Letter to the Editor: Candidate’s death almost led to a legal wrangle

The untimely death of Marese Skehan, an Independent election candidate for the Tipperary constituency in the forthcoming election, prompts the question: Has any other candidate died on the campaign trail in the history of democratic elections to the Dáil?

It also created a constitutional dilemma in relation to the legal situation regarding the holding of the election in the Tipperary constituency following the sad passing of an election candidate whose name appears on the ballot paper?

Marese Skehan died earlier this week
Marese Skehan died earlier this week

It turns out that the last candidate to die during an election campaign was standing in the reconstituted Carlow-Kilkenny constituency 72 years ago in 1948.

In 1948, Ned Coogan from Castlecomer was the sitting Fine Gael TD for Kilkenny. He was elected to 3-seat Kilkenny constituency in 1944. The 1948 election saw the reintroduction of the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency which had been abolished in 1937.

An interesting aspect of this story is that Ned Coogan was a Fine Gael TD with strong connections with the former Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy of Blueshirts notoriety.

Writing in The Irish Times in January 2017, Stephen Collins tell us that “Ned had been sacked as deputy garda commissioner in 1936 following an altercation with the general manager of The Irish Press but he remained in the force and held the rank of chief superintendent until he was forced to retire in 1941”.

Ned’s son was Tim Pat Coogan, the imminent newspaper editor, journalist, and historian. Interestingly and curiously, Tim Pat Coogan would end up becoming editor of The Irish Press — a newspaper that was the nemesis of his father.

So there you have it — A Carlow-Kilkenny General Election politician was the last standing TD and candidate to die during an election campaign before the untimely death of Marese Skehan this week.

Her death has almost thrown the final outcome of the 2020 Election into a time warp and legal and constitutional wrangle.

It seems now as I pen this that the primacy of the constitution on these matters will be upheld and the people of Tipperary will now go the polls on Saturday.

Seemingly it would be unconstitutional for election proceedings not to be completed 30 days after the announcement of an election within our constitution.

Paul Horan

Asst Professor

Trinity College Dublin

This readers' opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on 7 February 2020.

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