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An Honours System for Ireland


  • David Barrett

    (UCD Geary Institute for Public Policy)


This report examines the case for the establishment of an honours system in Ireland. An honours system is a series of formalised awards given by the state. The report begins by examining the history of attempts to establish an honours system in Ireland and includes a discussion of the legal constitutional issues relating to such a system. It then identifies a range of different types of honours systems in different countries and finds that each of them has Irish counterparts. We then examine the kind of system, in generalised terms, that might be considered for Ireland. Following this we look at the specific cases of awards offered in the United Kingdom and Canada, going into the history and structure of awards in both countries to determine whether they offer any lessons for Ireland. Finally, the report returns to Ireland and offers recommendations on creating an Irish honour system based on international best practice. The report also provides a detailed appendix outlining the various awards offered by OECD countries, differing kinds of nomination forms and detailed graphics showing how an honour is awarded in various countries. The report first examines the history of the Irish case, through parliamentary debates and a number of constitutional reports. These reports found that there is no impediment in the Irish Constitution to establishing an honour system. We then outline a methodology for examining awards in an Irish context, where restricting the awards we examine to state awards alone is justified. The report notes that Ireland provides a wide range of awards informally, but that these do not have official state sanction. Nonetheless there are similarities between these awards and those provided by other countries. The report divides honours into four categories: civilian awards, exceptional merit awards, diplomatic awards and military awards. The report notes that there are multiple relevant Irish awards, but that nevertheless Ireland still lacks an honour that could show state recognition. The report also notes areas where this has caused problems for Ireland. The standard structure for awards in other OECD countries is also explored. The report then analyses award systems more generally. We suggest for Ireland an internal recognition system that is focused on the recognition of individuals for their achievements. Following the establishment of these general recommendations two case studies are chosen and examined. Both case studies offer policymakers similar lessons for the establishment of awards. Both Canada and Britain prioritised two particular areas – diversity and inclusiveness – and structured their award systems around these principles. In both cases pursuing these principles seems to have led to broad public support for the honours systems established. Finally, the report outlines policy recommendations for Ireland. Appendices available at

Suggested Citation

  • David Barrett, 2018. "An Honours System for Ireland," Working Papers 201824, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucd:wpaper:201824

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ho Fai Chan & Bruno S. Frey & Jana Gallus & Benno Torgler, 2013. "Does the John Bates Clark Medal Boost Subsequent Productivity and Citation Success?," CESifo Working Paper Series 4419, CESifo.
    2. Ho Fai Chan & Bruno S. Frey & Jana Gallus & Benno Torgler, 2013. "Does The John Bates Clark Medal Boost Subsequent Productivity And Citation Success?," QuBE Working Papers 004, QUT Business School.
    3. Timothy Gubler & Ian Larkin & Lamar Pierce, 2016. "Motivational Spillovers from Awards: Crowding Out in a Multitasking Environment," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 27(2), pages 286-303, April.
    4. Rablen, Matthew D. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2008. "Mortality and immortality: The Nobel Prize as an experiment into the effect of status upon longevity," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(6), pages 1462-1471, December.
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