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President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State
The President of the Executive Council (Irish: Uachtaráin na hArd-Chomhairle) was the head of government or prime minister of the 1922-1937 Irish Free State, and the leader of the Executive Council (cabinet). The President was appointed by the Governor-General, upon the nomination of Dáil Éireann (the lower house of parliament) and had to enjoy the confidence of the Dáil to remain in office.
Although the President of the Executive Council was theoretically appointed by the Governor General, the Governor General was bound by constitutional convention to appoint the individual nominated by the Dáil. For the same reason, although notionally he exercised the executive authority of the state, in practice it was the President of the Executive Council rather than the Govenor-General who was the Free State's political leader. Once he had appointed the President, the Governor-General appointed the remaining members of the Executive Council on the President's nomination. The President had the freedom to choose, from among members of the Dáil, any Vice-President he wished, but the remainder of the cabinet had be approved by a vote of consent in the Dáil before they could assume office. In the event that he ceased to "retain the support of a majority in Dáil Eireann" the President, along with his cabinet, was obliged to resign, but could continue to serve as acting president until the appointment of a successor.
The method of appointment of the President of the Executive Council differed from the standard practice in other Commonwealth nations. In other dominions the prime minister was not nominated by the legislature in a formal vote but, rather, the monarch or Governor-General simply unilaterally commissioned either the leader of the party with a majority of seats in the lower house of parliament or, if no party commanded an absolute majority, whichever leader he believed would be best able to avoid a vote of no confidence.
The office of the President of the Executive Council was less powerful than either its modern successor, the office of Taoiseach, or the offices of most modern prime ministers in nations that follow the parliamentary system of government. In particular, the powers of the President were subject to two important limitations:
- He could not dismiss a member of the Executive Council individually. Rather, the Executive Council had to be disbanded and reformed as a whole in order to replace a single minister.
- He could not request a dissolution of parliament on his own initiative. This could only be done by the Executive Council acting collectively.
The result of these restrictions was, according to Brian Farrell, that the President of the Executive Council was closer to being the Executive Council's chairman or presiding officer, than its dominant leader. Nonetheless a strong President could exercise authority beyond the limits laid down in the 1922 constitution1. The President's weak position arose from the fact that the status of his office was modelled on that of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom prior to 1918. Up until 1918 the British prime minister's powers had been theoretically quite limited and, as a member of the cabinet, the office-holder was regarded strictly as primus inter pares. Under Prime Minister David Lloyd George, however, from 1918 onwards the powers of the office increased, as Lloyd George unilaterally claimed for himself powers that had previously belonged to the cabinet collectively, including, most dramatically, the right to seek a parliamentary dissolution.
The office of President of the Executive Council came into being with the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, replacing the previous offices of President of the Irish Republic and Chairman of the Provisional Government. Only two individuals held the office of President of the Executive Council during its existence: W.T. Cosgrave, until 1932, and Eamon de Valera thereafter. In the final months of the Irish Free State, under Amdendment No. 27 to the constitution, adopted in 1936, the office of Governor General was abolished and from then onwards most of his powers were exercised by the Executive Council directly. Under the amendment the constitution provided that the President of the Executive Council be simply elected by the Dáil rather than appointed by the Governor General, although in practice this was a difference merely of symbolism. In 1937 the office of President of the Executive Council was replaced by that of Taoiseach, under the terms of the new Constitution of Ireland. The Taoiseach occupies a more powerful position than the President of the Executive Council did, and has authority both to dismiss ministers individually and to request a dissolution of parliament on his own initiative.
|1.||W.T. Cosgrave||June 6, 1880||August, 1917||Cumann na nGaedhael||Carlow - Kilkenny||December 6, 1922||March 9, 1932||February 4, 1948||November 16, 1965|
|2.||Eamon de Valera||October 22, 1882||December 14, 1918||Fianna Fáil||Clare||March 9, 1932||December 29, 1937||June 23, 1959||August 29, 1975|
- See: Brian Farrell, Chairman or chief? : the role of Taoiseach in Irish government, 1971.
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