Irish presidential election, 1990

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Irish presidential election, 1990

← 1983 7 November 1990 1997 →
Turnout 64.1%
  Mary Robinson World Economic Forum 2013 crop.jpg Austin Currie 2014 (cropped).jpg
Nominee Mary Robinson Brian Lenihan Austin Currie
Party Independent Fianna Fáil Fine Gael
1st preference 612,265 (38.9%) 694,484 (44.1%) 267,902 (17.0%)
Final count 817,830 (51.9%) 731,273 (46.4%) Eliminated

President before election

Patrick Hillery
Fianna Fáil

Elected President

Mary Robinson

The Irish presidential election of 1990 was the tenth presidential election to be held in Ireland, and only the fifth to be contested by more than one candidate and the first to have a female candidate. It was held on Wednesday, 7 November 1990.


Brian Lenihan[edit]

Brian Lenihan, the Tánaiste and Minister for Defence was chosen by Fianna Fáil as their candidate, though he faced a late challenge for the party nomination from another senior minister, John Wilson, TD. Lenihan was popular and widely seen as humorous and intelligent. He had delivered liberal policy reform (relaxed censorship in the 1960s), and he was seen as a near certainty to win the presidency.

Austin Currie[edit]

Fine Gael, after trying and failing to get former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and former Tánaiste Peter Barry to run, ultimately nominated the former civil rights campaigner and SDLP member Austin Currie. Currie had been elected to the Dáil in the 1989 general election and had been a minister in Brian Faulkner's power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland from 1973–1974. However Currie had little experience in the politics of the Republic and was widely seen as the party's last choice, nominated only when no-one else was available.

Mary Robinson[edit]

The Labour Party along with the Workers' Party nominated the independent candidate Mary Robinson, SC, a former Labour Party member and senator, and liberal campaigner. Robinson was a former Reid Professor of Law in the Trinity College, Dublin. She was previously involved in the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform and the campaign to save Wood Quay.


Lenihan entered the race as odds-on favourite; no Fianna Fáil candidate had ever lost a presidential election. However Lenihan was derailed when he confirmed in an on-the-record interview with freelance journalist and academic researcher Jim Duffy that he had been involved in controversial attempts to pressurise incumbent President Patrick Hillery not to dissolve the Dáil in 1982. After the contrast between his public denials during the campaign and his eventual confirmation of his role during his earlier interview (recorded in May), the Progressive Democrats, then in coalition with Fianna Fáil threatened to join an opposition motion of no confidence unless Lenihan was dismissed from the government or an inquiry to the 1982 events was set up. Taoiseach Charles Haughey privately asked Lenihan to resign, and sacked him on 31 October—a week before the election—when he refused to do so.

At this point Cabinet minister Pádraig Flynn launched a controversial personal attack on Mary Robinson, accusing her as "having a new-found interest in her family", an attack that was itself attacked in response as "disgraceful" on live radio by Michael McDowell, a senior member of the Progressive Democrats, up to that point supporting Lenihan's campaign. Flynn's attack was a fatal blow to Lenihan's campaign, causing many female supporters of Lenihan to vote for Robinson in a gesture of support.

Lenihan nonetheless received a plurality of first-choice votes. Robinson received almost three times as many votes as Currie, pushing Currie into a distant third place. Under Ireland's system of single transferable vote, over 75 percent of Currie's transfers flowed to Robinson, beating Lenihan into second place and making her Ireland's first female president.


Irish presidential election, 1990[1]
Party Candidate Nominated by % 1st Pref Count 1 Count 2
Independent Mary Robinson Labour Party, Workers' Party 38.9 612,265 817,830
Fianna Fáil Brian Lenihan Fianna Fáil 44.1 694,484 731,273
Fine Gael Austin Currie Fine Gael 17.0 267,902  
Electorate: 2,471,308   Valid: 1,574,651   Spoilt: 9,444 (0.6%)   Quota: 787,326   Turnout: 64.1%
First preference vote
Final percentage

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Presidential Election November 1990". Archived from the original on 17 February 2011. Retrieved 23 November 2009.