Ministers and Secretaries Acts

The Ministers and Secretaries Acts 1924 to 2017[1] is the legislation which governs the appointment of ministers to the Government of Ireland and the allocation of functions between departments of state. It is subject in particular to the provisions of Article 28 of the Constitution of Ireland. The Acts allow for the appointment of between 7 and 15 Ministers of Government across 17 Departments, and for the appointment of up to 20 junior ministers, titled Ministers of State to assist the Ministers of Government in their powers and duties.

Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924
CitationNo. 16 of 1924
Territorial extentIrish Free State/Ireland
Enacted byDáil Éireann
Enacted bySeanad Éireann
Commenced21 April 1924
Status: Current legislation

The principal act is the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924 and was one of the key statutes enacted by the Irish Free State. The Constitution of the Irish Free State in 1922 had provided for the formation of a cabinet called the Executive Council. The 1924 Act formally defined the government departments that were to exist in the Free State, created their titles and outlined their responsibilities. The Act has been amended and affected by subsequent legislation which may be cited together and construed as one Act. The names and functions of departments have changed frequently by secondary legislation. Although the secretaries created by the 1924 Act were later replaced by ministers of state, as amendments to the principal Act, subsequent legislation changing the structures of government departments have continued to use the title Ministers and Secretaries Act.


Lord Lieutenant's administration

From 1801 to 1922, Ireland had been governed as part of the United Kingdom. The legal government of Ireland was an executive and Privy Council of Ireland under the British Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; in practice, the Dublin Castle administration was run by the Chief Secretary for Ireland.

Irish Republic and the Anglo-Irish Treaty

After the 1918 general election, MPs elected for Sinn Féin established the extrajudicial Dáil Éireann (House of Assembly) in January 1919 and made a unilateral declaration of independence of the Irish Republic. This operated without external recognition under the terms of the Dáil Constitution. Its executive, the Ministry of Dáil Éireann, was headed by the President of Dáil Éireann. In January 1922, a majority of the Dáil accepted the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty which agreed the terms of the independence of the Irish Free State from the United Kingdom.

In January 1922, a Provisional Government of Ireland was formed, approved by the members elected for the House of Commons of Southern Ireland in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty. By Order in Council under the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act 1922, the British Government formally transferred powers to the Provisional Government on 1 April 1922.

Constitution of the Irish Free State

ON 6 December 1922, under the Treaty's provisions, the new Constitution of the Irish Free State, having been enacted separately by the Third Dáil, sitting as a constituent assembly, and the Parliament of the United Kingdom, came into force through a proclamation issued by the King. Both the Dáil Ministry and the Provisional Government were replaced by the Executive Council, under the chairmanship of the President of the Executive Council. Initially its governmental offices were an amalgam of posts from the Lord Lieutenant's administration, the Provisional Government and the Dáil Ministry. For example, there was an Irish Postmaster General, a post that had existed in the Lord Lieutenant's administration, and a Minister for Home Affairs, an office created as part of the Dáil ministry.

New legislation

In the Governor-General's Address to Dáil Éireann at the State Opening of the Oireachtas on 3 October 1923 the first indication was given that:

Amongst the measures to be submitted to you will be one providing for the organisation of the great departments of State, the distribution of their functions in a manner calculated to bring about greater efficiency in administration, and the regular Constitution of the Ministries charged with the administration of the various Departments of Government.[2]

The Ministers and Secretaries Bill 1923 was introduced by William T. Cosgrave, President of the Executive Council, on 16 November 1923.[3] The governmental structures that were to be a permanent feature of independent Irish government were regularised and defined. Positions which had existed under the Dublin Castle administration, like those of Postmaster-General and Solicitor-General, were merged into new Departments of State, as was the Ministry for Labour, which had been part of the Dáil Ministry. Some departments which had been created by the Dáil Ministry were given new names, most notably the Ministry of Home Affairs, which changed from a title with similarity to the British Home Secretary to the more European-sounding Minister for Justice. The bill was enacted as the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924, and was commenced on 2 June 1924.[4]

Departments of State

The 1924 Act created the following government departments:

Name Minister Current title
Department of the President of the Executive Council President of the Executive Council Department of the Taoiseach
Department of Finance Minister for Finance Department of Finance
Department of Justice Minister for Justice[5] Department of Justice and Equality
Department of Local Government and Public Health Minister for Local Government and Public Health Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government
Department of Education Minister for Education Department of Education and Skills
Department of Lands and Agriculture Minister for Lands and Agriculture[6] Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Department of Industry and Commerce Minister for Industry and Commerce[7] Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation
Department of Fisheries Minister for Fisheries Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment
Department of Posts and Telegraphs Minister for Posts and Telegraphs[8] Abolished in 1984
Department of Defence Minister for Defence Department of Defence
Department of External Affairs Minister for External Affairs Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Ten of the eleven departments created in 1924 continue to exist, with changes in most cases to departmental title and functions. Section 6 of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1939 permits the Government to the title of any department of state or minister and to transfer branches between departments.[9] The Department of Posts and Telegraphs was abolished in 1984, when its departmental functions were transferred to new Department of Communications.

Departments created post-1924

The following departments were created by later amending legislation:

Creation Name Minister Current title
8 September 1939[10] Department of Supplies Minister for Supplies Abolished on 1 August 1945[11]
22 January 1947[12] Department of Health Minister for Health Department of Health
22 January 1947[13] Department of Social Welfare Minister for Social Welfare Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
2 July 1956[14] Department of the Gaeltacht Minister for the Gaeltacht Department of Children and Youth Affairs
27 July 1959[15] Department of Transport and Power Minister for Transport and Power Abolished on 2 January 1984[16][17]
13 July 1966[18] Department of Labour Minister for Labour Lapsed in 1997
1 November 1973[19] Department of the Public Service Minister for the Public Service Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport
13 December 1977[20] Department of Economic Planning and Development Minister for Economic Planning and Development Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
2 January 1984[21][17] Department of Communications Minister for Communications Lapsed in 1991
6 July 2011[22] Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Department of Public Expenditure and Reform
19 July 2017[23] Department of Rural and Community Development Minister for Rural and Community Development Department of Rural and Community Development

Ministers of State

Section 7 of the 1924 Act allowed the Executive Council to appoint up to seven parliamentary secretaries to assist ministers in their duties.

The Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1977, which was commenced in 1978, abolished the position of parliamentary secretary and created the position of Minister of State (Irish: Aire Stáit), which is of non-cabinet rank attached to one or more Departments of State of the Government of Ireland, and commonly called junior ministers. Unlike government ministers who are appointed by the President on the advice of the Taoiseach, with the prior approval of Dáil Éireann, Ministers of State are appointed by the cabinet, on nomination of the Taoiseach. Ministerial functions are delegated to Ministers of State by statutory instrument, and it is possible for most or all of the practical ministerial functions of a department to be delegated to a Minister of State, as is the case with Paul Kehoe, who is a Minister of State at the Department of Defence, in circumstances where the Minister of Defence is Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.[24]

In the 1977 Act, the number of Ministers of State was limited to 10, but in 1980 this was raised to 15, and in 1995 it was raised to 17, and in 2007 it was raised to 20. Brian Cowen asked all 20 Ministers of State to resign on 21 April 2009. He re-appointed a reduced number of 15 ministers the following day, when the Dáil resumed after the Easter recess.[25][26]

The Government Chief Whip has always attended cabinet. The current Chief Whip is Seán Kyne. Since the 1990s, governments have appointed additional Ministers of State who attend cabinet but not vote. Ministers of State attending cabinet, other than the Chief Whip, are informally described as Super Junior ministers.[27] Currently Fine Gael TD Paul Kehoe, Minister of State for Defence, Independent TD Finian McGrath, Minister of State for Disability, and Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Minister of State for Higher Education, attend cabinet without a vote.

Other provisions of the Acts

Section 3(2) of the 1924 Act (later repealed and replaced in similar terms by s. 4 of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1946) allowed for two or more Departments of State to be assigned to the same person.[28][29] At present, Leo Varadkar is Taoiseach and Minister for Defence, and Paschal Donohoe is Minister for Finance and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

Section 6 of the 1924 Act created the post of Attorney-General of the Irish Free State. This post was to take over, "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…".[30]

The 1924 Act also created an official Seal for the Executive Council, and created a Council for Defence to aid and advise the Minister for Defence. It provided for the existence of ministerial salaries for members of the Executive Council and Parliamentary Secretaries and that all executive orders were to be published in the Irish state gazette, to be known as Iris Oifigiúil.

The 1939 Act allowed a member of the Government to be a minister without portfolio and permitted the Taoiseach to perform a cabinet reshuffle.[31][32]

See also


  1. For collective title and construction, see "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 2017". Attorney General of Ireland. 2017. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  2. Governor-General Tim Healy, speaking from the throne at the opening of the Oireachtas on 3 October 1924.
  3. "Dáil Éireann debate - Friday, 16 November 1923: MINISTERS AND SECRETARIES BILL, 1923.—SECOND STAGE". Houses of the Oireachtas. Retrieved 26 August 2019.
  4. "S.I. No. 4/1924 - Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924 (Commencement) Order 1924". Irish Statute Book. 30 May 1924. Retrieved 26 August 2019.
  5. The department had been known as the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Republic and between 1922 and 1924.
  6. This new department replaced the Department of Agriculture and Technical Drawing that had existed under the Lord Lieutenant originally under Sir Horace Plunkett at the start of the century.
  7. The Republic's Ministry of Labour was abolished and its responsibilities given to the new Department.
  8. This department and minister assumed the role of the Postmaster General of the United Kingdom in the jurisdiction of the Irish Free State. The office of Postmaster General of Ireland had been abolished in 1831.
  9. "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1939: Section 6, Divers powers of the Government in relation to Departments of State". Irish Statute Book. 21 December 1939. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  10. "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1939, Section 12: Commencement". Irish Statute Book. 21 December 1939. Retrieved 13 September 2019.
  11. "Minister for Supplies (Transfer of Functions) Act 1945 (Appointed Day) Order 1945". Irish Statute Book. 20 July 1945. Retrieved 13 September 2019.
  12. "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1946 (Section 2) (Commencement) Order 1947". Irish Statute Book. 21 January 1947. Retrieved 13 September 2019.
  13. "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act, 1946 (Section 3) (Commencement) Order, 1947". Irish Statute Book. 21 January 1947. Retrieved 20 September 2019.
  14. "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1956 (Appointed Day) Order 1956". Irish Statute Book. 28 June 1956. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  15. "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1959 (Appointed Day) Order 1959". Irish Statute Book. 27 July 1959. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  16. "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1983: Section 5, Transfer of functions of Minister for Transport and abolition of office". Irish Statute Book. 27 December 1983. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  17. "Postal and Telecommunications Services Act 1983 (An Post) (Vesting Day) Order 1983". Irish Statute Book. 21 December 1983. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  18. "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1966 (Appointed Day) Order 1966". Irish Statute Book. 12 July 1966. Retrieved 20 September 2019.
  19. "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1973 (Appointed Day) Order 1973". Irish Statute Book. 30 October 1973. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  20. "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1977 (Appointed Day) Order 1977". Irish Statute Book. 9 December 1977. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  21. "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1983: Section 1, Definitions". Irish Statute Book. 27 December 1983. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  22. "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 2011 (Appointed Day) Order 2011". Irish Statute Book. 5 July 2011. Retrieved 5 October 2019.
  23. "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 2017". Irish Statute Book. 19 July 2017. Retrieved 13 September 2019.
  24. "S.I. No. 299/2017 - Defence (Delegation of Ministerial Functions) Order 2017". Irish Statute Book. 5 July 2017. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  25. "Number of junior ministers to be cut". RTÉ News. 6 April 2009. Retrieved 6 April 2009.
  26. "Two new junior ministers revealed". RTÉ News. 22 April 2009. Retrieved 23 April 2009.
  27. "No changes for Noonan and Howlin in reshuffle". RTÉ News. 15 July 2014.
  28. "Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924: Section 3, Allocation of Departments of State among Ministers". Irish Statute Book. 21 April 1924. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  29. "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1946: Section 4, Assignment of Departments of State to members of the Government and termination of such assignments". Irish Statute Book. 24 December 1946. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  30. "Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924: Section 6, The Attorney General". Irish Statute Book. 21 April 1924. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  31. "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1939: Section 4, Minister without portfolio". Irish Statute Book. 21 December 1939. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  32. "Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1939: Section 5, Transfer of Departments to and from Ministers". Irish Statute Book. 21 December 1939. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
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