Taoiseach

Taoiseach
Irish Government Logo.png
Leo Varadkar 2016.jpg
Incumbent
Leo Varadkar

since 14 June 2017
Department of the Taoiseach
Style Taoiseach
Irish: A Thaoisigh
Member of
Reports to Oireachtas
Residence Steward's Lodge
Seat Government Buildings,
Merrion Street, Dublin, Ireland
Nominator Dáil Éireann
Appointer President of Ireland
Term length While commanding the confidence of the majority of Dáil Éireann. No term limits are imposed on the office.
Inaugural holder Éamon de Valera[note 1]
Formation 29 December 1937[note 1]
Deputy Tánaiste
Salary €199,136[1]
Website taoiseach.ie

The Taoiseach (/ˈtʃəx/ (About this soundlisten))[2] is the prime minister and head of government of Ireland.[note 2] The Taoiseach is appointed by the President upon the nomination of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas (parliament), and must, in order to remain in office, retain the support of a majority in the Dáil.

The word taoiseach means "chief" or "leader" in Irish and was adopted in the 1937 Constitution of Ireland as the title of the "head of the Government, or Prime Minister".[note 2] Taoiseach is the official title of the head of government in both English and Irish, and is not used for other countries' prime ministers (who are referred to in Irish as Príomh Aire). The Irish form, An Taoiseach, is sometimes used in English instead of "the Taoiseach". Outside of Ireland, the Taoiseach is sometimes referred to as the Prime Minister of Ireland.[3]

Leo Varadkar TD is the current Taoiseach; he took office on 14 June 2017,[4] following his election as leader of Fine Gael on 2 June 2017.[5] Varadkar is the youngest Taoiseach in the history of the Irish state, having taken office at the age of 38; he is also the first openly LGBT person, and the first person of Indian descent to lead the Irish government.

Overview

Under the Constitution of Ireland, the Taoiseach is nominated by a simple majority of Dáil Éireann from among its members. He/she is then formally appointed to office by the President, who is required to appoint whomever the Dáil designates, without the option of declining to make the appointment. For this reason, it is often said that the Taoiseach is "elected" by Dáil Éireann.

If the Taoiseach loses the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann, he/she is not automatically removed from office but, rather, is compelled either to resign or to persuade the President to dissolve the Dáil. The President may refuse to grant a dissolution and, in effect, force the Taoiseach to resign; to date, no president has exercised this prerogative, though the option arose in 1944 and 1994, and twice in 1982. The Taoiseach may lose the support of Dáil Éireann by the passage of a vote of no confidence, or implicitly through the failure of a vote of confidence; or alternatively, the Dáil may refuse supply.[note 3] In the event of the Taoiseach's resignation, he/she continues to exercise the duties and functions of his/her office until the appointment of a successor.

The Taoiseach nominates the remaining members of the Government, who are then, with the consent of the Dáil, appointed by the President. The Taoiseach also has authority to advise the President to dismiss cabinet ministers from office, advice the President is required to follow by convention. The Taoiseach is further responsible for appointing eleven members of the Seanad.

The Department of the Taoiseach is the government department which supports and advises the Taoiseach in carrying out his/her various duties.

Salary

Since 2013, the Taoiseach's annual salary is €185,350.[6] It was cut from €214,187 to €200,000 when Enda Kenny took office, before being cut further to €185,350 under the Haddington Road Agreement in 2013.

A proposed increase of €38,000 in 2007 was deferred when Brian Cowen became Taoiseach[7] and in October 2008, the government announced a 10% salary cut for all ministers, including the Taoiseach.[8] However this was a voluntary cut and the salaries remained nominally the same with both ministers and Taoiseach essentially refusing 10% of their salary. This courted controversy in December 2009 when a salary cut of 20% was based on the higher figure before the refused amount was deducted.[9] The Taoiseach is also allowed an additional €118,981 in annual expenses.

Residence

There is no official residence of the Taoiseach. In 2008 it was reported speculatively that the former Steward's Lodge at Farmleigh adjoining the Phoenix Park would become the official residence of the Taoiseach; however no official statements were made nor any action taken.[10] The house, which forms part of the Farmleigh estate acquired by the State in 1999 for €29.2m, was renovated at a cost of nearly €600,000 in 2005 by the Office of Public Works. Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern did not use it as a residence, but his successor Brian Cowen used it "from time to time".[11]

History

Origins and etymology

The words Taoiseach (Irish: [ˈt̪ˠiːʃəx]) and Tánaiste (the title of the deputy prime minister) are both from the Irish language and of ancient origin. Though the Taoiseach is described in the Constitution of Ireland as "the head of the Government or Prime Minister",[note 2] its literal translation is chieftain or leader.[12] Although Éamon de Valera, who introduced the title in 1937, was neither a Fascist nor a dictator, it has sometimes been remarked that the meaning leader in 1937 made the title similar to the titles of Fascist dictators of the time, such as Führer (Hitler), Duce (Mussolini) and Caudillo (Franco).[13][14][15] Tánaiste, in turn, refers to the system of tanistry, the Gaelic system of succession whereby a leader would appoint an heir apparent while still living.

In Scottish Gaelic, tòiseach translates as clan chief and both words originally had similar meanings in the Gaelic languages of Scotland and Ireland.[note 4][16][17][note 5] The related Welsh language word tywysog (current meaning: prince) has a similar origin and meaning.[note 6] It is hypothesized that both derive ultimately from the proto-Celtic *towissākos "chieftain, leader".

The plural of taoiseach is taoisigh (Irish: [t̪ˠiːʃiː]).[12]

Although the Irish form An Taoiseach is sometimes used in English instead of "the Taoiseach",[18] the English version of the Constitution states that he or she "shall be called ... the Taoiseach".[note 2]

Debate on the title

In 1937 when the draft Constitution of Ireland was being debated in the Dáil, Frank MacDermot, an opposition politician, moved an amendment to substitute "Prime Minister" for the proposed "Taoiseach" title in the English text of the Constitution. It was proposed to keep the "Taoiseach" title in the Irish language text. The proponent remarked:[19]

It seems to me to be mere make-believe to try to incorporate a word like "Taoiseach" in the English language. It would be pronounced wrongly by 99 percent of the people. I have already ascertained it is a very difficult word to pronounce correctly. That being so, even for the sake of the dignity of the Irish language, it would be more sensible that when speaking English we should be allowed to refer to the gentleman in question as the Prime Minister... It is just one more example of the sort of things that are being done here as if for the purpose of putting off the people in the North. No useful purpose of any kind can be served by compelling us, when speaking English, to refer to An Taoiseach rather than to the Prime Minister.

The President of the Executive Council, Éamon de Valera, gave the term's meaning as "chieftain" or "Captain". He said he was "not disposed" to support the proposed amendment and felt the word "Taoiseach" did not need to be changed. The proposed amendment was defeated on a vote and "Taoiseach" was included as the title ultimately adopted by plebiscite of the people.[20]

Modern office

The modern position of Taoiseach was established by the 1937 Constitution of Ireland and is the most powerful role in Irish politics. The office replaced the position of President of the Executive Council of the 1922–1937 Irish Free State.

The positions of Taoiseach and President of the Executive Council differed in certain fundamental respects. Under the Constitution of the Irish Free State, the latter was vested with considerably less power and was largely just the chairman of the cabinet, the Executive Council. For example, the President of the Executive Council could not dismiss a fellow minister on his own authority. Instead, the Executive Council had to be disbanded and reformed entirely in order to remove a member. The President of the Executive Council also did not have the right to advise the Governor-General to dissolve Dáil Éireann on his own authority, that power belonging collectively to the Executive Council.

In contrast, the Taoiseach created in 1937 possesses a much more powerful role. He can both advise the President to dismiss ministers and dissolve Parliament on his own authority—advice that the President is almost always required to follow by convention.[note 7] His role is greatly enhanced because under the Constitution, he is both de jure and de facto chief executive. In most other parliamentary democracies, the head of state is at least the nominal chief executive, while being bound by convention to act on the advice of the cabinet. In Ireland, however, executive power is explicitly vested in the Government, of which the Taoiseach is the leader.

Since the Taoiseach is the head of government, and may remove ministers at will, many of the powers specified, in law or the constitution, to be exercised by the government as a collective body, are in reality at the will of the Taoiseach. The Government almost always backs the Taoiseach in major decisions, and in many cases often merely formalizes that decision at a subsequent meeting after it has already been announced. Nevertheless the need for collective decision making on paper acts as a safeguard against an unwise decision made by the Taoiseach.

Historically, where there have been multi-party or coalition governments, the Taoiseach has been the leader of the largest party in the coalition. One exception to this was John A. Costello, who was not leader of his party, but an agreed choice to head the government, because the other parties refused to accept then Fine Gael leader Richard Mulcahy as Taoiseach. In 2010 Taoiseach Brian Cowen, in the midst of highly unpopular spending cuts after the global financial crash, maintained his position as Taoiseach until new elections, but stood down as leader of Fianna Fáil and allowed Micheál Martin (who had resigned in protest at the way Cowen responded to the crises) to succeed him.

List of office holders

Before the enactment of the 1937 Constitution, the head of government was referred to as the President of the Executive Council. This office was first held by W. T. Cosgrave of Cumann na nGaedheal from 1922–32, and then by Éamon de Valera of Fianna Fáil from 1932–37. By convention, Taoisigh are numbered to include Cosgrave;[21][22][23][24] for example, Leo Varadkar is considered the 14th Taoiseach, not the 13th.

President of the Executive Council[edit]

No. Portrait Name
(Birth–Death)
Constituency
Term of office Party Exec. Council
Composition
Vice President Dáil
(elected)
1 William Thomas Cosgrave.jpg W. T. Cosgrave
(1880–1965)
TD for Carlow–Kilkenny until 1927
TD for Cork Borough from 1927
6 December
1922[note 8]
9 March
1932
Sinn Féin
(Pro-Treaty)
1st SF (PT) (minority) Kevin O'Higgins 3 (1922)
Cumann na nGaedheal 2nd CnG (minority) 4 (1923)
3rd Ernest Blythe 5 (Jun.1927)
4th 6 (Sep.1927)
5th
2 Éamon de Valera.jpg Éamon de Valera
(1882–1975)
TD for Clare
9 March
1932[note 9]
29 December
1937
Fianna Fáil 6th FF (minority) Seán T. O'Kelly 7 (1932)
7th 8 (1933)
8th 9 (1937)

Taoiseach[edit]

No. Portrait Name
(Birth–Death)
Constituency
Term of office Party Government
Composition
Tánaiste Dáil
(elected)
(2) Éamon de Valera.jpg Éamon de Valera
(1882–1975)
TD for Clare
29 December
1937
18 February
1948
Fianna Fáil 1st FF (minority) Seán T. O'Kelly 9 ( ···· )
2nd FF 10 (1938)
3rd FF (minority) 11 (1943)
4th FF Seán Lemass 12 (1944)
3 US visit of Taoiseach Costello in 1956 (cropped).jpg John A. Costello
(1891–1976)
TD for Dublin South-East
18 February
1948
13 June
1951
Fine Gael 5th FGLabCnPCnTNLInd William Norton 13 (1948)
(2) Éamon de Valera.jpg Éamon de Valera
(1882–1975)
TD for Clare
13 June
1951
2 June
1954
Fianna Fáil 6th FF (minority) Seán Lemass 14 (1951)
(3) US visit of Taoiseach Costello in 1956 (cropped).jpg John A. Costello
(1891–1976)
TD for Dublin South-East
2 June
1954
20 March
1957
Fine Gael 7th FGLabCnT William Norton 15 (1954)
(2) Éamon de Valera.jpg Éamon de Valera
(1882–1975)
TD for Clare
20 March
1957
23 June
1959
Fianna Fáil 8th FF Seán Lemass 16 (1957)
4 Séan Lemass at Schiphol Airport (cropped).jpg Seán Lemass
(1899–1971)
TD for Dublin South-Central
23 June
1959
10 November
1966
Fianna Fáil 9th FF Seán MacEntee
10th FF (minority) 17 (1961)
11th FF Frank Aiken 18 (1965)
5 Jack Lynch 1967 (cropped).jpg Jack Lynch
(1917–1999)
TD for Cork Borough until 1969
TD for Cork City North-West from 1969
10 November
1966
14 March
1973
Fianna Fáil 12th FF
13th FF Erskine H. Childers 19 (1969)
6 Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave-Patricks Day 1976.jpg Liam Cosgrave
(1920–2017)
TD for Dún Laoghaire and Rathdown
14 March
1973
5 July
1977
Fine Gael 14th FGLab Brendan Corish 20 (1973)
(5) Jack Lynch 1967 (cropped).jpg Jack Lynch
(1917–1999)
TD for Cork City
5 July
1977
11 December
1979
Fianna Fáil 15th FF George Colley 21 (1977)
7 Charles Haughey 1967.jpg Charles Haughey
(1925–2006)
TD for Dublin Artane
11 December
1979
30 June
1981
Fianna Fáil 16th FF
8 Garret FitzGerald Lisbon 2009 crop.jpg Garret FitzGerald
(1926–2011)
TD for Dublin South-East
30 June
1981
9 March
1982
Fine Gael 17th FGLab (minority) Michael O'Leary 22 (1981)
(7) Charles Haughey 1967.jpg Charles Haughey
(1925–2006)
TD for Dublin North-Central
9 March
1982
14 December
1982
Fianna Fáil 18th FF (minority) Ray MacSharry 23 (Feb.1982)
(8) Garret FitzGerald Lisbon 2009 crop.jpg Garret FitzGerald
(1926–2011)
TD for Dublin South-East
14 December
1982
10 March
1987
Fine Gael 19th FGLab
FG (minority) from Jan 1987
Dick Spring 24 (Nov.1982)
Peter Barry
(7) Charles Haughey 1967.jpg Charles Haughey
(1925–2006)
TD for Dublin North-Central
10 March
1987
11 February
1992
Fianna Fáil 20th FF (minority) Brian Lenihan 25 (1987)
21st FFPD 26 (1989)
John Wilson
9 Albert Reynolds crop.jpg Albert Reynolds
(1932–2014)
TD for Longford–Roscommon
11 February
1992
15 December
1994
Fianna Fáil 22nd FFPD
FF (minority) from Nov 1992
23rd FFLab
FF (minority) from Nov 1994
Dick Spring 27 (1992)
Bertie Ahern
10 John Bruton 2011.jpg John Bruton
(b. 1947)
TD for Meath
15 December
1994
26 June
1997
Fine Gael 24th FGLabDL Dick Spring
11 BertieAhernBerlin2007-bis.jpg Bertie Ahern
(b. 1951)
TD for Dublin Central
26 June
1997
7 May
2008
Fianna Fáil 25th FFPD (minority) Mary Harney 28 (1997)
26th FFPD 29 (2002)
Michael McDowell
27th FFGreenPD Brian Cowen 30 (2007)
12 Brian Cowen in Philadelphia.jpg Brian Cowen
(b. 1960)
TD for Laois–Offaly
7 May
2008
9 March
2011
Fianna Fáil 28th FFGreenPD
FFGreenInd from Nov 2009
FF (minority) from Jan 2011
Mary Coughlan
13 Enda Kenny EPP 2014 (cropped).jpg Enda Kenny
(b. 1951)
TD for Mayo
9 March
2011
14 June
2017[25]
Fine Gael 29th FGLab Eamon Gilmore 31 (2011)
Joan Burton
30th FGInd (minority) Frances Fitzgerald 32 (2016)
14 Leo Varadkar 2016.jpg Leo Varadkar
(b. 1979)
TD for Dublin West
14 June
2017[26]
Incumbent Fine Gael 31st FGInd (minority)
Simon Coveney

Timeline

Leo VaradkarEnda KennyBrian CowenBertie AhernJohn BrutonAlbert ReynoldsGarret FitzGeraldCharles HaugheyLiam CosgraveJack LynchSeán LemassJohn A. CostelloÉamon de ValeraW. T. Cosgrave


Living former officeholders

There are four living former taoisigh as of May 2019:

Taoiseach Term of office Date of birth
John Bruton 1994–1997 (1947-05-18) 18 May 1947 (age 72)
Bertie Ahern 1997–2008 (1951-09-12) 12 September 1951 (age 67)
Brian Cowen 2008–2011 (1960-01-10) 10 January 1960 (age 59)
Enda Kenny 2011–2017 (1951-04-24) 24 April 1951 (age 68)

The most recent Taoiseach to die was Liam Cosgrave (served 1973–1977) on 4 October 2017, aged 97.

See also

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