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This article is about the government of the Republic of Ireland. For the government in Northern Ireland, see Northern Ireland Executive.

The Government of Ireland (Irish: Rialtas na hÉireann [ˈɾˠiəɫ̪t̪ˠəsˠ n̪ˠə ˈheːɾʲən̪ˠ]) is the cabinet that exercises executive authority in Ireland. The Government is headed by a prime minister called the Taoiseach, and a deputy prime minister called the Tánaiste. The Taoiseach is appointed by the President after being designated by Dáil Éireann (the lower house of parliament). The President then appoints the remaining members of the Government - each official styled as a "Minister of the Government"[1], often just referred to as a 'cabinet minister' or 'government minister' - after they have been chosen by the Taoiseach and approved by the Dáil. The Government must enjoy the confidence of the Dáil if it is to remain in office.



Life in Ireland

Unlike many other republican constitutions, the Constitution of Ireland does not make the President even the nominal chief executive officer, but rather explicitly vests executive authority in the cabinet. The Government is therefore not referred to as His or Her Excellency's Government. Under the constitution the Government must consist of between seven and fifteen members. Every member of the Government must be a member of the Oireachtas (parliament), and no more than two members may be chosen from the Seanad; the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Finance must all be members of the Dáil.

The Government is advised by the Attorney General who is not formally a member of the Government but participates in its meetings. Similarly the Chief Whip may also attend meetings of the Government but is not a part of the Government. Members of the Government are also assisted by Ministers of State, often just referred to as 'junior ministers' who are nonetheless not part of the Government and do not take part in its meetings. A Minister of State may, by Statutory Instrument, be delegated a power or duty of a member of the Government in whose department they are assigned to.[2]

In the event that the Taoiseach ceases "to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann" there must either be a dissolution of the Dáil or the Taoiseach must resign.[3] The President may, however, refuse to grant a dissolution to a Taoiseach who does not enjoy the support of the Dáil, and thus force their resignation. When the Taoiseach resigns, the entire Government is deemed to have vacated office collectively. The Taoiseach can also direct the President to dismiss or accept the resignation of individual ministers. In any circumstance in which the Taoiseach or Government have been removed from office, including the loss of an Oireachtas seat, or seats, they continue to exercise their powers until a successor, or successors, have been appointed.[4] The executive authority of the Government is subject to certain limitations. In particular:

  • The state may not declare war, or participate in a war, without the consent of Dáil Éireann. In the case of "actual invasion" however, "the Government may take whatever steps they may consider necessary for the protection of the State"[5]
  • Treaties must be ratified by the Dáil.
  • The Government must act in accordance with the constitution.

If the Government fails to fulfill its constitutional duties, it may be ordered to do so by a court of law, by writ of mandamus. Ministers who fail to comply may, ultimately, be found to be in contempt of court, and even imprisoned.


The Government was created by the 1937 Constitution of Ireland; the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924 and amendments, contains the detailed provisions regarding status and functions of the Government in general.[6] The Government was preceded by the Executive Council of the 1922–1937 Irish Free State.

One notable aspect of the Irish system is that ministers are "corporations sole"[7] – the department does not exist as a legal entity separate to the minister. This leads to the oft quoted phrase in correspondence with government departments – "the Minister has directed me to write" – on many letters or documents that the minister in question may in fact have never seen.

When one of the Government's ministerial positions ceases to exist, as distinct from being renamed, which occurs more frequently, its powers are transferred to those of other ministers. These "defunct" ministers are: Communications, Labour, Posts & Telegraphs, Public Service and Supplies. The office of Minister without portfolio has also been held several times, but not since 1977.

All Governments since 1989 have consisted of coalitions of two or more parties, although coalitions existed intermittently before this. In practice, the position of Taoiseach is always held by the leader of the largest of the coalition government partners.

Public sector

The Government, through the civil and public services and state-sponsored bodies, is a significant employer in the state; these three sectors are often called the public sector. Management of these various bodies vary, for instance in the civil service there will be clearly defined routes and patterns whilst among public services a sponsoring minister or the Minister for Finance may appoint a board or commission. Commercial activities, where the state involves itself, are typically through the state-sponsored bodies which are usually organised in a similar fashion to private companies.

A recent report on public sector employment,[8] shows that at June 2005 the numbers employed in the public sector stood at 350,100; of these by sector they were 38,700 (civil service), 254,100 (public service) and 57,300 (state-sponsored). The total workforce of the state was 1,857,400 that year, thus the public sector represents approximately 20% of the total workforce.

Civil service

The civil service of the Republic of Ireland consists of two broad components, the Civil Service of the Government and the Civil Service of the State. Whilst these two components are largely theoretical they do have some fundamental operational differences. The civil service is expected to maintain political impartiality in its work, and some parts of it are entirely independent of Government decision making.

Public service

The public service is a relatively broad term and is not clearly defined and sometimes is taken to include the civil service. The public service proper consists of Government agencies and bodies which provide services on behalf of the Government but are not the core civil service. For instance local authorities, Vocational Education Committees and Garda Siochána are considered to be public services.


See also

External links

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