"Views of Four Presidencies (1938-1975)" - exhibition of the records of the Office of the Secretary to the President
Administrative history of the Office of the Secretary to the President
The office of President of Ireland, the executive head of the State, was established by the Constitution of 1937, the status, election, powers and functions of the position being defined in Articles 12, 13 and 14 of Bunreacht na hÉireann. To assist the President in fulfilling the role prescribed by the Constitution, the functions of which include the signing of bills into law, the supreme command of the Defence Forces and the appointment of the Taoiseach and other members of Government on the nomination of and with the prior approval of Dáil Éireann, the Office of Secretary to the President was established pursuant to provisions of the Presidential Establishment Act, 1938.
In the discharge of official duties, the Secretary to the President examines the implications of draft legislation that may refer to the duties, powers and functions of the President, and serves as head of the President's secretariat which provides the necessary administrative infrastructure to support the President, not only in performing the functions prescribed by the Constitution, but also in meeting a wide range of official ceremonial and social obligations, such as making visits abroad as head of State, and in undertaking domestic engagements that acknowledge the contribution of local communities and of vocational and voluntary groups.
Formal duties attaching to the post of Secretary to the President were defined by the Presidential Establishment Act, 1938, to include acting as ex officio Clerk to the Council of State, which was established under Article 31 of the Constitution to advise the President on exercise of official powers and functions; and serving as Secretary to the Presidential Commission, which exercises the powers and functions of the office of President in the event of the absence, incapacity, death, resignation or removal from office of the President. Indeed, the Secretary's signature is essential for the authentication of the Presidential Seal when affixed to a document executed by the Commission under Seal.
As a body listed in the Schedule to the National Archives Act, 1986, the Office of the Secretary to the President is required to transfer its records to the National Archives for public inspection when they are 30 years old. The Office has had an exemplary record in this respect and has since 1991 - the date set for the first release of records to which the Act applies - transferred its records to the National Archives where they have been made available for consultation by members of the public. The cumulative result of this annual transfer is that the National Archives now holds a rich collection of material documenting the history of the Presidency since its inception in 1937.
The records relate to the six terms of office of four presidents, from Douglas Hyde in 1938 through to 1973, the first year of the short presidency of Erskine Childers, although some files in the collection may post-date the latter year. During this period, the following have served as Secretary to the President: Michael McDunphy (1937-1954), Daniel J. O'Donovan (1954-1959) and Mairtín Ó Flathartaigh (1959-1978).
The collection has evolved into three main administrative series: PRES 1: Registered Files; PRES 2: Visitors' Books and PRES 3; Register of Executed Documents, each of which is described in greater detail using the links in the quick links box on the right-hand side. The collection constitutes a rich store of historical source material whose research potential has not perhaps been fully realised before now, something which, it is hoped, will change with the availability of this cyber exhibition.
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Commentary by Dr Diarmaid Ferriter
Online gallery of documents from the collection