Government of Ireland


The Government is the group of senior ministers responsible for the executive power of the State. This means that the Government is responsible for giving effect to laws. You can view this list of current Government Ministers.

Executive power includes the power to execute or carry out laws with the assistance of the civil service, police force and military. The head of Government is the Taoiseach, who is nominated by the Dáil. The Taoiseach nominates a deputy (the Tánaiste) and a cabinet of ministers to take responsibility for the departments of government.

The Government decides major questions of policy and carries out a number of different and important functions.

How the Government is formed

After a general election, the Dáil (the Irish parliament) elects the Taoiseach. Normally the Taoiseach is the leader of the largest party in the Dail. If no one party has a majority of TDs (members of the Dáil), a number of parties may come together to form a coalition government.

The Taoiseach then nominates a deputy (the Tánaiste) and a cabinet of ministers who take charge of the departments of government.

The acting Taoiseach (the Taoiseach of the former Government) may have to ask the President to dissolve the Dáil and call another general election if no Government can be formed.

The composition of the Government

Article 28 of Bunreacht na hÉireann (the Irish Constitution) sets out the composition of Government. The Constitution states that the Government must not be smaller than 7 members or larger than 15 members.

The members of the Government must be members of either Dáil Éireann or Seanad Éireann. There cannot be more than 2 members of Seanad Éireann appointed to the Government. The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance must be members of Dáil Éireann.

The Taoiseach may also appoint Ministers of State who are also known as Junior Ministers. They are not actually members of the Cabinet but they help Government ministers in their parliamentary and departmental work.

The Taoiseach also appoints an Attorney General to advise the Government on legal issues. The Attorney General is not a member of the Government but they traditionally attend Cabinet meetings.

Coalition governments

If, after a general election, no party can get the support of the majority of the members of the Dáil, 2 or more parties may agree to work together as a coalition government.

The coalition parties agree on who will be nominated as Taoiseach. Usually, it is the leader of the larger party. In recent years, the leader of the smaller party has been usually nominated as Tánaiste.

The ministerial portfolios are then shared between the parties. Usually the larger party is given a greater number of portfolios. The leader of each party decides which elected members of the party to give those portfolios to.

The coalition government remains in power for as long as it keeps the support of the majority of the Dáil. If the coalition parties find that they cannot agree and can no longer work together, the Taoiseach may advise the President to dissolve the Dáil.

The Taoiseach

The Taoiseach is the head of the Government. Taoiseach means ‘leader’ or ‘chief’ in Irish, but the Irish word is always used for referring to the head of Government in Ireland.

The Taoiseach acts as a channel of communication between the Government and the President. They advise the President about summoning and dissolving the Dáil. They present Bills (or proposals for legislation) to the President for signature so that they can become Acts with legal effect. The Taoiseach also keeps the President generally informed on domestic and international policy matters.

As the leading public figure in the Government, the Taoiseach also acts as a spokesperson for the Government on major policy issues and chairs Cabinet meetings.

They take an interest in the affairs of all the Departments of State and make sure that the plans of departments are co-ordinated. They make sure that Cabinet decisions are carried out by the ministers and that the ministers fully understand the implications of different Government policies.

The Taoiseach also has a major role to play in our relations with foreign countries. They represent Ireland abroad and regularly meets with the other heads of state of the European Union to help shape European policy. The Taoiseach is Ireland’s representative on the European Council.

The Taoiseach and all the ministers are answerable to Dáil Eireann. The Taoiseach is assisted in his or her duties by the Government Chief Whip.

The Tánaiste

The Tánaiste is the deputy Taoiseach.

They act in place of the Taoiseach if the Taoiseach is abroad or ill. If the Taoiseach dies or becomes permanently incapacitated, the Tanaiste would stand in until a new Taoiseach was appointed.

The Tánaiste may also hold a ministerial portfolio, which means that they may also be a minister of a Department of State.

Like the other members of the Government, the Tánaiste may be dismissed by the Taoiseach if they consider that there is sufficient reason to do so.

The Government Chief Whip

The Government Chief Whip is the Minister of State for the Department of the Taoiseach. They are responsible for the organisation and co-ordination of Government business in Dáil Éireann.

The Chief Whip acts as a channel of communication between the Government and the opposition parties.

The Chief Whip is also responsible for making sure that the Government has a voting majority in the Dáil by making sure that TDs attend Dáil sessions when a vote is being taken. To instruct a TD to attend to vote, he or she can issue a whip.

If a Government TD votes against the Government, they may lose the whip. This means that they are suspended from the party. The Taoiseach can decide to restore a TD’s whip.

The Chief Whip has a function in monitoring the progress made by Government departments in preparing legislation. They also arrange for the proposed legislation to be considered and debated in the Dáil.

Further information

Page edited: 3 March 2021