Attorney General of Ireland

The Attorney General of Ireland (Irish: An tArd-Aighne) is a constitutional officer who is the legal adviser to the Government and is therefore the chief law officer of the State. The Attorney General is not a member of the Government but does participate in cabinet meetings when invited and attends government meetings. The current Attorney General is Séamus Woulfe, SC.

Attorney General of Ireland
Coat of Arms of Ireland
Séamus Woulfe

since 14 June 2017
Office of the Attorney General
Inaugural holderHugh Kennedy
Formation31 January 1922


''The Mission of the Office of the Attorney General is to provide the highest standard of professional legal services to Government, Departments and Offices.''


The office and functions of the Attorney General are outlined in Article 30 of the Constitution of Ireland.

The Attorney General has always been a barrister rather than a solicitor, although this is not a requirement for the post. In cases where a barrister nominated by the Taoiseach to be the Attorney General was not a Senior Counsel at the time, the government of the day has made them one first, as occurred in the cases of John Rogers BL and John M. Kelly BL.

The Attorney General advises the Government on the constitutionality of bills and treaties, and presents the Government's case if the President refers any bill to the Supreme Court under Article 26 of the Constitution before signing it.

The Attorney General has few prosecution duties; these are limited to functions under the various Fisheries Acts and Extradition Acts. Instead, the Director of Public Prosecutions has responsibility for all other criminal prosecutions in the State.

The Office of the Attorney General, is made up of a number of different offices:

  • The Attorney General's Office (located at Merrion Street, Dublin 2) containing the Advisory Counsel to the Attorney General (providing legal advice)
  • The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel (also located at Merrion Street, Dublin 2) containing the Parliamentary Counsel who draft legislation and have responsibilities in the area of Statute Law revision
  • The Chief State Solicitor's Office (located at Little Ship Street, Dublin 8) containing the solicitors representing the Attorney and the State who provide litigation, conveyancing and other transactional services
  • The Statute Law Revision Unit which simplifies and improves the body of statute law

Part of the Attorney General's function has been to identify and prepare the repeal of all legislation passed before independence. This includes laws of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Britain, England, and the Irish Parliament. For example, the killing of cattle in Dublin is still regulated, in part by an Irish act of 1743, while the "Treatment of Foreign Merchants" is governed by 25 Edw. 1 Magna Carta c. 30, an act of the Parliament of England dated 1297.


The Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924 provided a legislative basis for the Attorney-General of the Irish Free State (Irish: Príomh-Atúrnae Shaorstáit Éireann). This act provided it with:[1]

the business, powers, authorities, duties and functions formerly vested in or exercised by the Attorney-General for Ireland, the Solicitor-General for Ireland, the Attorney-General for Southern Ireland, the Solicitor-General for Southern Ireland, the Law Adviser to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and any or all of them respectively, and the administration and control of the business, powers, authorities, duties and functions of the branches and officers of the public services specified in the Ninth Part of the Schedule to this Act and also the administration and business generally of public services in connection with the representation of the Government of Saorstát Eireann and of the public in all legal proceedings for the enforcement of law, the punishment of offenders and the assertion or protection of public rights and all powers, duties and functions connected with the same respectively, together with the duty of advising the Executive Council and the several Ministers in matters of law and of legal opinion.

It also transferred the following bodies to the office of the Attorney-General:[2]

  • Chief Crown Solicitor for Ireland.
  • Chief State Solicitor's Department and all local State Solicitors.
  • Treasury Solicitor for Ireland.
  • Parliamentary Draftsman.
  • Charities.
  • Estates of illegitimate deceased persons.

Article 30 of the Constitution of Ireland approved on 1 July 1937 established the position of Attorney General of Ireland, providing it with a constitutional basis for the first time (unlike the earlier offices, there was no hyphen between the words attorney and general). Article 59 provided that the Attorney General of Saorstát Éireann before the coming into operation of the Constitution would become the Attorney General on the coming into operation of the Constitution without the need for an appointment, which occurred on 29 December 1937.

Until 1974, the Attorney General was responsible for the prosecution of criminal offences. In 1974, the position of Director of Public Prosecutions was established.[3][4] Local state solicitors were transferred to the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2007.[5][6]

Other functions

Two less well known but significant roles played by all Irish Attorneys General to date are as the "leader of the Irish Bar" and as a Bencher of the King's Inns. The acceptance by Attorneys General of these non-statutory and often secretive roles upon taking office throughout the years has been questioned and criticised as inappropriate for a Constitutional office-holder. In 1990, the Irish Government's Fair Trade Commission stated that "[w]e have recommended that the Bar Council should be the primary disciplinary body for barristers, and it does not include any members of the judiciary. The Attorney General is, however, a member of the Bar Council, and the Commission believes that it is preferable that he should not be involved when the Bar Council is exercising its disciplinary function. The Attorney General is also a member of the Council of King's Inns, and the Commission believes it to preferable that he should not participate in any disciplinary activity pursued by that body either. Indeed, in general, we find the membership of these bodies by the Attorney General to be somewhat anomalous."[7]

List of Attorneys General

Attorneys General of the Irish Free State

No. Name Term of Office Subsequent judicial or political career
1. Hugh Kennedy 31 January 1922[8] 5 June 1924 Chief Justice 1924–1936
2. John O'Byrne 7 June 1924 9 January 1926 High Court judge 1926–1940
Supreme Court judge 1940–1954
3. John A. Costello 9 January 1926 9 March 1932 Taoiseach 1948–1951, 1954–1957
4. Conor Maguire 10 March 1932 2 November 1936 President of the High Court 1936–1946
Chief Justice 1946–1961
5. James Geoghegan 2 November 1936 22 December 1936 Supreme Court judge 1936–1949
6. Patrick Lynch 22 December 1936 29 December 1937 Continued as AG of Ireland

Attorneys General of Ireland

No. Name Term of Office Subsequent judicial or political career
Patrick Lynch 29 December 1937 1 March 1940 Was last AG of the Irish Free State
7. Kevin Haugh 2 March 1940 10 October 1942 High Court judge 1942–1961
Supreme Court judge 1961–1969
8. Kevin Dixon 10 October 1942 30 April 1946 High Court judge 1946–1959
9. Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh 30 April 1946 18 February 1948 Chief Justice of Ireland
10. Cecil Lavery 19 February 1948 21 April 1950 Supreme Court judge 1950–1966
11. Charles Casey 21 April 1950 12 June 1951 High Court judge 1951–1952
Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh 14 June 1951 11 July 1953 Supreme Court judge 1953–1973
Chief Justice 1961–1973
European Court of Justice judge 1973–1974
President of Ireland 1974–1976
12. Thomas Teevan 11 July 1953 30 January 1954 High Court judge 1954–1971
13. Aindrias Ó Caoimh 30 January 1954 2 June 1954
14. Patrick McGilligan 2 June 1954 20 March 1957
Aindrias Ó Caoimh 20 March 1957 15 March 1965 President of the High Court 1966–1974
European Court of Justice judge 1975–1985
15. Colm Condon 16 March 1965 14 March 1973
16. Declan Costello 15 March 1973 19 May 1977 Judge of the High Court 1977–1998
President of the High Court 1995–1998
17. John Kelly 20 May 1977 5 July 1977 Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism 1981–1982
18. Anthony J. Hederman 6 July 1977 29 June 1981 Supreme Court judge 1981–1993
19. Peter Sutherland 30 June 1981 9 March 1982
20. Patrick Connolly 10 March 1982 16 August 1982
21. John L. Murray 17 August 1982 14 December 1982
Peter Sutherland 15 December 1982 12 December 1984 European Commissioner for Competition 1985–1989
22. John Rogers 13 December 1984 10 March 1987
John L. Murray 11 March 1987 25 September 1991 European Court of Justice judge 1992–1999
Supreme Court judge 1999–2015
Chief Justice 2004–2011
23. Harry Whelehan 26 September 1991 11 November 1994 President of the High Court 15–17 November 1994
24. Eoghan Fitzsimons 11 November 1994 15 December 1994
25. Dermot Gleeson 15 December 1994 26 June 1997
26. David Byrne 26 June 1997 17 July 1999 European Commissioner for Consumer Protection 1999–2004
27. Michael McDowell 17 July 1999 6 June 2002 Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform 2002–2007
Tánaiste 2006–2007
Senator 2016–
28. Rory Brady 7 June 2002 14 June 2007
29. Paul Gallagher 14 June 2007 9 March 2011
30. Máire Whelan 9 March 2011 14 June 2017 Court of Appeal judge 2017–
31. Séamus Woulfe 14 June 2017 Incumbent

See also


  1. "Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924, Section 6: The Attorney General". Irish Statute Book. 21 April 1924. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  2. "Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924, Schedule". Irish Statute Book. 21 April 1924. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  3. "Prosecution of Offences Act 1974, Section 2: Director of Public Prosecutions". Irish Statute Book. 23 July 1974. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  4. "Prosecution of Offences Act 1974 (Commencement) Order 1974". Irish Statute Book. 11 September 1974. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  5. "Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Act 2005, Section 28: Amendment of section 6 of Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924". Irish Statute Book. 9 July 2005. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  6. "Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Act 2005 (Sections 28, 29 and 30) (Commencement) Order 2007". Irish Statute Book. 15 July 2007. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  7. Fair Trade Commission Report of Study into Restrictive Practices in the Legal Profession (Dublin: Government of Ireland Stationery Office, 1990) Paragraph 16.51
  8. Initially Kennedy did not hold the title of Attorney General although he was legal adviser to the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State – Kennedy was only formally appointed Attorney General on 7 December 1922, the day after the establishment of the Irish Free State. Article at University College Dublin archives department
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