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"Views of Four Presidencies (1938-1975)" - exhibition of the records of the Office of the Secretary to the President

Commentary by Dr Diarmaid Ferriter

The office of President of Ireland was established under the Constitution of 1937 with articles 12 to 14 detailing the powers of the office of President.

The creation of the office of President followed the removal in 1936 of the ceremonial office of Governor General, who, under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, was the British Crown's representative in the Irish Free State. The Constitution created the office of President in keeping with Eamon de Valera's vision of Ireland as a republic. He did not declare a republic outright because of the aspiration towards Irish unity and because of the delicacy of Anglo-Irish relations in the 1930s, but all the institutions of a republic were evident.

Commemorative booklet of the visit to Ireland of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the President of India, 21-24 September 1964. In common with many other heads of state, the President performs important ceremonial duties, including:
· the appointment of the Taoiseach (on nomination by Dáil Éireann) and other members of Government (on the nomination of the Taoiseach);
· signing bills into law;
· representing the state in foreign affairs;
· supreme command of the defence forces (as regulated by law).

As a non-executive head of state, the President does not participate in the day-to-day running of government and may not be a member of either House of the Oireachtas. However, there are six discretionary powers for use in specific circumstances.

Three of these powers provide for an adjudicatory role in disputes between the Dáil and Senate on money bills, and an abridgement of time for the Senate to consider a Bill; these provisions have never been used. A fourth gives the President power to convene a meeting of either or both of the Houses of the Oireachtas; this happened for the first time in 1969, when President de Valera convened such a meeting to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Dáil, and did not happen again until President Robinson's first Oireachtas address in July 1992.

Under a fifth power, the President can refer a bill passed by the Oireachtas to the Supreme Court to judge its constitutionality, before which the President must consult the Council of State, but need not be bound by its advice. [The Council of State is an advisory body comprising the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Chief Justice, the President of the High Court, the Ceann Comhairle (Chairperson) of Dáil Éireann, the Cathaoirleach (Chairperson) of Seanad Éireann, as well as former holders of designated high offices of state, including the Presidency, who are willing and able to act in this capacity, and seven people appointed by the President.]

The sixth power, relating to the dissolution of the Dáil, does not require consultation. Article 13.2.2 providesCopy of formal proclamation dated 18 March 1965, issued by President Eamon de Valera, dissolving the 17th Dáil. that the President 'may 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'. No President has ever exercised this power.


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Administrative history of the Office of the Secretary to the President

Record series descriptions

Searchable finding aid database

Online gallery of documents from the collection