The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







The Taoiseach (plural: Taoisigh) or, more formally, An Taoiseach, is the head of government of the Republic of Ireland and the leader of the Irish cabinet1. The Taoiseach is appointed by the President upon the nomination of Dáil Éireann (the lower house of parliament), and must, while he or she remains in office, enjoy the confidence of the Dáil. The current Taoiseach is Bertie Ahern, TD, 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 confidence of Dáil Éireann, they are not automatically removed from office but, rather, are compelled to either resign or 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 is known to have exercised this prerogative. 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 supply2. In the event of the Taoiseach's resignation, they continue to exercise the duties and functions of their 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 words Taoiseach and Tánaiste (the title of the deputy prime minister) are both Irish Gaelic and of ancient origin. Though the Taoiseach is described in the Constitution of Ireland as "the head of the Government or Prime Minister"3, its literal translation is "leader" or "chief". Some historians suggest that in ancient Ireland, from whence the terms originate, a taoiseach was a minor king, while a tánaiste was a governor placed in a kingdom whose king had been deposed.

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 initiative4.

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 Taoisigh

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

No. Name Took Office Left Office Party
1. Eamon de Valera December 29, 1937 18 February, 1948 Fianna Fáil
2. John A. Costello February 18, 1948 June 13, 1951 Fine Gael
Eamon de Valera (2nd time) June 13, 1951 June 2, 1954 Fianna Fáil
John A. Costello (2nd time) June 2, 1954 March 20, 1957 Fine Gael
Eamon de Valera (3rd time) March 20, 1957 June 23, 1959 Fianna Fáil
3. Sean Lemass June 23, 1959 November 10, 1966 Fianna Fáil
4. Jack Lynch November 10, 1966 March 14, 1973 Fianna Fáil
5. Liam Cosgrave March 14, 1973 July 5, 1977 Fine Gael
Jack Lynch (2nd time) July 5, 1977 December 11, 1979 Fianna Fáil
6. Charles J. Haughey December 11, 1979 June 30, 1981 Fianna Fáil
7. Garret FitzGerald June 30, 1981 March 9, 1982 Fine Gael
Charles J. Haughey (2nd time) March 9, 1982 December 14, 1982 Fianna Fáil
Garret FitzGerald (2nd time) December 14, 1982 March 10, 1987 Fine Gael
Charles J. Haughey (3rd time) March 10, 1987 February 11, 1992 Fianna Fáil
8. Albert Reynolds February 11, 1992 December 15, 1994 Fianna Fáil
9. John Bruton December 15, 1994 June 26, 1997 Fine Gael
10. Bertie Ahern June 26, 1997 (Current incumbent) Fianna Fáil

Living former Taoisigh


  1. Taoiseach is Irish Gaelic. It may be pronounced "tee-shoch" (with the "ch" sound as in "loch" — IPA ). In the accent of some speakers of Donegal Irish, however, its pronunciation is closer to "tee-shah" — /ti:ʃɑ:/. The plural, Taoisigh, may be pronounced "tee-she" or "tee-shig" — /ti:ʃi:/ or /ti:ʃɪg/. The Taoiseach is often formally addressed in English as An Taoiseach, "An" being the Irish definite article.
  2. One example of the Dáil refusing supply occurred in January 1982 when the then Fine Gael-Labour government of Garret FitzGerald lost a vote on the budget.
  3. Article 13.1.1° and Article 28.5.1°. 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."
  4. Among the most famous ministerial dismissals have been those of Charles J. Haughey and Neil Blaney in 1970, Brian Lenihan in 1990 and Albert Reynolds, Padraig Flynn and Máire Geoghegan-Quinn in 1991.

Related topics

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 An Taoiseach. Though long out of print, it may still be available in libraries. 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 & Presidents of the Executive Council:

  • Tim Pat Coogan, Eamon de Valera
  • John Horgan, Sean 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 J. Haughey
  • Martin Mansergh, Spirit of the Nation: The Collected Speeches of Haughey
  • Joe Joyce & Peter Murtagh The Boss: Charles J. Haughey in Government
  • Tim Ryan, Albert Reynolds: The Longford Leader

External links

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