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President of Ireland

The President of Ireland is the Irish head of state. The office was created in Bunreacht na hÉireann, the 1937 constitution of Éire. The office is open to every Irish citizen aged 35 and over. Though the constitution uses the male terms 'he' and 'him', the office can be held by either gender; of the eight presidents to date, six were men, and two women. Given the language of the constitution, this article uses 'he' or 'him' when quoting to the constitution, and 'she' elsewhere, to match the gender of the current president, Mary McAleese.

Table of contents
1 See also
2 External Link

Presidential Powers

The President, in gaelic 'Uachtaráin' (pronounced 'ook-tar-on'), has a largely ceremonial role with relatively little real political power. Among her major powers (most unused) are

  • The right, after consultation with the Council of State, to refer a Bill (other than a Money Bill or a Bill to amend the Constitution) to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality;
(This is the most widely used presidential power.)
  • The right, after consultation with the Council of State, to set up a Committee on Privileges to solve a dispute between the two houses of the Oireachtas (parliament) over whether a Bill is a Money Bill;
(This power has never been used.)
  • The right, after consultation with the Council of State, to impose time-limits on the period during which Seanad Éireann can discuss a Bill.
(This power has never been used)
  • The right, after consultation with the Council of State, to decline to sign a Bill into law (other than a Money Bill, a Bill whose time for discussion in the Senate has been limited by the President, or a Bill to amend the Constitution) until it has been approved by the people in either a (a) referendum, or a (b) general election, held within eight months;
(This power has never been used.)
  • The right, after consultation with the Council of State and having had the text approved en bloc by the Government, to address, or send a message to, either or both Houses of the Oireachtas;
(This power has been used 4 times; by President de Valera once,
President Robinson twice and President McAleese once.)
  • The right, after consultation with the Council of State and having had the text approved en bloc by the Government, to address, or send a message to, the Nation;
(This power has not been used.)
  • The right to refuse a Dáil dissolution to a Taoiseach who has "ceased to retain the support of a majority" in Dáil Éireann. (In such an event, another constitutional article requires the Taoiseach to submit his resignation immediately.)
(This power has not been used, but has been considered for use in 1944, 1982 (twice) and 1994.)

Selecting the President

The President is formally elected by the citizens of Ireland every seven years (or when a vacancy occurs). Candidates can be nominated by

  • Twenty TDs and/or Senators
  • Four local authorities
  • Themselves, if they are the current or former president who has served only one term.
Where only one candidate is nominated, he or she is deemed elected without the need for a ballot.

Presidential Elections

Presidentials elections (victors in italics) [Note: The years link up to sites on the various Irish presidential elections]

1938 - 1 candidate
Douglas Hyde ( Fianna Fáil & Fine Gael agreed candidate -
elected unopposed)
1945 - 3 candidates
Sean T. O'Kelly (Fianna Fáil)
Sean McEoin[?] (Fine Gael);
Patrick MacCartan (independent)
1952 - 1 candidate
President O'Kelly (own nomination - elected unopposed)
1959 - 2 candidates
Eamon de Valera (Fianna Fáil);
Sean McEoin (Fine Gael)
1966 - 2 candidates
President de Valera (Fianna Fáil);
Tom O'Higgins (Fine Gael)
1973 - 2 candidates
Erskine Hamilton Childers (Fianna Fáil);
Tom O'Higgins (Fine Gael)
1974 - 1 candidate
Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh (agreed FF, FG and Labour[?] party
candidate- elected unopposed - replacing the late President Childers)
1976 - 1 candidate
Patrick Hillery (Fianna Fáil - replaced
President Ó Dálaigh, who had resigned)
1983 - 1 candidate
President Hillery (own nomination - elected unopposed)
1990 - 3 candidates
Brian Lenihan[?] (Fianna Fáil);
Austin Currie (Fine Gael);
Mary Robinson (Labour)
1997 - 5 candidates:
Mary McAleese (Fianna Fáil);
Mary Banotti (Fine Gael);
Adi Roche (Labour);
Dana Rosemary Scallon (independent);
Derek Nally (independent).
(President Robinson had resigned the presidency one month early
to become United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.)

See List of Presidents of Ireland

Presidential Residence

The residence of the President of Ireland is the ninety-two room Áras an Uachtaráin, (pronounced 'Or-us an ook-tar-on' , the gaelic for the President's house) in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. The building formerly served as the 'out of season' residence of the Irish Lord Lieutenant and the residence of two of the three Governors-General, Tim Healy and James McNeill.

The President's Address & Style

The President is formally addressed as: 'President' (not 'Mr/Madam President', as in the United States) or Uachtaráin (the Irish language version). Sometimes people use the version 'Your Excellency'.

The President's style is normally 'Her Excellency.

The Presidential Anthem

The Irish presidential anthem is taken from the Irish National Anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann (in english, the Soldier's Song) and involves playing the first two and last two lines of the anthem.

Problems over the term 'President of Ireland'

The orginal version of Bunreacht na hÉireann 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. (These Articles have since been changed!) 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 Better 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.)

Since the 1990s under President Robinson, but in particular since the Good Friday Agreement the current president, Mary McAleese, who is herself the first President of Ireland from Northern Ireland, regularly visits the six counties. 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 the Irish 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.

See also Republic of Ireland, Éire, Irish Republic, President of Dáil Éireann, President of the Republic, Áras an Uachtaráin, Amhrán na bhFiann, Governor-General of the Irish Free State, Northern Ireland Elizabeth II, Eamon de Valera, Irish Free State, King of Ireland Irish presidential election, 2004

External Link Áras an Uachtaráin website (http:www.gov.ie/aras/)



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