Attorney General of Ireland
|Attorney General of Ireland|
|Office of the Attorney General|
|Appointer||Michael D. Higgins|
|Inaugural holder||Hugh Kennedy|
|Formation||31 January 1922|
The Attorney General (Irish: An tArd-Aighne) is a constitutional officer who is the official adviser to the Government of Ireland in matters of law. They are in effect the chief law officer in Ireland. The Attorney General is not a member of the Government but does participate in cabinet meetings when invited and attends government meetings. The current Attorney General is Máire Whelan, SC. She is the first woman to hold the post.
The Attorney General has always been a barrister rather than a solicitor, although this is not a requirement for the post. If the barrister chosen by the Government to be its Attorney General (normally on political- and personal-connection grounds rather than any other considerations) is not a Senior Counsel at the time, the government of the day has made him one first, John Rogers BL and John M. Kelly BL being two examples.
The Attorney General advises the Government on the constitutionality of bills and treaties, and presents the Government's case if the President refers any bill to the Supreme Court under Article 26 of the Constitution before signing it.
The Attorney General has few prosecution duties; these are limited to functions under the various Fisheries Acts and Extradition Acts. Instead, the Director of Public Prosecutions has responsibility for all other criminal prosecutions in the State.
The Office of the Attorney General consists of a number of different offices:
- The Advisory Counsel to the Attorney General (providing legal advice)
- The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel (drafting legislation)
- The Chief State Solicitor's Office (providing litigation, conveyancing and other transactional services)
- The Statute Law Revision Unit (simplifying and improving the body of statute law)
Part of the Attorney General's function has been to identify and prepare the repeal of all legislation passed before independence. This includes laws of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Britain, England, and the Irish Parliament. For example the killing of cattle in Dublin is still regulated, in part by an Irish act of 1743, while the "Treatment of Foreign Merchants" is governed by 25 Edw. 1 Magna Carta c. 30, an act of the Parliament of England dated 1297.
The office, which was created in the 1937 Constitution of Ireland, is a lineal successor of the offices of Attorney-General for Ireland, Attorney-General for Southern Ireland and the Attorney-General of the Irish Free State (Irish: Príomh-Atúrnae Shaorstáit Éireann). Unlike the modern office, those earlier offices were a creation of statute law, not a written constitution. Unlike the modern office, the earlier offices also had a hyphen between the words attorney and general.
Two less well known but significant roles played by all Irish Attorneys General to date are as the "leader of the Irish Bar" and as a Bencher of the King's Inns. The acceptance by Attorneys General of these non-statutory and often secretive roles upon taking office throughout the years has been questioned and criticised as inappropriate for a Constitutional office-holder. In 1990, the Irish Government's Fair Trade Commission stated that "[w]e have recommended that the Bar Council should be the primary disciplinary body for barristers, and it does not include any members of the judiciary. The Attorney General is, however, a member of the Bar Council, and the Commission believes that it is preferable that he should not be involved when the Bar Council is exercising its disciplinary function. The Attorney General is also a member of the Council of King's Inns, and the Commission believes it to preferable that he should not participate in any disciplinary activity pursued by that body either. Indeed, in general, we find the membership of these bodies by the Attorney General to be somewhat anomalous."
There had developed over the years a practice (of unknown origin) whereby the Attorney General of the day had his pick of possible appointments to the Irish judiciary upon his vacating the office of Attorney General; since Harry Whelehan's botched appointment to the presidency of the High Court (Ireland) in 1994, this practice appears to have gone into abeyance.
List of Attorneys General
Attorneys General of the Irish Free State
|No.||Name||Term of Office|
|1.||Hugh Kennedy||31 January 1922||5 June 1924|
|2.||John O'Byrne||7 June 1924||9 January 1926|
|3.||John A. Costello||9 January 1926||9 March 1932|
|4.||Conor Maguire||10 March 1932||2 November 1936|
|5.||James Geoghegan||2 November 1936||22 December 1936|
|6.||Patrick Lynch||22 December 1936||31 December 1937|
Attorneys General of Ireland
|No.||Name||Term of Office|
|6.||Patrick Lynch||1 January 1938||1 March 1940|
|7.||Kevin Haugh||2 March 1940||10 October 1942|
|8.||Kevin Dixon||10 October 1942||30 April 1946|
|9.||Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh||30 April 1946||18 February 1948|
|10.||Cecil Lavery||19 February 1948||21 April 1950|
|11.||Charles Casey||21 April 1950||12 June 1951|
|Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh||14 June 1951||11 July 1953|
|12.||Thomas Teevan||11 July 1953||30 January 1954|
|13.||Aindrias Ó Caoimh||30 January 1954||2 June 1954|
|14.||Patrick McGilligan||2 June 1954||20 March 1957|
|Aindrias Ó Caoimh||20 March 1957||15 March 1965|
|15.||Colm Condon||16 March 1965||14 March 1973|
|16.||Declan Costello||15 March 1973||19 May 1977|
|17.||John Kelly||20 May 1977||5 July 1977|
|18.||Anthony J. Hederman||6 July 1977||29 June 1981|
|19.||Peter Sutherland||30 June 1981||9 March 1982|
|20.||Patrick Connolly||10 March 1982||16 August 1982|
|21.||John L. Murray||17 August 1982||14 December 1982|
|Peter Sutherland||15 December 1982||12 December 1984|
|22.||John Rogers||13 December 1984||10 March 1987|
|John L. Murray||11 March 1987||25 September 1991|
|23.||Harry Whelehan||26 September 1991||11 November 1994|
|24.||Eoghan Fitzsimons||11 November 1994||15 December 1994|
|25.||Dermot Gleeson||15 December 1994||26 June 1997|
|26.||David Byrne||26 June 1997||17 July 1999|
|27.||Michael McDowell||17 July 1999||6 June 2002|
|28.||Rory Brady||7 June 2002||14 June 2007|
|29.||Paul Gallagher||14 June 2007||9 March 2011|
|30.||Máire Whelan||9 March 2011||Incumbent|
- Fair Trade Commission Report of Study into Restrictive Practices in the Legal Profession (Dublin: Government of Ireland Stationery Office, 1990) Paragraph 16.51
- Initially Kennedy did not hold the title of Attorney General although he was legal adviser to the Provisional Government of Southern Ireland – Kennedy was only formally appointed Attorney General on 7 December 1922, the day after the establishment of the Irish Free State. Article at University College Dublin archives department