To Ourselves, Article Thirteen

Now we move onto the powers of the Presidency.

1.    1° The President shall, on the nomination of Dáil Éireann, appoint the Taoiseach, that is, the head of the Government or Prime Minister.

2° The President shall, on the nomination of the Taoiseach with the previous approval of Dáil Éireann, appoint the other members of the Government.

3° The President shall, on the advice of the Taoiseach, accept the resignation or terminate the appointment of any member of the Government.

As the first citizen, it is the Presidents job to appoint the Taoiseach and government. This is a purely ceremonial power, one that the position has no option but to carry out. This job insures that the Presidency is treated as the highest position in the state, that even those with the real power have to defer too. But it is all pomp and ceremony in the end.

2.    1° Dáil Éireann shall be summoned and dissolved by the President on the advice of the Taoiseach.

2° The President may in his absolute discretion refuse to dissolve Dáil Éireann on the advice of a Taoiseach who has ceased to retain the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann.

3° The President may at any time, after consultation with the Council of State, convene a meeting of either or both of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Here we have, potentially, the key power of the President, though it is hard to actually see the meaning behind the words.

The President dissolves the Dail and reconvenes it after a general election. Elections are called in three fashions. They either take place when the Oireachtas has reached its five-year limit, when the Taoiseach so decides, or when the sitting government is defeated in a vote.

Part Two of this section is the kicker. When the government loses a vote, that is, when it has “ceased to retain the support of a majority in Dail Eireann”, the Taoiseach goes to the President and asks him/her to dissolve the Oireachtas and call an election. Every time it has happened in history, the President has done so.

But the President can refuse to do so. In that event, the Taoiseach resigns his position, and a new one is picked. The government continues out its term, despite the loss of a vote.

It’s never happened and it’s doubtful it ever will. It would create a crisis in Irish politics, a constitutional quagmire. The President would be acting in direct conflict with the majority of the Dail, the representative body of Ireland. But the President can do it. Mary Robinson indicated she would have done it in 1994 when the Fianna Fail-Labour coalition collapsed (though, that was an internal government matter, not a result of a lost vote).

The fear is that a party-minded President could intervene on behalf of his own political friends. If, say, a Fianna Fail Taoiseach lost a vote and the party convinced a Fianna Fail President not to dissolve the Dail, FF would continue their term under a new Taoiseach.

It’s the most pressing issue of the Presidency, at least in my mind. For a position that is powerless in so many other areas, this is an extraordinary amount of faith to put in someones hands.

The one time in Irish history this actually came up, Patrick Hillary was able to resist the temptation, by refusing to even entertain calls to refuse a dissolution of Parliament, an act of political bravery that went unnoticed during most of his tenure. If it ever did happen, the position of President would be irrevocably damaged.

The President, as first citizen, can also convene either house of the Oireachtas, another ceremonial function.

3.    1° Every Bill passed or deemed to have been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas shall require the signature of the President for its enactment into law.

2° The President shall promulgate every law made by the Oireachtas.

The President holds the executive power of the state, and must sign any law before it can be enforced. Article Twenty-Five goes into the more minute detail of this aspect of the Presidents power, and will be discussed there.

4.    The supreme command of the Defence Forces is hereby vested in the President.

5.    1° The exercise of the supreme command of the Defence Forces shall be regulated by law.

2° All commissioned officers of the Defence Forces shall hold their commissions from the President.

Just how much effect this article has in reality is very much up for debate. In the event of any sort of military crisis, I doubt people like Patrick Hillary, Douglas Hyde or Mary McAleese would be giving the orders. More likely the Taoiseach and Minister of Defence would be the civilian leaders. But, on paper, it is the President who is in charge, though this really does not extend much beyond occasional inspections of troops and being present at military ceremonies.

The President is supreme commander, though only as law regulates. That is, the President can’t order the Army to do anything illegal. And all officers have their titles by the decree of the President, a common function of the executive throughout the world. This ties into the role of Supreme Commander, and imbues officers ranks with more importance.

6.    The right of pardon and the power to commute or remit punishment imposed by any court exercising criminal jurisdiction are hereby vested in the President, but such power of commutation or remission may also be conferred by law on other authorities.

Another potential  humdinger of a power. The President has the power to overturn convictions of Ireland’s legal system. No Dail approval required. This power has only been used once, in the case of Nicky Kelly, though the government indicated it could be used to pardon those covered by the Good Friday agreement. It never has.

Arguably, this puts too much power in the President’s hands. It isn’t too hard to see it being abused. Imagine a Sinn Fein President, with the ability to commute or end the imprisonment of IRA members (Oh yeah, I went there). Such a power might be meant to add weight to the position, but this might be too much weight.

7.    1° The President may, after consultation with the Council of State, communicate with the Houses of the Oireachtas by message or address on any matter of national or public importance.

2° The President may, after consultation with the Council of State, address a message to the Nation at any time on any such matter.

3° Every such message or address must, however, have received the approval of the Government.

Another seemingly significant power, neutered by the state. The President is (on paper) the highest position in the land, and as such, should be able to address matters directly to the Oireachtas or the people. But since any such message needs government approval, you’re not really hearing the Presidnet’s words. This power hasn’t been used a whole lot anyway (I’m guessing because of the government restrictions) and only twice has the first citizen addressed the Dail (Dev in 1966 and Robinson in 93).

8.    1° The President shall not be answerable to either House of the Oireachtas or to any court for the exercise and performance of the powers and functions of his office or for any act done or purporting to be done by him in the exercise and performance of these powers and functions.

2° The behaviour of the President may, however, be brought under review in either of the Houses of the Oireachtas for the purposes of section 10 of Article 12 of this Constitution, or by any court, tribunal or body appointed or designated by either of the Houses of the Oireachtas for the investigation of a charge under section 10 of the said Article.

This outlines just how bulletproof the President is. As long as he/she does not go outside their bounds, they can’t be brought to bear by the Oireachtas or a court. The impeachment section in the previous article outlines (in very vague terms) just how the President can be brought to account, but it seems unlikely to ever happen.

There is a bit of concern here. If say, the President refused to dissolve the Dail as I discussed above, they wouldn’t even have to explain themselves to the Oireachtas due to this section.

9.    The powers and functions conferred on the President by this Constitution shall be exercisable and performable by him only on the advice of the Government, save where it is provided by this Constitution that he shall act in his absolute discretion or after consultation with or in relation to the Council of State, or on the advice or nomination of, or on receipt of any other communication from, any other person or body.

No outside forces other than the sitting government of the state can advise the President, and only on those powers that indicate it. Only a few exceptions are allowed. This is to insure the lack of influence on the office by any people with nasty motives in mind.

It’s probably superfluous, but it just needs to be said. If the Oireachtas could prove the President was accepting advice from outside interests (the pardon power comes to mind) this section outlines why its wrong, and why it could be grounds for impeachment.

10.  Subject to this Constitution, additional powers and functions may be conferred on the President by law.

It would require referenda but the Presidents powers can be expanded or reduced. Standard clause.

11.   No power or function conferred on the President by law shall be exercisable or performable by him save only on the advice of the Government.

Again, the President is to be advised on his/her powers by the government and the government only (with some exceptions as outlined above). They really do hammer that point home , that the government is the President’s babysitter. They advise on his/her functions, the performing of powers, on addresses to the nation/Dail, and on whether the President can even leave the state.

If you want a strong executive, which we most definitely do not have right now, all of that has to change. If not, then the position is fine as it is. I would be in favour of relaxing the limitations of the Presidency, especially on the address point. It’s the head of state, the first citizen. It should have more autonomy then this.

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1 Response to To Ourselves, Article Thirteen

  1. Pingback: A Sunday Tribune Twofer | Never Felt Better

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