Main Executive and Legislative Bodies
The present Constitution of Ireland, Bunreacht na h-Eireann, was adopted by referendum in 1937. This replaced the first Constitution of the Free State, enacted in 1922. According to the 1937 Constitution, the legislative and judicial powers of the Government derive, under God, from the people. The form of government, the powers of the President and Parliament (Oireachtas) are defined in the Constitution. The Oireachtas has two principal functions: the appointment of the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and government, and the enactment of laws. Article 28.4.1. states that The Government shall be responsible to Dáil Éireann. The same article requires the government to present annual estimates of income and expenditure to the Dáil for consideration.
The Oireachtas (National Parliamenet) consists of the President (Uachtarán) and two Houses of the Oireachtas; a House of Representatives (Dáil Éireann) and a Senate (Seanad). Only the Oireachtas has power to enact law. However, the Supreme Court has power to annul any law that is repugnant to the Constitution. According to the Irish Constitution, the power to run the Irish State is divided between legislative power (given to the Oireachtas), executive power (given to the government to carry out with the assistance of the civil service and other branches of the State), and judicial power (given to the courts).
The Dáil considers legislation proposed by Ministers or private members, expenditure proposals from Ministers for their Departments: in addition, Dáil debates and motions also take place and the Dáil provides a forum for questions and answers. Members of the Dáil are elected by a system of proportional representation at general elections while members of the Seanad are either nominated by the Taoiseach or elected from various panels. Any citizen over the age of twenty-one years may be elected to the Dáil with certain exceptions such as members of the civil service whose employment terms do not expressly permit them to become members of the Dáil under the Electoral Act of 1992, members of the European Commission, certain officers of the European Court of Justice, members of the Court of Audit of the European Community, members of the Defence Forces, the police, the judiciary, those serving prison sentences and people with undischarged bankruptcy, and those of unsound mind.
The number of elected members of parliament or Teachta Dála (TD) is 158. According to the Constitution, there may not be less than one TD for every 30,000 people and may not be more than one TD for every 20,000 people. TDs represent constituencies (electoral areas). There are 40 such constituencies at present, each with a minimum of three TDs. As far as possible, the ratio of population to TD must be equal in each constituency. These electoral areas must be revised at least once every twelve years as population patterns change. In practice, constituencies are revised after the census is published every five years. The maximum life of the Dáil is five years, although the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) may advise the President to dissolve the Dáil at any time during the life of the government.
Within the Oireachtas, there are four types of Committees: Standing Committees, Select Committees, Joint Committees and Special Committees. The Joint Committees include that with responsibility for Education and Skills and that on Children and Youth Affairs.
The Seanad (Senate) is the upper house of the Oireachtas. There are 60 members of the Seanad – 49 of whom are elected and 11 are nominated by the Taoiseach in government. There are also three senators representing the National University of Ireland and three senators representing Trinity College Dublin. Elections for the Seanad take place within ninety days of the dissolution of the Dáil. Senators are elected from five panels other than the Universities – industry and commerce; public administration and social services; agriculture, fisheries and related areas; labour matters; Irish language and culture, education, law and medicine.
A Constitutional Referendum to abolish the Seanad, held in October, 2013, was unsuccessful with 51.7% of voters saying No to its abolition and 48.3% saying Yes.
Prime Minister and Government Departments
The government is led by the Taoiseach, who is nominated by members of the Dáil and appointed by the President of Ireland. The Taoiseach nominates the other members of the government for appointment by the President. There are, at present, 17 Government Departments:
- Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
- Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation
- Department of Children and Youth Affairs
- Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment
- Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
- Department of Defence
- Department of Education and Skills
- Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
- Department of Finance
- Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
- Department of Health
- Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government
- Department of Justice and Equality
- Department of Public Expenditure and Reform
- Department of Rural and Community Development
- Department of the Taoiseach
- Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport
A Minister is appointed with responsibility for each of these Departments. From time to time, the Taoiseach has adjusted the areas of responsibility of some Ministers. In 2011, the name of education portfolio was changed from the Department of Education and Science to the Department of Education and Skills.
Matters relating to the various government Departments and Ministers are governed by Ministers and Secretaries Acts (1924 to 2013). Under the Public Service Management Act, 1997 the Secretary General of a Department was given responsibility for the management and delivery of services subject to the policies approved by the Minister, while the Minister continues to be accountable to government for the overall policy and administration of the Department in question.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, and the Minister for Justice and Equality share some responsibility for early childhood education and care, child welfare and provision for delinquent youth. In addition, the work of the education and training sector is closely connected with the policies and strategies of other Ministries e.g.:
Minister for Education and Skills
The Minister for Education and Skills has overall responsibility for educational matters at primary, post-primary, further and higher education levels. Since May 2010, the Minister for Education and Skills also has responsibility for Vocational Training and re-training.
At local level, there are 31 local authorities whose members are elected through a system of proportional representation. Such elections take place about every five years.
The main function of a local authority is to promote local community interests. These include social, economic, environmental, recreational, cultural and community roles as well as the general development of the local area. They are involved in providing artistic, cultural, leisure, environmental and heritage activities and resources. They are also responsible for local planning, the maintenance of essential services such as housing, roads, sewage and fire services. The dual TD-Councillor mandate has been abolished by legislation and this change took effect for the local elections in 2004.
Under the Local Government Act, 1991, and the Regional Authorities (Establishment) Order, 1993, which came into operation on 1 January 1994, eight regions were established for administrative purposes: the Border, Dublin, Mid-East, Midland, Mid-West, South-East, South-West and West. In July 1999, two regional assemblies were established. The first of these is the Southern and Eastern Regional Assembly, and the second is the Border, Midlands and Western Regional Assembly. Among the purposes of these two assemblies are the coordination of the provision of public services in the relevant areas, the management of new regional operational programmes in the next Community Support Framework and the monitoring of the impact of programmes.
Regional Education Structures
There are no regional education structures for the majority of schools. They are governed by local school boards of management in accordance with a policy, curriculum and funding framework set out by the Department of Education and Skills. However, about one third of second level schools (265) fall within the remit of 16 regional Education and Training Boards (ETBs). These are responsible for second level education in 265 schools, and for co-ordination and delivery of Further Education and Training in their catchment areas.