Europe

Irish presidency: Q&A

  • 28 October 2011
  • From the section Europe
Image caption The president resides in Aras an Uachtarain

As votes are counted in the Irish presidential election, the BBC's Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson examines the role of the country's head of state.

What does the Irish president do?

The job is mainly ceremonial. It is more about shaking hands, than passing laws. The president's weekly schedule involves visiting different events across the country and hosting receptions at the official residence, Aras an Uachtaráin.

Does the Irish president have any power?

The most significant is the power to refer bills passed in the Irish parliament to the Supreme Court.

This power is rarely used. The president also has the power to refuse the dissolution of parliament.

It is more of a theoretical power than one used in practice. A bit like a football referee, the aim is to intervene as seldom as possible.

How high-profile a role is it within Ireland?

Under the current president Mary McAleese, and her predecessor Mary Robinson, it has become very visible role.

And not just because the president goes on the pitch to meet the teams before every major sporting fixture in Dublin.

There is an expectation that the president will articulate the public mood at times of triumph and disaster.

While the prime minister (Taoiseach) deals with policy and governance, the president caters for the emotional needs of the country. Few would dispute that presidents McAleese and Robinson excelled in this role.

What about the international profile?

Mary Robinson visited Somalia in 1992 and drew international attention to the suffering taking place.

The theme of Mary McAleese's presidency has been 'building bridges', and with help from her husband Martin, she publicly reached out to unionists who would traditionally have been hostile to Irish political figures.

The president undertakes a number of international tours, and hosts visiting heads of state in Dublin. The most high-profile recent event was the Queen's historic visit to Ireland in May 2011.

Can the president comment on political matters?

Party political comments are frowned upon, but the president can speak on more general political matters. The convention is that the head of state stays away from saying anything controversial. It is similar to the situation in the UK.

How long is the term of office?

Seven years.

Can a president run again?

Yes, but like the American presidency, only once. There is a two-term limit.

Who can vote?

Only adults living in the Irish Republic. The total electorate is 3,110,709. People in Northern Ireland are entitled to apply for Irish passports but they cannot vote in elections. Sinn Fein are trying to change this rule.

Can a president be removed from office?

The Irish constitution lays down a procedure under which the president may be impeached for "stated misbehaviour" - committing a criminal offence or misusing presidential powers.

How many presidents of Ireland have there been?

There have been eight so far:

Douglas Hyde (1938-45)

Erskine Childers (1973-74)

Eamon de Valera (1959-73)

Patrick Hillery (1976-90)

Seán T O'Kelly (1945-59)

Cearbhall O'Dálaigh (1974-76)

Mary Robinson (1990-97)

Mary McAleese (1997-2011)