The Executive Council (Irish: Ard-Chomhairle) was the cabinet and de facto executive branch of government of the 1922-1937 Irish Free State. Formally, the role of the Executive Council was to "aid and advise" the Governor-General who would exercise the executive authority on behalf of the King. In practice, however, it was the Council that governed, since the Governor-General was (with few exceptions) bound to act on its advice. The Executive Council included a prime minister called the President of the Executive Council and a deputy prime minister called the Vice-President.
The President of the Executive was appointed by the Governor-General after being nominated by Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas (parliament), and the remaining cabinet ministers were nominated by the President. The Executive Council could also be removed by a vote of no confidence in the Dáil.
While the Free State constitution provided that executive authority would be 'vested' in the King and exercised by his Governor General. However under Article 51 this power was only exercisable "in accordance with the law, practice and constitutional usage governing the exercise of the Executive Authority in the case of the Dominion of Canada". In practice this meant that, as in Canada, the Governor-General was in most cases required to act on the advice of the Executive Council. Thus, it was the cabinet in which true authority lay. In addition to exercising the executive authority the Executive Council, by advising the Governor General, had the exclusive right to:
Convene and dissolve parliament - although this right could not be exercised by a cabinet which had lost the confidence of the Dáil.
Command of the Defence Forces - although the cabinet could not involve the state in a war without the consent of the Oireachtas.
Introduce a money bill in the Oireachtas.
Once the President of the Executive Council had been appointed he nominated the Vice President himself. The remaining cabinet ministers were also nominated by the President but had be approved by a vote of consent in the Dáil. Initially the constitution provided that the Executive Council would consist of between five and seven ministers (not including its president) but under a constitutional amendment adopted in 1927 this maximum limit was increased to twelve. Similarly, initially it was required that all cabinet members hold seats in the Dáil, but an amendment in 1929 provided that one member could be a senator.
In the event that the Executive Council ceased to "retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann" the entire cabinet was obliged to resign en masse, however they were permitted to remain in office as acting ministers until the appointment of successors. The fact that an Executive Council that had lost the confidence of the Dáil could not request a dissolution created the possibility of a political stalemate. It meant that if the Executive Council resigned after being defeated, and the Dáil could not agree on a new Council, a Catch-22 situation might be created, in which the inability of the Dáil to chose a cabinet could not be resolved by the holding of a general election. Unlike the modern Taoiseach of Ireland, the President of the Executive Council did not have authority to dismiss ministers individually. Rather, to dismiss a single member, the whole council had to be dismissed and reformed en bloc. Additionally, the President of the Council could not ask the Governor-General to dissolve the Dáil on his own initiative, but the Council as a whole had to do so. This meant that the position of the President was weaker than that of most modern prime ministers, and he was its chairman as much as he was its leader.
The Executive Council was established with the coming into force of the Free State constitution in 1922. It replaced two previous cabinets, the Aireacht of the Irish Republic and the Provisional Government. The Irish Free State had the status of a dominion of the British Commonwealth and the Irish Executive Council derived its name from organs of government found in other dominions. However it differed from the 'executive councils' of other nations. Firstly, it was a cabinet, whereas the Executive Councils of Australia and New Zealand each serve a role closer to that of a privy council. Secondly, whereas in the Free State the President of the Executive Council was the head of government, in Australia it is the Governor General who is formally its president, although he need not attend all of its meetings. Contrary to the practice in New Zealand and Australia, the executive councils of the provinces of Canada are closer in role to the Free State cabinet, and are presided over by each province's premier.
Under Amendment No. 27 to the Free State constitution, adopted in 1936, the office of Governor General was abolished. For the remaining months of the Irish Free State the executive authority and a number of the Governor General's other functions were exercised by the Executive Council directly, but in practice this change was merely symbolic. The Executive Council itself was replaced in the 1937 by a new cabinet, called simply the 'Government', established under the new Constitution of Ireland.
List of Executive Councils:
Dáil Election/Year formed Council President Vice President Party
3rd 1922 election 1st Executive Council W. T. Cosgrave Kevin O'Higgins Sinn Féin (Pro-Treaty wing)
4th 1923 election 2nd Executive Council W. T. Cosgrave
5th 1927 (Jun) election 3rd Executive Council W. T. Cosgrave
6th 1927 (Sep) election 4th Executive Council W. T. Cosgrave Ernest Blythe Cumann na nGaedheal
1930 5th Executive Council W. T. Cosgrave
7th 1932 election 6th Executive Council Éamon de Valera Seán T. O'Kelly Fianna Fáil
8th 1933 election 7th Executive Council Éamon de Valera
9th 1937 election 8th Executive Council Éamon de Valera