The Irish presidential election of 1976 was precipitated by the sudden resignation of President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh in October 1976, following an attack on him by Paddy Donegan, the Minister for Defence in which the Minister called the President a "thundering disgrace" and implied he was disloyal to the state. Ó Dálaigh's resignation followed Dáil Éireann's decision to vote confidence in the minister in the ensuring row.
The government parties, Fine Gael and the Labour Party, could have nominated a joint candidate, but following the debacle over the events that led to the resignation of President Ó Dálaigh, it was thought unwise to do so.
With no other candidates nominated, Hillery was elected without the need for a poll and was inaugurated as the sixth President of Ireland on 3 December 1976.
^It was widely believed at the time, including by Ó Dálaigh himself, that the actual words used were "thundering bollocks and fucking disgrace", and that the version published by the media was sanitised. However, the one journalist present at the occasion (a correspondent for The Cork Examiner newspaper) has always insisted that the actual words used were "thundering disgrace" and nothing else. Of more offence was Donegan's comment that "the fact is the army must stand behind the state", a comment which the President interpreted as implying that he, the Army's Commander-in-Chief, did not. In the aftermath Donegan, an alcoholic whom his cabinet colleagues presumed was drunk when he made the comments, received treatment for his drink problem and was demoted to a more junior cabinet post.