Ordinary referendum

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The ordinary referendum is a referendum in the Republic of Ireland in which the President may refer a bill directly to the electorate before it becomes law. The ordinary referendum exists in a reserve power of the President known as "reference of bills to the People". However this power has not yet been invoked so, to date, no ordinary referendum has ever occurred. Like the constitutional referendum, which is a frequent occurrence in the Republic, the ordinary referendum is open to all adult Irish citizens.


The Irish presidency is largely a ceremonial position but the constitution does grant certain discretionary powers to the President that may be invoked in unusual circumstances. Usually a bill that has been approved (or deemed to have been approved) by both houses of the Oireachtas (parliament) must be signed into law by the President within seven days. However if a majority of members of the Senate and one third of members of Dáil Éireann (the lower house of parliament) present a petition to the President stating that a bill is of great "national importance" then the President may, after consulting the Council of State, choose to refer the bill to the 'people'. A bill that is referred to the people cannot be signed into law until it is either approved

  • in an ordinary referendum
  • by the Dail reassembling after a general election, held within eight months.

In an ordinary referendum voters are asked to vote either in favour of or against the bill that has been referred to them. However, unlike in a constitutional referendum, a bill is considered to have been approved by the people unless the absolute number of votes cast against it is equal to at least one-third of the total number of registered voters. For this reason, if turn-out were low, a bill could be deemed to have been 'approved' by the people even if a majority of votes cast were against it.

The ordinary referendum is intended, in part, to protect the prerogatives of the Senate from the much more powerful Dáil. Normally the Senate can only delay a bill that has been approved by the Dáil. In theory the ordinary referendum provides a means by which the Senate (with the agreement of the President) can over-rule the Dáil if it believes that the lower house is defying the wishes of voters. However the method prescribed by the constitution for the selection of senators means that in practice the Government of the day almost always enjoys a majority in both houses of the Oireachtas. It is partly for this reason that no ordinary referendum has ever occurred.

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