Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924

Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924
W. T. Cosgrave, whose government drafted the Act

The Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924 was one of the key statute laws enacted by the Irish Free State. Two years earlier the Irish Free State Constitution had provided for the formation of a cabinet called the Executive Council. The Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924 formally defined the government departments that were to exist in the Free State, created their titles and outlined their responsibilities. Though much of the Act has been repealed or amended, the Act is still seen as the foundation stone for the structures of modern Irish government.



Dublin Castle, location of the Lord Lieutenant's administration until January 1922; the last remnants of which were swept away with the new Act.
Leinster House, the seat of parliament in the new Irish Free State

Prior to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, two governmental systems co-existed uneasily.

Lord Lieutenant's administration

The legal government of Ireland was an executive and Irish Privy Council under the British Lord Lieutenant of Ireland but in reality run by the effective prime minister, the Chief Secretary for Ireland.

In January 1922, the Lord Lieutenant's administration was replaced by the Provisional Government, chosen by the House of Commons of Southern Ireland in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty and the earlier Government of Ireland Act 1920.

The Irish Republic

Between 1919 and 1922, alongside and challenging the legal but unpopular British régime, a self declared Irish Republic existed, having been chosen by the extrajudicial Dáil Éireann (House of Assembly) made up of Irish MPs elected in the 1918 general election. Its structures were laid out in its temporary constitution, the Dáil Constitution. Its executive, the Aireacht, was headed by the President of Dáil Éireann, who in August 1921 became President of the Republic.

Enactment of the 1922 constitution

In December 1922, under the Treaty's provisions, the new constitution, having been enacted separately by the Third Dáil, sitting as a constituent assembly, and the Parliament of the United Kingdom, came into force through a proclamation issued the King.

Both the Republican and Provisional governments were replaced by one legal government, the Executive Council, under the chairmanship of the President of the Executive Council. Initially its governmental offices were an amalgam of posts from the Lord Lieutenant's administration, the Provisional Government and the Aireacht. For example, there was an Irish Postmaster General, a post that had existed in the Lord Lieutenant's administration, and a Minister for Home Affairs, an office created as part of the Republican government.

Abolitions, creations and renamings

In the Governor-General's speech in the Dáil chamber at the State Opening of the Oireachtas on 3 October 1923 the first indication was given that:

Amongst the measures to be submitted to you will be one providing for the organisation of the great departments of State, the distribution of their functions in a manner calculated to bring about greater efficiency in administration, and the regular Constitution of the Ministries charged with the administration of the various Departments of Government.[1]

This was done in 1924, by means of the Ministers and Secretaries Act, by which the governmental structures that were intended to be a permanent feature of independent Irish government were regularised and defined. Some long-standing positions, like those of Postmaster-General and Solicitor-General, were abolished, as was the Ministry for Labour, a post created originally in the Dáil Constitution. Others, most notably another created in the days of the Republic, the Ministry of Home Affairs, underwent a name change, moving from the British-sounding name Home Affairs which had parallels with Home Secretary, to the more European-sounding Minister for Justice.

Structures created

The government departments created were:

  • Department of Justice (Departmental head: Minister for Justice)[2]
  • Department of Lands and Agriculture (Departmental head: Minister for Lands and Agriculture)[3]
  • Department of Industry and Commerce (Departmental head: Minister for Industry and Commerce)[4]

Other key parts of the Act

The Act created the post of Attorney-General of the Irish Free State. He was to take over

the business, powers, authorities, duties and functions formerly vested in or exercised by the Attorney-General for Ireland, the Solicitor-General for Ireland, the Attorney-General for Southern Ireland, the Solicitor-General for Southern Ireland, the Law Adviser to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and any or all of them respectively….[6]

The Act also created the post of Parliamentary Secretary, a junior minister below cabinet rank.

It also created an official Seal for the Executive Council, and created a Council for Defence to aid and advise the Minister for Defence.

The Act provided for the existence of ministerial salaries for members of the Executive Council and Parliamentary Secretaries.

It also stated that all executive orders were to be published in the Irish state gazette, which was to be known as Iris Oifigiúil.

Enactment of the law

The Ministers and Secretaries Bill, 1924, which was proposed by the Cumann na nGaedheal Executive Council of W. T. Cosgrave, was passed by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann before receiving the Royal Assent from the Governor-General, Timothy Michael Healy.

Long-term impact of the Act

Though much of what it contained has been repealed or amended, the Act remains one of the most important pieces of statute law enacted by independent Ireland. The structures, with modification, as initially created in 1924 continue to the present. Ten of the eleven departments, with some changes in name and roles, continue in existence; only the Department of Posts and Telegraphs has been abolished, in 1984, with its role handed over to the semi-state companies An Post and Telecom Éireann — the latter was subsequently privatised and is now a private company called Eircom.

The Department of Industry and Commerce was increased in its role and renamed in 1995 while the Department of External Affairs was replaced by the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1972.

The Department of Local Government and Public Health ended up splitting in three to form the Department of Local Government (later called the Department of the Environment), the Department of Health and the Department of Social Welfare.

Part of the Department of Industry and Commerce was made into a separate Department of Labour in the mid 1960s, subsequently abolished in the late 1990s.

The post of Parliamentary Secretary was abolished in 1978 and replaced by a new, higher profile junior ministerial post called Minister of State.

Through there are no secretaries to be covered by later Acts, in honour of the first Act all subsequent laws changing the structures of government departments have used the name the Ministers and Secretaries Act also.


  1. ^ Governor-General Tim Healy, speaking from the throne at the opening of the Oireachtas on 3 October 1924
  2. ^ The department was previously known as the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Republic and between 1922 and 1924.
  3. ^ This new department replaced the Department of Agriculture and Technical Drawing that had existed under the Lord Lieutenant originally under Sir Horace Plunkett at the start of the century.
  4. ^ The Republic's Ministry of Labour, once held by Constance Markievicz was abolished and its responsibilities given to the new Department.
  5. ^ This department and minister assumed the role of the Postmaster General of the United Kingdom in the jurisdiction of the Irish Free State. The office of Postmaster General of Ireland had been abolished in 1831 as a consequence of the Act of Union 1800.
  6. ^ Section 6(1).

External links

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