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Guide to Irish Law

By Dr. Darius Whelan

Dr Darius Whelan is a lecturer in law at University College, Cork, Ireland. He established the Irish Law discussion list and the Irish Law web site (now at www.irishlaw.org) in 1994. He has written articles on electronic access to Irish law for the Irish Law Times, the Bar Review, the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers and the Irish Times.

First published in 2001 at www.llrx.com/features/irish.htm
1st revised version - 2005 - www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/Ireland.htm 
2nd revised version - 2010 - www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/Ireland1.htm 

Visit www.llrx.com and www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/ for guides to other legal systems

Table of Contents

Development of the Irish Legal System
The Irish Constitution of 1937
Primary Legislation: Acts of the Oireachtas
Secondary Legislation: Statutory Instruments
Courts and Case Law
Government Websites
Solicitors and Barristers
University Law Departments and Faculties
Irish Law Websites
Discussion Lists and Electronic Newsletters
Blogs
Books
Journals

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 www.irishlaw.org/siteinfo/brehonlink.shtml) 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 and hester Swift’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 office of the Attorney General.

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 Dáil 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.

Ireland is also a member of the Council of Europe and has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The provisions of the ECHR may be relied upon in domestic courts as a result of the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003.

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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 Publications Office- see contact details on the Irish Legal Publishers page.

In electronic form there are various sources:

Secondary Legislation: Statutory Instruments

Most 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:

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Courts and Case law

The main courts website is at www.courts.ie 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:

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Government Websites

The main Irish government website is at www.gov.ie and contains information from every Government department and most state bodies. The parts of most legal relevance, which have not been mentioned above, include:

Note also the Citizens' Information portal site, which provides summaries of relevant laws.

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Solicitors and Barristers

Solicitors are educated and regulated by the Law Society. Many solicitors’ firms have websites which are listed at www.irishlaw.org/practitioners/.

Barristers are educated by the King’s Inns and regulated by the Bar Council / Law Library. Only a few barristers have websites - see for example Kieron Wood’s at www.irishbarrister.com.

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University Law Departments and Faculties

The main University Law Departments and Faculties have websites listing staff interests, courses available, etc. Here they are in alphabetical order:

Law lecturing staff are also found at other third level institutes such as Institutes of Technology - see the list at www.heanet.ie/about/member_institutions.

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Irish Law Websites

The major portal site, managed by the author, is the Irish Law Site hosted by University College Cork Law School at www.irishlaw.org . This site has been in existence since 1994 and contains links to all the major resources concerning Irish law, many of which have been mentioned above. It also includes a link to the searchable archive of IrishLaw discussion-list messages and the facility to join a low-traffic ‘Updates’ list by filling in one’s name and e-mail address on the home page.  The long URL for the site is www.ucc.ie/law/irishlaw/.

The site also includes a list of subject pages on areas such as Commercial Law, Family Law, Property Law and Tort.

Other important Irish law websites include the following:

Another online guide to Irish Law:

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Discussion Lists and Electronic Newsletters

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Blogs

See also the list of blogs and twitter feeds at www.irishlaw.org/blogs/.

Books

It is difficult to select the most important books on Irish law and those with a specific interest in a particular area would be well advised to search the online catalogues of major Irish universities (e.g. Trinity College Dublin’s catalogue) for comprehensive listings. What follows is a list of some of the more significant titles in recent years. See also the subject pages on the Irish Law site, e.g. Commercial Law, Criminal Law, etc.

General Books

Administrative Law

Banking Law

Commercial and Consumer Law

Company Law

Constitutional Law

Contract Law

Criminal Law

Employment Law / Labour Law

Environmental Law

Equity and Trusts

Evidence

Family and Child Law

Human Rights

Information Technology Law

Intellectual Property Law

Medical and Mental Health Law

Planning Law

Property Law

Succession and Probate Law

Torts

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Journals

Most Journals are published by Round Hall and in the list below this is indicated by ‘RH’ in brackets.  Full text of Round Hall journals is available in the fee-paying Westlaw.IE database.

Journal articles up to 1983 are indexed in the following:

From 1983 to 1997 there is no comprehensive index available although a few journals are indexed in the Index to Legal Periodicals and online at sites such as www.oclc.org.

From 1997 on, many journals are indexed in the excellent IRLII Periodicals Index, hosted by UCC Law Faculty at www.legalperiodicals.org.  

General Journals

Specialist Journals

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