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Monarchy in the Irish Free State
The King was the head of state of the 1922-1937 Irish Free State. Under the Free State constitution, the state was governed under a form of constitutional monarchy. The King exercised a number of important duties, including appointing the Executive Council (cabinet), dissolving the legislature and promulgating the law. Nonetheless, by convention the King's role was largely ceremonial. The King's duties were exercise on his behalf by his official representative, the Governor-General. Most of the King's functions were taken from him in the final days of the Irish Free State, under a constitutional amendment adopted in 1936.
As a dominion of the British Commonwealth, the Free State's king was the same individual who reigned over the United Kingdom. However, while from 1922-1927 he reigned in the Irish Free State as 'King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland', from 1927 onwards he reigned as 'King of Ireland'. This change of position had important constitutional implications.
Duties and functions
- Executive authority: The executive authority of the state was formally 'vested' in the King but 'exercised' by the Governor-General, on the 'advice' of the Executive Council.
- Appointment of the cabinet: The President of the Executive Council (prime minister) was appointed by Governor General after being selected by Dáil Éireann (the lower house of parliament). The remaining ministers were appointed on the nomination of the president, subject to a vote of consent in the Dáil.
- Convention and dissolution of the legislature: The Governor-General, on behalf of the King, convened and dissolved the Oireachtas on the advice of the Executive Council.
- Signing bills into law: The King was formally, along with the Dáil and the Senate, one of three tiers of the Oireachtas. No bill could become law until it received the Royal Assent, given by the Governor-General on behalf of the King. The Governor-General theoretically had the right to veto a bill or 'reserve' it 'for the signification of the King's pleasure', in effect postponing a decision on whether or not to enact the bill, for a maximum of one year. However neither of these two actions was ever taken.
- Representative of the state in foreign affairs: The King accredited ambassadors and received the letters of credence of foreign diplomats; ministers signed international treaties in his name. The role of the King in the Free State's foreign affairs was the only function retained by him after the constitutional changes of 1936.
- Appointment of judges: All judges were appointed by the Governor-General, on the advice of the Executive Council.
Oath of Allegiance
Main article: Free State Oath of Allegiance
Under the Free State constitution members of the Oireachtas were required to take an oath of fidelity to the King before being permitted to assume their seats. This oath was strongly objected to by many republicans and was one of the causes of the Irish Civil War. The oath was eventually abolished in 1936. The Oath of Allegiance read as follows:
- I ................ do solemnly swear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the Irish Free State as by law established, and that I will be faithful to H. M. King George V., his heirs and successors by law in virtue of the common citizenship of Ireland with Great Britain and her adherence to and membership of the group of nations forming the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Major constitutional changes
Change of title in 1927
Prior to 1927 the British monarch reigned over the entire Commonwealth, including the Irish Free State, as 'King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland'. The Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act, 1927 replaced the concept of a single crown ruling the Commonwealth with multiple crowns, so that each dominion became a separate kingdom. From this time onwards, therefore, the King wore not one crown but several, and so henceforth he reigned in Australia as 'King of Australia ', in Canada as 'King of Canada', etc. Nonethless, because all of the dominions shared, as monarch, a single individual, they were united under a personal union.
After 1927 the King reigned over the Irish Free State as 'King of Ireland'. This change had important implications. Before the change of title the British government had the right both to designate the Governor-General and to secretly advise both the King and his Governor-General in the exercise of their functions in the Irish Free State. For example, after his appointment Governor-General Tim Healy was instructed by the British government to withhold assent from any bill that sought to abolish the Oath of Allegiance.
After the Act the Free State government assumed the right to chose the Governor-General and both the 'King of Ireland', and the Governor-General, only accepted advice from the government of the Free State. The Free State government also assumed full responsibility for its foreign affairs, as the King began, for the first time, to concluded treaties on behalf of the state and to accept the credentials of international ambassadors to the Irish state. The King also granted the Irish Free State its own Great Seal, at a time when the rest of the Commonwealth continued to use Great Britain's Great Seal of the Realm. The first occasion on which King formally concluded a treaty on the Free State's behalf was in 1931, when he George V signed a treaty presented to him by the Free State's Minister for External Affairs, Patrick McGilligan, in the absence of a British minister.
Constitutional changes of 1936
In 1936 the Fianna Fáil government of Eamon de Valera carried out a major revision of the constitution aimed at all but eliminating the role of the King in the Irish state. After abolishing the Oath of Allegiance the Oireachtas passed the Constitution (Amendment No. 27) Act. This removed all explicit reference to the King from the constitution, abolished the office of Governor-General, and shared all of the King's former functions amongst various other organs of government.
However, without mentioning him by name, the amendment also introduced a provision permitting the government to "avail of" the King as a "constitutional organ" for the "appointment of diplomatic and consular agents and the conclusion of international agreements". Thus, henceforth, the King was still the head of state for the purposes of foreign affairs, but retained no other constitutional role.
List of monarchs
List of Governors-General
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