Here are quick links to some best bet sites for finding Irish legal materials online. More details and additional sources are located through the menu/tabs above.
Quick Introduction to Irish Law
The island of Ireland contains two jurisdictions: the independent state of Ireland (sometimes referred to as the Republic of Ireland and called Éire in Irish) and Northern Ireland, comprised of the six northeastern counties of the island that remain part of the United Kingdom.
The modern state of Ireland was initially known as the Irish Free State, established in 1922. The present Constitution of Ireland was enacted by referendum in July 1937 and entered into force on December 29, 1937, superseding the Constitution of the Irish Free State, which was in force between 1922-1937. The Constitution established a bicameral parliamentary democracy, common-law legal system including judicial review of legislation, a popularly elected non-executive head of state, separation of powers, and constitutional rights.
Before 1922, Ireland was part of the United Kingdom and subject to English law, some of which is still in full force and effect. Due to this history, Ireland, like the United States, has retained the common law tradition.
Ireland became completely independent from the United Kingdom in 1948 with the passage of the Republic of Ireland Act 1948. Ireland joined the European Union (formerly the EEC) in 1973 and is therefore governed by EU law where applicable.
Since 1999, Northern Ireland has been governed by the Northern Ireland Executive. More information about Northern Ireland law will be forthcoming in future updates to this guide.
Irish Legal Materials at Harvard
The HLS Library has a solid collection of Irish legal materials, including primary law--although most primary law, especially legislation, is also readily available through Irish government websites. We have an excellent collection of Irish treatises with a much smaller selection of journals.
Library of Congress call numbers for the Republic of Ireland law begin with KDK and for Nothern Ireland law begin with KDE. Print materials are located in Langdell Hall on 1North. Many print materials are noted in this guide with their location and call numbers. To search for additional material in print, use HOLLIS, the Harvard Library catalogue.
Irish coverage on Lexis and Westlaw is lean. Lexis has cases from 1950 and a great selection of newspapers, but no law journals. Westlaw has no cases, but has a good selection of newspapers, a few law journals, and a few non-law journals that may be of interest. Both services also include a number of international sources that cover Ireland.
We subscribe to Westlaw.ie, but not to Firstlaw.ie, Justis.com, or LexisNexis UK/Butterworths.
Other Irish Materials at Harvard
Irish materials of note in other Harvard libraries include a small selection of 18th-20th century newspapers on microfilm at Widener Library; the 19th Century British and Irish Literature Collections, which include papers of Joyce and Yeats at Houghton Library; and Irish Gaelic folklore material, which includes some additional manuscripts at Houghton as well as material at the Robinson Celtic Seminar Library.
To explore further, see Celtic Languages and Literatures: A Harvard Library Guide.
About This Guide
This guide was created in 2014, with content from a previous HLS Library research guide by Martin Hollick.
Future updates will include more Irish legal history, the legal profession, and Northern Ireland resources.
This guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
You may reproduce any part of it for noncommercial purposes as long as credit is included and it is shared in the same manner.
The current Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann) [PDF] was adopted in 1937 to replace the Constitution of the Irish Free State (1922). It is available in both Irish and English, but in the event of conflict, the Irish language version prevails.
Amendments to the Constitution must be made by referendum. The Constitution is regularly reviewed by All-Party Committees and Conventions to ensure that it is current and to make recommendations about future amendments to the Oireachtas (legislature).
The most recent Convention on the Constitution, established in July 2012, considered and is currently (early 2014) publishing reports and recommendations on the following topics:
HeinOnline's World Constitutions Illustrated is an excellent compendium of constitutional resources, including key primary sources as well as commentaries, select scholarly articles, bibliographies, government websites, and a feed of current news.
Titles are listed in reverse chronological order.
Titles are listed in reverse chronological order.
The three highest courts in Ireland are the Supreme Court, The High Court, and the Court of Criminal Appeal. The Supreme Court is the court of final appeal for all matters in Ireland, including consititutional questions. It consists of eight justices, including the chief justice. The president of the High Court is also a member of the Supreme Court, ex officio.
The High Court is conferred by the Constitution with "full original jurisdiction in and power to determine all matters and questions whether of law or fact, civil or criminal." The High Court acts as an appeal court from the Circuit Court in civil matters. It has power to review the decisions of certain tribunals. It may also give rulings on questions of law submitted by the District Court. The High Court consists of the president and 31 ordinary judges. The President of the Circuit Court and the Chief Justice are aditional judges of the High Court, ex officio.
The Court of Criminal Appeal consists of a Judge of the Supreme Court and two Judges of the High Court. It hears appeals from people convicted on indictment in the Circuit or Central Criminal Court where appellants obtain a certificate from the trial judge that the case is a fit one for appeal.
Case sources in this section cover the Supreme Court of Ireland, High Court of Ireland, and Court of Criminal Appeal.
Sources below report specific types of cases or those affiliated with a particular public body.
Ireland is a parliamentary democracy. The Oireachtas (Assembly), the national legislature, consists of the Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives), the Seanad Éireann (Senate) and the President. The President does not have a policy role, but serves as head of state and Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces, while an Taoiseach (the prime minister) is nominated from the Dáil membership by simple majority.
Legislation must be passed by both houses and signed by the President. The Oireachtas passes about 30-60 statutes or public general acts each year. The statutes are primary legislation.
The Oireachtas also delegates the power to pass legislation to government officials and bodies. Individual acts of delegated legislation are called statutory instruments. The parent statute of delegated legislation controls its extent, scope, and purpose. As with regulations in the United States, statutory instruments are used to detail the implementation of a law. There are 500-1000 statutory instruments passed each year.
The Iris Oifigiúil is a biweekly publication that includes notices of new statutes, statutory instruments, proclamations, announcements of appointments, etc. It may be provided as prima facie evidence of any law or notice it contains. The pre-1922 version is the Dublin Gazette.
Dáil Debates are updated daily, Seanad debates within two days, and Committee debates within a week. Visit the Houses of the Oireachtas Current Debates to browse by date, member, and topic; search debates; view Dáil division votes from 2011; and subscribe to RSS updates by topic.
Below are some of the most useful sources for Irish statutes.
In most cases, researchers will need to check for updates or amendments of statutes on their own; statutes are not consolidated or republished when they are amended. The Revised Acts website, produced by the Law Reform Commission and linked below, is a source of consolidated acts that can help save time.
Use the sources below to search and browse for journal articles about Irish law.
The links for Irish law journals listed alphabetically below include:
You will also find articles about Irish law in many other foreign and US journals, including non-law journals. See the indexes to journal articles box to the left for more indexes and search options.
If you need an article that Harvard doesn't have access to, remember that we can request it for you via interlibrary loan.
The HLS Library has Irish treatises covering many subject areas. A selection are presented here, but if you need something not listed (or a more recent edition), be sure to check HOLLIS or Ask a Librarian.
General titles on the Irish legal system:
Blogs and websites below cover both Irish law generally and specific legal topics in Irish law.
Ireland's national and many regional newspapers are well represented on Lexis and Westlaw--although with few exceptions limited to the most recent few years. Others are available in print, microform, or the web. Also note many newspapers have recently ceased publication.
If you would like to search Irish news generally, your best bets are to search in Westlaw Next's Ireland Newspapers database and/or Lexis.com's Irish Publications database (from Lexis Advance click the Research tab > lexis.com, then type Irish Publications in the Quick Tools and click Find a Source).
Direct links are not available for Lexis sources; please use the browse sources function to find individual titles.
In 2016, Ireland commemorates the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Although the Rising was short-lived, it is widely considered the event that started Ireland's revolutionary period, which includes the War of Independence, Civil War, and founding of modern Ireland.
This section of the guide contains links to resources for researching the history and legal aspects of the Rising and its aftermath, including archival material, books, websites and exhibits, and events.
This list is not comprehensive, but focuses on general events or those that relate to legal aspects of the Rising.
Below are links to some institutions holding archival material related to the Easter Rising.
A selection of websites and online exhibits dealing with the Rising and related topics.
Because Irish (also known as Gaelic) is the first official language of the Republic of Ireland, Irish words are often used to refer to certain components of its legal system, even when otherwise writing in English.
Bunreacht na hÉireann Constitution of Ireland
An Cathaoirleach the chair/presiding officer of the Seanad
Dáil Éireann House of Representatives
Éire the Irish name for the island and official Irish name for the Republic of Ireland
Oireachtas na hÉireann Irish national legislature
Saorstát Éireann Irish Free State, the state established in 1922 that became Éire, the Republic of Ireland, in 1937
Seanad Éireann Senate
Tánaiste Deputy Prime Minister
an Taoiseach The Prime Minister
Uachtarán President of Ireland
For a general dictionary of Irish law, see Murdoch's Dictionary of Irish Law, 5th ed. (2009) in the Law School Reference Room at KDK84 .M87x 2009.
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