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Republic of Ireland Act 1948

The Republic of Ireland Act 1948 (No. 22 of 1948) is an Act of the Oireachtas (parliament) which declared Ireland to be a republic, and vested in the President of Ireland the power to exercise the executive authority of the state in its external relations, on the advice of the Government of Ireland. The Act was signed into law on 21 December 1948 and came into force on 18 April 1949, Easter Monday,[1][2] the 33rd anniversary of the beginning of the Easter Rising.

The Act ended the remaining constitutional role of the George VI and his successors those functions which the Act now transferred to the President.


  • Text of Act 1
    • The King 1.1
    • The Commonwealth 1.2
    • Republic of Ireland Description 1.3
  • United Kingdom's response 2
  • Background 3
  • Introduction of the bill 4
  • Reassessment 5
  • References 6
    • Sources 6.1
    • Citations 6.2
  • External links 7

Text of Act

The Republic of Ireland Act is itself quite short, running to just 5 brief sections, and is therefore set out in full as follows:

The King

Section 1 of the Act repealed the letters of credence of diplomatic and consular representatives and the conclusion of international agreements. Section 3 provides that the President of Ireland may instead exercise these functions and any other functions in relation to the state's external (or foreign) relations. This effectively upgraded the President to a full head of state.

The Commonwealth

At the time the Act came into force, a requirement for a country's membership of the British Commonwealth was that the state retain the same monarch as the other states. Thus, by declaring itself a republic, Ireland automatically ceased to be a member of the Commonwealth. Ireland had not participated actively in the Commonwealth for some years prior to the Act, but had been regarded, at least by the other Commonwealth governments, as still a Commonwealth country.

The London Declaration, which permitted republics to remain within the Commonwealth, was made shortly afterwards in response to India's desire to continue as a member once its new republican constitution was finalised. However, the Irish government opted not to reapply for membership of the Commonwealth, a decision that was criticised by then Leader of the Opposition Éamon de Valera, who considered applying for membership after being returned to power in the 1950s.[4]

Republic of Ireland Description

Section 2 of the Act quite simply provides:

It is hereby declared that the description of the State shall be the Republic of Ireland.

Notably, the Act did not change the official name of the state. It merely provided the description for the State. The Constitution of Ireland provides that Ireland (or Éire in Irish) is the official name of the State and, if the Act had purported to change the name, it would have been unconstitutional as it was not a constitutional amendment. The distinction between a description and a name has sometimes caused confusion. The Taoiseach, John A. Costello, who introduced the Republic of Ireland Bill in the Oireachtas, explained the difference in the following way:[5]

United Kingdom's response

The United Kingdom responded to the Republic of Ireland Act by enacting the Ireland Act 1949. This Act formally recognised that the Irish state had ceased to be a member of the Commonwealth, but provided that Irish citizens would not be treated as aliens under British nationality law. This, in effect, granted them a status similar to the citizens of Commonwealth countries.[6]

The Act also provided that "the part of Ireland heretofore known as Eire" could be referred to in future UK legislation as the "Republic of Ireland".[7] Between the enactment of the Constitution of Ireland in 1937 and the enactment of the Ireland Act 1949, the United Kingdom had only formally acknowledged "Eire" [sic] as the name of the Irish state. The UK's continued aversion to using "Ireland" as the correct formal name for the state due to the fact it did not (and does not) comprise the entirety of the island of the same name remained a source of diplomatic friction for several decades afterwards.

The UK's Ireland Act also gave a legislative guarantee that Northern Ireland would continue to remain a part of the United Kingdom unless the Parliament of Northern Ireland formally expressed a wish to join a United Ireland; this "unionist veto" proved to be controversial during the Act's passage through Westminster, as well as in the Irish state and amongst Northern Ireland's nationalist community. The guarantee was replaced in 1973, when the Parliament of Northern Ireland was abolished, by a new guarantee based on "the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland".[8]

On the day the Act came into force, 18 April 1949, President of Ireland, Seán T. O'Kelly:[9]


The Act repealed the credentials appointing foreign ambassadors to the State.[10] The Republic of Ireland Act removed this last remaining practical role from the King and vested it instead in the President of Ireland, making the then President of Ireland, Seán T. O'Kelly, unambiguously the Irish head of state.

In 1945, when asked if he planned to declare a Republic, the then

In October 1947, de Valera asked his Attorney-General, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, to draft a bill to repeal the External Relations Act.[10] and by 1948 a draft of the bill included a reference to the state as being a republic.[10] In the end, the draft bill was never submitted to the Oireachtas for approval.

Introduction of the bill

The bill to declare Ireland a republic was introduced in 1948 by the new Taoiseach, John A. Costello of the Fine Gael party. Costello made the announcement that the bill was to be introduced when he was in Ottawa, during an official visit to Canada. David McCullagh has suggested that it was a spur of the moment reaction to offence caused by the Governor-General of Canada,[12] Lord Alexander, who was of Northern Irish descent, who allegedly placed Northern Irish symbols, notably a replica of the famous Roaring Meg cannon used in the Siege of Derry, before an affronted Costello at a state dinner. What is certain is that an agreement that there would be separate toasts for the King and for the President of Ireland was broken.[13] The Irish position was that a toast to the King, instead of representing both countries, would not include Ireland. Only a toast to the King was proposed, to the fury of the Irish delegation.[13] Shortly afterwards Costello announced the plan to declare the republic.

However, according to all but one of the ministers in Costello's cabinet, the decision to declare a republic had already been made before Costello's Canadian visit.[14] Costello's revelation of the decision was because the Sunday Independent (an Irish newspaper) had discovered the fact and was about to "break" the story as an exclusive. Nevertheless one minister, Noel Browne, gave a different account in his autobiography, Against the Tide. He claimed Costello's announcement was done in a fit of anger of his treatment by the Governor-General and that when he returned, Costello, at an assembly of ministers in his home, offered to resign because of his manufacture of a major government policy initiative on the spot in Canada. Yet according to Browne, all the ministers agreed that they would refuse to accept the resignation and also agreed to manufacture the story of a prior cabinet decision.[15]

The evidence of what really happened remains ambiguous. There is no record of a prior decision to declare a republic before Costello's Canadian trip, among cabinet papers for 1948, which supports Browne's claim.[14] However, the Costello government refused to allow the Secretary to the Government, Maurice Moynihan, to attend cabinet meetings and take minutes, because they believed he was too close to the opposition leader, Éamon de Valera.[16] Rather than entrust the minute-taking to Moynihan, the cabinet entrusted it to a Parliamentary Secretary (junior minister), Liam Cosgrave. Given that Cosgrave had never kept minutes before, his minutes, at least early on in the government, proved to be only a limited record of government decisions. So whether the issue was never raised, was raised but undecided on, was subjected to a decision taken informally, or was subjected to a decision taken formally, remains obscure on the basis of the 1948 cabinet documentation.[14]

At any rate, the Act was enacted with all parties voting for it. De Valera did suggest that it would have been better to reserve the declaration of the republic until Irish unity had been achieved, a comment hard to reconcile with his 1945 claim that the Irish state was already a republic. Speaking in Seanad Éireann Costello told senators that as a matter of law, the King was indeed "King of Ireland" and Irish head of state and the President of Ireland was in effect no more than first citizen and a local notable, until the new law came into force.


In 1996, the Constitution Review Group considered amending the Constitution to declare that Ireland should be named "Republic of Ireland". It decided against recommending such an amendment.[17] This was the second time that such an amendment was considered by committee.



  • Stephen Collins, The Cosgrave Legacy
  • Tim Pat Coogan, De Valera (Hutchinson, 1993)
  • Brian Farrell, De Valera's Constitution and Ours
  • F.S.L. Lyons, Ireland since the Famine
  • David Gwynn Morgan, Constitutional Law of Ireland
  • Tim Murphy and Patrick Twomey (eds.) Ireland's Evolving Constitution: 1937–1997 Collected Essays (Hart, 1998) ISBN 1-901362-17-5
  • Alan J. Ward, The Irish Constitutional Tradition: Responsible Government and Modern Ireland 1782–1992 (Irish Academic Press, 1994) ISBN 978-0813207933


  1. ^ The Republic of Ireland Act 1948 (Commencement) Order (S.I. No. 27/1949). Statutory Instrument of the Government of Ireland.
  2. ^ "When Was Easter Sunday in 1949?". Retrieved 21 June 2013. 
  3. ^ The Republic of Ireland Act from the
  4. ^ Kenny, Kevin (2004). Kevin Kenny, ed. Ireland and the British Empire. Oxford University Press. p. 217.  
  5. ^ The Republic of Ireland Bill, 1948—Committee and Final Stages. Seanad Éireann debates. 15 December 1948. Vol. 36, p.323. Retrieved 2008-01-16. 
  6. ^ Heater, Derek (2006). Citizenship in Britain: a history. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 224.  
  7. ^ , s. 1Ireland Act 1949.
  8. ^ Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 s.1.
  9. ^ The Times, 18 April 1949
  10. ^ a b c McCabe, Ian (1992). "John Costello 'Announces' the Repeal of the External Relations Act". Irish Studies in International Affairs (Royal Irish Academy) 3 (4): 70. 
  11. ^ "Seanad Éireann - Volume 30 - 19 July, 1945" Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Retrieved on 14 March 2007.
  12. ^ McCullagh, David The Reluctant Taoiseach Gill and Macmillan 2010 p.210
  13. ^ a b McCullagh p.210
  14. ^ a b c McCullagh pp.205-7
  15. ^ Browne, Noel (1986). Against the Tide. London: Gill & McMillan.  
  16. ^ McCullagh pp.179-80
  17. ^ Constitution Review Group (1996). "Articles IV: Name of State". Report of the Constitution Review Group (PDF). Dublin: Stationery Office. p. 7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 2008-01-12. The Review Group also considered whether the Article should be amended to include ‘Republic of’ in the name of the State. It is satisfied that the legislative provision (section 2 of the Republic of Ireland Act 1948), which declared the description of the State to be ‘the Republic of Ireland’, is sufficient. 

External links

  • Oireachtas: bills index — 1948 Section "The Republic of Ireland Bill, 1948" links to the parliamentary debates on the bill
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