Ireland is a sovereign and independent state with a parliamentary system of government. The Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann) (hereinafter, "IC" or Constitution ) was adopted by referendum in 1937 and it is the basic law governing the State. It is the successor to the Constitution of Dáil Éireann (1919) and the Constitution of the Irish Free State (1922). Article 6 of the Constitution states that all legislative, executive and judicial powers of Government derive under God from the people. The Constitution establishes the office and powers of the President, the bicameral Oireachtas (Parliament) consisting of the Seanad Eireann (Senate) and the Dail Eireann (House of Representatives) as well as, the Government. It defines the structure and powers of the Courts, and it contains a number of directive principles of social policy for the general guidance of the Oireachtas. The IC also sets out the fundamental rights of the citizen. The definition of rights covers five broad headings: Personal Rights, The Family, Education, Private Property and Religion.
From the perspective of comparative law, the Irish Constitution follows the American model inasmuch as it seeks to protect individual rights and the courts are given express and extensive powers of judicial review of legislation. However, the structures of government chiefly follow the UK model with arrangements for a fused legislative and executive system. The Constitution also lays down the principle of separation of powers, and courts have frequently held as invalid, legislation, which contravenes this principle.
The Head of State is the President.The President serves chiefly a ceremonial role. The President is elected by direct vote of the people (Art.12 (2)1 of the IC) for a term of seven years (Art.12(3) 1 of the IC). The President has supreme command over the armed forces and is vested by Art.13 (6) of the Constitution with the power of pardon and commuting or remitting of punishment imposed by any court exercising criminal jurisdiction. Article 13 of the Constitution confers power on the President to appoint as the Head of Government, that is, as Taoiseach (Prime Minister), the leader of the political party, or coalition of parties that wins the most seats in the Dail (House of Representatives). On approval of the Dali, the President nominates other members of Government and on advice of the Taoiseach accepts their resignations or terminates their appointment. The President also appoints all judges on nomination the Government. The Dali is summoned and dissolved by the President, also on advice of the Taoiseach, however, the President has the absolute discretion to refuse to dissolve the Dail, on the advice of a Taoiseach who has ceased to retain the support of a majority in the Dail. The President promulgates all bills into law, as passed by both houses of the Oireachtas and is aided by an advisory body called the Council of State. The President may be impeached in the manner provided for by Art.12 (10) of the Constitution.
Legislative power is vested in the Oireachtas (Parliament), consisting of the Seanad Eireann (Senate) and the Dail Eireann ( House of Representatives).The Seanadis composed of 60 members (Art. 18 of the IC). Of these 60 members, 11 are nominated by the Taoiseach , 6 are elected by national universities (3 – National University of Ireland, 3 – University of Dublin) and 43 are elected from panels of candidates established in accordance with Art 18 of the Constitution. The Dail numbers 166 members elected by popular vote for a maximum term of five years. The members are elected pursuant to a complex system of proportional representation set out in Article 16 of the Constitution and election law. The Dail is the main legislative body, with the power to enact laws and in particular, with the exclusive power to initiate and enact Money Bills.
Under Article 28 of the Constitution executive power is exercised by, or on the authority of the Government. The Government consists of the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and at least six and no more than 14 Ministers who together meet as collective authority (Cabinet). The Taoiseach and other Ministers are appointed by the President, upon approval of, or as nominated by, the Dail. The Taoiseach, the Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and the Minister of Finance must be members of the Dail. Whereas, the remaining members of Government may be either members of the Dail or the Seanad, however, not more than two members of Government may be members of the Seanad. The Taoiseach must have the confidence of the Dail, and upon loosing the support of a majority thereof, s/he must resign from office, unless s/he secures a majority in a general election held following dissolution of the Dail. In the case that the Taoiseach resigns from office, all Ministers are deemed to have resigned. The responsibility of the Government is to take measures, which, upon recommendation of the Ministers, are necessary for the public interest. The Government is responsible to the Dail. However, members have a right to be heard in both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Government manages public finances and only they are vested with the right to introduce Money Bills into the Dail. The Government (Cabinet) typically meets once a week and its proceedings are confidential.
According to Article 30 of the Constitution the Attorney General is the adviser of the Government in matters of law and legal opinion. The Attorney General is appointed by the President on the nomination of the Taoiseach and is not a member of the Government.
Article 28A also provides for the establishment of local government, which consists in directly, elected local authorities. Law on Local Government determines the formation and functions of local government.
Article 15 (2) 1, confers the sole and exclusive power of making laws for the State in the Oireachtas (Parliament). However, Parliament may delegate some of its power to subordinate legislatures. Both Houses of Parliament may initiate the legislative process. A bill that is passed by either House and accepted by the other House is deemed as passed by both Houses of Parliament (Article 20 (3) IC). Every Bill initiated and passed in the Dail must be sent to the Seanad, who has the discretion to introduce amendments, which must be considered by the Dail (Art 20 of the IC). The Seanad may consider all legislation for a period of 90 days – however, this period may be abridged in circumstances where the Bill is considered urgent (Article 24 of the IC). Art.21 of the Constitution establishes one exception to this legislative procedure, stating that with regard to Money Bills, the right of legislative initiative belongs only to the Dail. Every such money Bill is however, sent to the Seanad for its recommendations, which the Dail may accept or reject. The Seanad has 21 days to review the Money Bill and make its recommendations otherwise, and upon expiration of the time limit the Money Bill will be deemed as passed.
The courts exercise judicial power (Article 34 of the IC). Irish judges are appointed by the President as per the nomination of the Government. Judges of the High Court or Supreme Court can be removed from office for misbehavior or in the case of their incapacity to perform their function. Removal of judges is possible only by resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas. The last court of appeal is the Supreme Court, which is made up of the Chief Justice and five other justices.
The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over constitutional review of legislative acts. Irish citizens, and in certain cases non-citizens, have the right to apply to the Courts to protect from the violation of the rights granted to them by the Constitution. Additionally, they may apply for judgement as to whether particular legislative acts are in accordance with the Constitution, provided the legislation affects, or is likely to affect, the person challenging it. Further, before signing a Bill, the President may refer it to the Supreme Court for a decision on its compatibility with the Constitution.
Article 46 lays down a very rigid rule for any amendment of theConstitution, its provisions state that this may only be done by an Act of the Oireachtas, which must be initiated in the Dail as a Bill. Upon having been passed by both Houses, this Bill is submitted by Referendum (see Art.47 of the IC) to the decision of the people. Every such Bill is expressed as "An Act to amend the Constitution". Following referendum, and in the case that the people approve this Act, the President is then obliged to promulgate it as law.
Ireland’s legal system is based on English common law, however, it has been substantially influenced by indigenous concepts.
Ireland’s membership in the European Union has also significantly impacted in the shape of the law. Under Article 29 of the Constitution, on International Affairs, it is the Department of Foreign Affairs that co-ordinates and establishes the salient elements of Irish foreign policy on matters of the European Union and others such as Northern Ireland and relations with the United Kingdom. The Government and the Oireachtas are consitutionally obliged on each occasion to go to the Irish public to obtain its approval before further sovereignty and competence can be transferred to the European Union. Thus, in order for EU legislation to become governing law, it not only requires enactment by the Oireachtas, but also approval of the people by way of referendum. There have been five such amendments to date.
Ireland is an original OSCE participating State. It is a member state of the European Union. Ireland has been a Council of Europe member since 5 May 1949, and signed the European Convention on Human Rights on 25 February 1953. It has also ratified Protocol No.1 (25.02.1953), No.4 (29.10.1968), No.6 (24.06.1994) and No.7 (03.08.2001) of the ECHR. Ireland was admitted to the United Nations in 1955, but has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction. On 27 March 2002, the twenty-third Amendment of the Constitution Act, 2001 allowed the State to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, whereas the twenty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 2002, permitted the State to ratify the Treaty of Nice.
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