Intro to Irish government

Irish Government

For most Americans, government is simple. We elect a president (shhh let’s forget about the Electoral College for a minute), and that president picks favorites and builds a cabinet. We also elect our Senators and our members of the House of Representatives and then we sit back and watch them screw things up.

That’s how we imagine things must happen all around the world.

But they don’t. At all.

Irish government, for example, is totally different.

Let’s compare its structure to ‘Merica’s:

Who’s the Head of Government?

USA: President

Ireland: Taoiseach 

Differences: The American president is elected by popular vote, represented by the electoral college. The Irish Taoiseach is selected by the elected representatives after an election.

Who’s the Head of State?

USA: President 

Ireland: President 

Differences: The American president is both Head of State and Head of Government. The Irish president is a ceremonial figurehead, representing Ireland at important events. He’s currently Ireland’s most famous grandpa, and a poet.

What’s the Legislature like?

Upper House

America: Senate 

Ireland: Senate (Seanad) 

Differences:  The American senate is elected by popular vote, and has the power to block legislature enacted by the House of Representatives.

The Irish Seanad is very different. First, it mainly makes recommendations and does not have the power to block legislation. Second, some of its members are appointed by the new Taoiseach after his election, while others are elected by the vote of members of vocational interest groups, (farmers, etc.) and by registered alumni of certain universities.

Lower House

USA: House of Representatives 

Ireland: Dáil

Differences: The American House of Representatives and the Irish Dáil are both elected by popular vote according to geographical constituencies. The American House can enact and approve legislation, but it has to also be approved by the American Senate to become law. The Irish Dáil on teh other hand is Ireland’s main legislative body. Its legislation does not have to be approve by the Seanad to go into the books. Its members are called TDs.

Now that we’ve established the differences between the US and Irish governments, let’s look at what’s happening today.

The country’s new TDs, or members of the Dáil, have convened for the first time since the election with the aim of forming a government. Ultimately, they need to choose their Taoiseach (remember that’s the equivalent of the American president), who in turn will select his Ministers, what Americans would call the cabinet.

None of this is going to be easy, and it definitely won’t be sorted out today. See, in last week’s election none of the parties gained a majority. That means they need to work together to decide who will be Taoiseach, and the parties’ deep-rooted distrust of each other means its nearly impossible to make a deal.

This video presents a very clear view of what’s supposed to happen today:

So while Irish government isn’t simple, it’s not that hard to understand after all. At least they don’t have to explain the electoral college…

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