Taoiseach & Tanaiste

The Taoiseach’s duties under the Constitution include the nomination of Ministers, acceptance of resignation, nomination of persons to the Seanad, notification to the President of the removal of certain officers of State, e.g. Attorney General, Comptroller and Auditor General and judges.

He advises the President in relation to the dissolution and summonsing of the Dail. He is obliged to keep the President informed on matters of domestic and international policy. The Taoiseach also has a number of other miscellaneous roles under the Constitution.

The Tánaiste is the Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland. The Tánaiste deputises for the Taoiseach when the Taoiseach is temporarily absent. The Tánaiste takes the place of the Taoiseach who is permanently incapacitated or dies, until another Taoiseach is appointed

.The Tánaiste is a member of the government.  The Tánaiste is generally a Minister of the Government. The Tánaiste must be a member of the Dáil and ranks next after the Taoiseach in precedence.

There is no requirement that there be a Department of the Taoiseach or a Department of the Tánaiste. There has been a Department of the Taoiseach for many years dealing with certain core functions but having wide administrative functions to the same extent as other departments of state. In coalition governments, a Department of the Tánaiste has been created.


Ministers of State

Ministers of State may be appointed under the Ministers and Secretaries Act. There is a fixed maximum number. The number had been increased significantly but was reduced following the financial crisis.

The Minister for State is delegated certain functions of the principal government Minister by statutory instrument. Large areas of competence are typically assigned to a Minister for State.

The Minister of State remains subject to the general power and the superintendence of the government Minister. They may be subject to conditions in the delegation. The delegation does not remove or derogate from the responsibility of the Minister of the Government in relation to the performance of statutory powers or functions, thereby delegated.

Government and Dail

The Government is collectively responsible to the Dáil. It must meet and act as a collective authority.

Under the Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Protections) Act 2013, a committee of the Dail may conduct an enquiry into any matter relevant to holding the government to account. It may make findings of fact which impact upon the name and reputation of a government Minister and also the Secretary General of a department or Chief Executive Officer of public bodies concerned. A committee may not make civil or criminal findings.

Although the Constitution states that the government as a whole is accountable to the Dáil, in effect, each Minister is politically accountable to the Dáil for his department. Government ministers may be questioned in relation to matters and affairs connected with their department or matters of administration for which they are officially responsible. See generally the sections on government departments and departments of state.

A large number of agencies have been created in modern times. Large elements of governmental functions have been in effect outsourced. They are in addition to the traditional major bodies of State.

In most such cases, the Chief Executive of the body or other appropriate functionary is accountable to the Dáil committees in respect of the entity concerned.

Military Power and Gardai

The Oireachtas is the only body in the State which may raise and maintain military or Armed Forces. No military or Armed Force other than such a force raised or maintained by the Oireachtas shall be raised or maintained for any purpose.

The supreme command of the Defence Forces is vested in the President. All commissioned officers of the Defence Force hold their commissions from the President. The President’s command of the Defence Forces is nominal and is exercisable by the government through the Minister for Defence.

The Commissioner and certain other high ranks of the Garda Síochána are appointed by the government and may be removed from office for a stated reason. There have been a number of cases concerning the removal of Commissioners from office. The Minister for Justice makes regulations relating to most aspects of the functioning of the Garda Síochána.

Civil Service

The Civil Service manage and execute government policy through the various departments of State. There are now numerous other bodies established by law and answerable to government departments. See generally the sections on government departments and the various bodies established.

The head of each department is the Secretary-General and has authority, responsibility and accountability for managing the department. He is responsible for implementing government policies, advising the Minister, preparing strategy statements and progress reports. There is a d

ty to ensure that the functions are carried out in a cost-effective manner. The responsibilities are subject to provisions of law, government direction and policy and determinations on matters of policy by the Minister.

The Secretary-General is responsible to the Minister, who may issue instructions. The Secretary-General may be required to appear before a Committee of either House of the Oireachtas, in the context of review for various matters including a review of the departmental strategy statements.

Employment in the Civil Service is governed by the Civil Service Commissioners Act. This is established as an independent body to make appointments to civil service offices and positions. Every civil servant holds office at the will and pleasure of the government.

Notwithstanding the theoretical lack of security, any removal of a civil servant is subject to requirements for fair procedures. Historically, civil servants were rarely removed from office. This position has changed, at least in theory over the last twenty years and the Unfair Dismissals Act has been extended to the members of the Civil Service.

Codes and standards of behaviour have been prepared under the Standards in  Public Office Act and published by the Commission. They are incorporated in the terms of employment of civil servants. They set out the restrictions on civil servants and standards expected of them.

Most civil servants above the lower grades are precluded from participation in politics or political activity. They may not engage in public debate,  contribute to,  support or be a candidate in elections. They may not contribute to the media other than where required by their duties.

This applies to move most grades. This applies to civil servants other than

  • those in crafts, industrial,  manual and grades below clerical grades;
  • clerical grades and non-industrial grades with the salary maximum below clerical officer maximum with the permission of the department to engage in politics;
  • special advisors to Ministers, Ministers for States;
  • persons permitted by terms of their appointment.

Local Government

Local government is recognised in the Constitution.

  • The State recognises the role of local government in providing a forum for the democratic representation of local communities, in exercising and performing at local level powers and functions conferred by law and in promoting by its initiatives the interests of such communities.
  • There shall be such directly elected local authorities as may be determined by law and their powers and functions shall, subject to the provisions of this Constitution, be so determined and shall be exercised and performed in accordance with law.
  • Elections for members of such local authorities shall be held in accordance with the law not later than the end of the fifth year after the year in which they were last held.
  • Every citizen who has the right to vote at an election for members of Dáil Éireann and such other persons as may be determined by law shall have the right to vote at an election for members of such of the local authorities referred to in section 2 of this Article as shall be determined by law. Casual vacancies in the membership of local authorities referred to in section 2 of this Article shall be filled in accordance with law.

Each local authority is a corporate body. See generally the sections on local government. Local government is answerable both from a financial and practical perspective to the Department of Local Government and the Environment in respect of many aspects of their functions. The central government controls much of local government finance and prescribes a range of matters including in particular terms of employment, numbers etc.

The executive power of the State is exercised through a range of agencies, boards, statutory corporations and companies established under law. This is part of an increasing trend of outsourcing government from central department to agencies. The trend is particularly marked in the United Kingdom.

State Bound by Law

Historically, the legislation did not bind the State. The State was entitled to absolute privilege as successor to the Crown. The courts found the historical immunity to be inconsistent with the Constitution, The scope of the prerogative has been progressively curtailed.

In the 1970s, the courts decided that the administration of justice was committed solely to the judiciary by the exercise of their powers in the court set up under the Constitution. The power to compel evidence, including the production of documents, is an inherent part of the judicial power of the State.

Where there was a conflict in the exercise of judicial power between an aspect of the public interest involved in the production of evidence and public interest in the confidentiality or exemption from productions, relating to the exercise of the executive powers of the State. The judicial power is to decide which public interest shall prevail.

The duty of the judicial power to make the decision does not mean that it affords any priority or preference for the production of evidence over other public interests such as security of the State or efficient functions of the executive organ or government. There is no obligation under the judicial power to examine any particular document before deciding it is exempt from production.

It can and will in many instances uphold the claim of privilege in respect of documents merely on the basis of a description of the nature and contents which it accepts. However, there are no generally applicable class or categories of documents which are exempted from production by reason of the rank in the public service of the person creating them or the position of the individual or bodies to use them.

Some functions of the Executive are part of its inherent functions as Executive. Many of these are equivalent to those exercised under the so-called Crown prerogative. Over time, some of these have been placed on statute, e.g. passports. Others derive from the control of public funds.


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Draft Articles; The articles on this website are in draft form and are subject to further review for typographical errors and, in some cases, updating and correction. It is intended to include references to the sources of materials and acknowledgements in the final version. The content of articles with [EU] in the title and some of the articles in the section on Agriculture are a reproduction of or are based on European or Irish public sector information.

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