Functions of the President

Introduction

The President of Ireland (Uachtarán na hÉireann) is the Head of State. The current President is Michael D. Higgins, whose term began on 11 November 2011. His term ends shortly and an election will take place on Friday 26 October 2018.

The Irish Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann) sets out a number of powers and functions for the President. Many of these powers can only be exercised on the advice of the Government. For example, the Government must approve all Presidential communications, messages or addresses, both to the Oireachtas (the Irish parliament) and to the public.

The President must also seek the advice of the Council of State when planning to exercise certain powers.

This document outlines some of the main constitutional and ceremonial functions of the President. The President’s functions as regards legislation are described separately in our document The President and legislation.

You can find further information about the role and functions of the President on president.ie.

Representing the people

As a representative of the Irish people, the President makes State visits abroad and receives other Heads of State on visits to Ireland. The role also includes receiving the credentials of foreign diplomats accredited to Ireland.

In general, the President plays an active role in promoting Ireland's image and role in the international arena, as well as undertaking a wide range of public engagements, both formal and informal, throughout the island of Ireland.

The President also awards the National Challenge Award - Gaisce to young people who have achieved certain challenges and the Centenarian Bounty to people who have reached 100 years of age.

Summoning and dissolving the Dáil

Article 13 (2) of the Constitution gives the President the power to summon and dissolve (end) Dáil Éireann.

Following a general election, the President summons the Dáil on the advice of the Taoiseach (Prime Minister).

The President also has the power to dissolve the Dáil on the advice of the Taoiseach. If the Taoiseach has the support of a majority in the Dáil, the President cannot refuse to dissolve it. However, if the Taoiseach no longer has a Dáil majority, the President may refuse to dissolve the Dáil. (Since the foundation of the State, no President has yet exercised this power of refusal.)

If the President refuses to dissolve Dáil Éireann, the members of the Dáil must then nominate an alternative Government.

Making appointments

The President has an important role in appointing people to various offices of State.

Under Article 13 (1) of the Constitution, the President appoints the Taoiseach who has been nominated by Dáil Éireann. The Taoiseach then nominates the other members of the Government. When these names have been approved by the Dáil, the President appoints them as members of the Government.

On the advice of the Taoiseach, the President will accept the resignation or terminate the appointment of a Government member.

The President also appoints the Attorney General, the legal adviser to the Government (who is nominated by the Taoiseach) and the Comptroller and Auditor General, who is nominated by Dáil Éireann.

The Government nominates judges for the various courts throughout the State and the President then appoints them.

Command of the Defence Forces

The President is Supreme Commander of the Irish Defence Forces. Officers in the Defence Forces hold commissions from the President.

Under the Defence Act 1954, the Government exercises military command through the Minister for Defence, who manages and controls the Defence Forces. The Defence Forces are:

  • Permanent Defence Force and
  • Reserve Defence Force

Read more in our document on the Defence Forces.

Convening the Oireachtas

The President can convene a meeting of either or both Houses of the Oireachtas, after first consulting with the Council of State. This power might be used in an emergency situation. It has never been exercised to date.

At the meeting of either or both Houses of the Oireachtas, the President may communicate a message or address on any matter of national or public importance. The message or address must first be approved by the Government.

Page edited: 21 September 2018