President of Ireland

President of Ireland

The President of Ireland ( _ga. Uachtarán na hÉireann IPA| [ˈuəxt̪ˠəɾˠaːn̪ˠ n̪ˠə ˈheːɾʲən̪ˠ] ) is the head of state of Ireland. The President is usually directly elected by the people for seven years, and can be elected for a maximum of two terms.Constitution of Ireland: Article 12.3] The presidency is largely a ceremonial office, but the President does exercise certain limited powers at his/her absolute discretion. 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 Mary McAleese who took office on 10 November 1997.


The President is formally elected by the people once 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 Alternative Vote form of the Single Transferable Vote system. [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 technically incorrect, because the term "proportional representation" can only meaningfully be applied to an election in which more than a single candidate is returned. Both the Constitution Review Group and the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution have therefore recommended that the words "proportional representation" be deleted from the article that provides for the election of the President.] 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.Constitution of Ireland: Article 12.4] A candidate must, however be nominated by one of the following:cite web | title =Office of the President | work = | publisher | year =2005 | url = | format = | doi = | accessdate = 2007-08-11 ]

* At least twenty members of the Oireachtas (national parliament).
* At least four county or city councils.
* Themselves (in the case of an incumbent or former president that has served one term).

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 not to have a contest, the President may be 'elected' without the occurrence of an actual ballot. Since the establishment of the office this has occurred on six occasions. No one may be elected as President more than twice. Under the wording of the constitution and the relevant statute law a candidate's election formally takes place in the form of a 'declaration' by the returning officer. Where more than one candidate is nominated, the election is 'suspended' so that a ballot can take place, allowing the electors to choose between candidates.

Ordinary 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.

Unlike the presidents of many other republics, the President of Ireland is neither the nominal nor "de facto" chief 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.

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 personal powers that may be exercised at her or his discretion.

Ceremonial functions

*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 and approval of the Dáil. Ministers are dismissed 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: This power is exercised on the advice of the Taoiseach (government or Dáil approval is not needed). The President may only refuse a dissolution when a Taoiseach has lost the confidence of Dáil Éireann.
*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 his/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. This role was not exercised by the President prior to 1949, see Irish head of state from 1937–1949.
*Is supreme commander of the Defence Forces, [Constitution of Ireland: Article 13.4] in this role somewhat similar in statute to that of a commander-in-chief. This is a nominal position, the powers of which are exercised on the advice of the Government. See Minister for Defence.
*Power of pardon: The President, on the advice of the Government, has "the right of pardon and the power to commute or remit punishment". [Constitution of Ireland: Article 13.6] This power has only been used once, in the case of Nicky Kelly [cite web | title = Dáil Éireann - Volume 419 - Written Answers. - Nicky Kelly Case | work = | publisher = Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas | date = 1992-05-07 | url =$query1%29%3C%3DDATE%3C%3D%28$query2%29%29%20AND%20%28%28$query4%29%29%3ASPEAKER%20AND%20%28%28$query5%29%29%3Aheading%20AND%20%28%28$query6%29%29%3ACATEGORY%20AND%20%28%28$query3%29%29%3Ahouse%20AND%20%28%28$query7%29%29%3Avolume%20AND%20%28%28$query8%29%29%3Acolnumber%20AND%20%28%28$query%29%29&docid=280618&docdb=Debates&dbname=Debates&sorting=none&operator=and&TemplateName=predoc.tmpl&setCookie=1 | format = | doi = | accessdate = 2007-08-18 ] in the case of the Sallins Train Robbery; it had been announced by the Irish Government that it would be used to pardon the so called IRA 'on the runs' as part of the Northern Ireland peace process, but the Government later abandoned this plan after the British Government similarly abandoned a "de facto" amnesty for 'on the runs'.

pecial limitations

*The President may not leave the state without the consent of the Government.Constitution of Ireland: Article 12.9]
*Every formal address or message "to the nation" or to either or both Houses of the Oireachtas must have prior approval of the Government. [Constitution of Ireland: Article 13.7] Other than on these two (quite rare) occasions there is no limitation on the President's right to speak. While earlier presidents were exceptionally cautious in delivering speeches and on almost every occasion submitted them for vetting, presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese have made much more use of their right to speak without government approval, with Mary McAleese doing many live radio and television interviews. Nonetheless, by convention Presidents refrain from direct criticism of the government.

Discretionary powers

The President possesses the following powers exercised "in his (or her) absolute discretion" according to the English version of the Constitution. In the Irish version, these powers are exercised "as a chomhairle féin" which is usually translated as "under his own counsel." In the event of a clash between the Irish and English versions of the constitution, the Irish one is given supremacy, though it is not as well-worded legally. Lawyers have suggested that a clash may exist in this case between both versions of the constitution. While "absolute discretion" appears to leave some freedom for manoeuvre for a president in deciding whether to initiate contact with the opposition, "under his own counsel" has been interpreted by some lawyers as suggesting that "no" contact whatsoever can take place. As a result of this clash, it is considered grossly inappropriate for the president to be contacted by the leaders of any political parties in an effort to influence a decision made using the discretionary powers. 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.

Refusal of a Dáil dissolution

The Taoiseach is required to resign if he has "ceased to retain the support of a majority" of the Dáil, unless he asks the President to dissolve the Dáil. The President has the right to refuse such a request, in which case the Taoiseach must resign immediately. This power has never been invoked but the necessary circumstances existed in 1944, 1982 and 1994. The apparent discrepancy between the Irish and English versions of the Constitution has discouraged presidents from contemplating the use of the power and led to an ultra-strict application of a policy of non-contact with the opposition, most notably in January 1982 when President Hillery instructed an aide, Captain Anthony Barber, to ensure that no telephone calls from the opposition were to be passed on to him. (Nevertheless three opposition figures, including Fianna Fáil leader Charles Haughey, demanded to be put through to Hillery, with Haughey threatening to end Barber's career if the calls weren't put though. Hillery, as Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces, recorded the threat in Barber's file and recorded that Barber had been acting on his instructions in refusing the call [Fergus Finlay, "Snakes & Ladders" (New Island Books, 1998). p.91. Finlay was informed from sources that Haughey's threat was "when I am in [power] , I intend to roast your fucking arse if you don't put me through immediately."] ). Even without this consideration, refusing such a request would almost certainly create a constitutional crisis, as it is a strong constitutional convention that the head of state always grants a parliamentary dissolution.

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 Dáil, the President may, after consultation with the Council of State, decline to sign into law a bill (other than a bill to amend the constitution) he/she considers to be of great "national importance" until it has been approved by either the people in an ordinary referendum or the Dáil reassembling after a general election, held within eight months. This power has never been used due to the fact that the government almost always commands a majority of the senate preventing the third of Dáil Éireann that usually makes up the opposition from combining with it.


*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 and was indeed used by six of the eight presidents (most frequently by presidents Patrick Hillery and Mary Robinson), but this power may not be applied to: a money bill, a bill to amend the Constitution, or an urgent bill the time for the consideration of which has been abridged in the Senate.

*Abridgement of the time for 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 a 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. [Constitution of Ireland: Article 22]

*Address to 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, on the eve of the year 2000.

*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'. This power has been used twice, by Erskine Childers in 1974, and by President McAleese in 2001.

*Convention of meetings of the Oireachtas: The President may, upon consultation with the Council of State, convene a meeting of either or both Houses of the Oireachtas. This power would allow the President to step in if, in extraordinary circumstances, the ordinary procedures for convening the houses had broken down.


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 collective vice-presidency known as the Presidential Commission, consisting of the Chief Justice, the Ceann Comhairle (speaker) of Dáil Éireann, and the Cathaoirleach (chairperson) of the Senate. Since 1937 the Presidential Commission has taken the place of the President on a number of occasions.

Technically each president's term of office expires at midnight on the day before the new president's inauguration. Therefore, between midnight and the inauguration the following day the presidential duties and functions are carried out by the Presidential Commission. The constitution also empowers the Council of State, acting by a majority of its members, to "make such provision as to them may seem meet" for the exercise of the duties of the president in any contingency the constitution does not foresee. The Council of State can therefore be considered the third in the line of succession. However, to date, it has never been necessary for the council to take up this role.

Official residence, salute, 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 normally referred to as 'President' or 'Uachtarán', rather than 'Mr/Madam President' or similar forms. (Note that "A hUachtaráin" (vocative case) would be the correct address in Irish.) The style used is normally "His Excellency/Her Excellency" ( _ga. A Shoilse/A Soilse); sometimes people may orally address the President as 'Your Excellency' ( _ga. A Shoilse IPA| [ə hɘʎʃ̪ʲə] ), or simply 'President' ( _ga. A Uachtaráin IPA| [ɘ uːəxt̪ˠɘɾaːn̥] ). The Irish presidential salute is taken from the National Anthem of Ireland, Amhrán na bhFiann. It consists of the first four bars followed by the last five, [cite web |url= |title=National Anthem |publisher=Department of the Taoiseach |accessdate=2007-05-13] without lyrics.

Presidential declaration

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".Constitution of Ireland: Article 12.8] The inauguration of the President takes place in St Patrick's Hall in Dublin Castle. To date every President has subscribed to the declaration in Irish. In 1993 the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern that, because of its religious language, the declaration amounts to a religious test for office. 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 the President may be removed from office prior to the expiration of his or her term. The President can be removed from office if the Supreme Court, in a sitting of at least five judges, finds that he or she has become "permanently incapacitated". Alternatively the President may be removed from office by the houses of the Oireachtas, but only for "stated misbehaviour".Constitution of Ireland: Article 12.10] 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 the President is guilty of the charge of which he or she is accused, and that the charge is sufficiently serious as to warrant his or her removal. To date neither procedure for the removal of the President has yet been invoked.

ecurity and transport

As head of state of the Republic of Ireland, the President receives the highest level of protection in the land. The Áras is protected by armed guards at all times and is encircled by security fencing. At all times the President travels with an armed security detail which is provided by the Special branch (an elite wing of the Irish police force). The Presidential Limousine is a Mercedes-Benz S-Class LWB. The Presidential Limousine is always navy blue and carries the Presidential standard on the left front wing and the tricolour on the right front wing. When traveling the Presidential Limousine is always accompanied by support cars (normally Toyota Camrys driven by members of the Special Branch) which form a protective convoy around the car. The President also has the full use of all Irish Air Corps aircraft at his/her disposal if so needed.


The office of President of Ireland was established in 1937, in part as a replacement for the office of Governor-General that existed during the 1922–1937 Irish Free State. The seven year term of office of the President was inspired by those of the presidents of Germany and Austria. However the head of state of neither of those two nations serves a seven year term today. At the time the office was established critics warned that the post might lead to the emergence of a dictatorship. However, these fears were not borne out as successive Presidents played a limited, largely apolitical role in national affairs.

Many argue that Mary Robinson, the seventh President of Ireland, liberalised what had previously been a conservative office during her term from 1990–1997. Robinson sought to develop a new sense of the states's economic, political and cultural links with other countries and cultures, especially those of the Irish diaspora. She placed emphasis during her presidency on the needs of developing countries, linking the history of the Great Irish Famine to today's nutrition, poverty and policy issues, attempting to create a bridge of partnership between developed and developing countries. Robinson was the first head of state to visit Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide there. She was also the first head of state to visit Somalia following the crisis there in 1992, receiving the CARE Humanitarian Award in recognition of her efforts for that country.

Issues of controversy

Prerogative in Northern 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 having jurisdiction over Northern Ireland.

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 Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, to which he had been invited by Queen Elizabeth, while President Seán T. O'Kelly 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 the British government's advice, appointing United Kingdom ambassadors to Ireland were not addressed to the 'President of Ireland' but to the president personally (for example: 'President Hillery').

This dispute has largely been forgotten in recent years. President Robinson (1990–97) chose unilaterally to break the taboo by regularly visiting England 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".Fact|date=February 2007 In recent times, both Presidents Robinson and her successor Mary McAleese (1997– ) have visited the Palace on numerous occasions, while the Prince of Wales, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh have all visited successive Presidents of Ireland in Áras an Uachtaráin. Presidents have also 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 1845 (the Queen's Colleges are now known as Queen's University of Belfast, University College Cork - National University of Ireland, Cork and 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. (The Irish state in Article 3 explicitly stated that "pending the re-integration of the national territory" its authority was limited to the Republic of Ireland and did not apply to 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 most leading unionists. At the funeral for a child murdered by the Real IRA in Omagh she symbolically walked up the main aisle of the church hand-in-hand with the Ulster Unionist Party leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland, David Trimble, MP. But in other instances, Mary McAleese has been criticised for certain comments, such as a reference to the way in which Protestant children in Northern Ireland had been brought up to hate Catholics just as German children had been encouraged to hate Jews under the Nazi regime, on 27 January 2005, following her attendance at the ceremony commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp. [ [ BBC NEWS | Northern Ireland | McAleese row over Nazi comments ] ] [ [ Archives :2005-01-27 ] ] These remarks caused outrage among unionist politicians, and McAleese later apologised [ [ BBC NEWS | Northern Ireland | McAleese 'sorry' over Nazi remark ] ] and conceded that her statement had been unbalanced. 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", as the Irish Constitution stipulates that the state's official name is simply "Ireland", and that the "Republic of" is merely its description, though there is now little dispute that the Presidency only has jurisdiction over the "Republic of" Ireland. However, she is regarded by many northern nationalists as their President and calls have been made for voting rights in Presidential elections to be extended to the whole island.

Head of state from 1937 to 1949

During the period of 1937 to 1949 it was unclear whether the Irish head of state was actually the President of Ireland or George VI, the King of Ireland. This period of confusion ended in 1949 when the state was declared to be a republic. The 1937 constitution did not mention the king but nor did it state that the President was head of state. The President exercised some powers that could be exercised by heads of state but which could also be exercised by governors or governors-general, such as appointing the Government and promulgating the law. However, in 1936 George VI had been declared "King of Ireland" and, under the External Relations Act of the same year, it was this king who represented the state in its foreign affairs. Treaties, therefore, were signed in the name of the 'King of Ireland', who also accredited ambassadors and received the letters of credence of foreign diplomats. Representing a state abroad is seen by many scholars as "the" key characteristic of a head of state. This role meant, in any case, that George VI was the Irish head of state in the eyes of foreign nations. The Republic of Ireland Act 1948, which came into force in April 1949, proclaimed a republic and transferred the role of representing the state abroad from George VI to the President. No change was made to the constitution.

uggestions for reform

There have been many suggestions for reforming the office of President over the years. In 1996, the Constitutional Review Group recommended that the office of President should remain largely unchanged. However, it suggested that the constitution should be amended to explicitly declare the President to be head of state (at present the term does not appear in the text) and that consideration be given to the introduction of a constructive vote of no confidence system in the Dáil, along the lines of that in Germany. If this system were introduced then the power of the President to refuse a Dáil dissolution would be largely redundant and could be taken away.

Due to the lack of a presidential election in 2004, many politicians said it should be made easier to gain nomination for the presidency. The former Tánaiste (deputy prime-minister), Mary Harney, suggested that five to ten TDs or Senators should be able to nominate a candidate, instead of the current twenty required, while many journalists suggested that a petition of citizens, for example the signatures of 10,000 registered voters, should be another method of nomination.

List of Presidents of Ireland

*From the passing of the constitution of 1937 until the election of Douglas Hyde in 1938 and in the interregna of 1974, 1976 and 1997 the functions of the president were executed by the Presidential Commission.

Living former Presidents

After a President leaves office he or she can go on to a successful post-presidential career. An example of this is Mary Robinson who became UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. [cite web | title =Mary Robinson: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997–2002) | work = | publisher =Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights | month =February | year =2001 | url = | format = | doi = | accessdate = 2007-08-18 ] As of 12 April 2008, there is one living former President:
*Mary Robinson, seventh President of Ireland.




External links

* [ Official site – Áras an Uachtaráin]
* [ National Archives of Ireland – Presidential Official Seal]

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