The Ceann Comhairle (Irish: [ˌcaːn̪ˠ ˈkoːɾʲlʲə] (); "Head of [the] Council"; plural usually Cinn Comhairle [ˌciːn̠ʲ ˈkoːɾʲlʲə]) is the chairperson (or speaker) of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas (parliament) of Ireland. The person who holds the position is elected by members of the Dáil from among their number in the first session after each general election. The Ceann Comhairle since 10 March 2016 has been Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Fianna Fáil TD. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle since 23 July 2020 has been Catherine Connolly, Independent TD.
The Ceann Comhairle is expected to observe strict impartiality. Despite this, a government usually tries to select a member of its own political party for the position, if it has enough deputies to allow that choice. In order to protect the neutrality of the chair, the Constitution of Ireland provides that an incumbent Ceann Comhairle does not seek re-election as a Teachta Dála (Deputy to the Dáil), but rather is deemed automatically to have been re-elected by their constituency at that general election, unless they are retiring.[a] As a consequence, the constituency that an incumbent Ceann Comhairle represents elects one fewer TD in a general election than its usual entitlement, but still has the same number of TDs. Under standing orders, no member of the government or Minister of State may act as Ceann Comhairle or Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
The Ceann Comhairle does not take part in debates, nor do they vote except in the event of a tie. In this event they generally vote in accordance with the , which tend to amount to voting against motions. The Ceann Comhairle formally opens each day's sitting by reading the official prayer. The Ceann Comhairle is the sole judge of order in the house and has a number of special functions. Specifically, the Ceann Comhairle:
Since the 1937 Constitution, the Ceann Comhairle has been an ex officio member of the Council of State, beginning with Frank Fahy. The earlier presiding officers never served on the Council of State: i.e. those of the Revolutionary Dáil (1919–22: Cathal Brugha, George Noble Plunkett, Eoin MacNeill, and Michael Hayes) and the Free State Dáil (1922–36: Hayes again, before Fahy).
The position of Ceann Comhairle was created on the first day of the Dáil on 21 January 1919, when it was first established as a breakaway revolutionary parliament. The first Ceann Comhairle was Cathal Brugha, who served for only one day, presiding over the Dáil's first meeting, before leaving the post to become President of Dáil Éireann. The office was continued under the 1922–37 Irish Free State, the constitution of which referred to the office-holder as the "Chairman of Dáil Éireann". The practice of automatically re-electing the Ceann Comhairle in a general election was introduced by a constitutional amendment in 1927. Following the abolition on 11 December 1936 of the office of Governor-General, the Ceann Comhairle was assigned some of the former office's ceremonial functions, including signing bills into law and convening and dissolving the Dáil. These powers were transferred to the new office of President of Ireland when a new Constitution came into force on 29 December 1937, being carried out by the Presidential Commission, which included the Ceann Comhairle, until the first president entered office on 25 June 1938.
The new Constitution retained the position of Ceann Comhairle and the practice of automatic re-election. The only Ceann Comhairle since 1919 to resign the office was John O'Donoghue, who left in 2009 after an expenses scandal. As an ordinary TD he was no longer entitled to be returned automatically at the next general election in 2011, in which he lost his seat. One Ceann Comhairle died in office, Joseph Brennan in 1980.
Under the rules for the election of the Ceann Comhairle, introduced during the 31st Dáil, candidates must be nominated by at least seven other members of Dáil Éireann. Each member may nominate only one candidate. Nominations must be submitted to the Clerk of the Dáil by not later than 6 p.m. on the day before the first day the Dáil meets after the general election in order to be valid, but may be withdrawn at any time up to the close of nominations.
If more than one candidate is nominated, the Dáil will vote by secret ballot in order of preference after the candidates' speeches, which may not exceed five minutes, with an absolute majority required for victory. If no candidate wins a majority on first preferences, the individual with the fewest votes will be eliminated and their votes redistributed in accordance with their next highest preference, under the alternative vote voting system. Eliminations and redistributions will continue until one member receives the requisite absolute majority. Then, the House will vote on a formal motion to appoint the member in question to the position of Ceann Comhairle. The Clerk of the Dáil will be the presiding officer of the House during the election process.
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle holds office as the Deputy Chairman of Dáil Éireann under Article 15.9.1 of the Constitution. In the absence of the Ceann Comhairle, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle deputises and performs the duties and exercises the authority of the Ceann Comhairle in Dáil proceedings. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is also elected by secret ballot. The current Leas-Cheann Comhairle is Independent TD Catherine Connolly. She is the first female TD to hold the position. Traditionally, the position was reserved for an Opposition TD. The role carries the pay and status as a Minister of State.