Ministers and Secretaries Acts

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W. T. Cosgrave, whose government drafted the principal act

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.

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.


Dublin Castle, location of the Lord Lieutenant's administration until January 1922; the last remnants of which were swept away with the new Act.
Leinster House, the seat of parliament in the new Irish Free State

Lord Lieutenant's administration[edit]

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[edit]

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 Aireacht, was headed by the President of Dáil Éireann, who in August 1921 became the President of the Republic. 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, the Lord Lieutenant's administration was replaced by the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State, chosen by the House of Commons of Southern Ireland in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty and the earlier Government of Ireland Act 1920.

Enactment of the 1922 constitution[edit]

In December 1922, under the Treaty's provisions, the new constitution, 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 Republican and Provisional governments were replaced by one legal government, 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 Republican government.

Abolitions, creations and renamings[edit]

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]

This was done in 1924, by means of the Ministers and Secretaries Act, by which the governmental structures that were intended to be a permanent feature of independent Irish government were regularised and defined. Some long-standing positions, like those of Postmaster-General and Solicitor-General, were abolished, as was the Ministry for Labour, a post created originally in the Dáil Constitution. Others, most notably another created in the days of the Republic, the Ministry of Home Affairs, underwent a name change, moving from the British-sounding name Home Affairs which had parallels with Home Secretary, to the more European-sounding Minister for Justice.

Departments of State[edit]

The 1924 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[3] 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[4] Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Department of Industry and Commerce Minister for Industry and Commerce[5] 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[6] 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 some changes in name and roles; only the Department of Posts and Telegraphs has been abolished, in 1984, with its role handed over to the semi-state companies An Post and Telecom Éireann — the latter was subsequently privatised and is now a private company called eir.

Departments created post-1924[edit]

The following departments were created by later amending legislation

Creation Name Minister Current title
1939 Department of Supplies Minister for Supplies Lapsed in 1945
1946 Department of Health Minister for Health Department of Health
1946 Department of Social Welfare Minister for Social Welfare Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection
1956 Department of the Gaeltacht Minister for the Gaeltacht Department of Children and Youth Affairs
1959 Department of Transport and Power Minister for Transport and Power Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport
1966 Department of Labour Minister for Labour Lapsed in 1997
1973 Department of the Public Service Minister for the Public Service Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport
1977 Department of Economic Planning and Development Minister for Economic Planning and Development Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
1983 Department of Communications Minister for Communications Lapsed in 1991
2011 Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Department of Public Expenditure and Reform
2017 Department of Rural and Community Development Minister for Rural and Community Development Department of Rural and Community Development

Ministers of State[edit]

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 nomination 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 possible for most 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.[7]

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.[8][9]

The Government Chief Whip has always attended cabinet and since the 1990s some governments have appointed additional Ministers of State with permission to attend cabinet but not vote. Ministers of State attending cabinet, other than the Chief Whip are informally described as Super Junior ministers.[10] Currently Paul Kehoe of Fine Gael, Minister of State for Defence, Finian McGrath, Independent TD, Minister of State for Disability, and Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Minister of State for Higher Education, attend cabinet without a vote.

Other provisions of the 1924 Act[edit]

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….[11]

It created an official Seal for the Executive Council, and created a Council for Defence to aid and advise the Minister for Defence.

The Act provided for the existence of ministerial salaries for members of the Executive Council and Parliamentary Secretaries.

It provided that all executive orders were to be published in the Irish state gazette, to be known as Iris Oifigiúil.

Further legislation[edit]

As well as the creation of new departments, later amendments provided the following changes:

Act Changes
  • S. 5: permitted a member of the Government to be a minister without portfolio.
  • S. 5: permitted the Taoiseach to perform a cabinet reshuffle.
  • S. 6: permitted the Government to alter the title of a Minister or a Department of State or to transfer functions between Departments of State. The exercise of powers under this section are a regular part of each new Government as the structures of Departments change over time. Details of these changes are on the pages of each Department.
1946 S. 4: permitted a single member of Government to be assigned more than one Department of State. On the coming into operation of the Act in 1947, James Ryan served as Minister for Health and for Social Welfare. At present, Paschal Donohoe is Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform, and Leo Varadkar is Taoiseach and Minister for Defence
Abolished the position of parliamentary secretary. Created the similar junior ministerial position of Minister of State. Permitted up to 10 such Ministers of State to be appointed and for the delegation of functions of the Department of State to them. Ministers who are members of the Government thenceforth to be distinguished as “Ministers of the Government”.
1995 Permitted the appointment of up to 17 Ministers of State.
2007 Permitted the appointment of up to 20 Ministers of State.
2013 Amendments to the role of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

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.


  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. ^ The department had been known as the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Republic and between 1922 and 1924.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ The Republic's Ministry of Labour was abolished and its responsibilities given to the new Department.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "S.I. No. 299/2017 - Defence (Delegation of Ministerial Functions) Order 2017". Irish Statute Book. 5 July 2017. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  8. ^ "Number of junior ministers to be cut". RTÉ News. 6 April 2009. Retrieved 6 April 2009.
  9. ^ "Two new junior ministers revealed". RTÉ News. 22 April 2009. Retrieved 23 April 2009.
  10. ^ "No changes for Noonan and Howlin in reshuffle". RTÉ News. 15 July 2014.
  11. ^ Section 6(1).

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