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"Taoiseach" (generally pronounced "tee-shoch", where the "ch" sounds as in "loch" though some speakers of Donegal gaelic pronounce it as "tee-shah". Plural: Taoisigh pronounced tee-she) is the title of Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland. The office, whose title literally means The Leader (though translated in the constitution as 'prime minister') was created in Bunreacht na hÉireann, the Irish constitutution adopted in 1937 and drafted by Eamon de Valera. The Taoiseach's Deputy is called Tánaiste (pronounced Taw-nish-ta). Both terms have ancient gaelic origins, though some historians dispute their precise means; some suggest a taoiseach was a minor king, while a Tánaiste was governor placed in a kingdom whose king had been deposed.

The current taoiseach (2002) is Bertie Ahern of the Fianna Fáil party. He heads a Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat coalition government, which was re-elected in the 2002 Irish general election.

There have been two different heads of government since 1922, when the first independent Irish state, the Irish Free State was internationally recognised. Under the 1922 Constitution drafted by Michael Collins, the title of prime minister was "President of the Executive Council". That office held considerably less power than the modern taoiseach. For example, he could not dismiss a government minister. (The government, known in the 1922 Constitution as the Executive Council[?] had to be disbanded and reformed to drop a minister.) He personally also could not seek a dissolution of Dáil Éireann from the Governor-General; that power belonged collectively to the Executive Council[?].

The Taoiseach under the 1937 Bunreacht na hÉireann possesses a much more powerful role than that of the President of the Executive Council. He chooses ministers, who once approved by Dáil Éireann are appointed by the President of Ireland. He can instruct the President to dismiss ministers. (Among the most famous dismissals are Charles J. Haughey and Neil Blaney[?] in 1970, Brian Lenihan[?] in 1990 and Albert Reynolds, Padraig Flynn[?] and Maire Geoghegan Quinn[?] in 1991. The Irish cabinet, called the 'Government', consists of no less than seven and no more than fifteen ministers. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance, must be members of Dáil Éireann. Up to two ministers can be appointed from Seanad Éireann, the Irish Senate. (In reality, since 1937, only two members of the Seanad have been appointed to the Government.)

The Taoiseach also appoints eleven members of Seanad Éireann, the sixty member Irish Senate.

Once appointed, a Taoiseach cannot be forced automatically to resign. He can however be forced either to resign or request the President grant a parliamentary dissolution, if either a Motion of Confidence is defeated or a Motion of No Confidence passed by Dáil Éireann. Alternatively Dáil Éireann may "refuse supply" (ie, deny government funds from the Exchequer). Such a situation occurred in January 1982 when the Fine Gael/Labour[?] government of Garret FitzGerald was defeated in a Dáil vote on the budget.

The President may, under Article 13.2.2. of Bunreacht na hÉireann "in his absolute discretion" refuse to dissolve Dáil Éireann on the advice of a Taoiseach who has "ceased to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann." In that event, the Taoiseach, under Article 28.10[?] is obliged to submit his resignation to the President. No President to date has refused a dissolution of Dáil Éireann.

Taoisigh to Date

(Where a multi-party or coalition government existed, the Taoiseach came from the first party in the list. The exception is John A. Costello, who was not leader of his party, but an agreed choice to head the government, because the other parties refused to accept then Fine Gael Leader Richard Mulcahy as Taoiseach.)

Presidents of the Executive Council

see also: President of Ireland, Tánaiste, Bunreacht na hÉireann, Republic of Ireland, Irish Free State, University College Dublin

The book Chairman or Chief: The Role of the Taoiseach in Irish Government (1971) by Brian Farrell provides a good overview of the conflicting roles for An Taoiseach. Though long out of print, it may still be available in libraries. Biographies are also available of de Valera, Lemass, Lynch, Cosgrave, FitzGerald, Haughey, Reynolds and Ahern. FitzGerald wrote an autobiography, while an authorized biography was produced of de Valera.

For information on earlier Irish heads of government under Irish Republic see President of Dáil Éireann and President of the Republic sites.

Some Biographies of former Taoisigh & Presidents of the Executive Council

  • Tim Pat Coogan, Eamon de Valera
  • John Horgan, Sean Lemass
  • T.P. O'Mahony, Jack Lynch: A Biography
  • T. Ryle Dwyer, Nice Fellow: A Biography of Jack Lynch
  • Stephen Collins, The Cosgrave legacy
  • Garret FitzGerald, All in a Life
  • Raymond Smith, Garret: The Enigma
  • T.Ryle Dwyer, Short Fellow: A Biography of Charles J. Haughey
  • Martin Mansergh, Spirit of the Nation: The Collected Speeches of Haughey
  • Joe Joyce & Peter Murtagh The Boss: Charles J. Haughey in Government
  • Tim Ryan, Albert Reynolds: The Longford Leader

Preceded by:
President of the Executive Council (1922-1937)
Irish Prime Ministerial Offices Office remains in existence

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