Features – Guide to Irish Law

Dr Darius Whelan is a lecturer in law at the Institute of Technology, Tallaght, Dublin, Ireland. He established the Irish Law discussion list and the Irish Law web site (now at www.irish-law.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. He has previously held lecturing posts at University College Cork and Waterford Institute of Technology.

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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
Disscussion Lists and Electronic Newsletters

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 (www.brehon.org) 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 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.

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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.

In electronic form there are various sources:

  • The British and Irish Legal Information Institute
    Currently this site offers Acts as enacted from 1922 to 1998 and 2000. 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 pre-1922 legislation which continues to apply in Ireland may be found by going to the Northern Ireland part of the Bailii site at www.bailii.org/nie/legis/num_act. An example is the Partnership Act 1890.

  • The Attorney General’s Office – or www.irlgov.ie/ag (Choose ‘Irish Statute Book’ near bottom of page)
    This site provides access to the Acts from 1922 to 1998 and crucially also the Chronological Tables, which list amendments up to 1998. 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 Chronological Tables. The material on this site may also be purchased in CD-ROM format (current price IR 20 pounds) from the Government Supplies Agency.

  • The Houses of the Oireachtas
    Here you will find all Acts passed from 1997 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.

  • Some additional information may be found at www.feargalquinn.ie, UCC Law Library and on a fee-paying basis at www.firstlaw.ie

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Secondary Legislation: Statutory Insturments

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 on the Irish Statute Book CD-ROM (see above) and at the following sites:

  • The British and Irish Legal Information Institute
    Contains subordinate legislation passed from 1922 to 1998. There is no list of amendments.

  • The Attorney General’s Office – or www.irlgov.ie/ag (Choose ‘Irish Statute Book’)
    Offers Subordinate Legislation from 1922 to 1998. 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)

  • A list of subordinate legislation passed from 1997 to date is kept online at UCC Law Library

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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.

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
    The most significant data here are in the Supreme Court (‘IESC’) and High Court (‘IEHC’) directories, which contain 71 and 223 cases respectively as of May 2001. The earliest cases date from 1998 and the database is not comprehensive so it is important to consult other sources.
    Bailii also provides access to decisions of the Competition Authority (‘IECA’) and Information Commissioner (‘IEIC’).
    Bailii has 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.

  • FirstLaw
    Fee-paying service which offers access to judgments on an ongoing basis. A ten-day trial is available.

  • Lexis-Nexis
    In Ireland this fee-paying service is branded as ‘Itelis’ and has an office attached to the Irish Times, contactable by e-mail at [email protected]. Its ‘Ireland’ library contains Irish Reports from 1950, Irish Law Reports Monthly from 1980, Irish Law Times from 1950 to 1980 and Judgments of the Court of Criminal Appeal (Frewen). It also includes selected unreported cases from July 1985.

  • Titles of Irish unreported judgments from 1997 to date are available on-line from UCC Library at http://booleweb.ucc.ie/search/subject/law/law1.htm#holdings (scroll down to ‘Unreported Judgments’).

  • The electronic Irish Reports are available on CD-ROM from Justis – see www.justis.com/database/irish_reports.html. These include the Irish Reports, Northern Ireland Reports, Irish Law Reports Monthly, Irish Law Times Reports and Irish Jurist Reports.

  • European case-law is available in various formats – see for example the European links at www.irish-law.org/cases/.

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Government Websites

The main Irish government website is at www.irlgov.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:

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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.irish-law.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 welcome.to/barrister

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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.hea.ie/institute/.

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Irish Law Websites

The major portal site, managed by the author, is the Irish Law Site at www.irish-law.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 site is currently hosted by University College Cork Law Faculty and supported by Institute of Technology, Tallaght, Dublin. The long URL for the site is www.ucc.ie/ucc/depts/law/irishlaw/.

A recent addition to the site is 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:

Other Online Guides to Irish Law:

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Discussion Lists and Electronic Newsletters

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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 since 1992. See also the subject law pages on the Irish law site, e.g. Commercial Law, Criminal Law, etc.

General Books

  • Raymond Byrne and Paul McCutcheon, The Irish Legal System, 3rd ed., Butterworths, Dublin, 1996.
  • Henry Murdoch, A Dictionary of Irish Law, 3rd ed., Topaz Publications, Dublin, 2000.
  • Thomas O’Malley, Sources of Law: An Introduction to Legal Research and Writing, 2nd ed., forthcoming, Round Hall, Dublin, 2001.
  • Raymond Byrne and William Binchy, Annual Reviews of Irish Law, Round Hall, Dublin, 1987 to date.
  • Brian Doolan, Principles of Irish Law, 5th ed., Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1999.

Administrative Law

  • Gerard Hogan and David Gwynn Morgan, Administrative Law in Ireland, 3rd ed., Round Hall, Dublin, 1998.

Banking Law

  • Mary Donnelly, The Law of Banks and Credit Institutions, Round Hall, Dublin, 1999.
  • William Johnston, Banking and Security Law in Ireland, Butterworths, Dublin, 1998.

Commercial Law

  • Michael Forde, Commercial Law, 2nd Edition, Butterworths, Dublin, 1997.

Company Law

  • Michael Forde, Company Law, 3rd ed., Round Hall Sweet and Maxwell, 1999.
  • Ronan Keane, Company Law, 3rd ed., Butterworths, Dublin, 2000.

Constitutional Law

  • James P. Casey, Constitutional Law in Ireland , 3rd ed., Round Hall, Dublin, 2000.
  • Gerard Hogan & Gerry Whyte, Kelly’s Irish Constitution, 3rd ed., Butterworths, Dublin, 1994.

Contract Law

  • Robert Clark, Contract Law, 4th ed., Round Hall Sweet and Maxwell, Dublin, 1998.
  • Raymond Friel, Law of Contract, 2nd ed., Round Hall, Dublin, 2000.

Criminal Law

  • Peter Charleton, Paul McDermott and Marguerite Bolger, Criminal Law Butterworths, Dublin, 1999.
  • Conor Hanly, An Introduction to Irish Criminal Law Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1999.

Employment Law / Labour Law

  • Caroline Fennell and Irene Lynch, Labour Law in Ireland, Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1993.
  • Frances Meenan, Working within the Law, 2nd ed. Oak Tree Press, Dublin, 1999.

Environmental Law

  • Yvonne Scannell, Environmental and Planning Law, Round Hall, Dublin, 1995.

Equity and Trusts

  • Hilary Delany, Equity and the Law of Trusts in Ireland, 2nd ed., Round Hall Sweet and Maxwell, Dublin, 1999.
  • Ronan Keane, Equity and the Law of Trusts in the Republic of Ireland, Butterworths, 1988.


  • Caroline Fennell, The Law of Evidence in Ireland, Butterworths, Dublin, 1992.

Family Law

  • Alan Shatter, Shatter’s Family Law, 4th ed., Butterworths, Dublin, 1997.
  • Jim Nestor, An Introduction to Irish Family Law, Gill & Macmillan, Dublin, 2000.

Human Rights

  • Liz Heffernan (ed.), Human Rights: A European Perspective, Round Hall Press, Dublin, 1994.

Information Technology Law

  • Denis Kelleher and Karen Murray, Information Technology Law in Ireland, Butterworths, Dublin, 1997.

Intellectual Property Law

  • Robert Clark and Shane Smyth, Intellectual Property law in Ireland, Butterworths, Dublin, 1997.

Medical Law

  • David Tomkin and Thomas Hanafin, Irish Medical Law, Round Hall Press, Dublin, 1995.

Planning Law

  • Eamon Galligan, Irish Planning Law and Procedure, Round Hall Sweet and Maxwell, Dublin, 1997.
  • O’Sullivan & Shepherd, Irish Planning Law and Practice, Butterworths, 1991 (2 volumes looseleaf)

Property Law

  • Paul Coughlan, Property Law, 2nd ed., Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1998.
  • Andrew Lyall, Land Law in Ireland, 2nd ed., Round Hall, Dublin, 2000.
  • Robert Pearce and John Mee, Land Law, 2nd ed., Round Hall, Dublin, 2000.
  • J.C.W. Wylie, Irish Land Law, 3rd ed., Butterworths, Dublin, 1997.

Succession Law

  • James C. Brady, Succession Law in Ireland, 2nd ed., Butterworths, Dublin, 1995.
  • Albert Keating, Probate Law and Practice in Ireland, Round Hall Sweet and Maxwell, Dublin, 1998.


  • Bryan McMahon & William Binchy, Irish Law of Torts, 2nd Edition, Butterworths, Dublin, 1990.
  • Eoin Quill, Torts in Ireland, Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1999.

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Most Journals are published by Round Hall and in the list below this is indicated by ‘RH’ in brackets.

Journal articles up to 1983 are indexed in the following:

  • O’Higgins, Paul, A Bibliography of Periodical Literature Relating to Irish Law. Belfast: Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly, 1966.
  • O’Higgins, Paul, First Supplement to A Bibliography of Periodical Literature Relating to Irish Law. Belfast: Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly, 1973.
  • O’Higgins, Paul, Second Supplement to A Bibliography of Periodical Literature Relating to Irish Law. Belfast: SLS Publications, 1983.

After 1983 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.ingenta.com or www.oclc.org.

General Journals

  • Irish Jurist (RH)
  • Dublin University Law Journal (RH)
  • Irish Law Times (RH)
  • Bar Review – published by Bar Council
  • Gazette [of Law Society of Ireland] – published by Law Society
  • Irish Current Law Monthly Digest (RH)

Specialist Journals

  • Commercial Law Practitioner (RH)
  • Conveyancing and Property Law Journal (RH)
  • Employment Law Reports (RH)
  • Irish Criminal Law Journal (RH)
  • Irish Journal of European Law (RH)
  • Irish Journal of Family Law (RH)
  • Irish Planning and Environmental Law Journal (RH)
  • Medico-Legal Journal of Ireland (RH)
  • Practice and PRocedure (RH)
  • Technology and Entertainment Law Journal (RH)

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