President of Ireland
The President of Ireland (Irish: Uachtarán na hÉireann) is the head of state of the Republic of Ireland. The President is usually directly elected by the people. The presidency is largely a ceremonial office, but the President does exercise certain reserve powers. The office was established by the Constitution of Ireland in 1937. The President's official residence is Áras an Uachtaráin in Dublin. The current office-holder is President Mary McAleese.
Selecting the President
Main article: Irish presidential election
The President is formally elected by the people once in every seven years, except in the event of premature vacancy, when an election must be held within sixty days. The President is directly elected by secret ballot under the form of the Single Transferable Vote system known as the Alternative Vote 1. While both Irish and UK citizens resident in the state may vote in elections to Dáil Éireann (the lower house of parliament), only Irish citizens, who must be at least eighteen years of age, may vote in the election of the President. The presidency is open to all citizens of the state who are at least 35. A candidate must, however be nominated by one of the following:
- At least twenty members of the Oireachtas (national parliament).
- At least four county or county borough councils.
- Themselves (in the case of an incumbent or former president).
Where only one candidate is nominated, he or she is deemed elected without the need for a ballot. For this reason, where there is a consensus among political parties, the President may be 'elected' without the occurrence of an actual ballot. No one may be elected as President more than twice.
Duties and functions
The Constitution of Ireland provides for a parliamentary system of government, under which the role of the head of state is largely a ceremonial one. Most of the functions of the President may only be carried out in accordance with the strict instructions of the Constitution, or the binding 'advice' of the Government. The President does, however, possess certain reserve powers, that may be exercised at her discretion. Unlike the presidents of many other republics, the President of Ireland is neither the nominal nor de facto chief executive officer of the state. Rather, executive authority is expressly vested in the Government (cabinet). The Government is obliged, however, to keep the President generally informed on matters of domestic and foreign policy.
The President of Ireland:
- Appoints the Government. The President appoints the Taoiseach (head of government) and other ministers, and accepts their resignations. The Taoiseach is appointed upon the nomination of Dáil Éireann (the lower house of parliament), and the remainder of the cabinet upon the nomination of the Taoiseach. Ministers are dimissed on the advice of the Taoiseach and the Taoiseach must, unless there is a dissolution of the Dáil, resign upon losing the confidence of the house. On the advice of the Government, the President also appoints members of the judiciary.
- Convenes and dissolves Dáil Éireann. Save where exercising the right, under her reserve powers, to refuse a dissolution in certain circumstances, this power is exercised on the advice of the Government.
- Signs bills into law. The president is formally one of three tiers of the Oireachtas (national parliament). The President may not, unless exercising one of her reserve powers, veto a law that the Dáil and the Senate have adopted.
- Represents the state in foreign affairs. This power is exercised only on the advice of the Government. The President accredits ambassadors and receives the letters of credence of foreign diplomats. Ministers sign international treaties in the President's name.
- Is supreme commander of the Defence Forces. This is a nominal position, the powers of which are exercised on the advice of the Government.
Special limitations on the role of the President
- The President may not leave the state without the consent of the Government.
- Every speech delivered by the President must have the prior approval of the Government.
The President possesses the following reserve powers, which she may exercise at her absolute discretion. It is required that, before exercising certain reserve powers, the President consult the Council of State. However, the President is not compelled to act in accordance with the council's advice. The two reserve powers in italics are those that have actually been invoked since 1937.
- Reference of bills to the Supreme Court: The President may, upon consultation with the Council of State, refer a bill to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. The Supreme Court then tests its constitutionality in toto and the President may not sign the bill into law if it is found to be unconstitutional. This is the most widely used reserve power, but may not be applied to:
- A money bill.
- A bill to amend the Constitution.
- An urgent bill the time for the consideration of which has been abriged in the Senate.
- Reference of bills to the people: If requested to do so by a petition signed by a majority of the membership of the Senate, and one-third of the membership of the Dail, the President may, after consultation with the Council of State, decline to sign a bill (other than a bill to amend the constitution) she considers to be of great "national importance" into law until it has been approved by either:
- The people in an ordinary referendum.
- The Dail reassembling after a general election, held within eight months.
- Refusal of a Dáil dissolution: President may refuse to grant a dissolution of Dáil Éireann to a Taoiseach who has "ceased to retain the support of a majority" in house. In such an event, the Taoiseach must resign immediately. This power has never been invoked but the necessary circumstances existed in 1944, 1982 and 1994.
- Abridgement of the time for the consideration of bills in the Senate: The President may, at the request of Dáil Éireann, and after consultation with the Council of State, impose a time-limit on the period during which the Senate may consider an bill. The effect of this power is to restrict the power of the Senate to delay a bill that the Government considers urgent.
- Appointment of a Committee of Privileges: The President may, if requested to do so by the Senate, and upon consultation with the Council of State, establish a Committee of Privileges to solve a dispute between the two Houses of the Oireachtas (parliament) as to whether or not a bill is a money bill.
- Address to the Houses of the Oireachtas: The President may, upon consultation with the Council of State, and provided the text is approved en bloc by the Government, address, or send a message to, either or both Houses of the Oireachtas. This power has been invoked on four occasions: by President de Valera once, by President Robinson twice, and by President McAleese once.
- Address to the Nation: The President may, upon consultation with the Council of State, and provided the text has been approved en bloc by the Government, address, or send a message to, the 'Nation'.
Main article: Presidential Commission
The President of Ireland has no vice president. In the event of a premature vacancy a successor must be elected within sixty days. In the interim the duties and functions of the office are carried out by a Presidential Commission, consisting of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Ceann Comhairle (speaker) of Dáil Éireann, and the Cathaoirleach (chairperson) of Seanad Éireann.
List of Presidents of Ireland
| # || Name || Took Office || Left Office || Party
| Presidential Commission || December 29, 1937||June 25, 1938 ||
|1.|| Douglas Hyde || June 25, 1938||June 24, 1945 ||
|2.||Seán T. O'Kelly|| June 25, 1945||June 24, 1959 || Fianna Fáil
|3.||Eamon de Valera|| June 25, 1959||June 24, 1973 || Fianna Fáil
|4.||Erskine Hamilton Childers|| June 25, 1973||November 17, 1974 || Fianna Fáil
| Presidential Commission || November 17, 1974||December 18, 1974 ||
|5.||Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh|| December 19, 1974||October 22, 1976 || Fianna Fáil
| Presidential Commission || October 22, 1976||December 2, 1976 ||
|6.||Patrick Hillery|| December 3, 1976||December 2, 1990 || Fianna Fáil
|7.||Mary Robinson|| December 3, 1990 || September 12, 1997 || Labour
| Presidential Commission || September 12, 1997||November 10, 1997 ||
|8.||Mary McAleese|| November 10, 1997||present || Fianna Fáil
Official residence, anthem, style and address
- The official residence of the President of Ireland is Áras an Uachtaráin, located in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. The ninety-two room building formerly served as the 'out of season' residence of the Irish Lord Lieutenant and the residence of two of the three Irish Governors-General: Tim Healy and James McNeill.
- The President is formally addressed as: 'President', rather than 'Mr/Madam President' or 'Uachtarán'. Sometimes people use the version 'Your Excellency' or, its Gaelic equivalent: 'A Shoilse'. The President's style is normally His or Her Excellency.
- The Irish presidential anthem is taken from the Irish National Anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann, and consists of the first two and last two lines of the anthem.
Under the constitution, in assuming office the President must subscribe to a formal declaration, made publicly and in the presence of members of both Houses of the Oireachtas, Judges of the Supreme Court and of the High Court, and other "public personages". The declaration is specified in Article 12.8:
- In Irish: I láthair Dia na nUilechumhacht, táimse 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 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.
Impeachment and removal from office
The constitution provides for just two ways in which President may be removed from office prior to the expiration of her term. The President can be removed from office if the Supreme Court, in a sitting of at least five judges, finds that she has become "permanently incapacitated". Alternatively she may be removed from office by the houses of the Oireachtas but only for "stated misbehaviour". Either house of the Oireachtas may impeach the President but only by a resolution approved by a majority of at least two-thirds, and a house may not consider a proposal for impeachment unless requested to do so by at least thirty of its members. Where one house impeaches the President the remaining house investigates the charge or commissions another body or committee to do so. The investigating house can remove the President if it decides, by at least a two-thirds majority, that she is guilty of the charge of which she is accused, and that the charge is sufficiently serious as to warrant her removal. To date neither procedure for the removal of the President has yet been invoked.
Issues of controversy
Problems over the term 'President of Ireland'
The original text of the Constitution of Ireland, as adopted in 1937, in its controversial Articles 2 and 3, mentioned two geopolitical entities, a thirty-two county 'National Territory' (i.e., the island of Ireland) and a twenty-six county 'state' formerly known as the Irish Free State (Articles 2 and 3 have since been amended). The implication behind the title 'President of Ireland' was that the President would function as the head of all Ireland. However this implication was challenged by the Ulster Unionists and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland which was the state internationally acknowledged as governing Northern Ireland, a fact enshrined in the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, which created Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, the latter of which became the Irish Free State in 1922, Éire in 1937 and the Republic of Ireland in 1949.
Ireland in turn challenged the proclamation by the British parliament of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952 as 'queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The government of the Republic of Ireland refused to attend royal functions as a result; for example, President Hillery (1976–90) declined on Government advice to attend the wedding of the Prince of Wales to the late Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, to which he had been invited by Queen Elizabeth, while President Sean T. Ó Ceallaigh declined on government advice to attend the Coronation Garden Party at the British Embassy in 1953. Britain in turn insisted on referring to the President as 'President of the Republic of Ireland' or 'President of the Irish Republic.' Letters of Credence from Queen Elizabeth, on Her Majesty's Government's advice, appointing United Kingdom ambassadors to Ireland were not addressed to the 'President of Ireland' but to the president personally (e.g., 'President Hillery'.)
This dispute has largely been forgotten in recent years. President Robinson (1990–97) chose unilaterally to break the taboo by regularly visiting Britain for public functions, frequently to do with Anglo-Irish Relations or to visit the Irish emigrant community in Britain. In another breaking of precedent, she was invited to Buckingham Palace by Queen Elizabeth II. Interestingly, the Palace accreditation supplied to journalists covering the history-making visit referred to the visit of the President of Ireland. In recent times, both Presidents Robinson and her successor Mary McAleese (1997— ) have visited the Palace on numerous occasions, while the Prince of Wales, Duke of York, Earl of Wessex and Duke of Edinburgh have all visited successive presidents of Ireland in Áras an Uachtaráin (the presidential palace). Presidents have also have attended functions with the Princess Royal. Her Majesty the Queen and Her Excellency the President even jointly hosted a reception in St. James's Palace in London in 1995, to commemorate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Queen's Colleges in 1850. (The Queen's Colleges are now known as Queen's University, Belfast, the National University of Ireland, Cork (formerly University College, Cork) and the National University of Ireland, Galway (formerly University College, Galway).)
Though the president's title implicitly claimed authority in Northern Ireland, in reality the Irish President needed government permission to visit Northern Ireland, it being treated as a 'foreign visit.' (The Irish state in Article 3 explicitly stated that its authority was limited to the twenty-six counties and did not apply to the six counties of Northern Ireland. Presidents up to the presidency of Mary Robinson (1990–97) were regularly refused permission by the Government of the Republic of Ireland to visit Northern Ireland.)
However, since the 1990s and in particular since the Good Friday Agreement, the president has regularly visited Northern Ireland. The current president, Mary McAleese, who is herself the first President of Ireland from Northern Ireland, continues on from Mary Robinson in this regard. In a sign of the warmth of the modern Anglo-Irish Relationship, she has been warmly welcomed by leading Unionists. At the funeral for a child murdered by the Real IRA in Omagh she symbolically walked up the main aisle of the Roman Catholic Church hand-in-hand with the Ulster Unionist leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland, David Trimble, MP. Similarly when Queen Elizabeth II visited the Stormont Parliament Buildings on a trip to Northern Ireland as part of her Golden Jubilee Tour in 2002, and spoke of the sense of Irish identity of Northern nationalists, Sinn Féin chose not to launch any public pickets or protests, stating that the Queen, as a symbol cherished by unionists, was entitled to visit.
Despite the changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution as part of the Good Friday Agreement the title of the office remains the "President of Ireland", though there is now little dispute that the Presidency only has juristiction over the Republic of Ireland.
Who was head of state between 1937 and 1949?
Before the adoption of the 1937 constitution the Irish Free State had the British monarch also as its monarch and head of state. In exercising their role in Ireland, in particular from the end of the 1920s, Kings George V, Edward VIII and George VI were unambiguously doing so as King of Ireland, with no role whatsoever for the British state, British government, British Crown or even from 1931 the British Great Seal of the Realm which the Irish replaced with their own Seal (on which the Irish King appeared with the harp and the words 'Saorstát Éireann)'. The person who wore the Irish and British Crowns may have been the same, but in law they were different entities, as shown when from 1931 not merely did British ministers not have to be present at meetings between Irish ministers and the King, they were barred from attendance, to their fury.
It is a matter of considerable historical, legal and political debate as to who was Irish head of state between 1936/7 and 1949. For the functions normally performed by a head of state were spread over three different elements by the new constitution and statute law; the President of Ireland, the King of Ireland (an office created by the Royal Titles Act) and the Government of Ireland. The President was the state's 'first citizen.' Executive authority, which in most constitutional systems is vested in the head of state, in Bunreacht na hÉireann is vested in the Government, while the role of representing the Irish state abroad (signing treaties, accrediting ambassadors, receiving credentials from ambassadors to Ireland, etc) was exercised by the King of Ireland under Section 3 of the External Relations Act, 1936.
Generally, the latter function, of representing the state in international diplomacy, is presumed to be the key defining characteristic of a head of state. As a result, almost every state with which Éire (as Ireland is formally described in Article 4 of Bunreacht na hÉireann) had diplomatic relations with between 1937 and 1949 concluded that the Irish head of state was the man proclaimed King of Ireland in December 1936, King George VI. This view was echoed by then Taoiseach John A. Costello in a debate in Seanad Éireann (the Irish senate) in December 1948, where he stressed the fact that the Republic of Ireland Act he was introducing would make Irish head of state the man who ought to have been but wasn't, the President of Ireland. Until the Republic of Ireland came into force in April 1949, the President of Ireland had no international role, and such an inferior status that he never dared set foot outside the state. The fact that he was now clearly and unambiguously the Irish head of state was celebrated by President Ó Ceallaigh by visits to the Holy See and France. A visit to meet King George in Buckingham Palace was also provisionally planned, but timetabling problems with the President's schedule prevented the meeting.
On balance, the weight of evidence would suggest that King George VI, as King of Ireland, remained on as Irish head of state until 1949, when the key international representional role previously performed by the King was vested instead in the President of Ireland under the Republic of Ireland Act, 1948.
After a President leaves office he or she can go on to a successful post-presidential career. The best example of this is Mary Robinson who became UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Currently, there are two living former Presidents, something which has never happened before. They are:
- Two Irish Presidents have been women:
- One President died while in office:
- Two Presidents resigned from office:
- Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, resigned in 1976, two years into his term of office.
- Mary Robinson, resigned in 1997, weeks before the end of her term of office, to take up a position at the United Nations.
- Three Presidents were elected without a contest:
- Dr. Douglas Hyde, received an all-party nomination in 1938
- Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, received an all-party nomination in 1974 following the death of President Childers
- Dr. Patrick Hillery, received a Fianna Fail nomination in 1976 following the resignation of President Ó Dálaigh. The Fine Gael-Labour coalition chose not to nominate a candidate of its own, resulting in Hillery's election without a contest.
- Three Presidents were re-elected without a contest:
- Two Presidents have been Protestants:
- Three Presidents served two full terms of office:
- Among those who wanted to become president but were never nominated were:
- Alfie Byrne — Lord Mayor of Dublin (1938)
- Eoin (the Pope) O'Mahony — satirist (1966)
- Rita Childers — widow of President Erskine Childers (1974)
- Sean MacBride — Nobel & Lenin Peace Prize winner (1983)
- Carmencita Hederman — Lord Mayor of Dublin (1990)
- Favourite candidates unexpectedly defeated in elections:
- Eamon de Valera was the oldest person to hold the Presidency. He was 76 years old when he was elected President and 91 years old when he retired. He was the oldest ever head of state in the world when he retired.
- The Single Transferable Vote (STV) is also used in elections to Dáil Éireann, when it is known as proportional representation by means of the Single Transferable Vote (PR-STV). However, when, as in a presidential election, it is used for the election of just a single candidate, STV is one and the same as the Alternative Vote system. There are important differences between PR-STV and the Alternative Vote. The term the "Alternative Vote" is, however, rarely used in Ireland. The President is usually simply said to be elected by STV or, incorrectly, by "proportional representation". While the constitution itself states that the President is elected under the system of "proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote" (Article 12.2.3) this is arguably technically incorrect, because the term proportional representation can only meaningfully be applied to an election in which more than a single candidate is returned.
Historical Irish heads of state
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