President of Ireland facts for kids
Quick facts for kidsPresident of Ireland
Michael D. Higgins
since 11 November 2011
|Style||President (A Uachtaráin) or
Your Excellency (A Shoilse)
|Residence||Áras an Uachtaráin|
|Nominator||Members of the Oireachtas or local councils|
|Appointer||Direct popular vote
by Instant-runoff voting
|Term length||Seven years
|Inaugural holder||Douglas Hyde|
|Formation||25 June 1938|
The president of Ireland (Irish: Uachtarán na hÉireann) is the head of state of Ireland and the supreme commander of the Irish Defence Forces.
The president holds office for seven years, and can be elected for a maximum of two terms. The president is elected directly by the people, although there is no poll if only one candidate is nominated, which has occurred on six occasions to date. The presidency is largely a ceremonial office, but the president does exercise certain limited powers with absolute discretion. The president acts as a representative of the Irish state and guardian of the constitution. The president's official residence is Áras an Uachtaráin in Phoenix Park, Dublin. The office was established by the Constitution of Ireland in 1937. The first president assumed office in 1938, and became recognised internationally as head of state in 1949 after the coming into effect of the Republic of Ireland Act.
The current president is Michael D. Higgins, who was first elected on 29 October 2011. His inauguration was performed on 11 November 2011. He was re-elected for a second term on 26 October 2018.
- Ordinary duties and functions
- Discretionary powers
- Absence of a president
- Official residence, salute, style and address
- Impeachment and removal from office
- Security and transport
- List of presidents of Ireland
- See also
Ordinary duties and functions
The Constitution of Ireland provides for a parliamentary system of government, by which the role of the head of state is largely a ceremonial one. The president is formally one of three parts of the Oireachtas (national parliament), which also comprises Dáil Éireann (the Assembly of Ireland or lower house) and Seanad Éireann (the Senate of Ireland or upper house).
Unlike most parliamentary republics, the president is not even the nominal chief executive. Rather, executive authority in Ireland 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 be performed only 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 discretionally.
The main functions are prescribed by the Constitution:
- Appoints the government
- The president formally appoints the Taoiseach (head of government) and other ministers, and accepts their resignations. The Taoiseach is appointed upon the nomination of the Dáil, and the president is required to appoint whomever the Dáil designates without the right to refuse appointment. The remainder of the cabinet is appointed upon the nomination of the Taoiseach and approval of the Dáil; as with appointing the Taoiseach, the president is required to make the appointment without the right to appoint someone else. Ministers are dismissed by 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.
- Appoints the judiciary
- The president appoints the judges to all courts in Ireland, by the advice of the government.
- Convenes and dissolves the Dáil
- 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 the Dáil.
- Signs bills into law
- The president cannot veto a bill that the Dáil and the Seanad have adopted. However, the president may refer it to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. If the Supreme Court upholds the bill, the president must sign it. If, however, it is found to be unconstitutional, the president will refuse to give assent.
- Represents the state in foreign affairs
- This power is exercised only by 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 the Republic of Ireland Act 1948.
- Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces
- This role is similar in status to that of a commander-in-chief. An officer's commission is signed and sealed by the president. This is a nominal function, the powers of which are exercised by the advice of the government. (See Minister for Defence.)
- Power of pardon
- The president has "the right of pardon and the power to commute or remit punishment". Pardon, for miscarriages of justice, has applied rarely: Thomas Quinn in 1940, Brady in 1943, and Nicky Kelly in 1992. The current procedure is specified by Section 7 of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1993. There were plans in 2005 for paramilitary fugitives to receive pardons as part of the Northern Ireland peace process, to supplement the 1998 early release of serving prisoners after the Good Friday Agreement. This was controversial and was soon abandoned along with similar British proposals. Power of commutation and remittance are not restricted to the president, though this was the case for death sentences handed down prior to the abolition of capital punishment.
Other functions specified by statute or otherwise include:
- The president is ex officio president of the Irish Red Cross Society.
- The president appoints, on the advice of the government, the Senior Professors and chairman of the council of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies; the governor of the Central Bank of Ireland; the members of the Irish Financial Services Appeals Tribunal; the Ombudsman; and the members of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.
- The president appoints one trustee to the Chester Beatty Library. This was specified in Chester Beatty's will and given effect by a 1968 Act of the Oireachtas.
- The president is the patron of Gaisce – The President's Award, established by trust deed in 1985.
- The president is the patron of Clans of Ireland, including its Order of Merit, since he so agreed in January 2012.
- The president confers the title of Saoi on those so elected by the membership of Aosdána.
- The president is patron to several charities in Ireland.
- The president may not leave the state without the consent of the government.
- Every formal address or message "to the nation" or to either or both Houses of the Oireachtas must have prior approval of the government. 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, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese made much more use of their right to speak without government approval, with McAleese doing many live television and radio interviews. Nonetheless, by convention presidents refrain from direct criticism of the government.
The president possesses the following powers exercised "in his absolute discretion" according to the English version of the Constitution. The Irish version states that these powers are exercised as a chomhairle féin which is usually translated as "under his own counsel". Lawyers have suggested that a conflict may exist in this case between the two versions of the constitution. In the event of a clash between the Irish and English versions of the constitution, the Irish one is given supremacy. While "absolute discretion" appears to leave some freedom for manoeuvre for a president in deciding whether to initiate contact with the opposition, "own counsel" has been interpreted by some lawyers as suggesting that no contact whatsoever can take place. As a result, it is considered controversial 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
A Taoiseach who has "ceased to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Eireann" is required to resign, unless the Taoiseach 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. However, the necessary circumstances existed in 1944, 1982 and 1994. The apparent discrepancy, referred to above, between the Irish and English versions of the Constitution has discouraged presidents from contemplating the use of the power. On the three occasions when the necessary circumstances existed, presidents have adopted an ultra-strict policy of non-contact with the opposition. The most notable instance of this was in January 1982, when Patrick 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 connected to Hillery, with Haughey threatening to end Barber's career if the calls weren't put through. Hillery, as Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces, recorded the threat in Barber's military personnel file and recorded that Barber had been acting on his instructions in refusing the call. Even without this consideration, refusing such a request would arguably create a constitutional crisis, as it is considered a fairly strong constitutional convention that the head of state always grants a parliamentary dissolution.
The president may appoint up to seven members of the Council of State, and remove or replace such appointed members. (See list of presidential appointees to the Council of State.) The following powers all require prior consultation with the Council of State, although the president need not take its advice:
- Referral of bills to the Supreme Court
- The president may refer a bill, in whole or part, to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. If the Supreme Court finds any referred part unconstitutional, the entire bill falls. 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 Seanad. This is the most widely used reserve power; a full list is at Council of State (Ireland)#Referring of bills. In a 1982 judgment delivered under such a referral, Chief Justice Tom O'Higgins bemoaned the crude strictures of the prescribed process; especially the fact that, if the court finds that a bill does not violate the Constitution, this judgment can never subsequently be challenged.
- Abridgement of the time for bills in the Seanad
- The president may, at the request of the Dáil, impose a time-limit on the period during which the Seanad may consider a bill. The effect of this power is to restrict the power of the Seanad 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 Seanad, establish a Committee of Privileges to solve a dispute between the two Houses of the Oireachtas as to whether or not a bill is a money bill.
- Address to the Oireachtas
- The president may address, or send a message to, either or both Houses of the Oireachtas. Four such addresses have been made: one by de Valera, two by Robinson, and one by McAleese. The approval of the government is needed for the message; in practice, the entire text is submitted.
- Address to the Nation
- The president may "address a message to the Nation" subject to the same conditions as an address to the Oireachtas. This power has never been used. Commonplace messages, such as Christmas greetings, are not considered to qualify.
- Convention of meetings of the Oireachtas
- The president may 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 is directly elected by secret ballot using the instant-runoff voting, the single-winner analogue of the Single Transferable Vote. Under the Presidential Elections Act, 1993 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 'adjourned' so that a ballot can take place, allowing the electors to choose between candidates. A presidential election is held in time for the winner to take office the day after the end of the incumbent's seven-year term. In the event of premature vacancy, an election must be held within sixty days.
Only resident Irish citizens aged eighteen or more may vote; a 1983 bill to extend the right to resident British citizens was ruled unconstitutional.
Candidates must be Irish citizens and over 35 years old. There is a discrepancy between the English- and Irish-language texts of Article 12.4.1º. According to the English text, an eligible candidate "has reached his thirty-fifth year of age", whereas the Irish text states "ag a bhfuil cúig bliana tríochad slán (has completed his thirty-five years)". Because a person's thirty-fifth year of life begins on their thirty-fourth birthday, this means there is a year's difference between the minimum ages as stated in the two texts. However, the Irish version of the subsection prevails in accordance with the rule stated in Article 25.5.4º. Various proposals have been made to amend the Constitution so as to eliminate this discrepancy. The 29th government introduced the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Age of Eligibility for Election to the Office of President) Bill 2015 to reduce the age of candidacy from 35 to 21, which was put to referendum in May 2015; the bill was heavily defeated, with approximately 73% of voters voting against.
Presidents can serve a maximum of two terms, consecutive or otherwise. They must be nominated by one of the following:
- At least 20 members of the Oireachtas; (there are 218 members)
- At least four county or city councils (there are 31 councils)
- Themselves (in the case of incumbent or former presidents who have served one term).
Where only one candidate is nominated, the candidate 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.
The most recent presidential election was held on 26 October 2018.
Absence of a president
There is no office of vice president of Ireland. In the event of a premature vacancy in the presidency, a successor must be elected within sixty days. In a vacancy or where the president is unavailable, the duties and functions of the office are carried out by a presidential commission, consisting of the chief justice, the ceann comhairle (speaker) of the Dáil, and the cathaoirleach (chairperson) of the Seanad. Routine functions, such as signing bills into law, have often been fulfilled by the presidential commission when the president is abroad on a state visit. The government's power to prevent the president leaving the state is relevant in aligning the diplomatic and legislative calendars.
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. However, to date, it has never been necessary for the council to take up this role. Although an outgoing president who has been re-elected is usually described in the media as "president" before the taking of the Declaration of Office, that is actually incorrect. Technically, the outgoing president is a former president and, if re-elected, president-elect.
Vacancies in the presidency have occurred three times: on the death of Erskine Hamilton Childers in 1974, and on the resignations of Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh in 1976 and Mary Robinson in 1997.
Official residence, salute, style and address
The official residence of the president 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. The style used is normally His Excellency/Her Excellency (Irish: A Shoilse/A Soilse); sometimes people may orally address the president as 'Your Excellency' (Irish: A Shoilse [ə ˈhəil̠ʲʃə]), or simply 'President' (Irish: A Uachtaráin [ə ˈuəxt̪ˠəɾˠaːnʲ] (vocative case)). The Presidential Salute is taken from the National Anthem, "Amhrán na bhFiann". It consists of the first four bars followed by the last five, without lyrics.
The inauguration ceremony takes place on the day following the expiry of the term of office of the preceding president. No location is specified in the constitution, but all inaugurations have taken place in Saint Patrick's Hall in the State Apartments in Dublin Castle. The ceremony is transmitted live by national broadcaster RTÉ on its principal television and radio channels, typically from around 11 am. To highlight the significance of the event, all key figures in the executive (the government of Ireland), the legislature (Oireachtas) and the judiciary attend, as do members of the diplomatic corps and other invited guests.
During the period of the Irish Free State (1922 to 1937), the governor-general had been installed into office as the representative of the Crown in a low-key ceremony, twice in Leinster House (the seat of the Oireachtas), but in the case of the last governor-general, Domhnall Ua Buachalla, in his brother's drawing room. By contrast, the Constitution of Ireland adopted in 1937 requires the president's oath of office be taken in public.
Impeachment and removal from office
The president can be removed from office in two ways, neither of which has ever been invoked. The Supreme Court, in a sitting of at least five judges, may find the president "permanently incapacitated", while the Oireachtas may remove the president for "stated misbehaviour". Either house of the Oireachtas may instigate the latter process by passing an impeachment resolution, provided at least thirty members move it and at least two-thirds support it. The other house will then either investigate the stated charges or commission a body to do so; following which at least two-thirds of members must agree both that the president is guilty and that the charges warrant removal.
Security and transport
As head of state of Ireland, the president receives the highest level of protection in the state. Áras an Uachtaráin is protected by armed guards from the Garda Síochána and Defence Forces at all times, and is encircled by security fencing and intrusion detection systems. At all times the president travels with an armed security detail in Ireland and overseas, which is provided by the Special Detective Unit (SDU), an elite wing of the Irish police force. Protection is increased if there is a known threat. The presidential limousine is a Mercedes-Benz S-Class LWB. The Presidential Limousine is dark navy blue and carries the presidential standard on the left front wing and the tricolour on the right front wing. When travelling the presidential limousine is always accompanied by support cars (normally BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and Volvo S60 driven by trained drivers from the SDU) and several Garda motorcycle outriders from the Garda Traffic Corps which form a protective convoy around the car.
The president-elect is usually escorted to and from the ceremony by the Presidential Motorcycle Escort ceremonial outriders. Until 1947 they were a cavalry mounted escort, wearing light blue hussar-style uniforms. However to save money the first Inter-Party Government replaced the Irish horses by Japanese motorbikes, which the then Minister for Defence believed would be "much more impressive."
At the presidential inauguration in 1945, alongside the mounted escort on horseback, president-elect Seán T. O'Kelly rode in the old state landau of Queen Alexandra. The use of the state carriage was highly popular with crowds. However an accident with a later presidential carriage at the Royal Dublin Society Horse show led to the abolition of the carriage and its replacement by a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith in 1947. The distinctive 1947 Rolls-Royce is still used to bring the president to and from the inauguration today.
The Presidential State Car is a 1947 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith landaulette, which is used only for ceremonial occasions.
The president also has the full use of all Irish Air Corps aircraft at his/her disposal if so needed, including helicopters and private jets.
The office of president was established in 1937, in part as a replacement for the office of governor-general that existed during the 1922–37 Irish Free State. The seven-year term of office of the president was inspired by that of the presidents of Weimar Germany. 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.
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 neither did it state that the president was head of state, saying rather that the president "shall take precedence over all other persons in the 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, upon his accession to the throne in 1936, George VI had been proclaimed, as previous monarchs had been, "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. 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 the monarch to the president. No change was made to the constitution.
According to Desmond Oulton (owner of Clontarf Castle), his father John George Oulton had suggested to Éamon de Valera towards the end of the Irish Free State, that Ireland should have its own king again, as it was in the times of Gaelic Ireland. He suggested to him, a member of the O'Brien Clan, descended in the paternal line from Brian Boru, a previous High King of Ireland: the most senior representative at the time was Donough O'Brien, 16th Baron Inchiquin. Oulton said that Donough's nephew Conor O'Brien, 18th Baron Inchiquin, confirmed that De Valera did offer Donough O'Brien the title of Prince-President of the Irish Republic, but this was turned down and so a President of Ireland was instituted instead.
After the inaugural presidency of Douglas Hyde, who was an interparty nominee for the office, the nominees of the Fianna Fáil political party won every presidential election until 1990. The party traditionally used the nomination as a reward for its most senior and prominent members, such as party founder and longtime Taoiseach Éamon de Valera and European Commissioner Patrick Hillery. Most of its occupants to that time followed Hyde's precedent-setting conception of the presidency as a conservative, low-key institution that used its ceremonial prestige and few discretionary powers sparingly. In fact, the presidency was such a quiet position that Irish politicians sought to avoid contested presidential elections as often as possible, feeling that the attention such elections would bring to the office was an unnecessary distraction, and office-seekers facing economic austerity would often suggest the elimination of the office as a money-saving measure.
Despite the historical meekness of the presidency, however, it has been at the centre of some high-profile controversies. In particular, the fifth president, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, faced a contentious dispute with the government in 1976 over the signing of a bill declaring a state of emergency, which ended in Ó Dálaigh's resignation. His successor, Patrick Hillery, was also involved in a controversy in 1982, when then-Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald requested a dissolution of the Dáil Éireann. Hillery was bombarded with phone calls from opposition members urging him to refuse the request, an action that Hillery saw as highly inappropriate interference with the president's constitutional role and resisted the political pressure.
The presidency began to be transformed in the 1990s. Hillery's conduct regarding the dissolution affair in 1982 came to light in 1990, imbuing the office with a new sense of dignity and stability. However, it was Hillery's successor, seventh president Mary Robinson, who ultimately revolutionized the presidency. The winner of an upset victory in the highly controversial election of 1990, Robinson was the Labour nominee, the first president to defeat Fianna Fáil in an election and the first female president. Upon election, however, Robinson took steps to de-politicize the office. She also sought to widen the scope of the presidency, developing new economic, political and cultural links between the state and other countries and cultures, especially those of the Irish diaspora. Robinson used the prestige of the office to activist ends, placing 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. Since 2019 the President has attended annual meetings of the Arraiolos Group of European non-executive presidents.
Remuneration and expenses
After the 2018 presidential election the official salary or "personal remuneration" of the president will be €249,014. The incumbent, Michael D. Higgins, chooses to receive the same salary although he is entitled to a higher figure of €325,507. The president's total "emoluments and allowances" includes an additional €317,434 for expenses. The Office of the President's total budget estimate for 2017 was €3.9 million, of which €2.6 million was for pay and running costs, and the balance for the "President's Bounty" paid to centenarians on their hundredth birthday.
The salary was fixed at IR£5000 from 1938 to 1973, since when it has been calculated as 10% greater than that of the Chief Justice. After the post-2008 Irish economic downturn most public-sector workers took significant pay cuts, but the Constitution prohibited a reduction in the salary of the president and the judiciary during their terms of office, in order to prevent such a reduction being used by the government to apply political pressure on them. While a 2011 Constitutional amendment allows judges' pay to be cut, it did not extend to the president, although incumbent Mary McAleese offered to take a voluntary cut in solidarity.
List of presidents of Ireland
The functions of the president were exercised by the Presidential Commission from the coming into force of the Constitution on 29 December 1937 until the election of Douglas Hyde in 1938, and during the vacancies of 1974, 1976, and 1997.
|Previous service||Term of office||Nominated by||Election|
|25 June 1938||24 June 1945||Fianna Fáil||1938|
|2||Seán T. O'Kelly
|25 June 1945||24 June 1959||Fianna Fáil||1945|
|3||Éamon de Valera
(1932–1948, 1951–1954, 1957–1959)
|25 June 1959||24 June 1973||Fianna Fáil||1959|
|4||Erskine Hamilton Childers
|25 June 1973||17 November 1974||Fianna Fáil||1973|
|5||Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh
|Chief Justice of Ireland
|19 December 1974||22 October 1976||All-party nomination||1974|
|European Commissioner for Social Affairs
|3 December 1976||2 December 1990||Fianna Fáil||1976|
|3 December 1990||12 September 1997||Labour Party||1990|
|Reid Professor of Criminal law, Criminology and Penology
at Trinity College Dublin
|11 November 1997||10 November 2011||Fianna Fáil||1997|
|9||Michael D. Higgins
|Minister for Arts, Culture and Gaeltacht
|11 November 2011||Incumbent||Labour Party||2011|
Former presidents who are able and willing to act are members of the Council of State.
- Douglas Hyde was the oldest president to enter office, aged 78.
- Éamon de Valera was the oldest president to leave office, aged 90.
- Mary McAleese was the youngest president to enter office, aged 46.
- Mary Robinson was the youngest president to leave office, aged 53, and the first woman to serve as president.
- Erskine Childers, who died in office, had the shortest presidency of 511 days.
- Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, who resigned, served for 674 days.
- Four presidents have served for two terms, or fourteen years in total: Seán T. O'Kelly, Éamon de Valera, Patrick Hillery, and Mary McAleese.
- In Spanish: Anexo:Presidentes de Irlanda
- President of the Irish Republic
- Gaisce – The President's Award
- Seal of the President of Ireland
- Presidential Standard of Ireland
- Secretary-General to the President (Ireland)
- Warrant of Appointment