A short legislative history

There have been a number of distinct legislative periods in Ireland. A basic knowledge of them is useful in understanding the development of Statutory law. What follows is an outline of the parliaments that have promulgated, statutes affecting Ireland.

Establishment of the Parliament of Ireland

By the Treaty of Windsor in 1175, Ard Rí Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair recognised Henry II as his overlord. Thus was established the Lordship of Ireland.

In 1210 King John came to Ireland, before his departure he compelled the barons to swear that they would observe the laws and customs of England in Ireland.

When King John accepted Magna Carta on 15th June 1215, this established the principle that the King could not overrule the law and thus led to the rise of Parliament as a law making body. A Statute of 1236 passed by the Parliament of Ireland was repealed only in 1983.

By an Act of 1468 the Irish parliament asserted that it must ratify English statutes in order for them to be valid in Ireland.

Poynings’ Law

On the 13th October 1494 Edward Poynings arrived in Ireland, with instructions from King Henry VII to reduce the Lordship of Ireland to “whole and perfect obedience”. A Parliament meet in Drogheda on the 1st December 1494, and lasted into 1495. It was this assembly that passed “Poynings Law” which states that: no parliament shall be held in Ireland “till the Lieutenant and council of Ireland shall first certify the King under the Great seal of such causes and acts as them seemeth should pass; then the King and his Council, after affirming such causes and acts to be good and expedient for the said land, shall send his license thereupon, as well in affirmation of the said causes and acts as to summon the said parliament under his Great seal of England: that done, a parliament shall be holden after the form and effect afore rehearsed, any parliament holden hereafter contrary to these forms to be void and of no effect.”

The freedom of the Irish Parliament to legislate was greatly fettered by Poynings’ Law. The Kingdom of Ireland was established in June 1541, > when a parliament specially summoned for the purpose conferred upon Henry VIII the title “King of Ireland”. In its original form Poynings’ Law required all proposed bills to be submitted before a licence was issued. During the reign of Philip and Mary, an amendment made possible the introduction of new bills after Parliament had met.

“Sixth of George I”

In 1707 the Parliaments of England and Scotland were united and the Parliament of Great Britain was established. The Parliament of England had asserted a right to legislate for Ireland, but this had been resisted by the Irish Parliament. In 1719 a dispute arose as to the appellate jurisdiction of the Irish House of Lords and the British Parliament in March 1720 passed the Dependancy of Ireland Act, 1719, an “Act for the better securing the dependency of the Kingdom of Ireland on the crown of Great Britain”.

Legislative Independence

The legislative curbs on the Parliament of Ireland gave rise to opposition amongst the ascendancy classes throughout the eighteenth century. The establishment of the Volunteers following the American War of Independence eventually led to the successful assertion by Henry Grattan of the independence of the Irish Parliament on the 16th April 1782.

Act of Union

The independent Irish Parliament did not last long after the French Revolution and the United Irishmen. The Government bought itself a majority in the Parliament and on the 28th March 1800, an Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland was finally accepted. On 2nd August the Parliament of Ireland met for the last time.

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland

The Parliaments of the United Kingdom sitting from 1801 to 1922, passed a great body of law that still applies in Ireland>

Irish Free State

The Constitution of Saorstát Éireann was enacted by Dáil Éireann on 25th October 1922 sitting as a Constituent Assembly. It provided that the laws in force at the date of the coming into operation of the Constitution would continue to be in force and effect until the same, be repealed or amended by the Oireachtas.

Constitution of Ireland

The Constitution of Ireland came into effect on 29th December 1937. Article 50.1 states “Subject to this Constitution and to the extent to which they are not inconsistent therewith, the laws in force in Saorstát Éireann ... shall continue to be of full force and effect until the same or any of them shall have been repealed or amended by enactment of the Oireachtas.”