A student guest blog describing Ireland’s executive system.
Everyone knows that European countries do things a bit differently than America, and the European country of Ireland is no exception. Ireland and America have two different approaches to their executive branches; Ireland has a parliamentary system, while America has a presidential system. To understand the difference between the two systems, click here, but just keep reading to learn about Ireland’s executive branch.
As you may already know, a parliamentary system has two positions in the executive system that represent two different roles; the role of the President fulfills the duties of the head of state, while the Taoiseach, or Prime Minister, takes on the role of the head of government. Currently, the chief of state is President Michael D. Higgins and the Taoiseach is Enda Kenny. These two positions are not elected at the same time; rather the President is first elected through a direct vote by the constituents of Ireland for a seven-year term and the Taoiseach is later chosen by Irish parliamentary government, aka the Dáil, and is appointed by the President.
Don’t jump to conclusions quite yet though! The President does not have more power than the Taoiseach just because they can appoint the Taoiseach, this is merely a ceremonial gesture by the President. The true power belongs to the Taoiseach, who has the ability to create and introduce legislation and even advise the President.
The Taoiseach has both large and small duties in the government. A smaller or less pressing responsibility includes providing official statistics for the state. Larger and more public duties include addressing policy issues and nominating eleven members for the Seanad Éireann, which is one of two houses of the Dáil.
The head of state in a parliamentary system often only serves a ceremonial role in government, but in Ireland, there are a number of constitutional powers extended to the position in the executive branch. The President of Ireland has the ability to approve the resignation of a member of the Dáil and to also dissolve, with the advice of the Taoiseach. More importantly, the President has the power to refuse or ignore the advice of the Taoiseach and not dissolve the government, especially if the Taoiseach no longer holds a majority among the members of their parliament. If the President was to deny the Taoiseach advice and not dissolve the Dáil, the Taoiseach would then be forced to resign and a replacement would be appointed. This is significant, it is as though there is a check on the Taoiseach from the President to prevent the head of government from becoming too powerful and acting more like a tyrant than a democratic leader.
Ireland’s parliamentary system with dual roles in the executive branch provides the security of preventing a dictator from coming into power. Though the Taoiseach is the more powerful member of the government than the President, both positions are important and necessary to the proper functioning of the parliamentary system. The President is not just a ceremonial role, but rather a powerful position that represents the interests of the voters and the Taoiseach does not have unlimited power of the Dáil or other members of the government. These two roles are playing a balancing act to protect both the members of government and the citizens of Ireland.
Department of Taoiseach . (n.d.). Role of the Taoiseach. Retrieved March 21, 2012, from http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/eng/Taoiseach_and_Government/About_the_Taoiseach/Role_of_the_Taoiseach/
Europe: Ireland. (2012, March 6). The World Factbook. Retrieved March 19, 2012, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ei.html
Green, M. (n.d.). Constitution and Government of Ireland. Ireland. Retrieved March 21, 2012, from http://www.ireland-information.com/reference/congov.htm