Democratic power in Ireland is divided between the legislature (the Oireachtas), the executive (the Government) and the judiciary. The role of each of these groups is set out clearly in the Constitution of Ireland.
Each of the three branches have certain powers which allow it to keep each of the other groups in check. This means that no one group can ever become too powerful or gain total control.
- Legislative power is the power to make laws. Articles 15 – 27 of the constitution gives these powers to the Oireachtas. The Oireachtas consists of Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann and the President.
- Executive power is the power to carry laws into effect – that means it has the power to carry out laws with the assistance of An Garda Siochana, the Defence Forces and the Civil Service. Article 28 gives this power to the Government (Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Cabinet Ministers)
- Judicial power is the power to interpret and apply the law to disputes and conflicts which happen between the State and individual citizens, as well as disputes which happen between citizens.
The Oireachtas is the legislative branch of the state. It is made up of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann.
The Oireachtas watches and holds the Government accountable for its decisions and actions. It does this in a number of ways, including asking the Taoiseach and Government Ministers questions. The Oireachtas can also remove the Taoiseach/Government Ministers through a motion of no confidence.
The Dáil is the main body of the Oireachtas and holds the most legislative power in the Country. Its functions are to legislate, propose new Bills (laws), debate new laws, make changes to new laws if needed, and vote to pass these bills into law.
Dáil Éireann also monitors the work of the Government, making sure that it is accountable to the people for its actions. Day to day, the Dáil debates issues of importance to the people and approves public spending.
The Seanad is the second house of legislature in Ireland. The main function of the second house is to ensure that appropriate debate and deliberation takes place before any new law is passed.
The Seanad reviews Bills (laws) from the Dáil and proposes amendments (changes) if needed. The Seanad can also propose laws, but cannot propose any laws relating to budget matters.
It holds some of the same powers as the Dáil, but in a limited way. Senators cannot put questions to the Taoiseach or Government Ministers.
The Constitution of Ireland gives the President limited but significant powers. All legislation passed by the Dáil and Seanad must be signed by the President before becoming law.
- The President, if worried that a bill to be signed into law might conflict with the Constitution, can send the bill to the Supreme Court for legal opinion
- The President formally appoints the Taoiseach and other members of Government, including the Attorney General
- The Dáil is established and dissolved by the President on the request of the Taoiseach
- The President is Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces
The executive branch of Government is responsible for enforcing the law and Implementing the programmes and policies of the elected government. The executive is made up of the Taoiseach and the Cabinet of Ministers. The Cabinet contains between 7 and 15 members.
The Government are responsible for making decisions and proposing policies and laws on many different issues covering almost all areas of our lives (health, education, welfare etc).
The Government is responsible for the upkeep of law and order. They are also responsible for making sure that the needs, interests and safety of Irish citizens are served.
The Judicary/ The Courts
The justice system is responsible for interpreting and maintaining the law and our legal rights.
There are four levels of main courts in Ireland – the District Court, the Circuit Court, the High Court and the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is the court of final appeal and has the power to decide if a bill passed by the Oireachtas is compatible with the constitution, if asked to do so by the President. If the Supreme Court rules a bill unconstitutional, the bill is not enacted into law. A decision made by the Supreme Court is final.