An Extern Minister was an Irish minister appointed by the Governor-General of the Irish Free State on the nomination of a committee of Dáil Éireann. Unlike Irish Ministers of the Crown, who together formed the Executive Council of the Irish Free State and shared collective cabinet responsibility as His Majesty's Government in the Irish Free State, an Extern Minister was intended to be a minister who operated outside the Executive Council, had no share in collective cabinet responsibility, and whose term of office was independent of that of the Executive Council.
The idea of Extern Ministers was first mooted as a way of placating Anti-Treaty Irish republicans. It would have allowed them from outside the Oireachtas to hold ministries without having to take the mandatory Oath of Allegiance required of members of both houses. However British objections to the proposal led to the toning down of the posts, with they being made appointees of the Governor-General to bring them into the monarchical symbolism prevalent in the final version of the Irish Free State Constitution enacted in both the Irish and British parliaments.
Nevertheless, as introduced, it still was hoped that Extern Ministers might be independent non-party figures, possibly non-politicians, who were not even members of Oireachtas Éireann.
According to Article 55 of the constitution:
- Ministers who shall not be members of the Executive Council may be appointed by the Representative of the Crown, and shall comply with the provisions of Article 17 of this Constitution. Every such Minister shall be nominated by Dáil Éireann on the recommendation of a Committee of Dáil Éireann chosen by a method to be determined by Dáil Éireann, so as to be impartially representative of Dáil Éireann. Should a recommendation not be acceptable to Dáil Éireann, the Committee may continue to recommend names until one is found acceptable. The total number of Ministers including the Ministers of the Executive Council, shall not exceed twelve.
Abandonment of the innovation
However the concept of Extern Ministers never took off. While a few isolated Extern Ministers were appointed in the early years of the Free State, they were in reality part of the Cumann na nGaedheal government rather than independent of it. Nor were they chosen from outside the Dáil but were TDs. By 1927 the idea of having Extern Ministers was quietly dropped. The Constitution (Amendment No. 15) Act, 1929 increased the maximum size of the Executive Council from seven to twelve. Thereafter, since twelve was the maximum total number of Ministers, there was no point in a TD being an Extern Minister rather than a member of the Executive Council.