Ireland: Executive Authority and External Relations: 1936-1949

Executive Authority in the Irish Free State (11 Dec 1936 - 29 Dec 1937)

In the course of political crisis caused by the intention of King Edward VIII to abdicate the throne in December 1936, Dáil Éireann passed the Constitution (Amendment No. 27) Act, 1936 (effective 11 Dec 1936), which stripped the British king of his executive authority under Article 51 of the Constitution of the Irish Free State amended by the said Act:

Article 51 (before amendment, effective 6 Dec 1922 - 11 Dec 1936):

The Executive Authority of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) is hereby declared to be vested in the King, and shall be exercisable, in accordance with the law, practice and constitutional usage governing the exercise of the Executive Authority in the case of the Dominion of Canada, by the Representative of the Crown. There shall be a Council to aid and advise in the government of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) to be styled the Executive Council. The Executive Council shall be responsible to Dáil Eireann, and shall consist of not more than seven nor less than five Ministers appointed by the Representative of the Crown on the nomination of the President of the Executive Council.

Article 51 (after amendment, effective from 11 Dec 1936):

There shall be a Council to exercise the executive authority and power of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) to be styled the Executive Council. Provided that it shall be lawful for the Executive Council, to the extent and subject to any conditions which may be determined by law to avail, for the purposes of the appointment of diplomatic and consular agents and the conclusion of international agreements of any organ used as a constitutional organ for the like purposes by any of the nations referred to in Article 1 of this Constitution. The Executive Council shall be responsible to Dáil Eireann, and shall consist of not more than seven nor less than five Ministers appointed in the manner hereinafter provided.

Accordingly, in accepting the abdication of Edward VIII by the Executive Authority (External Relations) Act, 1936 (effective 12 Dec 1936), Dáil Éireann did not proclaim the succession of George VI, but merely provided for the use of the UK Crown for purposes of foreign representation, while leaving a hiatus in the transition to the new Constitutional arrangements.

3. (1) It is hereby declared and enacted that, so long as Saorstát Eireann is associated with the following nations, that is to say, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, and South Africa, and so long as the King recognised by those nations as the symbol of their co-operation continues to act on behalf of each of those nations (on the advice of the several Governments thereof) for the purposes of the appointment of diplomatic and consular representatives and the conclusion of international agreements, the King so recognised may, and is hereby authorised to, act on behalf of Saorstát Eireann for the like purposes as and when advised by the Executive Council so to do.
3. (2) Immediately upon the passing of this Act, the instrument of abdication executed by His Majesty King Edward VIII on the 10th day of December, 1936 (a copy whereof is set out in the schedule to this Act), shall have effect according to the tenor thereof and His said majesty shall, for the purposes of the foregoing sub-section of this section and all other (if any) purposes, cease to be King, and the King for those purposes shall henceforth be the person who, if His said Majesty had died on the 10th day of December, 1936, unmarried, would for the time being be his successor under the law of Saorstát Eireann.

Since the day (11 Dec 1936) when the King ceased to be an official head of state of the Irish Free State, there was no explicit provision made for an interim head of state until a new Constitution was to take effect on 29 Dec 1937. According to the Constitution (Amendment No. 27) Act, 1936, the Executive Council, its President and the Chairman of Dáil Éireann received most of the functions exercised by the Representative of the Crown (Governor-General) in the name of the King. That Act specifically entrusted to the Chairman of Dáil Éireann two functions earlier pertaining to the Governor-General:

  1. Summoning the Dáil, upon written direction by the Executive Council (the Representative of the Crown would do so upon the "advice" of the Executive Council);
  2. Enacting bills (formerly "assenting in the name of the King").

The process of transferring the executive authority was accomplished with passing of the Executive Powers (Consequential Provisions) Act, 1937 (passed 8 Jun 1937, retrospectively effective 11 Dec 1936), which entrusted all the previous royal authority to the Executive Council, with the exception of those functions that were excepted by the Constitution (Amendment No. 27) Act, 1936.

The two senior officials, who might be regarded as acting heads of state of Ireland 11 Dec 1936 to 29 Dec 1937 were the Chairman of Dáil Éireann Próinsias Pádraig Ó Fáthaigh (Francis Patrick Fahy) and the President of the Executive Council Éamonn de Bhailéara (Eamon de Valera).

External Relations (11 Dec 1936 - 18 Apr 1949)

Having ceased to be the head of state of Ireland, the British king (sc. George VI) continued to exercise the executive power in connection with external relations for appointment of diplomatic representatives and conclusion of international agreements. As provided by the Executive Authority (External Relations) Act, 1936, the king acted strictly on the advice of the Executive Council (1936-1937) and subsequently on the advice of the Government of Ireland (1937-1949). On 21 Dec 1948 Dáil Éireann passed the Republic of Ireland Act, 1948 (effective 18 Apr 1949), which effectively abolished any connection of Ireland with the British monarchy.

The British monarchs continued to use the style "By the Grace of God of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King/Queen" until 29 May 1953, when the mention of Ireland, as a whole nation, was dropped according to the Royal Proclamation of 28 May 1953.

Last updated on: 24 May 2010 22:32:50