UK fails to get Irish Government’s approval to award knighthoods to Irish citizens

Under Constitution, Irish citizens are forbidden from accepting noble titles without permission of Government

The UK did not seek permission from the Irish Government to award honours to Irish citizens on five occasions in the last 30 years.

Under the Constitution, Irish citizens are forbidden from accepting any “title of nobility or of honour” from a foreign state, unless prior approval is sought from Government.

In cases where the UK monarch seeks to grant an honour to an Irish citizen, a convention has arisen where the British embassy in Dublin will alert the Irish Government ahead of time and seek permission.

In the last three decades, foreign states have awarded honours to 19 Irish citizens. Fourteen of these came from the UK monarch with the rest coming from Malaysia, Grenada and Antigua and Barbuda, according to records released by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin to Green Party TD Patrick Costello.


On five occasions, including four since 2022, the UK embassy failed to seek prior approval from the Irish Government. Antigua and Barbuda failed to seek prior approval twice, both in 2015.

Last year, Cabinet approved Waterford woman Louise Richardson, a former vice-chancellor of Oxford University, being awarded a Damehood of the Order of the British Empire, a month before she received the honour from King Charles, following the death of Queen Elizabeth.

In the same meeting it was also asked to approve the awarding of a damehood to Marianne Griffiths, a former NHS chief who was born in Limerick. However, it could not approve the honour as it had been granted several years previously and there is no provision for retrospective approval.

Mr Martin said there is no penalty or sanction for failing to obtain prior Government approval for the awarding of honours.

However, he said the Department of Foreign Affairs “regularly reminds the authorities of countries concerned that the prior approval of the Government should be sought” in such circumstances.

The Tánaiste noted that any “rights, privileges or dignities” arising from an award apply only in the country that grants it.

“Under Irish law, such a title has no significance in terms of conferring rights, entitlements or dignities.”

Various Irish people without British citizenship, such as Bono and former rugby player Hugo MacNeill, have been awarded honorary knighthoods by the UK. However, as these awards do not come with a title, such as “sir” or “dame”, they do not require prior approval from the Irish Government.

Mr Costello said it is perhaps time for Ireland “to look at having our own honours system which is fit for purpose for a republic” so that such people could be recognised here. He pointed to France as an example of a republic with an honours system.

There have been various failed attempts to introduce an Irish honours system over the years.

The British embassy did not return a request for comment.

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Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times