President of Ireland and legislation
The President’s role includes important functions in relation to legislation. These and other rules on legislation are set out in Articles 20-27 of the Constitution.
Signing Bills into law
When a Bill has been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, it is presented to the President for signature. It will only become law when the President has signed it.
In general, the President must sign a Bill on the fifth, sixth or seventh day after it is presented. However, if Seanad Éireann agrees, the Government may ask for the Bill to be signed sooner. Once the Bill has been signed, the President must publish a notice in Iris Oifigiúil (the official State gazette) stating that the Bill has become law.
Is the Bill constitutional?
Under Article 26 of the Constitution, the President can decide to refer a Bill to the Supreme Court (within 7 days of receiving it) to determine whether or not the Bill conflicts with the Constitution. The President must first consult with the Council of State, but the decision to refer the Bill is the President's alone.
If the Supreme Court holds that the Bill is unconstitutional, the President cannot sign it. However, if the Court holds that the Bill is constitutional, the President signs the Bill and it becomes law. In this situation, under Article 34 of the Constitution, the constitutionality of this legislation (or of any part of it) cannot be challenged at a later stage.
The power of referral to the Supreme Court has been used several times – see decisions on supremecourt.ie.
Before the Constitution can be amended, both Houses of the Oireachtas must pass a Bill to amend it. The Irish people must then approve the Bill in a constitutional referendum.
If the Bill is approved in a referendum, the President must then sign it so that the Constitution can be amended. If the Bill is not approved in a referendum, the President does not sign it and the Constitution is not amended.
The President has 2 further powers in relation to legislation, which have never been exercised to date.
Proposals of national importance: Under Article 27 of the Constitution, the President may refuse to sign a Bill if a majority of the members of the Seanad and at least one-third of the members of the Dáil petition the President not to sign it, on the grounds that the Bill contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people should be found out. The President must consult with the Council of State before deciding whether or not to sign the Bill.
In this situation, if the President decides not to sign the Bill, an ordinary referendum is held. To date, no ordinary referendum has yet taken place.
Referring Money Bills: The President also has a power in relation to possible Money Bills, which are Bills that relate to taxation or to Government spending.
Under Article 22 of the Constitution, if the Dáil and Seanad disagree about whether or not a particular Bill is a Money Bill, the Seanad may ask the President to refer the question to a Committee of Privileges. This is a special committee appointed by the President, consisting of an equal number of members of the Dáil and Seanad and a chaired by a Supreme Court judge.
The President must consult with the Council of State before deciding whether or not to appoint a Committee of Privileges.