Taoiseach

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 Chief or 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 pronounced Taw-nish-ta). Both terms have ancient gaelic origins, though some historians dispute their precise meanings; 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 is Bertie Ahern of the Fianna Fáil party. He heads a Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat coalition government, which was re-elected in the Irish general election, 2002.

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 Máire Geoghegan-Quinn in 1991. The Irish cabinet, called the 'Government', consists of no fewer than seven and no more than fifteen ministers. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance, must be members of Dáil Éireann. One or two ministers may 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.

(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.)

Table of contents
1 Taoisigh na hÉireann
2 Related topics
3 Further reading

Taoisigh na hÉireann

# Name Took Office Left Office Party

1.Eamon de Valera December 29, 1937 18 February, 1948 Fianna Fáil

2.John A. Costello February 18, 1948 June 13, 1951 Fine Gael

Eamon de Valera (2nd time) June 13, 1951 June 2, 1954 Fianna Fáil

John A. Costello (2nd time) June 2, 1954 March 20, 1957 Fine Gael

Eamon de Valera (3rd time) March 20, 1957 June 23, 1959 Fianna Fáil

3.Sean Lemass June 23, 1959 November 10, 1966 Fianna Fáil

4.Jack Lynch November 10, 1966 March 14, 1973 Fianna Fáil

5.Liam Cosgrave March 14, 1973 July 5, 1977 Fine Gael

Jack Lynch (2nd time) July 5, 1977 December 11, 1979 Fianna Fáil

6.Charles J. Haughey December 11, 1979 June 30, 1981 Fianna Fáil

7.Garret FitzGerald June 30, 1981 March 9, 1982 Fine Gael

Charles J. Haughey (2nd time) March 9, 1982 December 14, 1982 Fianna Fáil

Garret FitzGerald (2nd time) December 14, 1982 March 10, 1987 Fine Gael

Charles J. Haughey (3rd time) March 10, 1987 February 11, 1992 Fianna Fáil

8.Albert Reynolds February 11, 1992 December 15, 1994 Fianna Fáil

9.John Bruton December 15, 1994 June 26, 1997 Fine Gael

10.Bertie Ahern June 26, 1997 present Fianna Fáil

Related topics

Further reading

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.

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

1>
Preceded by:
President of the Executive Council (1922-1937)
Irish Prime Ministerial Offices Office remains in existence


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