow An Taoiseach and members of the Government to say their farewells in the Áras before he vacated office and perhaps the most serious violation of the protocol, he failed to surrender his Aide-de-Camp at the conclusion of his final engagement as President which implied that he was still the holder of the highest office in the state. However due to a loophole in the protocol which provides that the resignation does not have to be carried out in a certain manner and is effective from the mere fact of being done, Ó Dálaigh was able to resign without following this protocol and resume his private life until his death in 1978.

Peadar Ó Lamhna Higher Level History,  2010 – A+ achieved.