Irish Law Gateway

This is an amazing law gateway hosted by U.C.C.’s Darius Whelan.

The Irish Constitution

Constitution Page     (includes links to full text of Irish Constitution, etc.)

For historical reference:
1922 Constitution (UCC)

Development of the Irish Legal System

Brehon Law was one of the earliest forms of law in Ireland and there have recently been attempts by the Brehon Law Project (see to revive interest in the subject. From the late twelfth century, Ireland was increasingly governed by English common law and by 1800 Ireland was fully integrated into the United Kingdom by the Act of Union passed in that year. A new Constitution in 1922 meant that twenty six counties became the independent �Irish Free State.� Six other counties in Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom, and this has, of course, been the subject of great controversy since then. (See Sarah Carter�s Guide to the UK Legal System for information on Northern Irish law.)

Article 73 of the 1922 Constitution carried all previous UK law forward into Irish law, which explains why some pre-1922 UK statutes are still in force in Ireland. A similar provision is found in Article 50 of the 1937 Constitution.

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The Irish Constitution of 1937

The full text of the Constitution of 1937 is available at various sites, for example the Department of the Taoiseach (Prime Minister.)

This Constitution, which remains in force today, renamed the State Ireland (Article 4) and established four main institutions � the President, the Oireachtas (Parliament), the Government and the Courts.

The President is the directly-elected Head of State but his/her powers are largely ceremonial. The President normally acts on the advice (instructions) of the Government. The Oireachtas (Parliament) consists of two Houses � the directly-elected D�il and indirectly-elected Seanad. The Government is the Executive and consists of the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and Ministers. The most significant courts are the High Court and the Supreme Court. Descriptions of the powers of each of the institutions are available at the following sites:

The Constitution also contains a strong set of fundamental rights at Articles 40-44, e.g. rights to equality before the law, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, education, etc. The courts may issue binding decisions that legislation is unconstitutional if it breaches these fundamental rights.

The Constitution has been amended on numerous occasions, and each amendment requires a referendum. In 1972 the Constitution was amended to recognise Ireland�s membership of the EEC (now the EU) and there have been similar amendments to recognise major new European Treaties such as the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997. The Belfast Agreement led to major amendments in 1998. Divorce was introduced by constitutional amendment in 1995, and abortion has been the subject of controversial amendments in 1983 and 1992.

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Primary Legislation: Acts of the Oireachtas

Approximately forty Acts of the Oireachtas are passed each year. These are available in print from the Government Supplies Agency, which is part of the Office of Public Works – see contact details on the Irish Legal Publishers page.

Irish Law – Legislation

Irish Legislation:

Acts 1922 to date (Bailii)
Statutory Instruments (Bailii)
Acts 1999 to date (Irlii)
Selected Statutory Instruments 1999 to date (Irlii)
Acts and SIs 1922 to date (Attorney General’s office) 
Legislation Directory (noting amendments to Acts) (Attorney General’s office)
Acts 1997 to date (Oireachtas)
Irish Proposed Legislation: Bills 1997 to date (Oireachtas)
Classified List of Legislation from 1922 to Date (Law Reform Commission) 

Northern Irish Legislation:

Northern Ireland Legislation (Bailii)
Northern Irish Legislation (

In electronic form there are various sources:

  • The British and Irish Legal Information Institute (Bailii)
    Currently this site offers Acts as enacted from 1922 to date. Amendments are not incorporated into legislation, so great care must be taken in using this site to search for subsequent amendments of the Acts. Some sections of pre-1922 legislation which continues to apply in Ireland may be found by going to the Northern Ireland part of the Bailii site at An example is the Partnership Act 1890.
  • The Irish Legal Information Initiative  (Irlii)
    This site, managed by Dr John Mee of University College Cork Law Faculty, complements UCC’s contribution to the Bailii project by providing recent Irish Acts.
  • The Attorney General�s Office – 
    This site provides access to the Acts from 1922 to date and crucially also the Legislation Directory, which lists amendments to date. It is also possible to a certain extent to see whether a particular section of an Act is actually in force by checking the Commencement Orders section of the Legislation Directory.
  • The Houses of the Oireachtas
    Here you will find all Acts passed from 1992 to date, as well as all Bills published from 1997 to date. The site lists legislative history of Bills to date, including links to all relevant Parliamentary debates.
  • Secondary Legislation: Statutory InstrumentsMost subordinate legislation is made by Government Ministers under powers conferred on them by Acts. Approximately 500 pieces of subordinate legislation are passed per year. Electronic access is provided at the following sites:
    • The British and Irish Legal Information Institute  (Bailii)
      Contains subordinate legislation passed from 1922 to date. There is no list of amendments.
    • The Attorney General�s Office – 
      Offers Subordinate Legislation from 1922 to date. There is no easy way to find out whether a piece of subordinate legislation is still in force or has been amended. Some assistance is provided in print form by Richard F. Humphreys� Index to Irish Statutory Instruments(3 volumes, 1988)
    • Selected Statutory Instruments 2002 to date are available on the Irish Legal Information Initiative (Irlii) website. 

    Courts and Case law

    The main courts website is at and contains a particularly useful Frequently Asked Questions section (under ‘About Us’).

    The principal printed series of reports are the Irish Reports and Irish Law Reports Monthly, cited as �IR� and �ILRM� respectively. Many cases remain unreported and are kept in the libraries of the main Universities or professional bodies. For electronic access to reported and unreported cases, see the following:

      • British and Irish Legal Information Institute  (Bailii)
        The most significant data here are in the Supreme Court (�IESC�) and High Court (�IEHC�) directories. The database is not comprehensive so it is important to consult other sources.  The majority of cases date from 1997 (High Court) and 1998 (Supreme Court.)
        Bailii also provides access to decisions of the Competition Authority (�IECA�) and Information Commissioner (�IEIC�).
        In addition, Bailii also introduced vendor-neutral citations for the first time in Irish case-law, e.g. a Supreme Court case on Bailii may be cited as [2000] IESC 12.
      • Irish Legal Information Initiative (Irlii)
        This site provides a database of ‘leading Irish cases’ classified by subject, e.g. constitutional law cases include Attorney General v X (1992).  These cases are also available on the Bailii site.  Note also the Irlii index of cases.
        See also IRLII Latest Cases RSS News Feed 
      • Courts Service Judgments Database
        Recent cases from the Supreme Court, High Court and Court of Criminal Appeal 
      • Justis
        Fee-paying service which offers access to judgments on an ongoing basis.

      • Westlaw.IE
        Covers Irish Law Reports Monthly, Employment Law Reports, Irish Current Law Statutes Annotated, and various other material.

      • LexisNexis
        The �Ireland� library contains a large number of reported and unreported cases.
      • European case-law is available in various formats – see for example the European links at

The Peace Process
Bloody Sunday Inquiry site (including full transcripts)
Northern Ireland Agreement Referendum 1998
Independent Review of Parades and Marches (North Commission) Jan. 1997 (alternative site)
International Body on Decommissioning (Mitchell Commission) Jan. 1996. (Click here for another version.) 
Framework Document on the future of Northern Ireland, February 1995. 
Downing Street Declaration December 1993. (Click here for another version). 
Key Events in the Irish Peace Process (CAIN)
Forum for Peace and Reconciliation

Other important Irish law websites include the following:

European Law
Information about establishment of a Centralised European Convention Causebook and Judgment Registry Database 
First full Irish legal publication on the Web:  Full text of The Brussels Convention on Jurisdiction and the Enforcement of Foreign Judgments: Papers and Precedents from the Conference held in Cork, September 1989
European Union
European Court of Justice
European Ombudsman
EURO-LEX List All EUROpean Legal Information EXchange List 
Council of Europe
European Court of Human Rights
European Consumer Centre, Dublin
Irish Centre for European Law
Institute of European Affairs
European Movement (Ireland)


About Author Annette J Dunlea Irish Writer

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