The President is Head of State. In this capacity, he plays a number of roles. Most are ceremonial in nature. Most presidential functions are performed on the advice of the Government. In these cases, the President has no discretion.
There are a relatively small number of functions, where the President, has a genuine discretion as to their exercise. In these latter functions, the President acts as guardian of the Constitution.
The President represents the State on the international stage. He may make visits to foreign Head of State and Governments and may receive visiting Heads of State. However, he does so on the advice of the Government. He may not leave the State without the consent of the Government. The Taoiseach must keep President informed on matters of domestic and international affairs.
The President may make an address to the Nation on matters of national importance. The message or address must be approved by the Government. Generally the President and does not speak publicly on political issues, without the consent of the government.
Formal Appointment Role
The President appoints the Taoiseach on the recommendation of the Dail. The President appoints the members of the Government on the advice of the Taoiseach. The President appoints members of the judiciary and Irish ambassadors.
Many other senior officers of the State, such as the Attorney General and the Controller and Auditor General are appointed by the President on the nomination of the Dail. The relevant appointments may be terminated by the President, on the advice of the Taoiseach, Dail, Oireachtas, etc. as the case, may be.
The President is nominally head of the Armed Forces. The military command of the Armed Forces is exercisable by the Minister for Defence. The President makes the appointments of senior officers in the Armed Forces. .
The President must sign Bills passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. Bills become law on signing by the President. Instead of signing a Bill into law, the President may refer a Bill to the Supreme Court for a decision as to its constitutionality. If on reference to the Supreme Court, it decides that the Bill is unconstitutional, it is not signed into law. The power to refer a Bill does not apply to a money Bill. This power has been exercised on a number of occasions.
The President may refuse to dissolve the Dail on the advice of a Taoiseach who ceases to retain the support of a majority of the Dail. A dissolution might be refused, if the President is satisfied that an alternative Government is feasible.
The President, after consultation with the Council of State, may convene a meeting of either or both Houses of the Oireachtas.
The President may be requested by a majority of Senators and one third of the Dail not to sign a Bill, unless it has been approved at referendum or general election. If the President decides that a proposal is of national importance such that the will of the people should in his opinion be ascertained, the Bill cannot become law until approved by referendum or after a general election. This has never occurred.
Where a Bill is of urgently and immediate necessity for the preservation of peace and security by reason of an emergency, the time for consideration by the Senate may be shortened. The President must agree with the Government’s view in this regard before the procedure can be adopted. The Dail with the approval of the President, can limit the Senate to a shorter period.
The Council of State
The Council of State is made up of Taoiseach, Tanaiste, Chief Justice of the High Court, Chairperson of the Doyle and Senator, available former Presidents and Taoisigh and of seven additional persons appointed by the President. It assists and advises the President in relation to many matters, on which he may exercise his discretionary powers.
The President must convene a meeting of powers of State in certain situations. The members of the Council of State explain their points of view in relation to the matters concerned. The President decides on the matter, having heard the advice, but is in no way obliged to follow it.
The President must be over 35 years of age. The President is directly elected. A President may be re-elected only once. The President’s role is non-political and candidates do not represent political parties as such.
Historcdially, presidential candidates were nominated by political parties as they require nomination by 20 Senators or TDs or by four County or City Councils. However in the last 20 years, Councils have been willing to nominate persons with no former party association as candidates.
The President may be removed only for stated misbehaviour by a two-thirds majority of both Houses of the Oireachtas. The charge must be made by two thirds majority of either House of the Oireachtas. One house must prefer the charge and the other House must investigate it or cause it to be investigated.
The President can be removed for permanent incapacity established to the satisfaction of five Judges of the Supreme Court. In the event of the President’s absence, temporary incapacity, death, resignation or failure to perform functions, his functions are performed by the Presidential Commission. This consists of the Chief Justice and the chairpersons of the Dail and Senate.
Staff and Secretariat
The President is assisted by a staff and secretariat. The Secretary General to the President is a civil servant appointed by the Government, following consultation with the President. The President has an aide-de-camp, who is usually an army officer.
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