What happens if the Taoiseach turns into a tyrant?

Our Constitution does little to safeguard the country should Enda Kenny decide not dissolve the Dáil to make way for the General Election

Speculation is rife that Enda Kenny will go to the President on Wednesday and advise him to dissolve the Dáil. Thus officially kicking off General Election 2016. But what happens if the Taoiseach decided not to? Is there a safeguard in the Irish Constitution against a Taoiseach becoming a tyrant?

It turns out there isn't really.

Dáil Term

The Constitution says the Dáil term is seven years but that this can be shortened by law (Article 16.5). The Electoral Act 1992 does exactly this. It states the terms is five years from date of the first meeting of the current Dáil.

This means the election must be held before 11th April 2016.

How is an election called?

The Taoiseach goes to the President and advises him to dissolve the Dail.

What if he doesn't do it? Can the President dissolve the Dáil?

No. The President has no power to dissolve the Dáil against the advice of the Taoiseach.

So, what happens if Enda doesn't do it in time?

Nobody really knows. According to Dr Fergus Ryan from NUI Maynooth this is one of those situations where the Constitution could have been better drafted.

There is no clearly defined constitutional process to deal with what would be a significant crisis.

Ultimately, the following process would likely unfold:

  1. A citizen would have to take a constitutional case against the Taoiseach to the Supreme Court alleging that the Taoiseach had personally infringed their democratic rights (Article 5) and that he was in breach of the Electoral Act 1992 (which enjoys some degree of constitutional protection under Article 16.5)
  2. The Supreme Court is traditionally very slow to involve themselves in political cases but in this case they would likely have to issue a mandatory injunction against the Taoiseach compelling him to go to the President to dissolve the Dáil.
  3. If the Taoiseach refused to comply with this Court order, he would be guilty of contempt.
  4. Ultimately, if his contempt continued, he would be imprisoned.
  5. Then it would appear that the Tánaiste could step in and assume the role of the Taoiseach (Article 28.6.2 and Article 28.6.3)
  6. The Tánaiste would then advise the President to dissolve the Dáil.

The point is, it's all a guessing game. There is no provision in Irish constitutional law with how to deal with a Taoiseach who becomes a tyrant.

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