The Taoiseach (plural Taoisigh, also referred to as An Taoiseach is the head of government of Ireland. The Taoiseach is appointed by the President upon the nomination of Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Oireachtas), and must, while he remains in office, retain the support of a majority in the Dáil. The role of Taoiseach is that of a prime minister.

The current Taoiseach is Brian Cowen, TD, who was appointed on 7 May 2008.

Overview:

Under the Constitution of Ireland the Taoiseach must be appointed from among the members of Dáil Éireann. In the event that the Taoiseach loses the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann, he 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, but, to date, no president has exercised this prerogative (though the option arose in 1944, twice in 1982 and would have arisen in 1994 had Albert Reynolds chosen, following his Dáil defeat, to seek a dissolution rather than resign). The Taoiseach may lose the support of Dáil Éireann by the passage of a vote of no confidence, the failure of a vote of confidence or, alternatively, the Dáil may refuse supply. In the event of the Taoiseach's resignation, he continues to exercise the duties and functions of his 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 have fellow members of the cabinet dismissed from office. He or she is further responsible for appointing eleven members of the Senate.

Salary:

The Taoiseach's salary has been somewhat higher than for leaders in many other countries: €228,466 annually following a recent reduction of 20% on the previous €285,582, compared to £142,000 (about €172,164) for the British Prime Minister and €231,000 for the President of France. In October 2007, the Taoiseach was the highest-paid head of government in the OECD countries. However, the remuneration structures for Government of Ireland employees apparently mean that comparison with other countries are not useful and are discouraged by the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector. A proposed increase of €38,000 in 2007, was deferred when Brian Cowen became Taoiseach and in October 2008, the government announced a 10% salary cut for all ministers, including the Taoiseach. However this was a voluntary cut and the salaries remained nominally the same with 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. The Taoiseach is also allowed an additional €118,981 in annual expenses.

Residence:

There is no official residence of the Taoiseach. However, in 2008 it was reported that the former Steward's Lodge at Farmleigh adjoining the Phoenix Park would become the official residence of the Taoiseach. 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, however the current Taoiseach Brian Cowen, uses it "from time to time".

Origins and etymology:

The words Taoiseach 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" ,its literal translation is "Chieftain" or "Leader". Some historians suggest that in ancient Ireland (where these terms originate), a taoiseach was a minor king, while a tánaiste was a governor placed in a kingdom whose king had been deposed or, more usually, his heir-apparent. In Scottish Gaelic, tòiseach translates as clan chief and both words originally had similar meaning in the Gaelic languages of Scotland and Ireland. The related Welsh language word tywysog (current meaning "prince" - from tywys, "to lead") appears to have had a similar meaning.

Modern office:
The modern position of Taoiseach was established by the 1937 Constitution of Ireland, to replace 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 cabinet's presiding officer. For example, the President of the Executive Council could not dismiss a fellow minister. The Free State's cabinet, the Executive Council, had to be disbanded and reformed entirely, in order to remove one of its number. The President of the Executive Council could also not personally seek a dissolution of Dáil Éireann from the head of state, that power belonging collectively to the Executive Council. In contrast, the Taoiseach created in 1937 possesses a much more powerful role. He can both instruct the President to dismiss ministers, and request a parliamentary dissolution on his own initiative.

Historically, where there have been multi-party or coalition governments, the Taoiseach has come from 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.

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 from 1932-37. By convention Taoisigh are numbered to include Cosgrave, for example Brian Cowen is considered the 12th Taoiseach not the 11th.

President of the Executive Council:

W. T. Cosgrave (6 December 1922 - 9 March 1932)
Éamon de Valera (9 March 1932 - 29 December 1937)

Taoiseach:

Éamon de Valera (29 December 1937 - 18 February 1948)
John A. Costello (18 February 1948 - 13 June 1951)
Éamon de Valera (13 June 1951 - 2 June 1954)
John A. Costello (2 June 1954 - 20 March 1957)
Éamon de Valera (20 March 1957 - 23 June 1959)
Seán Lemass (23 June 1959 - 10 November 1966)
Jack Lynch (10 November 1966 - 14 March 1973)
Liam Cosgrave (14 March 1973 - 5 July 1977)
Jack Lynch (5 July 1977 - 11 December 1979)
Charles Haughey (11 December 1979 - 30 June 1981)
Garret FitzGerald (30 June 1981 - 9 March 1982)
Charles Haughey (9 March 1982 - 14 December 1982)
Garret FitzGerald (14 December 1982 - 10 March 1987)
Charles Haughey (10 March 1987 - 11 February 1992)
Albert Reynolds (11 February 1992 - 15 December 1994)
John Bruton (15 December 1994 - 26 June 1997)
Bertie Ahern (26 June 1997 - 6 May 2008)
Brian Cowen (7 May 2008 - 2011)