Attorney General of Ireland

This article is about the modern office. For the pre-independence office, see Attorney-General for Ireland.
Attorney General of Ireland
Máire Whelan

since 9 March 2011
Office of the Attorney General
Appointer President on the nomination of the Taoiseach
Inaugural holder Hugh Kennedy
Formation 31 January 1922

The Attorney General (Irish: An tArd-Aighne) is a constitutional officer who is the official adviser to the Government of Ireland in matters of law. They are in effect the chief law officer in Ireland. The Attorney General is not a member of the Government but does participate in cabinet meetings when invited and attends government meetings. The current Attorney General is Máire Whelan, SC. She is the first woman to hold the post.


The Attorney General has always been a barrister rather than a solicitor, although this is not a requirement for the post. If the barrister chosen by the Government to be its Attorney General (normally on political- and personal-connection grounds rather than any other considerations) is not a Senior Counsel at the time, the government of the day has made him one first, John Rogers BL and John M. Kelly BL being two examples.

The Attorney General advises the Government on the constitutionality of bills and treaties, and presents the Government's case if the President refers any bill to the Supreme Court under Article 26 of the Constitution before signing it.

The Attorney General has few prosecution duties; these are limited to functions under the various Fisheries Acts and Extradition Acts. Instead, the Director of Public Prosecutions has responsibility for all other criminal prosecutions in the State.

The Office of the Attorney General consists of a number of different offices:

Part of the Attorney General's function has been to identify and prepare the repeal of all legislation passed before independence. This includes laws of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Britain, England, and the Irish Parliament. For example, the killing of cattle in Dublin is still regulated, in part by an Irish act of 1743, while the "Treatment of Foreign Merchants" is governed by 25 Edw. 1 Magna Carta c. 30, an act of the Parliament of England dated 1297.


The office, which was created in the 1937 Constitution of Ireland, is a lineal successor of the offices of Attorney-General for Ireland, Attorney-General for Southern Ireland and the Attorney-General of the Irish Free State (Irish: Príomh-Atúrnae Shaorstáit Éireann). Unlike the modern office, those earlier offices were a creation of statute law, not a written constitution. Unlike the modern office, the earlier offices also had a hyphen between the words attorney and general.

Two less well known but significant roles played by all Irish Attorneys General to date are as the "leader of the Irish Bar" and as a Bencher of the King's Inns. The acceptance by Attorneys General of these non-statutory and often secretive roles upon taking office throughout the years has been questioned and criticised as inappropriate for a Constitutional office-holder. In 1990, the Irish Government's Fair Trade Commission stated that "[w]e have recommended that the Bar Council should be the primary disciplinary body for barristers, and it does not include any members of the judiciary. The Attorney General is, however, a member of the Bar Council, and the Commission believes that it is preferable that he should not be involved when the Bar Council is exercising its disciplinary function. The Attorney General is also a member of the Council of King's Inns, and the Commission believes it to preferable that he should not participate in any disciplinary activity pursued by that body either. Indeed, in general, we find the membership of these bodies by the Attorney General to be somewhat anomalous."[2]

There had developed over the years a practice (of unknown origin) whereby the Attorney General of the day had his pick of possible appointments to the Irish judiciary upon his vacating the office of Attorney General; since Harry Whelehan's botched appointment to the presidency of the High Court (Ireland) in 1994, this practice appears to have gone into abeyance.

List of Attorneys General

No. Name Term of Office
1. Hugh Kennedy 31 January 1922[3] 5 June 1924
2. John O'Byrne 7 June 1924 9 January 1926
3. John A. Costello 9 January 1926 9 March 1932
4. Conor Maguire 10 March 1932 2 November 1936
5. James Geoghegan 2 November 1936 22 December 1936
6. Patrick Lynch 22 December 1936 31 December 1937
No. Name Term of Office
6. Patrick Lynch 1 January 1938 1 March 1940
7. Kevin Haugh 2 March 1940 10 October 1942
8. Kevin Dixon 10 October 1942 30 April 1946
9. Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh 30 April 1946 18 February 1948
10. Cecil Lavery 19 February 1948 21 April 1950
11. Charles Casey 21 April 1950 12 June 1951
Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh 14 June 1951 11 July 1953
12. Thomas Teevan 11 July 1953 30 January 1954
13. Aindrias Ó Caoimh 30 January 1954 2 June 1954
14. Patrick McGilligan 2 June 1954 20 March 1957
Aindrias Ó Caoimh 20 March 1957 15 March 1965
15. Colm Condon 16 March 1965 14 March 1973
16. Declan Costello 15 March 1973 19 May 1977
17. John Kelly 20 May 1977 5 July 1977
18. Anthony J. Hederman 6 July 1977 29 June 1981
19. Peter Sutherland 30 June 1981 9 March 1982
20. Patrick Connolly 10 March 1982 16 August 1982
21. John L. Murray 17 August 1982 14 December 1982
Peter Sutherland 15 December 1982 12 December 1984
22. John Rogers 13 December 1984 10 March 1987
John L. Murray 11 March 1987 25 September 1991
23. Harry Whelehan 26 September 1991 11 November 1994
24. Eoghan Fitzsimons 11 November 1994 15 December 1994
25. Dermot Gleeson 15 December 1994 26 June 1997
26. David Byrne 26 June 1997 17 July 1999
27. Michael McDowell 17 July 1999 6 June 2002
28. Rory Brady 7 June 2002 14 June 2007
29. Paul Gallagher 14 June 2007 9 March 2011
30. Máire Whelan 9 March 2011 Incumbent

See also


  1. "Ms. Eileen Creedon, Chief State Solicitor". Irish Woman Lawyer's Association. Retrieved January 12, 2015. ...she has been appointed as Chief State Solicitor and returned to the Chief State Solicitors Office to take up her appointment from Monday 23rd January, 2012.
  2. Fair Trade Commission Report of Study into Restrictive Practices in the Legal Profession (Dublin: Government of Ireland Stationery Office, 1990) Paragraph 16.51
  3. Initially Kennedy did not hold the title of Attorney General although he was legal adviser to the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State – Kennedy was only formally appointed Attorney General on 7 December 1922, the day after the establishment of the Irish Free State. Article at University College Dublin archives department

External links

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