Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
President of Ireland
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

President of Ireland

This article is part of the series
Politics of the R. of Ireland
Council of State
Dáil Éireann
Seanad Éireann
Supreme Court
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.

Áras an Uachtaráin, Dublin

Table of contents
1 Selecting the President
2 Duties and functions
3 Presidential Commission
4 List of Presidents of Ireland
5 Official residence, anthem, style and address
6 Presidential declaration
7 Impeachment and removal from office
8 Issues of controversy
9 Former Presidents
10 Presidential facts
11 Footnote
12 Related topics
13 External link

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:

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.

Ceremonial functions

The President of Ireland:

Special limitations on the role of the President

Reserve powers

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.

Presidential Commission

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, 1937June 25, 1938 {interim}

1. Douglas Hyde June 25, 1938June 24, 1945 {all-party nomination}

2.Seán T. O'Kelly June 25, 1945June 24, 1959 Fianna Fáil

3.Eamon de Valera June 25, 1959June 24, 1973 Fianna Fáil

4.Erskine Hamilton Childers June 25, 1973November 17, 1974 Fianna Fáil

Presidential Commission November 17, 1974December 18, 1974 {interim}

5.Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh December 19, 1974October 22, 1976 Fianna Fáil

Presidential Commission October 22, 1976December 2, 1976 {interim}

6.Patrick Hillery December 3, 1976December 2, 1990 Fianna Fáil

7.Mary Robinson December 3, 1990 September 12, 1997 Labour

Presidential Commission September 12, 1997November 10, 1997 {interim}

8.Mary McAleese November 10, 1997present Fianna Fáil

Official residence, anthem, style and address

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". The declaration is specified in Article 12.8:

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.

As a result of the repeal of Articles 2 and 3 as part of the Good Friday Agreement, though technically Mary McAleese's title is 'President of Ireland', in reality she is strictly speaking the 'President of 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.

Former Presidents

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:

Presidential facts


1. 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, not 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.

Related topics

Historical Irish heads of state

External link