HARKING BACK TO 1976

 

Sir, - I would have thought it unnecessary to remind Dr. Garret FitzGerald, a former Taoiseach and Government Minister, that he was part of an administration that tarnished the highest office in the land. As such, he is hardly qualified to speak about upholding the dignity and reputation of the Presidency (Irish Times, March 22nd).

President Robinson has indeed set a very high standard, as did her predecessors, while the late Cearbhall & Dalaigh, another distinguished jurist President was left with just one option 21 years ago. By resigning, he upheld the principle of rectitude and high standards he had shown throughout his life.

May I be allowed the opportunity to remind Dr. FitzGerald of the events of that painful period in 1976? Our Constitution provides for a directly elected President who becomes Head of State and, under our system, the election is contested along party lines, but once a President is elected, he or she is removed from the hurly burly of political life.

Now a President has extremely limited powers under the Constitution, one of which is to refer to the Supreme Court Bills when" there is doubt as to their constitutionality. Presidents have done this in the past, and in 1976 the late President Cearbhall O Dalaigh referred the highly contentious Criminal Law Jurisdiction Bill to the Supreme Court. This upheld the constitutionality of the Bill, much to the relief of its sponsors, the Fine Gael Labour Government of which Dr. FitzGerald was part.

Shortly after the Supreme Court decision there followed the well publicised insult of the then Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan, to President O Dalaigh at a social function. What was even more surprising than the calculated snub to the President, and to the Commander in Chief of the Defence Forces, was the refusal of the Cabinet to dismiss the Minister concerned. This offhand conduct by that Government was reprehensible, while many commentators, political and otherwise, remarked then about the unease among the electorate.

That was all of 21 years ago. However, I find it necessary to remind Dr. FitzGerald of that period of political history of which he was part and parcel. - Yours, etc.,

Willington Green, Templeogue,

Dublin 6W