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Taoiseach of Ireland
Enda Kenny

since 9 March 2011
Nominator Dáil Éireann
Appointer President of Ireland
Term length 5 years maximum per term, but can hold an unlimited number of terms while commanding the confidence of the majority of Dáil Éireann.
Inaugural holder Éamon de Valera[nb 1]
Formation 29 December 1937[nb 1]
Deputy Tánaiste
Salary €185,350[1]
Website .ie.taoiseachwww
Coat of arms of Ireland
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the Republic of Ireland

The Taoiseach [2] is the head of government or prime minister of Ireland. The Taoiseach is appointed by the President upon the nomination of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas (parliament), and must, in order to remain in office, retain the support of a majority in the Dáil.[nb 2] The current Taoiseach is Enda Kenny, TD, who was appointed on 9 March 2011.

The word means "chief" in the Irish language. The earliest known use of the term is from a 5th- or 6th-century ogham inscription in both the Gaelic and Brittonic languages.[3]


  • Overview 1
    • Salary 1.1
    • Residence 1.2
  • History 2
    • Origins and etymology 2.1
    • Debate on the title 2.2
    • Modern office 2.3
  • List of office holders 3
    • President of the Executive Council 3.1
    • Taoiseach 3.2
  • Living former officeholders 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
    • Biographies 8.1
  • External links 9


Under the Constitution of Ireland, the Taoiseach must be appointed from among the members of Dáil Éireann. He is nominated by a simple majority of the chamber's members, and formally appointed to office by the President. Since the President is required to appoint whomever the Dáil nominates without the right to decline appointment, it is often said that the Taoiseach is "elected" by the Dáil.

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 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 has exercised this prerogative (though the option arose in 1944 and 1994 and twice in 1982). 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.[4] 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 advise the President to dismiss cabinet ministers from office, advice the President is required to follow by convention. He or she is further responsible for appointing eleven members of the Seanad.

The Department of the Taoiseach is the government department which supports and advises the Taoiseach in carrying out his various duties.


The Taoiseach's annual salary is €185,350 since 2013.[1] It was cut from €214,187 to €200,000 when Kenny took office, before being cut further to €185,350 under the Haddington Road Agreement in 2013.

A proposed increase of €38,000 in 2007 was deferred when Brian Cowen became Taoiseach[5] and in October 2008, the government announced a 10% salary cut for all ministers, including the Taoiseach.[6] However this was a voluntary cut and the salaries remained nominally the same with ministers and Taoiseach essentially refusing 10% of their salary. This courted controversy in December 2009 when a salary cut of 20% was based on the higher figure before the refused amount was deducted.[7] The Taoiseach is also allowed an additional €118,981 in annual expenses.


There is no official residence of the Taoiseach. However, in 2008 it was reported speculatively that the former Steward's Lodge at Farmleigh adjoining the Phoenix Park would become the official residence of the Taoiseach, however no official statements were made nor any action taken.[8] 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, but his successor Brian Cowen used it "from time to time".[9]


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",[nb 2] its literal translation is chieftain or leader.[10] Tánaiste in turn refers to the system of tanistry, the Gaelic system of succession whereby a leader would appoint an heir apparent while still living.

In Scottish Gaelic, tòiseach translates as clan chief and both words originally had similar meaning in the Gaelic languages of Scotland and Ireland.[11][12][13][14] The related Welsh language word tywysog (current meaning: prince) has a similar origin and meaning.[3] Both derive ultimately from the proto-Celtic *towissākos "chieftain, leader".

The plural of taoiseach is taoisigh (Irish:  or ).[10]

Debate on the title

In 1937 when the draft Constitution of Ireland was being debated in the Dáil, an opposition politician moved an amendment to substitute the proposed “Taoiseach” title for “Prime Minister” in the English text of the Constitution. It was proposed to keep “Taoiseach” title in the Irish language text. The proponent remarked:[15]

It seems to me to be mere make-believe to try to incorporate a word like “Taoiseach” in the English language. It would be pronounced wrongly by 99 per cent. of the people. I have already ascertained it is a very difficult word to pronounce correctly. That being so, even for the sake of the dignity of the Irish language, it would be more sensible that when speaking English we should be allowed to refer to the gentleman in question as the “Prime Minister... It is just one more example of the sort of things that are being done here as if for the purpose of putting off the people in the North. No useful purpose of any kind can be served by compelling us, when speaking English, to refer to the “Taoiseach” rather than to the “Prime Minister.”

The President of the Executive Council, Éamon de Valera gave the term’s meaning as “Chieftain” or “Captain”. He said he was “not disposed” to support the proposed amendment and felt “the word “Taoiseach” does not require to be altered.” The proposed amendment was defeated on a vote and “Taoiseach” was included as the title ultimately adopted by plebiscite of the people.[16]

Modern office

Department of the Taoiseach at Government Buildings, Merrion Street, Dublin

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 chairman of the cabinet, the Executive Council. For example, the President of the Executive Council could not dismiss a fellow minister. Instead, 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 ask the Governor-General to dissolve Dáil Éireann, that power belonging collectively to the Executive Council.

In contrast, the Taoiseach created in 1937 possesses a much more powerful role. He can both advise the President to dismiss ministers and dissolve Parliament on his own authority—advice that the President is almost always required to follow by convention.[17] His role is greatly enhanced because under the Constitution, he is both de jure and de facto chief executive, since the Constitution explicitly vests executive power in the Government. In most other parliamentary democracies, the head of state is at least the nominal chief executive.

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

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 nGaedheal from 1922–32, and then by Éamon de Valera from 1932–37. By convention, Taoisigh are numbered to include Cosgrave,[18][19][20][21] for example Enda Kenny is considered the 13th Taoiseach, not the 12th.

President of the Executive Council

No. Name
Portrait Term of office Elected
Party Last office(s) held before election[nb 3]
1. W. T. Cosgrave
TD for Carlow–Kilkenny until 1927
TD for Cork Borough from 1927
6 December 1922 9 March 1932 1922 (3rd) 1st Cumann na nGaedheal Chairman of the Provisional Government (1922)
1923 (4th) 2nd
Jun.1927 (5th) 3rd
Sep.1927 (6th) 4th
2. Éamon de Valera
TD for Clare
9 March 1932 29 December 1937 1932 (7th) 6th Fianna Fáil Leader of the Opposition (1927–32)
1933 (8th) 7th
1937 (9th) 8th


No. Name
Portrait Term of office Elected
Govt. Party of Taoiseach
Other parties in govt.
Last office(s) held before election[nb 3]
2. Éamon de Valera
TD for Clare
29 December 1937 18 February 1948 1st Fianna Fáil President of the Executive Council (1932–37)
1938 (10th) 2nd
1943 (11th) 3rd
1944 (12th) 4th
3. John A. Costello
TD for Dublin South–East
18 February 1948 13 June 1951 1948 (13th) 5th Fine Gael
with Labour;
CnaP; CnaT;
National Labour until 1950
Attorney General of Ireland (1926–32)
(2) Éamon de Valera
TD for Clare
13 June 1951 2 June 1954 1951 (14th) 6th Fianna Fáil Leader of the Opposition (1948–51)
(3) John A. Costello
TD for Dublin South–East
2 June 1954 20 March 1957 1954 (15th) 7th Fine Gael
with Labour;
Clann na Talmhan
Leader of the Opposition (1951–54)
(2) Éamon de Valera
TD for Clare
20 March 1957 23 June 1959 1957 (16th) 8th Fianna Fáil Leader of the Opposition (1954–57)
4. Seán Lemass
TD for Dublin South–Central
23 June 1959 10 November 1966 9th Fianna Fáil Tánaiste (1957–59)
Minister for Industry and Commerce (1957–59)
1961 (17th) 10th
1965 (18th) 11th
5. Jack Lynch
TD for Cork Borough until 1969
TD for Cork City North–West from 1969
10 November 1966 14 March 1973 12th Fianna Fáil Minister for Finance (1965–66)
1969 (19th) 13th
6. Liam Cosgrave
(born 1920)
TD for Dún Laoghaire and Rathdown
14 March 1973 5 July 1977 1973 (20th) 14th Fine Gael
with Labour
Leader of the Opposition (1965–73)
(5) Jack Lynch
TD for Cork City
5 July 1977 11 December 1979 1977 (21st) 15th Fianna Fáil Leader of the Opposition (1973–77)
7. Charles Haughey
TD for Dublin Artane
11 December 1979 30 June 1981 16th Fianna Fáil Minister for Social Welfare (1977–79)
Minister for Health (1977–79)
8. Garret FitzGerald
TD for Dublin South–East
30 June 1981 9 March 1982 1981 (22nd) 17th Fine Gael
with Labour
Leader of the Opposition (1977–81)
(7) Charles Haughey
TD for Dublin North–Central
9 March 1982 14 December 1982 Feb.1982 (23rd) 18th Fianna Fáil Leader of the Opposition (1981–82)
(8) Garret FitzGerald
TD for Dublin South–East
14 December 1982 10 March 1987 Nov.1982 (24th) 19th Fine Gael
with Labour
Leader of the Opposition (1982)
(7) Charles Haughey
TD for Dublin North–Central
10 March 1987 11 February 1992 1987 (25th) 20th Fianna Fáil Leader of the Opposition (1982–87)
1989 (26th) 21st Fianna Fáil
with PDs
9. Albert Reynolds
TD for Longford–Roscommon
11 February 1992 15 December 1994 22nd Fianna Fáil
with PDs
Minister for Finance (1988–91)
1992 (27th) 23rd Fianna Fáil
with Labour
10. John Bruton
(born 1947)
TD for Meath
15 December 1994 26 June 1997 24th Fine Gael
with Labour; Dem. Left
Leader of the Opposition (1990–94)
11. Bertie Ahern
(born 1951)
TD for Dublin Central
26 June 1997 7 May 2008 1997 (28th) 25th Fianna Fáil
with PDs;
Greens from 2007
Leader of the Opposition (1994–97)
2002 (29th) 26th
2007 (30th) 27th
12. Brian Cowen
(born 1960)
TD for Laois–Offaly
7 May 2008 9 March 2011 28th Fianna Fáil
PDs until Nov. 2009;
Greens until Jan. 2011
Tánaiste (2007–08)
Minister for Finance (2004–08)
13. Enda Kenny
(born 1951)
TD for Mayo
9 March 2011 Incumbent 2011 (31st) 29th Fine Gael
with Labour
Leader of the Opposition (2002–11)

Living former officeholders

As of August 2014, there are four living former taoisigh:

Taoiseach Term of office Date of birth
Liam Cosgrave 1973–1977 (1920-04-13) 13 April 1920
John Bruton 1994–1997 (1947-05-18) 18 May 1947
Bertie Ahern 1997–2008 (1951-09-12) 12 September 1951
Brian Cowen 2008–2011 (1960-01-10) 10 January 1960

See also


  1. ^ a b Before the enactment of the 1937 Constitution of Ireland, the head of government was referred to as the President of the Executive Council. This office was first held by W. T. Cosgrave from 1922–32, and then by Éamon de Valera from 1932–37.
  2. ^ a b 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." [1]
  3. ^ a b The last office held, excluding the office of Teachta Dála.


  1. ^ a b "The Taoiseach, Ministers and every TD are having their pay cut today". 4 July 2013. Retrieved 18 December 2013. 
  2. ^ "Taoiseach: definition of Taoiseach in Oxford dictionary (British & World English). Meaning, pronunciation and origin of the word". Oxford Language Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. 2013. Retrieved 30 November 2013. 
  3. ^ a b John Thomas Koch (2006), Celtic Culture: a Historical Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, p. 1062,  
  4. ^ 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. [2]
  5. ^ "Taoiseach to receive €38k pay rise".  
  6. ^ "Sharp exchanges in Dáil over Budget".  
  7. ^ "Opposition says Lenihan's salary cuts do not add up".  
  8. ^ "'"Opulent Phoenix Park lodge is set to become 'Fortress Cowen.  
  9. ^ "Cowen questioned on use of Farmleigh".  
  10. ^ a b "Youth Zone School Pack".  
  11. ^ John Frederick Vaughan Campbell Cawdor (1742). Innes Cosmo, ed. The book of the thanes of Cawdor: a series of papers selected from the charter room at Cawdor. 1236–1742, Volume 1236, Issue 1742.  
  12. ^ E. William Robertson (2004). Scotland Under Her Early Kings: A History of the Kingdom to the Close of the Thirteenth Century Part One.  
  13. ^ "DSL - SND1 TOISEACH". Retrieved 27 June 2013. 
  14. ^ "Tartan Details - Toshach".  
  15. ^ Frank Mr. MacDermot of the Centre Party (Ireland) - Bunreacht na hEireann (Dréacht)—Coiste (Ath-thógaint) - Wednesday, 26 May 1937; Dáil Éireann Debate Vol. 67 No. 9.
  16. ^ - Bunreacht na hEireann (Dréacht)—Coiste (Ath-thógaint) - Wednesday, 26 May 1937; Dáil Éireann Debate Vol. 67 No. 9.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "Coughlan new Tánaiste in Cowen Cabinet".  
  19. ^ "Taoiseach reveals new front bench".  
  20. ^ "Cowen confirmed as Taoiseach". 7 May 2008. Retrieved 17 May 2008. 
  21. ^ "Former Taoisigh". Department of the Taoiseach. Retrieved 23 June 2010. 

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
  • Garret FitzGerald, "Just Garret: Tales from the Political Frontline"
  • 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
  • Albert Reynolds, My Autobiography
  • Bertie Ahern, My Autobiography

External links

  • Official website

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