Ireland in Europe

Outline of the Country´s Legal System

According to the work “Guide to Foreign and International Citations”, by the Journal of International Law and Politics (New York University School of Law):

“The Irish legal system is based on the common law tradition.

The Irish Constitution (Bunreacht na Éireann), enacted in 1937, is Ireland’s fundamental legal document. The Constitution describes the main institutions of the state and establishes the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. It also recognizes and declares certain fundamental personal rights.

Legislative power is vested in the National Parliament (Oireachtas). Parliament consists of the President and two houses (Houses of the Oireachtas): the Senate (the Seanad Eireann) and the House of Representatives (the Dáil Eireann). The President is directly elected by the people to a seven-year term and may not serve more than two terms. The President is the head of state, but this is a largely ceremonial role and does not entail executive authority. All legislation passed by Parliament, however, must be presented to the President for final approval.

The President may refer legislation to the Supreme Court if a question of constitutionality arises. The President also dissolves the Parliament on the Prime Minister’s (Taoiseach’s) advice, although this power is discretionary if the Prime Minister has ceased to retain a majority of Parliament.

The sixty members of the Senate are either nominated or elected as follows:

  • eleven members are nominated by the Prime Minister,
  • six members are elected by the national universities, and
  • forty-three members are elected from panels of candidates established on a vocational basis.

The 166 members of the House of Representatives are directly elected by the people to a maximum term of five years under a complex system of proportional representation.

Primary legislation is passed through Acts of the Parliament, and subordinate legislation is made by Government Ministers under powers conferred on them by Acts. The vast majority of legislation is formulated in this House. Bills to amend the Constitution and financial legislation can only be initiated in the House of Representatives. The Senate does have the power to delay legislative proposals and is allowed ninety days to consider and amend bills sent to it by the House of Representatives. The Senate, however, may only make recommendations as to financial legislation, and this must be done within twenty-one days (as opposed to the normal ninety).

Executive power is vested in the Government. The Government consists of the Prime Minister and at least six, but not more than fourteen, cabinet ministers who meet and act as a collective authority. Formally, the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers are appointed by the President, with the approval of or on the nomination of the House of Representatives.

Effectively, the Prime Minister is elected by the political party, or coalition of parties, which holds a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives. Cabinet of ministers are nominated by the Prime Minister and approved by the House of Representatives. In addition to exercising executive authority, the Government acts in an administrative and legislative role.

The Government is also responsible for managing public finances, and only the Government may introduce financial legislation in the House of Representatives. If the Prime Minister loses the support of the majority of the House of Representatives, the result is either the dissolution of the House of Representatives and a general election, or the formation of a successor Government.

Judicial power is vested in public courts established by law. Judges are appointed by the President on the advice of the Government. The courts consist of the following: The court of first instance is the District Court (an Chuirt Duiche), which hears minor cases. More serious cases are heard in the Circuit Court (an Chuirt Chuarda). The High Court (an Ard-Chuirt) has full original jurisdiction in and power to determine all matters and questions, whether of law or fact, civil or criminal. When exercising its criminal jurisdiction, the High Court is known as the Central Criminal Court. The jurisdiction of the High Court extends to the question of the constitutional validity of any law (except laws which the President has already referred to the Supreme Court) and no such question may be raised in any court other than the High Court or the Supreme Court. The High Court also hears appeals from decisions of the Circuit Court in civil matters. The High Court also has power to review the decisions of all inferior tribunals by the issue of prerogative orders of mandamus, prohibition and certiorari.

The Supreme Court (an Chuirt Uachtarach) consists of the Chief Justice (who is exofficio an additional judge of the High Court) and 7 ordinary judges. The Supreme Court has final appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court also has original jurisdiction to decide whether a bill referred to it by the President is repugnant to the Constitution. If a question of the permanent incapacity of the President arises, it is decided by the Supreme Court.”


The Senchus Mor, a collection of ancient Irish laws, prescribes a fine of three three-year-old heifers for “not erecting the tomb of thy chief.”

Online Resources:
Government of Ireland
Irish Law Site at UCC
Courts Service of Ireland

Description of Ireland

The Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union describes ireland in the following terms: [1] A founder member of the Council of Europe, but never a member of EFTA, the Republic of Ireland applied to join the EEC in 1961, encountering the same vetoes from President Charles de Gaulle as the UK. De Gaulle’s successor, Georges Pompidou, lifted France’s objections and Ireland acceded to the Community simultaneously with the UK in 1973. In a referendum held before accession, over 80% of the votes were favourable, principally because of the prospect of generous agricultural subsidies.

Catholic, neutral in World War II, with a leaning to the German side and a long history of feuding with the UK, the Irish were further attracted by the expectation of emerging from the shadow of their Protestant neighbour to pari passu rank as a European state (see more in this European encyclopedia). In 1979 Ireland joined the Exchange Rate Mechanism, thereby breaking the 58-year link between the punt and the pound sterling.

The country is a strong supporter of the EU, a natural result of being the largest net recipient per head of Community cash (EU subsidies account for over 5% of Ireland’s GDP). The Republic’s constitution necessitated a protocol to the Maastricht Treaty condoning the prohibiting of abortion but asserting the right of Irish citizens to information on clinics abroad. Another difficulty is Irish neutrality, given the prospect of an eventual common EU defence policy. This, however, has not been a bar to the accession of Austria, Sweden and Finlandand an extensive cosmetic discussion is in progress to redesign the meaning of neutrality.

The Irish experience of life in the EU has been positive (see more in this European encyclopedia). The Republic’s economy has consistently outpaced those of its European partners. At the cost of being accused of ‘fiscal dumping’, it has attracted foreign capital by offering generous tax breaks to business. It is enjoying net immigration for the first time for centuries and it anticipates growth for the next decade at a rate normally associated with emerging market economies. By some measurements, it has already reached the average EU standard of living (a mixed blessing, since subsidies will in future be harder to come by) and it not only qualified to join the single currency in the first wave but was even able to achieve a modest revaluation of the punt. After the launch of the euro in 1999, however, the combination of low eurozone interest rates, a weak currency and high growth led to a burst of inflation, raising fears of a boom-and-bust cycle which the Irish central bank would be powerless to influence.


Notas y References

  1. Based on the book “A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union from Aachen to Zollverein”, by Rodney Leach (Profile Books; London)

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