The first business of a new Dáil after a General Election is to elect from its Members the Ceann Comhairle (Speaker / Chairperson) who presides impartially and with authority over the business and proceedings of the House. The Standing Orders (Rules) of Dáil Éireann prescribe the powers and duties of the Ceann Comhairle in relation to Parliamentary business e.g. the proper conduct of debate, Parliamentary Questions, amendments to Bills and motions, disorderly conduct. Under the Constitution, Dáil Éireann also elects a Leas-Cheann Comhairle (Deputy Chairperson).
The Ceann Comhairle formally opens each day's sitting by reading the official prayer.
The Ceann Comhairle is the sole judge of order and has a range of powers and functions namely
An important power reserved to the Ceann Comhairle is to accept and put a motion for the closure of a debate when in his view, the issue has been adequately discussed.
In relation to the general business of Dáil Éireann, the Ceann Comhairle has a variety of duties. Each sitting of the House is governed by an Order Paper which is prepared under his direction. Motions, amendments and Parliamentary Questions are examined individually to ensure that they comply with Standing Orders and precedents. The Ceann Comhairle also has discretion to shorten the formal notice required for motions and amendments.
Because of the party structure of political representation in Dáil Éireann, the Ceann Comhairle endeavours to give fair representation to all Parties including Independent Members.
On assuming office and to ensure his unique role of presiding impartially over the proceedings, the Ceann Comhairle by tradition precludes himself from active participation in politics but remains free to make representations on behalf of constituents. The Constitution recognises this unique role and provides for the automatic re-election of an out-going Ceann Comhairle who wishes to be a member of the incoming Dáil.
The Ceann Comhairle is Chairperson of the Committee of Procedure and Privileges which considers matters of procedure generally and recommends any additions or amendments to the Standing Orders that may be considered necessary. The Committee may also consider and report to the House as to Members' privileges.
While the Standing Orders regulate the proceedings of the House they do not form a complete code of day to day procedure. They must be read in the context of how they have been applied or developed by the Chair over the years. The primary source for this is what are termed "Rulings of the Chair", which are decisions by the Chair on matters not specifically covered by Standing Orders or which apply the Standing Orders in specific circumstances. These decisions will have been made over a considerable period and by quite a number of different Chairpersons ( whether as Ceann Comhairle or Leas-Cheann Comhairle ). The Chair is not necessarily bound by previous Rulings but, in a given situation, a Ruling is likely to be adhered to in the interests of consistency.
Under Article 15.11 2ƒ of the Constitution, the Ceann Comhairle has and must exercise a casting vote in the case of an equality of votes.
To assist him in the discharge of his parliamentary duties, the Ceann Comhairle nominates a panel of temporary Chairpersons from the membership of the Dáil.
The Constitution provides that the Ceann Comhairle shall certify any Bill which in his opinion, is a Money Bill to be a Money Bill and subject to certain constitutional safeguards, his certificate is final and conclusive. The importance of this procedure lies in the fact that Seanad Éireann can only make recommendations but not amendments to a Money Bill and must pass it within 21 days (instead of 90 days for a non-money Bill ).
The Ceann Comhairle represents Dáil Éireann at international meetings of parliamentarians ( Inter Parliamentary Union ), Conferences of Speakers of Parliament, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and is the official host to visiting parliamentary delegations.
In the absence or temporary incapacity of the President of Ireland, the Ceann Comhairle is a member of the Commission which exercises and performs the powers and functions conferred on the President. The Ceann Comhairle is also a member of the Council of State which aids and counsels the President in relation to the exercise and performance by her of certain powers. The Ceann Comhairle is ex officio Chairperson of the Commission for Public Service Appointments and was at their first meeting, elected Chair of that Commission. He is ex-officio Chair of Comhairle na Míre Gaile - a council for the recognition of deeds of bravery.
Under the Electoral Acts, the Ceann Comhairle is ex officio a Member of the Appeal Board which is established to decide on any doubt, dispute or question which may arise in connection with the Register of Political Parties. The Ceann Comhairle is ex officio a member of the Appeal Board which is established to hear and decide appeals from decisions of the Seanad Returning Officer under the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1947.