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The president of Dáil Éireann was the leader of the revolutionary Irish Republic of 1919–1921. The office, also known as príomh aire (Irish pronunciation: [ˈpʲrʲiːv ˈarʲə]), was created in the Dáil Constitution adopted by Dáil Éireann, the parliament of the Republic, at its first meeting in January 1919. This provided that the president was elected by the Dáil as head of a cabinet called the 'Ministry'. During the period of the Republic there were two office-holders, Cathal Brugha (on a provisional basis) and Éamon de Valera.



The Irish text of the Dáil Constitution referred to the leader of the state as the príomh aire. In English this was translated as both prime minister and president of the ministry. President of Dáil Éireann was also used, interchangeably with these terms, despite the fact that it did not appear in the constitution, and it was the title preferred by de Valera during his visit to the United States in 1920–1921. Contrary to what the title might suggest, the president of Dáil Éireann was not its chairman, this was the role of a separate official: the Ceann Comhairle. In some senses the office exercised a role that combined that of prime minister and leader of the house.

As adopted, the Dáil Constitution deliberately did not provide for a head of state and the titles initially used all suggested an official who was merely the head of government.

In practice, de Valera, particularly when abroad, called himself "President de Valera", creating the impression that he was head of state. In August 1922 in the run-up to the negotiations that would produce the Anglo-Irish Treaty, de Valera asked the Dáil to amend the constitution to upgrade his official status to that of head of state, in part to give him equality with King George V of the United Kingdom in accrediting delegates to the negotiations. He also had the ministry restructured, with a number of offices downgraded from cabinet to sub-cabinet level.

He also maintained that, as the highest official in the Republic, the príomh aire was the de facto head of state and that an amendment would merely bring the language of the constitution into harmony with this reality. It was first suggested that the constitution be amended to explicitly use the term president of the Republic. However, because of opposition to this, a more ambiguously worded amendment was adopted referring to the office-holder as "the President who shall also be Prime Minister". After the adoption of this amendment de Valera was elected as "president of the Republic" and continued to use the title until he resigned in January 1922. However his two successors were both elected–and known–as "presidents of Dáil Éireann", although no further amendment had been made to the constitution.


The president of Dáil Éireann had authority to appoint the remaining members of the Ministry, subject to ratification by the Dáil, and ministers could be dismissed by the president at any time. The resignation of the president also resulted in the automatic dissolution of the whole Ministry. The president, and all other members of the cabinet, had to be members of the Dáil and could theoretically be removed from office, either collectively or individually, by a vote of the house.

In April 1919 a constitutional amendment was adopted providing for a form of vice presidency. The president was granted power to appoint a 'president-substitute' or 'deputy president' who would carry out his duties on a temporary basis if he was unable to discharge them. On 17 June de Valera appointed Griffith–then the minister for home affairs–as deputy president so that he could take de Valera's place until he returned from the United States.


When the First Dáil met in 1919, Éamon de Valera was the president of Sinn Féin and thus the natural choice for leadership. However he had been imprisoned in England so, at the second meeting of the Dáil on 22 January, Cathal Brugha was elected as the first príomh aire on a temporary basis. De Valera escaped Lincoln Gaol in February and so was elected to replace Brugha at the Dáil's third meeting on 1 April. As leader de Valera visited the United States from June 1919 to December 1920. His aim was to gain both popular and official recognition for the Republic, and to float a loan to finance Dáil Éireann and the War of Independence. By his return de Valera had won public but not official support for the Republic and had raised a loan of $6 million.

After the election of the Second Dáil in 1921 de Valera resigned on 26 August and was immediately re-elected, under the new title of president of the Republic. He then remained in office until January 1922 when, against his wishes, the Dáil voted to ratify the Anglo-Irish Treaty. De Valera resigned and submitted his name for re-election but was rejected by the house, which instead elected Arthur Griffith, who supported the treaty.

On 16 January the British government, to implement the treaty, appointed a new Irish administration called the provisional government. The Dáil decided that the new administration would operate in parallel with the existing institutions of the Irish Republic, which the British did not recognise. Therefore as the Irish Civil War began the country had two leaders, Arthur Griffith as president of Dáil Éireann, and Michael Collins as chairman of the provisional government. Collins was also minister for finance in Griffith's cabinet. This anomalous situation continued until Griffith and Collins both died suddenly in August 1922; Collins was shot by anti-Treaty irregulars while Griffith died of natural causes. W.T. Cosgrave became chairman of the provisional government on 25 August and, when he was also elected as President of Dáil Éireann in September, the two administrations were merged.

On 6 December both the Irish Republic and the provisional government came to an end as the new Constitution of the Irish Free State came into force. The new Irish Free State had three leaders, the king as head of state, the governor-general as the king's representative, and the president of the executive council as head of government. W.T. Cosgrave was appointed as the first president of the executive council on the same day.

List of office-holdersEdit

No. Name Title used Party Entered Office Left Office
1. Cathal Brugha President of Dáil Éireann / Príomh Aire Sinn Féin 22 January 1919 1 April 1919
2. Éamon de Valera President of Dáil Éireann / Príomh Aire Sinn Féin 1 April 1919 26 August 1921
Éamon de Valera President of the Republic Sinn Féin 26 August 1921 9 January 1922
3. Arthur Griffith President of Dáil Éireann / Príomh Aire Sinn Féin (pro-Treaty faction) 10 January 1922 12 August 1922
4. W. T. Cosgrave President of Dáil Éireann / Príomh Aire Sinn Féin (pro-Treaty faction) 9 September 1922 6 December 1922

See alsoEdit