- The President of Ireland
- The two Houses of the Oireachtas (Irish: Tithe an Oireachtais):
Dáil Éireann (Lower house)
Seanad Éireann (Upper house)
The Houses of the Oireachtas sit in Leinster House in Dublin, an eighteenth century ducal palace. The directly-elected Dáil is by far the most powerful branch of the Oireachtas.
Dáil Éireann, the lower house, is directly elected under universal suffrage of all Irish citizens who are resident and at least eighteen years of age. An election is held at least once in every five years as required by law. However the house can usually be dissolved at any time at the request of the Taoiseach (head of government). Dáil elections occur under the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote.
The Seanad is not directly elected but consists of a mixture of members selected in a number of ways. 43 senators are elected by councillors and parliamentarians, 11 are appointed by the Taoiseach, and six are elected by two university constituencies.
The President of Ireland is directly elected once in every seven years, for a maximum of two terms. However if, as has occurred on a number of occasions, a consensus among the larger political parties can result in only a single candidate being nominated, then no actual ballot occurs.
To become law a bill must first be approved by both the Dáil and in most circumstances the Seanad (although the Dáil can override a Seanad refusal to pass a Bill), and then signed into law by the President. Bills to amend the Constitution must also be approved by the People prior to being presented to the President. In most circumstances, the President is in effect obliged to sign all laws approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas, although he or she has the power to refer most bills to the Supreme Court for a ruling on constitutionality. The powers of the Seanad are in effect limited to delay rather than veto. It is the Dáil, therefore, that is the supreme tier of the Irish legislature. The general enacting formula for Acts of the Oireachtas is: "Be it enacted by the Oireachtas as follows:-", for an act with a preamble this enacting formula is, instead, "Be it therefore enacted by the Oireachtas as follows:—".
The Oireachtas has exclusive power to:
- Legislate, including a power vested in the Dáil of approving the financial resolutions relevant to the budget.
- Create subordinate legislatures.
- Propose changes to the constitution (must be initiated in the Dáil), which must then be submitted to a referendum.
- Raise military or armed forces.
- Allow international agreements to become part of the domestic law of the state.
- Pass certain laws having extraterritorial effect (in accordance with the similar practices of other states).
- Enact, when it considers a state of emergency to exist, almost any law it deems necessary.
- Laws are invalid if, and to the extent that, they contradict the constitution.
- In the event of a conflict, EU law also takes precedence over acts of the Oireachtas, as per the Treaty of Lisbon.
- It may not retrospectively criminalise acts that were not illegal at the time they were committed.
- It may not enact any law providing for the imposition of the death penalty, even during a state of emergency.
- It can only legislate for the Republic of Ireland and not for Northern Ireland.
The word oireachtas comes from the Irish language name MacOireachtaigh (Geraghty), believed to have been advisors to ancient kings and has been the title of two parliaments in Irish history: the current Oireachtas of the Republic of Ireland, since 1937, and, immediately before that, the Oireachtas of the Irish Free State of 1922–1937.
The earliest parliament in Ireland was the Parliament of Ireland, which was founded in the thirteenth century as the supreme legislative body of the lordship of Ireland and was in existence until 1801. This parliament governed the English-dominated part of Ireland, which at first was limited to Dublin and surrounding cities, but later grew to include the entire island. But the Irish Parliament was, from the passage of Poyning's law in 1494 until its repeal in 1782, subordinate to the English, and later British, Parliament. This Parliament consisted of the King of Ireland,who was the same person as the King of England, a House of the Lords and a House of Commons. In 1800 the Irish Parliament abolished itself when, after widespread bribery of members, it adopted the Act of Union, which came into effect from 1 January 1801.
The next legislature to exist in Ireland only came into being in 1919. This was an extra-legal, unicameral parliament established by Irish republicans, known simply as Dáil Éireann. This revolutionary Dáil was notionally a legislature for the whole island of Ireland. In 1920, in parallel to the extra-legal Dáil, the British government created a home rule legislature called the Parliament of Southern Ireland. However this parliament was boycotted by most Irish politicians. It was made up of the King, the House of Commons of Southern Ireland and the Senate of Southern Ireland. The Parliament of Southern Ireland was formally abolished in 1922, with the establishment of the Oireachtas under the Constitution of the Irish Free State.
The Oireachtas of the Irish Free State consisted officially of the King and two houses, named, as their successors would be, Dáil Éireann (described, in this case, as a 'Chamber of Deputies') and Seanad Éireann. However the Free State Senate was abolished in 1935. The modern Oireachtas came into being in 1937, with the adoption by referendum of the Constitution of Ireland.