The Oireachtas. From 1922 to 1937 the Oireachtas was the legislature, or parliament, of the Irish Free State. Until the final days of the Irish Free State it consisted of the King and two houses: Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann (also known as the 'Senate').
Like the modern Oireachtas, the Free State legislature was dominated by the powerful, directly elected Dáil. Unlike the modern organ, the Free State Oireachtas had authority to amend the constitution as it saw fit, without recourse to a referendum. During the Free State it was also the Oireachtas as a whole, rather than the Dáil, that had authority to commit the state to war, although this distinction was not significant in practice.
The Free State legislature was often referred to officially as the "Oireachtas of Saorstát Éireann" (Saorstát Éireann is the Irish for Irish Free State). The general enacting formula was "Be it enacted by the Oireachtas of Saorstát Éireann as follows:-", in the case of an act with a preamble this enacting formula was "Be it therefore enacted by the Oireachtas of Saorstát Éireann as follows:".
The Free State Dáil was directly elected by all citizens over the age of twenty-one. The election occurred under the single transferable vote form of proportional representation. It was originally intended that the Senate would be directly elected as well. However, after the holding of only one direct election in 1925, the system was changed to one of indirect election. The Seanad had power to delay money bills for 21 days and any other bill for nine months.
Members of either house had to take an oath of fidelity to the King known as the "Oath of Allegiance" before taking their seats.
The King was the same individual who held the position of King of Great Britain, represented in the Free State by the Governor-General. Until 1927 he reigned in the Irish Free State as "King in Ireland". However from 1927 onwards he technically reigned in Free State on a separate throne as "King of Ireland".
The Oireachtas was dissolved by the King acting on the 'advice' of the Executive Council (cabinet).
Until 1936, to become law a bill had to be approved by both houses of the Oireachtas, and then receive the Royal Assent from the Governor-General, acting on behalf of the King. In 1936, when the King ceased to be a part of the Oireachtas, the responsibility for signing bills into law became a formality exercised by the Ceann Comhairle. Whatever the procedure in practice the Dáil had power to ensure the enactment of almost any law it chose. Before its abolition the Seanad merely had power to delay money bills for 21 days and any other bill for nine months.
During the early years of the Irish Free State there existed a theoretical possibility that the Governor-General might veto an act of the Oireachtas, or "reserve it for the King's pleasure". In fact, after his appointment Governor-General Timothy Michael Healy was instructed by the British Government to withhold the Royal Assent from any bill that sought to abolish the Oath of Allegiance. However, after the passage of the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927 the British Government lost the right to formally advise the King in relation to the Free State and so the possibility of a veto royal became remote. In 1933, under Amendment No. 21 to the Free State constitution, provisions expressly permitting the Governor-General to veto or reserve bills were removed entirely.
As adopted, the Free State constitution, permitted the Oireachtas to amend the constitution by means of an ordinary law, but only during a transitional period of eight years. From 1930 it was envisaged that all amendments would be proposed by the Oireachtas but then be subject to approval in a referendum. However this transitional period was extended in 1929 so that during the entire period of the Irish Free State the Oireachtas had authority to adopt constitutional amendments without recourse to a referendum. The Oireachtas was theoretically prevented from adopting any law or constitutional amendment that violated the terms of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty.
Under the constitution the Oireachtas had exclusive authority to:
Legislate, including approving the budget.
Create subordinate legislatures.
Amend the constitution.
Permit the state to participate in a war.
Raise and control armed forces.
In theory laws were invalid if they were repugnant to the constitution. In practice the power of the Oireachtas to amend the constitution prevented meaningful judicial review.
Laws or constitutional amendments were invalid if they violated the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
It could not retrospectively criminalise acts that were not illegal at the time they were committed.
Until the 1931 Statute of Westminster, the British Parliament retained the power, in theory, to legislate for the Irish Free State without its consent.
The Oireachtas could only legislate for the Free State, and not for Northern Ireland.
A series of constitutional amendments in 1936 substantially altered the functioning of the Oireachtas:
The King ceased to be a part of the Oireachtas, and the responsibility for signing bills into law became a formality exercised by the Ceann Comhairle.
The Seanad was abolished so the Free State Oireachtas consisted solely of the Dáil.
The original oath was abolished.
The requirement for laws and constitutional amendments to comply with the Anglo-Irish Treaty was removed.
The power to dissolve the legislature was exercised by the Ceann Comhairle (Chairman of Dáil Éireann) when instructed to do so by the President of the Executive Council (prime minister).
In 1937 the new Constitution of Ireland replaced the Free State Oireachtas with the modern Oireachtas Éireann.
The Oireachtas (Irish pronunciation, sometimes referred to as Oireachtas Éireann, is the "national parliament" or legislature of Ireland. The Oireachtas consists of:
The President of Ireland
The two Houses of the Oireachtas (Irish: Tithe an Oireachtais):
Dáil Éireann (Lower house)
Seanad Éireann (Upper house)
The Houses of the Oireachtas sit in Leinster House in Dublin, an eighteenth century ducal palace. The directly-elected Dáil is by far the most powerful branch of the Oireachtas.
Dáil Éireann, the lower house, is directly elected under universal suffrage of all Irish and United Kingdom citizens who are resident and at least eighteen years of age. An election is held at least once in every five years as required by law. However the house can usually be dissolved at any time at the request of the Taoiseach (head of government). Dáil elections occur under the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote. The Dáil has had 166 members since 1981. The Seanad is not directly elected but consists of a mixture of members selected in a number of ways. 43 senators are elected by councillors and parliamentarians, 11 are appointed by the Taoiseach, and six are elected by two university constituencies, giving a total of 60 members. The President of Ireland is directly elected once in every seven years, for a maximum of two terms. However if, as has occurred on a number of occasions, a consensus among the larger political parties can result in only a single candidate being nominated, then no actual ballot occurs.
To become law a bill must first be approved by both the Dáil and in most circumstances the Seanad (although the Dáil can override a Seanad refusal to pass a Bill), and then signed into law by the President. Bills to amend the Constitution must also be approved by the People prior to being presented to the President. In most circumstances, the President is in effect obliged to sign all laws approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas, although he or she has the power to refer most bills to the Supreme Court for a ruling on constitutionality. The powers of the Seanad are in effect limited to delay rather than veto. It is the Dáil, therefore, that is the supreme tier of the Irish legislature. The general enacting formula for Acts of the Oireachtas is: "Be it enacted by the Oireachtas as follows:-", for an act with a preamble this enacting formula is, instead, "Be it therefore enacted by the Oireachtas as follows:".
The Oireachtas has exclusive power to:
Legislate, including a power vested in the Dáil of approving the financial resolutions relevant to the budget.
Create subordinate legislatures.
Propose changes to the constitution (must be initiated in the Dáil), which must then be submitted to a referendum.
Raise military or armed forces.
Allow international agreements to become part of the domestic law of the state.
Pass certain laws having extraterritorial effect (in accordance with the similar practices of other states).
Enact, when it considers a state of emergency to exist, almost any law it deems necessary.
Laws are invalid if, and to the extent that, they contradict the constitution.
In the event of a conflict, EU law also takes precedence over acts of the Oireachtas, as is common throughout the European Union.
It may not retrospectively criminalise acts that were not illegal at the time they were committed.
It may not enact any law providing for the imposition of the death penalty, even during a state of emergency.
It can only legislate for the Republic of Ireland and not for Northern Ireland.
Each house of the Oireachtas has its own committees but there are also a number of joint committees that include members of both. There are currently twenty of these (the first thirteen below are based on the thirteen select committees of the Dáil):
Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food
Joint Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs
Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources
Sub-Committee on Salmon Drift Netting, Draft Netting and Angling
Joint Committee on Education and Science
Joint Committee on Enterprise and Small Business
Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government
Joint Committee on European Affairs
Sub-Committee on European Scrutiny
Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service
Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs
Sub-Committee on Development Co-Operation
Sub-Committee on Human Rights
Joint Committee on Health and Children
Sub-Committee on Orthodontics
Sub-Committee on the High Levels of Suicide in Irish Society
Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights
Sub-Committee on the Barron Report on the Dublin Bombings of 1972 and 1973
Sub-Committee on the Barron Report on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974
Sub-Committee on the Barron Report on the Murder of Seamus Ludlow
Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs
Joint Committee on Transport
Committee on Article 35.4.1 of the Constitution and section 39 of the Courts of Justice Act 1924
Joint Committee on the Constitution
Joint Committee on Broadcasting and Parliamentary Information
Joint Committee on House Services
Joint Committee on Standing Orders
Standing Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills
Working Group of Committee Chairmen
The word oireachtas comes from the Irish language name MacOireachtaigh (Geraghty), believed to have been advisors to ancient kings and has been the title of two parliaments in Irish history: the current Oireachtas of the Republic of Ireland, since 1937, and, immediately before that, the Oireachtas of the Irish Free State of 1922-1937.
The earliest parliament in Ireland was the Parliament of Ireland, which was founded in the thirteenth century as the supreme legislative body of the lordship of Ireland and was in existence until 1801. This parliament governed the English-dominated part of Ireland, which at first was limited to Dublin and surrounding cities, but later grew to include the entire island. But the Irish Parliament was, from the passage of Poyning's law in 1494 until its repeal in 1782, subordinate to the English, and later British, Parliament. This Parliament consisted of the King of Ireland, who was the same person as the King of England, a House of the Lords and a House of Commons. In 1800 the Irish Parliament abolished itself when, after widespread bribery of members, it adopted the Act of Union, which came into effect from 1 January 1801.
The next legislature to exist in Ireland only came into being in 1919. This was an extra-legal, unicameral parliament established by Irish republicans, known simply as Dáil Éireann. This revolutionary Dáil was notionally a legislature for the whole island of Ireland. In 1920, in parallel to the extra-legal Dáil, the British government created a home rule legislature called the Parliament of Southern Ireland. However this parliament was boycotted by most Irish politicians. It was made up of the King, the House of Commons of Southern Ireland and the Senate of Southern Ireland. The Parliament of Southern Ireland was formally abolished in 1922, with the establishment of the Oireachtas under the Constitution of the Irish Free State.
The Oireachtas of the Irish Free State consisted officially of the King and two houses, named, as their successors would be, Dáil Éireann (described, in this case, as a 'Chamber of Deputies') and Seanad Éireann. However the Free State Senate was abolished in 1935. The modern Oireachtas came into being in 1937, with the adoption by referendum of the Constitution of Ireland.
Televising of the Oireachtas:
The televising of Oireachtas debates commenced in 1990, while those of committees commenced in 1993. Since 2005, over the internet of both houses have been made available by HEAnet and the eDemocracy Unit of the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Oireachtas TV is a proposed digital television channel in Ireland. It will resume broadcasting Committee and Houses and other parliament proceedings following establishment under a Broadcasting Act 2009 The channel will provide for coverage of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the programming of other world parliaments.
Houses of the Oireachtas family day:
On 28 June 2008 the first Houses of the Oireachtas family day was held. This initiative by the Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann, John O'Donoghue and the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann, Pat Moylan is to increase public awareness in the work of the Houses of The Oireachtas. It included tours of both chambers of the Oireachtas, lectures on the history of Oireachtas, historic political speeches recited by actors and a hot air balloon - commemorating the balloon flight which took place in 1785 from Leinster Lawn. The Oireachtas family day is due to become an annual event.
Northern Ireland representation:
Although, as adopted in 1937, Article 3 of the constitution asserted the "right of the parliament and government established by this constitution to exercise jurisdiction" over the whole of Ireland, it also provided that pending the "re-integration of the national territory" Acts of the Oireachtas would not apply to Northern Ireland. Therefore no serious attempts have been made for the representation of Northern Ireland in the Dáil. As Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, while a staunch opponent of partition, who had been elected to represent a Northern constituency in the First Dáil, did not pursue the idea of seats in the Dáil for Northern Ireland, on the grounds that this would amount to representation 'without taxation or responsibility', although subsequent Taoisigh have appointed people from Northern Ireland to the Seanad.
More recently, Sinn Féin has advocated that elected representatives from Stormont, Westminster, or Strasbourg should have the right to participate in Dáil debates, if not voting rights. In 2005 the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, proposed that Northern Ireland MPs should be able to address a committee of the whole of house sitting in the Dáil chamber. However, the media, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Green Party, the Socialist Party and Ahern's coalition partners, the Progressive Democrats, all opposed the idea, as did some Oireachtas members from Fianna Fáil. Only Sinn Féin, the party that stood to gain most from the proposal, supported it, while the more moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) described it as a step forward. The proposal was also criticised widely in the media, with editorials and/or columns published criticising the proposal in The Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Irish Examiner, the Sunday Independent and other publications Only the republican-leaning Daily Ireland supported the proposal fully.