Irish presidential inauguration
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The inauguration of the President of Ireland is a ceremony to mark the start of a new term for an Irish president. While in hereditary monarchies coronations are symbolic ceremonies, the new monarch's reign having already begun upon the death or abdication of the previous monarch, the Irish presidential inauguration is the legal entry point into office for a president.
The ceremony takes place on the day following the expiry of the term of office of the preceding President. No location is specified in the constitution, but all inaugurations have taken place in Saint Patrick's Hall in the State Apartments in Dublin Castle. The ceremony is transmitted live by national broadcaster RTÉ on its principal television and radio channels, typically around 11 am.
During the period of the Irish Free State (1922 to 1937), the Governor-General had been installed into office as the representative of the Crown in a low-key ceremony, twice in Leinster House (the seat of the Oireachtas), but in the case of the last Governor-General, Domhnall Ua Buachalla, in his brother's drawing room. By contrast, the Constitution of Ireland adopted in 1937, provided that the President of Ireland would be inaugurated in state in a major public ceremony.
To highlight the significance of the event, all key figures in the executive (the Government of Ireland), the legislature (Oireachtas) and the judiciary attend, as do members of the diplomatic corps and other invited guests.
Though an outgoing President of Ireland who has been re-elected is usually described in the media as "president" before the taking of the Declaration of Office, that is actually incorrect. The Irish Constitution makes it clear that a president's term of office expires on the day before the inauguration of their successor. In the interregnum period, the Presidential Commission acts as president, though given that it is usually for less than 11 hours no Presidential Commission has ever been called on to do anything in that period. Technically for that period the outgoing president is a former president and, if re-elected, President-elect.
The President-elect travels either from Áras an Uachtaráin in the case of an immediate past president who has been re-elected, or from their own private home in the case of a new president, and is escorted to the ceremony in Dublin Castle in a famous 1947 Rolls-Royce alongside the motorcycles of the 2nd Cavalry Squadron. Upon arrival the president is escorted into the State Apartments, up the Battleaxe Stairs to the State Drawing Room or Throne Room by the Tánaiste or another senior member of government. There they prepare momentarily for the inauguration before proceeding to the dais in Saint Patrick's Hall, where they sit on the Presidential chair, formerly the Viceregal throne. A new Presidential chair, designed by John Lee, was used for the first time at the inauguration of Michael D. Higgins on 11 November 2011. There they take the Declaration of Office, which is administered by the Chief Justice. After delivering their inaugural address they then are escorted to Áras an Uachtaráin by the Presidential Motorcycle Escort.
Declaration of Office
In front of assembled members of Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann, the Government of Ireland, the judiciary, members of local authorities, diplomats and invited guests, and with members of the Council of State on the dais behind them, the President takes the following Declaration of Office:
- In Irish: I láthair Dia na nUilechumhacht, táimse, (ainm), á ghealladh agus á dhearbhú go sollúnta is go fírinneach bheith i mo thaca agus i mo dhidín do Bhunreacht Éireann, agus dlíthe a chaomhnú, mo dhualgais a chomhlíonadh go dilís coinsiasach de réir an Bhunreacht is an dlí, agus mo lándícheall a dhéanamh ar son leasa is fónaimh mhuintir na hÉireann. Dia do mo stiúradh agus do mo chumhdach.
- In English: In the presence of Almighty God, I, (name), do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will maintain the Constitution of Ireland and uphold its laws, that I will fulfil my duties faithfully and conscientiously in accordance with the Constitution and the law, and that I will dedicate my abilities to the service and the welfare of the people of Ireland. May God direct and sustain me.
Though in theory the declaration can be recited in either Irish or English, all presidents to date have chosen Irish. Hence even Erskine H. Childers, who never learnt Irish and spoke with a distinctive Oxbridge accent that made pronouncing Irish quite difficult, opted with some reluctance for the Irish version in 1973. Pictures of the event show Childers reading from an exceptionally large board where it had been written down phonetically for him.
Having taken the Declaration of Office, the new President traditionally delivers an address to the guests. Constitutionally all addresses or messages to 'the Nation' or to 'the Oireachtas' are supposed to have prior government approval. Some lawyers have questioned whether the speech at the inauguration should fall into the category requiring government approval. However, as it is impractical to get approval given that the new president is only president for a matter of moments before delivering the speech and so has not had a time to submit it, any constitutional questions as to its status are ignored.
End of the day
The President-elect (unless they are already a serving president, in which case they will already be living in the presidential residence) are usually driven to the inauguration from their private home. After the ceremony they are driven through the streets of Dublin to Áras an Uachtaráin, the official presidential residence, where they are welcomed by the Secretary-General to the President, the head of the presidential secretariat.
That evening, the Irish government hosts a reception in their honour in the State Apartments (the former Royal Apartments) in Dublin Castle. Whereas the dress code was formerly white tie affair, it is now more usually black tie.
Rituals and traditions
Presidential State Car
The President-elect is usually escorted to and from the ceremony by the Presidential Motorcycle Escort ceremonial outriders. Until 1947 they were a cavalry mounted escort, wearing light blue hussar-style uniforms. However to save money the first Inter-Party Government replaced the Irish horses by Japanese motorbikes, which the then Minister for Defence believed would be "much more impressive."
In 1945, alongside the mounted escort on horseback, President-elect Seán T. O'Kelly rode in the old state landau of Queen Alexandra the Queen Mother. The use of the state carriage was highly popular with crowds. However an accident with a later presidential carriage at the Royal Dublin Society Horse show led to the abolition of the carriage and its replacement by a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith in 1947. The distinctive 1947 Rolls-Royce is still used to bring the President to and from the inauguration today.
Inauguration Day involves a lot of ritual and ceremonial. Until 1983 the morning saw the President-elect, accompanied by his spouse, escorted by the Presidential Motorcycle Escort to one of Dublin's cathedrals. If they were Catholic they were brought to St Mary's Pro-Cathedral for a Pontifical High Mass. If they were Church of Ireland, they were brought to St Patrick's Cathedral for a Divine Service. In the 1970s instead of separate denominational ceremonies a single ecumenical multi-faith service was held in the Cathedral of the faith of the President-elect. Some additional religious ceremonies also featured: President-elect Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh attended a prayer ceremony in a synagogue in Dublin to reflect his longstanding relationship with the Jewish Community in Ireland.
In 1983, to reduce the costs of the day in a period of economic retrenchment, the separate religious blessing ceremony was incorporated into the inauguration ceremony itself, with the President-elect blessed by representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church, Methodism, the Society of Friends, and the Jewish and Islamic faiths. This inter-faith service has featured in the inaugurations of 1983, 1990, 1997 and 2004.
For the first inauguration in 1938 President-elect Douglas Hyde decided to wear a morning suit, with black silk top hat. Morning suits were a standard feature of Irish presidential inaugurations until 1997 when Mary McAleese, whose husband disliked wearing formal suits, abolished their use for inaugurations (and for all other presidential ceremonial). In her new "informal" inaugurations guests were required to wear plain business suits, and judges were prohibited from wearing their distinctive wigs and gowns. Ambassadors were also discouraged from wearing national dress.
Inauguration of Douglas Hyde
The following is a vivid description, provided by The Times in its edition of 27 June 1938, of the inauguration of President Douglas Hyde on 26 June 1938:
In the morning [Dr Hyde] attended a service in St Patrick's Cathedral presided over by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Gregg. Mr. de Valera and his Ministerial colleagues attended a solemn Votive Mass in the Pro-cathedral, and there were services in the principal Presbyterian and Methodist churches, as well as in the synagogue. Dr. Hyde was installed formally in Dublin Castle, where the seals of office were handed over by the Chief Justice. Some 200 persons were present, including the heads of the Judiciary and the chief dignitaries of the Churches. After the ceremony President Hyde drove in procession through the beflagged streets. The procession halted for two minutes outside the General Post Office to pay homage to the memory of the men who fell in the Easter Week rebellion of 1916. Large crowds lined the streets from the Castle to the Vice-Regal Lodge and the President was welcomed with bursts of cheering. He wore morning dress, but Mr. de Valera and Mr. Sean T. O'Kelly, who followed Dr. Hyde in the next motor-car, wore black clothes with felt hats. In the evening there was a ceremony in Dublin Castle which was without precedent in Irish history. Mr. and Mrs. de Valera received about 1,500 guests at a reception in honour of the President. The reception was held in St Patrick's Hall, where the banners of the Knights of St. Patrick are still hung. The attendance included all the members of the Dail and Senate with their ladies, members of the Judiciary and the chiefs of the Civil Service, Dr. Paschal Robinson, the Papal Nuncio at the head of the Diplomatic Corps, several Roman Catholic Bishops, the Primate of All Ireland, the Archbishop of Dublin, the Bishop of Killaloe, the heads of the Presbyterian and Methodist congregations, the Provost and Vice Provost of Trinity College, and the President of the National University. It was the most colourful event that has been held in Dublin since the inauguration of the new order in Ireland, and the gathering, representing as it did every shade of political, religious, and social opinion in Eire [Ireland], might be regarded as a microcosm of the new Ireland.
- Irish Constitution, Article 12.8
- Irish Constitution, Article 12.7
- Article 12.7, Constitution of Ireland.