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John M. Kelly (politician): Wikis


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John Maurice Kelly (31 August 1931 – 24 January 1991) was an Irish legal academic and senior Fine Gael politician.



Kelly received his primary and secondary education at St Conleth's College in Dublin 4 and at the Glenstal Abbey boarding school in County Limerick, respectively.

He attended University College Dublin between 1949 and 1954, and carried out postgraduate studies in the University of Heidelberg, from 1954 to 1956. His thesis was published in 1957 as "Princeps Iudex".

Academic career

In the early 1960s, Kelly held a position as a don in Trinity College, Oxford.

He was a distinguished academic, serving for many years as Professor of Constitutional law, Roman law and Jurisprudence in University College Dublin. He was author of the standard work on the Constitution of Ireland; though published after Kelly's death, the third and later editions of this work still bear his name in honour of the original book. He was instrumental in the revival of the Irish law journal The Irish Jurist in the 1960s.

Political career

He first stood for election in the 1969 general election as a Fine Gael candidate for the Dublin South Central constituency, he was not elected to Dáil Éireann but was subsequently elected to Seanad Éireann on the Cultural and Educational Panel. He was first elected to Dáil Éireann on his second attempt at 1973 general election as a Fine Gael Teachta Dála (TD). He retained his seat until his retirement from politics at the 1989 general election. He served in the Government of Liam Cosgrave (1973–77) as Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach and while keeping that post also served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence until March 1977, and which point he became Attorney General, succeeding Declan Costello upon the latter's appointment to the High Court.

He served in the first Cabinet under Garret FitzGerald from 1981 until 1982. He was named as minister in the Department of Department of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, before assuming the new post of Minister for Trade, Commerce & Tourism, which FitzGerald created specially through the division of the old Industry & Commerce into the Departments of Trade, Commerce, & Tourism and Industry & Energy. (The restructuring of the departments could not legally take place, however, until the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924, which defined the names and responsibilities of departments, was amended; this happened in August 1981 by ministerial order under the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act, 1939).

Kelly was also appointed acting Minister for Foreign Affairs. FitzGerald planned to make his cousin and colleague Senator James Dooge a cabinet minister, but he could not be appointed to cabinet until he had been appointed to the Seanad and that could not happen for some months because appointments can only take place after the general election for the Seanad have been held. (This normally takes place approximately sixty days after the holding of the Dáil general election.) Dooge finally assumed office in October 1981. As a result Kelly found himself throughout the period shifting departments, briefs and titles.

Kelly declined appointment to FitzGerald's second administration (1982–1987). He did not seek re-election to the Dáil in the 1989 general election.



  • Matters of Honour [as John Boyle] (London, New Authors Limited, 1964)
  • The Polling of the Dead (Moytura Press, 1993) ISBN 1-871305-18-7


  • Fundamental rights in the Irish law and Constitution (2nd ed., Oceana Publications, 1968) ISBN 0-379-00075-X
  • Studies in the civil judicature of the Roman Republic (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1976) ISBN 0-19-825337-0
  • Belling the cats: Selected speeches and articles of John Kelly (Dublin, Moytura Press, 1992) ISBN 1-871305-08-X
  • A Short History of Western Legal Theory (Oxford University Press, 1992) ISBN 0-19-876244-5
  • The Irish Constitution (4th ed., LexisNexis Butterworth, 2003) ISBN 1-85475-895-0

Honours, Awards & Memorials


The John M. Kelly Memorial Lecture

Since 1994, University College Dublin has hosted an annual John M. Kelly Memorial Lecture on law, with international legal experts asked to deliver papers. The lectures to date include:

  1. (November 1994) Savigny in the Strand -- the Rt. Hon, the Lord Rodger of Earlsferry QC
  2. (16 November 1995) Harassment and Hubris: The Right to an Equality of Respect -- Prof. Peter Birks, Regius Professor of Civil Law at the University of Oxford
  3. (14 November 1996) A Sense of Proportionality -- the Rt. Hon, the Lord Leonard Hoffman
  4. (October 1997) Towards a Supreme Court? The British Experience -- Michael Beloff, QC and President of Trinity College Oxford
  5. (November 1998)
  6. (October 1999) Stands Scotland where she did? New Unions for Old in these Islands -- Prof Neil MacCormick
  7. (November 2000)
  8. (1 November 2001) Corrective and Distributive Justice in Tort Law -- the Rt. Hon, the Lord Steyn
  9. (15 November 2002) Scholarship, Reputation of Scholarship, and Legacy: Provocative Reflections from a Comparatist’s Point of View -- Prof. Basil Markesinis QC
  10. (5 November 2003) Liability for Non-Conformity: The new system of remedies in German sales' law and its historical context -- Prof. Reinhard Zimmermann
  11. (21 January 2005) Law Maker or Law Reformer - what is a Law Lady for? -- the Rt. Hon, the Baroness Brenda Hale of Richmond

The Irish Jurist Memorial Issue

Volumes XXV- XXVII of The Irish Jurist (ISBN 1-85800-043-2) , covering the years 1990-1992, were published in memory of John Kelly.


External links

Political offices
Preceded by
David Andrews
Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach
(Government Chief Whip)

Succeeded by
Patrick Lalor
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence
Preceded by
Oliver J. Flanagan
Parliamentary Secretary to Minister for Defence
Preceded by
Brian Lenihan
Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs
June–October 1981
Succeeded by
James Dooge
Preceded by
Desmond O'Malley
Minister for Industry, Commerce and Tourism
June–August 1981
Office abolished
New office Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism
Succeeded by
Desmond O'Malley
Legal offices
Preceded by
Declan Costello
Attorney General of Ireland
March–July 1977
Succeeded by
Anthony J. Hederman


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