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
|Office of the Attorney General|
|Inaugural holder||Hugh Kennedy|
|Formation||31 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 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.
- Chief Crown Solicitor for Ireland.
- Chief State Solicitor's Department and all local State Solicitors.
- Treasury Solicitor for Ireland.
- Parliamentary Draftsman.
- 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. Local state solicitors were transferred to the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2007.
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."
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||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|
|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|
- "Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924, Section 6: The Attorney General". Irish Statute Book. 21 April 1924. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
- "Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924, Schedule". Irish Statute Book. 21 April 1924. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
- "Prosecution of Offences Act 1974, Section 2: Director of Public Prosecutions". Irish Statute Book. 23 July 1974. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
- "Prosecution of Offences Act 1974 (Commencement) Order 1974". Irish Statute Book. 11 September 1974. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
- "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.
- "Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Act 2005 (Sections 28, 29 and 30) (Commencement) Order 2007". Irish Statute Book. 15 July 2007. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
- Fair Trade Commission Report of Study into Restrictive Practices in the Legal Profession (Dublin: Government of Ireland Stationery Office, 1990) Paragraph 16.51
- 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