Legislation refers to laws made formally.  Primary legislation refers to Statutes or Acts made by the Oireachtas. The Oireachtas in the Iegislature in the Republic of Ireland. The Oireachtas comprises the Dáil, Seanad and the President. The President\’s role is nominal. He or She is obliged to sign Bills into law, subject only  to his power to refer the same to the Supreme Court on the grounds of possible unconstitutionality.

Legislation includes so-called secondary legislation. Secondary legislation comprises principally, statutory instruments or rules, made under the authority of primary legislation.  Secondary legislation must be compatible with the relevant primary legislation. It must be made under clear power in the primary legislation. The secondary legislation may be “ultra vires”, i.e. outside the rule making power in the primary legislation.

The exclusive power of making laws in the State is vested in the Oireachtas.  The Oireachtas may create subordinate legislatures. None such have been established.  The provision for subordinate legislature was reserved in the Constitution to provide for the possibility for internal devolution. This was intended to provide for devolution of law making powers to a Northern Ireland Assembly or Parliament, in a hypothetical 32 County Ireland.

Laws must be compatible with the Constitution.  The High Court and the Supreme Court (on appeal or Presidential reference) has the exclusive power to declare laws to be incompatible with the Constitution and thereby void.

See the section on the Oireachtas in relation to the procedures by which Bills become Acts and,  accordingly, law.  The role of the Dáil is preeminent in relation to so-called “money” bills.  Money Bills are those which involve a charge on public finance.

The Statutes are divided into private and public Acts.  In the 19th Century,  private acts were commonly passed to deal with matters of local concerns.  Private Acts are now relatively rare and very few have been  passed by the Oireachtas

Pre-Independence Statutes

The Statutes in force in Ireland, include the Acts of all pre-independence Parliaments still in force, to the extent that they have been validly carried over by the Irish Free State Constitution and in turn, the present 1937 Constitution.  Article 50 of 1937 Constitution provides that subject to the Constitution, and to the extent that they are not inconsistent the laws in force in Saorstát Eireann (the Irish Free State) before the date of coming into operation of the Constitution shall continue to be in full force and effect until the same, or any of them have been repealed or amended by an enactment of the Oireachtas.

Article 73 of the Irish Free State Constitution  provided that the Acts of the previous parliaments, including the United Kingdom Parliament and all pre-Union Irish Parliaments, English Statutes and British Statutes which applied on 6th December 1922 would continued in force to the extent that they had not been repealed and were not inconsistent with that Constitution.

One of the earliest Acts passed by the Free State Oireachtas, was the Adaptation of Enactments Act, 1922.  This Act defines and adapts various terms and expressions in pre-independence legislation.  Reference to particular bodies, offices and officers are to be interpreted to refer to the successor office designated under the Free State Constitution. A number of specific offices are deemed to refer to the equivalent named office of the Irish Free State.

There survives a small number of prerogative acts which predate the Constitution which would appear to have been carried over by the 1922 and 1937 Constitutions. See the section under British Constitutional Law, on the prerogative. The charters of some older institutions older public companies are constituted by Royal Charter made under the prerogative. Charters have been adopted and amended by legislation.  Certain private bodies such as hospitals, professional bodies, and institutions have been incorporated by Charter.

European Communities Act

Regulations made under the European Communities Act may have equivalent effect to or  amend primary legislation.  The purpose of the Act is to transpose European Union Directives into domestic law. The Directives are subject to law making procedures at EU level.  Regulations made under the Act deal with substantive matters, in much the same way as primary legislation.

Statutory Instruments made under the European Communities Act give effect to the Directives, which have been passed by the institutions of the European Union.  Most EU laws are now made under a co-decision procedure, involving the EU Council (comprising a relevant Minister of the Government of each State) and the directly elected European Union Parliament.

Regulations made under the European Communities Act do not directly amend primary legislation, as such.  However, where they are incompatible with existing legislation, the supremacy  of European Union Law requires that they be given primary effect.


Acts of the Oireachtas  have a long title and a short title. The short title is the common name, for example, the Education Act, 1998.  The long title follows and sets out the purpose of the legislation. Older statutes commonly have a preamble.  This was intended to set out the purpose of the legislation.  A number of recent Acts including the National Asset Management Agency Act have incorporated a preamble to explain the purpose and context of the legislation.

The long title of an Act sets out its scope and objective.  Until the middle of the 19th-century it was not part of the statute.  Since then, it is a (potentially important) part of the statute. It can be used for the purpose of ascertaining the statutory intention and context. Although a little long title may be of importance in terms of the overall context of the statute, it will not limit the substantive provision.

Older statutes did not have short titles.  Short title legislation in the 19th century,  including the Short Titles Act [1893] assigned shorter titles to older legislation.  The Irish Short Titles Act 1962 assigns short title to pre-union Irish Statute and other statutes that applied to Ireland. There have several instances where the courts have examined the short title of an Act, in order to interpret the objectives of the legislation.

Post-Independence Act are referred to by their short title and the year of enactment.  Pre-Independence Acts may be referred to by their short title.  Alternatively and in the case of older statutes, they are referred to by the Session of the UK Parliament, in which they were passed. Therefore,  21 Vict  c.4 refers to the fourth statute enacted in the 21st years of the parliamentary session of the reign of Queen Victoria. This will be


Older statute had preambles.  They are not part of the body of legislation or descriptive.  They may provide background or an explanation of the reason for introducing the legislation and may be used as an aid to interpretation.

Preambles in delegated legislation will set out the statutory authority under which the statutory instrument is made.  In some cases, the power may have been transferred, when, for example, a Governmental Departments was re-organised.  In this case, the transfer of the power may be recited so that the preamble constitutes a proof of the entitlement of the statutory body, to make the relevant statutory instrument.

The date on which the Statute was signed into law appears at the top, after the title.  There  then follows the words of enactment.  In the case of legislation by the Oireachtas, it reads “be it enacted by the Oireachtas as follows”

Anatomy of Acts

Acts of the Oireachtas are divided into sections.  Larger acts may be divided into parts, chapters and subdivisions. Statutes are divided into sections, subsections, paragraphs and subparagraphs.  Sections are generally numeric.  Subsections may be numerical or alphabetical.  Roman numerals are sometimes used

In complex Acts, schedules may be annexed to the main body of the act.  They may deal with detailed matters which cannot be neatly detail with,  in the main part of the act. The schedules are part of the Act in the same way as the main body of the Act.  The placing of provision in a schedule is a matter of convenience and in no way reduces its statutory effect.

Most statutes provide headings and / or marginal notes at the side of the printed, which  contain a short description of the subject matter of the relevant section.  There may be headings for  various Parts, chapters and other groups of sections in order to identify the subject matter.  They are not part of the legislation and are not to be interpreted or judicially considered in the interpretation of statute.  They are for convenience purposes only.

The Interpretation Act 2005 allows the courts to  make use of matters that accompany or set out in the text.  This include marginal notes and headings.  Therefore, recourse may be had to marginal notes where the provision is obscure, ambiguous, absurd or fails to reflect plain intention of the lawmaker.  They are not however part of the Act and the court is not obliged to resolve any issue by reference to them.

Statutory Instrument / Secondary Legislation

Statutory Instruments are described in different terms.  Most commonly, they are labelled “regulations”.  In other cases, they may be bye-laws, rules or orders. The most commonly used expression in delegated legislations such that it shares with its regulation.  They are general in nature and may regulate particular subject matters. Secondary legislation under the European Communities Act are designated Regulations.

Instruments which do a single thing, such as the commencement of an Act, will commonly be referred to an order or commencement order. The expression by-laws (or bye-laws) is most commonly used in relation to local rules or rules affecting a particular group of persons.  Examples are  road traffic bylaws and bylaws applicable to a particular regulatory body. Local Authorities have general powers to make bye-laws. They are of local application and are not published as Statutory Instruments. Rules commonly refer to procedural measures, such as Rules of Court.

Statutory instruments since 1947 are cited with reference to the particular number designated to them, e.g., SI 360/2002. Pre 1947 Statutory rules /instruments are labelled as Statutory Rules and Orders. They are referred to in the style “S.R.O.5/1941”


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