President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State

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The President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State (Irish: Uachtarán ar Ard-Chomhairle Shaorstát Éireann[1]) was the head of government or prime minister of the Irish Free State which existed from 1922 to 1937. 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.

Contents

Appointment

The President of the Executive Council was appointed by the governor-general, though the governor-general was bound by constitutional convention to appoint the individual nominated by the Dáil. For the same reason, although notionally the viceroy exercised the executive authority of the state, in practice he did so only at the direction of the President of the Executive Council, making the latter 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. If he ceased to "retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann," 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.

Powers

The office of the President of the Executive Council was less powerful than either its modern equivalent, 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.

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