Lynch's move to abolish PR was rejected by voters


`Honest Jack' Lynch's government lost a referendum, in October 1968, designed to abolish proportional representation. The papers just released by the National Archives in Dublin show mounting opposition to the proposal, which had been rejected by the electorate in 1959 (files 99/1/546-548).

Public bodies in counties Cork, Limerick, Louth, Monaghan and Wexford adopted resolutions condemning the referendum. In February 1968, Kinsale district executive of Fine Gael protested that there was no demand for holding another referendum. It called on the Government to channel the estimated £100,000 cost into housing the homeless. Copies of this resolution were sent also to the Fine Gael and Labour leaders "in the hope that in conference with An Taoiseach, agreement may be reached to abandon the proposed referendum in the broad interests of Christian charity".

In The Irish Times, "Backbencher" advised against introducing the type of election machinery which Fianna Fail had condemned when the Northern administration abolished PR. The Taoiseach forwarded a fee of 16 guineas received for an Irish Times article to Gorta - "in the cause of freedom from hunger".

Writing to Mr Lynch, W.A. Doody asked: "How is it that you of all people, with your well-deserved reputation for honesty and integrity as a parliamentarian and administrator, can have permitted the energies of Parliament and People to be wasted on such a project as the second attempt to abolish the principle of proportional representation in elections, the most democratic feature of the Irish pattern of parliamentary democracy?"

The reason why was suggested by another correspondent, who declared: "I will never forget 1948" - when Fianna Fail lost power after 16 years. Noting "that the dirt is beginning to fly", Patrick Slattery wanted an apology to be published in the Sunday Independent. He explained to Mr Lynch that many of the party faithful bought the paper for its crosswords.

Throughout 1968, the campaign for a university in Limerick gathered momentum. A meeting of the Fianna Fail representatives on Limerick City Council warned the Taoiseach in September that prevarication on the university issue was endangering the success of the referendum. The following month, the second attempt to abolish PR was defeated by 656,803 votes to 424,185.

But Limerick obtained a university. The Secretary of the Taoiseach's Department, Dr N.S. O Nuallain, in a pencilled note on December 11th, advised: "We should refer to the Limerick university institution as such, and not as an `institution of higher education'. Otherwise, the Government may not be given the credit for establishing a university at Limerick" (99/1/311) . [In the event Limerick had to wait a bit longer before the National Institute of Higher Education got fully-fledged university status.]