Government of Ireland
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the Republic of Ireland
- 1 Members of the government
- 2 Non-members attending cabinet
- 3 President
- 4 Term of office
- 5 Authority and powers
- 6 History
- 7 Public service
- 8 Current Government of Ireland
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Members of the government
The structure of the Government of Ireland is regulated fundamentally by the Constitution of Ireland. The Government is headed by a prime minister called the Taoiseach. The deputy prime minister is called the Tánaiste, and is nominated by the Taoiseach from among the members of the Government.
The Government must consist of between seven and fifteen members, according to the Constitution of Ireland. Every member of the Government must be a member of the parliament of Ireland, called the Oireachtas. No more than two members of the Government may be members of Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Oireachtas. Therefore, all other members of the Government must be members of Dáil Éireann, the lower house. The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Finance must be members of the Dáil. The 7 to 15 Members of Government are generally referred to as "The Cabinet".
The Taoiseach is nominated by Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, and appointed by the President. Other members of the Government are nominated by the Taoiseach, approved by Dáil Éireann, and appointed by the President. Members of the Government in charge of Departments of State are designated "Ministers of Government". For distinction "Ministers of State" (before 1977 "Parliamentary Secretaries") - incorrectly called "junior ministers" - are not members of Government. A Government Minister (before 1977 a "Minister of State") is usually in charge of a Department of State and thus technically a "Minister of Government" (before 1977 a "Minister of State"). Occasionally a minister without portfolio is appointed who is a minister and a member of the Government but not a "Minister of the Government".
Non-members attending cabinet
Non members have no voting rights at Cabinet but may otherwise participate fully and normally receive circulated Cabinet Papers on the same basis as a full member of Government.
The Government is advised by the Attorney General, who is not formally a member of the Government, but who participates in cabinet meetings as part of their role as legal advisor to the Government.
In addition, the Government can choose other Ministers of State (junior minister), who may attend cabinet meetings. This person is informally known as a Super Junior Minister". The current (2016) Super Junior Ministers are Paul Kehoe and Finian McGrath.
The Office of President was established by the Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann), and is elected directly by the people. To be a candidate, a citizen must be at least 35 years of age and must be nominated either by:
- Not less than 20 members of Dáil or Seanad Éireann, or
- Not less than 4 administrative counties (including County Boroughs), or
- Upon their own nomination, in the case of former or retiring Presidents.
The term of office is 7 years and a President may not serve more than 2 terms. The President must reside in or near Dublin. St. Patrick’s Hall, Dublin Castle, is the venue for Inauguration ceremonies, at which each President takes an oath as provided in the Constitution. The President represents all the people when undertaking official engagements at home and abroad. The President is Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces. There have been nine different holders of the office – Michael D. Higgins is the current President. The formal powers and functions of the President are prescribed in the Constitution. The President, who does not have an executive or policy role, exercises them on the advice of the Government. There are some specific instances where the President has an absolute discretion, such as in referring a Bill to the Supreme Court for a judgment on its constitutionality or in refusing to dissolve Dáil Éireann (lower house of parliament) on the advice of a Taoiseach (Prime Minister) who has ceased to retain a majority. Additional functions can be conferred on the President by law. A special (Presidential) Commission acts whenever the President is absent. The President appoints the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) on the nomination of Dáil Éireann; and the other members of the Government on the nomination of the Taoiseach after Dáil approval. Other office holders appointed by the President, on the advice of the Government, include Judges, the Attorney General, the Comptroller and Auditor General, and Commissioned officers of the Defence Forces.
Term of office
Normally, the Government serves in office until the nomination of a new Taoiseach by Dáil Éireann. The maximum term is 5 years by law, though the constitution allows seven. Most governments in recent years have served 4–5 years.
The Government must enjoy the confidence of Dáil Éireann if it is to remain in office. If the Taoiseach ceases "to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann", either Dáil Éireann must be dissolved or the Taoiseach must resign. The President may refuse to grant a dissolution to a Taoiseach who does not enjoy the support of the Dáil, thus forcing the resignation of the Taoiseach.
When the Taoiseach resigns, the entire Government is deemed to have resigned as a collective. However, in such a scenario, according to the Constitution, "the Taoiseach and the other members of the Government shall continue to carry on their duties until their successors shall have been appointed". The Taoiseach can also direct the President to dismiss or accept the resignation of individual ministers.
Upon the dissolution of Dáil Éireann, ministers are no longer members of the Oireachtas, and therefore at first glance ineligible for office. However, under a different clause in the Constitution, they "shall continue to hold office until their successors shall have been appointed".
Authority and powers
The Constitution explicitly vests executive authority in the Government, not the President. In other parliamentary regimes, the head of state is usually the nominal chief executive, though bound by convention to act on the advice of the cabinet.
The executive authority of the Government is subject to certain limitations. In particular:
- The state may not declare war, or participate in a war, without the consent of the Dáil Éireann. In the case of "actual invasion", however, "the Government may take whatever steps they may consider necessary for the protection of the State"
- Treaties must be laid before Dáil Éireann.
- The Government must act in accordance with the Constitution.
Government ministers are collectively responsible for the actions of the government. Each minister is responsible for the actions of his or her department. Departments of State do not have legal personalities. Actions of departments are carried out under the title of ministers even, as is commonly the case, when the minister has little knowledge of the details of these actions. This contradicts the rule in common law that a person given a statutory power cannot delegate that power. This leads to a phrase in correspondence by government departments, "the Minister has directed me to write", on letters or documents that the minister in question may never have seen.
When one of the Government's ministerial positions ceases to exist (as distinct from being renamed, which occurs more frequently), its powers are transferred to those of other ministers. "Defunct" ministers include the Ministers for Communications, Labour, Posts and Telegraphs, Public Service and Supplies. The office of Minister without portfolio has not been held since 1977.
If the Government should fail to fulfill its constitutional duties, it may be ordered to do so by a court of law, by writ of mandamus. Ministers who fail to comply may, ultimately, be found to be in contempt of court, and even imprisoned.
The Government was created by the 1937 Constitution of Ireland; the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924 and amendments, contains the detailed provisions regarding status and functions of the Government in general. The Government was preceded by the Executive Council of the 1922–1937 Irish Free State.
All Governments since 1989 have been coalitions of two or more parties. The first coalition government was formed in 1948. The Taoiseach has always been a member of the largest party in the coalition. The Taoiseach has almost always been the leader of that party, with John A. Costello the only exception to this rule.
The public service in Ireland refers to the totality of public administration in Ireland. As of Q3, 2016 the total number of employees in the Irish public service stands at 304,472 people. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform defines the public service as comprising seven sectors: the Civil Service, Defence Sector, Education Sector, Health Sector, Justice Sector, Local Authorities and Non-Commercial State Agencies; such as Bord Bia, IDA Ireland and the Commission for Energy Regulation. Commercial state-owned bodies such as RTÉ, ESB Group and An Post are not considered part of the public service in Ireland.
Public service employees
Largest single public sector bodies by employees
|Health Service Executive||67,145|
|Irish Defence Forces||9,549|
|Dublin City Council||5,330|
|Irish Prison Service||3,247|
The civil service of Ireland consists of two broad components, the Civil Service of the Government and the Civil Service of the State. While this partition is largely theoretical, the two parts do have some fundamental operational differences. The civil service is expected to maintain political impartiality in its work, and some parts of it are entirely independent of Government decision making.
Current Government of Ireland
- Constitution of Ireland, Article 28, Section 1.
- Constitution of Ireland, Article 28, Section 2, Subsection 2.
- Constitution of Ireland, Article 28, Section 2, Subsection 1.
- "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, 1977 (Section 4 – Amendment of Interpretation Act, 1937)". Attorney General of Ireland. 1937. Retrieved 22 January 2011.
- "The Appointments". The Irish Times. 11 March 2011. Retrieved 7 September 2011.
- Constitution of Ireland, Article 28, Section 10.
- Constitution of Ireland, Article 28, Section 11.
- Constitution of Ireland, Article 28, Section 3.
- Devanney v. Shields  1 IR 231
- "Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924 (Section 2 – Ministers to be corporations sole and to have certain powers.)". Attorney General of Ireland. 1924. Retrieved 22 January 2011.
- "Department of Public Expenditure & Reform - Databank - Public Service Numbers". Department of Public Expenditure & Reform. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
- "List of Ministers and Ministers of State". Department of An Taoiseach.
- "Revealed: Varadkar announces his Cabinet line-up". Independent.ie. 14 June 2017. Retrieved 14 June 2017.