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The Taoiseach ( ; ), plural Taoisigh ( or ), also referred to as An Taoiseach ( ), is the head of government of Irelandmarker.

The Taoiseach is appointed by the President upon the nomination of Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Oireachtas), and must, while he remains in office, retain the support of a majority in the Dáil. The role of Taoiseach is that of a prime minister.

The current Taoiseach is Brian Cowen, TD, leader of the Fianna Fáil party.


Under the Constitution of Ireland the Taoiseach must be appointed from among the members of Dáil Éireann. In the event that the Taoiseach loses the support of a majority in Dáil Éireann, he is not automatically removed from office but, rather, is compelled either to resign or to persuade the President to dissolve the Dáil. The President may refuse to grant a dissolution, and, in effect, force the Taoiseach to resign, but, to date, no president has exercised this prerogative (though the option arose in 1944, twice in 1982 and would have arisen in 1994 had Albert Reynolds chosen, following his Dáil defeat, to seek a dissolution rather than resign ). The Taoiseach may lose the support of Dáil Éireann by the passage of a vote of no confidence, the failure of a vote of confidence or, alternatively, the Dáil may refuse supply. In the event of the Taoiseach's resignation, he continues to exercise the duties and functions of his office until the appointment of a successor.

The Taoiseach nominates the remaining members of the Government, who are then, with the consent of the Dáil, appointed by the President. The Taoiseach also has authority to have fellow members of the cabinet dismissed from office. He or she is further responsible for appointing eleven members of the Senate.


The Taoiseach's salary is somewhat higher than for leaders in many other countries: €257,024 annually, compared to £187,000 (about €202,000) for the British Prime Minister and €231,000 for the President of France. In October 2007, the Taoiseach was the highest-paid head of government in the OECD countries. However, the remuneration structures for Government of Ireland employees mean that comparison with other countries are not useful and are discouraged by the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector. A proposed increase of €38,000 in 2007, was deferred when Brian Cowen became Taoiseach and in October 2008, the government announced a 10% salary cut for all ministers, including the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach is also allowed an additional €118,981 in annual expenses.


In 2008 it was reported that the former Steward's Lodge at Farmleighmarker adjoining the Phoenix Parkmarker would become the official residence of the Taoiseachmarker. The house, which forms part of the Farmleigh estate acquired by the State in 1999 for €29.2m, was renovated at a cost of nearly €600,000 in 2005 by the Office of Public Works. Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern did not use it as a residence, however the current Taoiseach Brian Cowen, uses it "from time to time".


Origins and etymology

The words Taoiseach and Tánaiste (the title of the deputy prime minister) are both from the Irish language and of ancient origin. Though the Taoiseach is described in the Constitution of Ireland as "the head of the Government or Prime Minister", its literal translation is "Chieftain" or "Leader". Some historians suggest that in ancient Ireland (where these terms originate), a taoiseach was a minor king, while a tánaiste was a governor placed in a kingdom whose king had been deposed or, more usually, his heir-apparent. In Scottish Gaelic, tòiseach translates as clan chief and both words originally had similar meaning in the Gaelic languages of Scotland and Ireland. The related Welsh language word tywysog (current meaning "prince" from tywys, "to lead") appears to have had a similar meaning.

Modern office

The modern position of Taoiseach was established by the 1937 Constitution of Ireland, to replace the position of President of the Executive Council of the 1922–1937 Irish Free State. The positions of Taoiseach and President of the Executive Council differed in certain fundamental respects. Under the Constitution of the Irish Free State the latter was vested with considerably less power and was largely just the cabinet's presiding officer. For example, the President of the Executive Council could not dismiss a fellow minister. The Free State's cabinet, the Executive Council, had to be disbanded and reformed entirely, in order to remove one of its number. The President of the Executive Council could also not personally seek a dissolution of Dáil Éireann from the head of state, that power belonging collectively to the Executive Council. In contrast, the Taoiseach created in 1937 possesses a much more powerful role. He can both instruct the President to dismiss ministers, and request a parliamentary dissolution on his own initiative.

Historically, where there have been multi-party or coalition governments, the Taoiseach has come from the leader of the largest party in the coalition. One exception to this was John A. Costello, who was not leader of his party, but an agreed choice to head the government, because the other parties refused to accept then Fine Gael leader Richard Mulcahy as Taoiseach.

List of office holders

Main articles: List of Irish heads of government since 1919, List of Taoisigh by important facts

Before the enactment of the 1937 Constitution, the head of government was referred to as the President of the Executive Council. This office was first held by W. T. Cosgrave of Cumann na nGaedhael from 1922–32, and then by Éamon de Valera from 1932–37. By convention Taoisigh are numbered to include Cosgrave, for example Brian Cowen is considered the 12th Taoiseach not the 11th.

President of the Executive Council

No. Name Picture Entered Office Left Office Elected Party
1. W. T. Cosgrave 6 December 1922 9 March 1932 5 terms Cumann na nGaedhael
2. Éamon de Valera 9 March 1932 29 December 1937 3 terms Fianna Fáil


No. Name Picture Entered Office Left Office Elected Period Party
2. Éamon de Valera 29 December 1937 18 February 1948 3 terms 1st time Fianna Fáil
3. John A. Costello 18 February 1948 13 June 1951 1 term 1st time Fine Gael
Éamon de Valera 13 June 1951 2 June 1954 1 term 2nd time Fianna Fáil
John A. Costello 2 June 1954 20 March 1957 1 term 2nd time Fine Gael
Éamon de Valera 20 March 1957 23 June 1959 1 term 3rd time Fianna Fáil
4. Seán Lemass 23 June 1959 10 November 1966 3 terms Fianna Fáil
5. Jack Lynch 10 November 1966 14 March 1973 2 terms 1st time Fianna Fáil
6. Liam Cosgrave 14 March 1973 5 July 1977 1 term Fine Gael
Jack Lynch 5 July 1977 11 December 1979 1 term 2nd time Fianna Fáil
7. Charles Haughey 11 December 1979 30 June 1981 1 term 1st time Fianna Fáil
8. Garret FitzGerald 30 June 1981 9 March 1982 1 term 1st time Fine Gael
Charles Haughey 9 March 1982 14 December 1982 1 term 2nd time Fianna Fáil
Garret FitzGerald 14 December 1982 10 March 1987 1 term 2nd time Fine Gael
Charles Haughey 10 March 1987 11 February 1992 2 terms 3rd time Fianna Fáil
9. Albert Reynolds 11 February 1992 15 December 1994 1 term Fianna Fáil
10. John Bruton 15 December 1994 26 June 1997 1 term Fine Gael
11. Bertie Ahern 26 June 1997 6 May 2008 3 terms Fianna Fáil
12. Brian Cowen 7 May 2008 Incumbent 1 term Fianna Fáil

Living former Taoisigh

See also

References and notes

  1. Oxford English Dictionary
  2. Retaining the Irish definite article an instead of English the.
  3. One example of the Dáil refusing supply occurred in January 1982 when the then Fine GaelLabour Party coalition government of Garret FitzGerald lost a vote on the budget. [1]
  4. Article 13.1.1° and Article 28.5.1° of the Constitution of Ireland. The latter provision reads: "The head of the Government, or Prime Minister, shall be called, and is in this Constitution referred to as, the Taoiseach." [2]
  5. Among the most famous ministerial dismissals have been those of Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney during the Arms Crisis in 1970, Brian Lenihan in 1990 and Albert Reynolds, Pádraig Flynn and Máire Geoghegan-Quinn in 1991.

Further reading

The book Chairman or Chief: The Role of the Taoiseach in Irish Government (1971) by Brian Farrell provides a good overview of the conflicting roles for the Taoiseach. Though long out of print, it may still be available in libraries or from AbeBooks. Biographies are also available of de Valera, Lemass, Lynch, Cosgrave, FitzGerald, Haughey, Reynolds and Ahern. FitzGerald wrote an autobiography, while an authorised biography was produced of de Valera.

Some biographies of former Taoisigh and Presidents of the Executive Council

  • Tim Pat Coogan, Éamon de Valera
  • John Horgan, Seán Lemass
  • Brian Farrell, Seán Lemass
  • T.P. O'Mahony, Jack Lynch: A Biography
  • T. Ryle Dwyer, Nice Fellow: A Biography of Jack Lynch
  • Stephen Collins, The Cosgrave legacy
  • Garret FitzGerald, All in a Life
  • Raymond Smith, Garret: The Enigma
  • T.Ryle Dwyer, Short Fellow: A Biography of Charles Haughey
  • Martin Mansergh, Spirit of the Nation: The Collected Speeches of Haughey
  • Joe Joyce & Peter Murtagh The Boss: Charles Haughey in Government
  • Tim Ryan, Albert Reynolds: The Longford Leader

External links

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