How Dev almost lost the presidential election of 1966

Students in politics may be surprised to hear that Éamon de Valera was re-elected in 1966 for a second seven-year term as Uachtaráin after hÉireann without holding a single campaign address.

He did not vote in person, did not debate with his only opponent, Fine Gael's Tom O & # 39; Higgins, did not comment on the issues and did not even hold a definitive collection.

Fianna Fáil leader and Taoiseach Seán Lemass had personally advised him that it would not be a good practice for him, while holding the office of president, to actively participate in an election campaign in which political affairs would be introduced.

But Fine Gael leader and future Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave insisted that there was nothing in the constitution, written or implicit, that indicated that a departing president could not campaign.

While another presidential election is looming, comparisons are made with 1966. This was the last time the incumbent officer Holde was challenged in the search for re-election.

The practice of politics, the media landscape and social issues have changed drastically since the electorate was asked to choose between the Valera and O & # 39; Higgins. Yet there are similarities with the upcoming match, as President Michael D Higgins will be against a second term, just as the Valera was then.

Higgins has said that he will nominate himself in accordance with the constitution and will stand as an Independent candidate.

The Valera did not use that right in 1966. He agreed to be nominated by Fianna Fáil members of the Oireachtas.

Circled around the country

The question now is, will President Higgins distance himself from election, such as Dev, or will he embrace the appointments with the risk of the presidency being questioned with government policy?

The opponent of De Valera, Tom O & # 39; Higgins, was from a Fine Gael dynasty, a TD for Laois-Offaly, a lawyer, a former Health Minister and a cousin of Kevin O & # 39; Higgins, the minister of justice murdered in 1927.

He toured the country with his wife Terry, spoke 130 public meetings and participated in American-style motorcades w Fianna Fáil confidently expected the Valera – the last remaining commander of the Easter Rising and a towering figure in 20th-century Ireland – would be re-elected unhindered in the golden jubilee year of that historic event. The party was furious when Fine Gael was against him.

It was claimed that party members could tell how people voted in the way they walked

Dev, who was 84 and with a failing vision, attended many public events as part of his official presidential duties. But he renounced making public remarks that could be understood as politics.

Fianna Fáil, however, made sure that his presence at many of those meetings had the appearance of his old election meetings. Old IRA veterans, who wore the medal of the War of Independence, provided honor guards and party supporters and sometimes shouted "up Dev".

He traveled by train to Mallow on May 15 to attend a race-ridden memorial championship with a cast of 2000 local people at the local racecourse. The Irish press, which he founded, assigned two reporters and a photographer to cover the visit.

The border between the presidential protocol and party politics faded. While others greeted the Valera formally as "Uachtaráin" or "Mr President", the veteran Fianna Fáil TD for Cork North East, Martin Corry, just stepped forward and shook hands with his old political leader with the salutation: "welcome head. "

A special carriage

Supporters had previously gathered to greet Dev at each train station where the train stopped along the route from Dublin. Babies were held up by their parents to see the president, who spoke of the national coach, a special carriage that was attached to the regular train.

The next day The Irish Press began publishing excerpts from his forthcoming biography by Lord Longford and TP O & # 39; Neill. The series of articles illustrated with photos of important moments in his long career went beyond 14 numbers until the eve of the poll.

When the president was driven to Waterford on 28 May because of the granting of the city's freedom to William Cardinal Conway, bonfires flew along the route while the supporters wore placards, waved flags and accompanied with bands through different cities.

Fine Gael, while focusing primarily on the future, did not completely abandon the past. The O & # 39; Higgins campaign began in his ancestral home in Stradbally, Co Laois, where the archive of his family of national and public service was invoked.

His father, Dr. TF O & # 39; Higgins, brother Michael, sister-in-law Brigid Hogan- O & # 39; Higgins and Uncle Kevin, were all elected in the Dáil. His father and uncle had also served as ministers of the cabinet. One of his great-grandfathers, TD Sullivan, was Phoenician poet and patriot.

Fianna Fáil & # 39; s campaign seemed to be going well. There was an after-shine of the golden jubilee celebration of the 1916 uprising, many of which were attended by the Valera. But it was a difficult time for the government politically.

Farmers were marching for better prices. And there was growing industrial unrest, which went through a pattern from the previous year when 89 disputes resulted in work interruptions by nearly 40,000 people.

Fianna Fáil, fearing that voters would use the presidential election to send a protest message to the government, carried out a big campaign. Ministers set up 100 meetings and the party issued 128,000 posters, 120,000 car stickers and two million colportage cards. It also distributed 1.7 million copies of an election manifesto.

Public vote

There were no significant opinion polls at that time. But the main political parties had a network of members in each parish that were attuned to the mood of the electorate that was claimed to be able to tell how people voted in the way they walked.

Fine Gael & # 39; s campaign directed by Gerard Sweetnam TD, a formidable organizer, tapped into the changing public mood by emphasizing "the need for a youthful, forward-looking president to personify the real Ireland and what it it can best contribute to modern civilization. "

It also ran a lively campaign in which it distributed more than 1.7 million copies of the O & # 39; Higgins manifesto, as well as 1.25 million colportay cards, 157,600 posters and 100,000 lapel insignia and car stickers.

Many of the old values ​​that Dev had adopted were questioned when a new generation looked forward to the future.

A decision by RTÉ not to report on the campaign caused controversy. It was mandatory to give balanced coverage, but there were only two candidates. O & # 39; Higgins campaigned and the Valera did not.

Speeches from O & # 39; Higgins were not reported on radio or television, but the normal reporting was given to events where the Valera was present as head of state.

Fine Gael protested that their candidate was being treated unjustly, but RTÉ said it had followed established electoral coverage and was not subject to political pressure from any source.

O & # 39; Higgins, who did not have a fiftieth birthday, traveled an estimated 22,000 kilometers in the country in five weeks occasionally attending sometimes three rallies a night.

The campaign in a new style was well illustrated when he traveled through Limerick town on May 28 in a small red open sports car, while a light plane flew above her and dropped balloons with election slogans.

But the old ways were not completely abandoned because both sides asked door-to-door and held church gate meetings. The sale of cattle on an open-air market in Carndonagh, Co. Donegal, was even suspended on 2 May to hear O & # 39; Higgins appeal to the farmers collected.

The Valera had the odds-on favorite to win. He was honored by his loyal followers for his national leadership and long service. But the electorate was changing. Many of the old values ​​he had adopted were questioned because a new generation looked more to the future than the past.

Nowhere were the changes clearer than in the new ballrooms where the Royal Showband, the Dixies and the Miami attracted large numbers of young dancers who are more interested in The Hucklebuck than the Siege of Ennis.

Dev & # 39; s patriotism

Lemass assured the electorate, however, that the re-election of Valera would be a confirmation of the people that the goals for our country that led him throughout his life remain constant and that patriotism is equally relevant on the island of 1966 as in 1916. "

But there were disturbing signs for Fianna Fáil. of the Fine Gael is up. It runs as it is still far from running. It will indeed be an interesting conclusion. "

He noted that O & # 39; Higgins and his wife twice performed the aisles of aisles on a special ardfheis at the Mansion House in Dublin and received two standing ovations, one for lunch and one after. 54 seconds, the second 46.

Fianna Fáil campaign leader Charles Haughey, then minister of agriculture, was concerned by the feedback from the grassroots and called for a total effort from party officials on the day of the elections to ensure that de Valera would win.

He also went to the Dáil five days before the vote to announce a £ 5.5 million package of measures to boost farm income. "The aid was expected, but farmers leaders believed that the timing had to do with the campaign.

Both parties mobilized thousands of cars to transport voters to and from the voting booths that were open for 13 hours in 38 constituencies with 6200 presiding officers and gr iffiers on duty.

But glorious weather meant that many people went to the coast. And there were also some hints of political apathy. A sign on a wall in Kingsbridge, Dublin, read: "Arkle for President."

The turnout was 64.7 percent, which meant that 602,585 people, one third of the 1.7 million voters, did not vote. The Valera had only 10,617 votes on O & # 39; Higgins (548,144 to 548,144), a margin of less than 1 percent.

& # 39; Credit to our nation & # 39;

The president said he was happy to have won his last race, "even if only by a short head" and explained why he had not nominated himself.

It would only have been a pretext to do so, he said, noting that no one could hope to win a presidential election without the support of any organization or party.

Lemass considered the result exclusively as "a tribute to a man who had granted an extraordinary national service and an indication of people's confidence to fulfill the duties of the presidency in a way that lends credit to our nation."

O & # 39; Higgins, who later became judge of the Supreme Court, a judge of the European Court of Justice and Chief Justice, wrote in his autobiography A Double Life that he thought he had acquitted himself well and was the contest with its integrity in

"The description of a close run-ding" used by the Duke of Wellington to describe his famous victory in Waterloo, could very well be applied to the outcome of the presidential election in Ireland in 1966, "he wrote

Fine Gael demanded a moral victory and a vote of no confidence in the government, but their supporters were tempted by the thought what could be – only one additional vote in each ballot box for Higgins would have elected him president and a seismic political shock.

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