Move to establish referendum commission for Seanad poll

Legislation to be debated by Dáil next week

Chief Justice Susan Denham: has been asked to nominate a judge to chair the commission

Chief Justice Susan Denham: has been asked to nominate a judge to chair the commission


The process of establishing a referendum commission to provide information to the public about the proposal to abolish the Seanad has been initiated by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan.

Chief Justice Susan Denham has been asked to nominate a judge to chair the commission and an announcement is expected shortly.

The legislation underpinning the Seanad referendum will be presented to the Dáil next week and it is expected to pass after two weeks of debate.

The Bill will then go to the Seanad, where debate is likely to continue until well into next month with a wide range of Senators expected to oppose the Bill.

The Government intends to have the Bill through both houses of the Oireachtas before the summer recess, with the referendum likely in early October before the budget.

Mr Hogan is expected to make an order in early September setting the referendum date which has to be a minimum of 30 days later.

The process of establishing the referendum commission has got under way immediately following the publication of the Bill.

The commission had complained after the most recent referendum on children’s rights that it would like more time to plan and prepare its information campaigns and prepare a referendum guide.

In its report last month on the children’s referendum it expressed concern about the low turnout of 33.5 per cent, the lowest since before the first statutory referendum commission was established in 1998 and one of the lowest since the Constitution was enacted in 1937.

The commission concluded that voter turnout was related to the level of understanding of the issues, and it argued that giving it time to run an effective campaign to improve public understanding may be a central factor in increasing voter turnout.

Specifically the report said that future commissions needed greater time than was given to it in order to plan and prepare. It pointed out that this time could be given without the need for a change in the law.

Under the current law a referendum commission can only be established once a Bill to amend the Constitution is published.

At least one other referendum, to establish the Court of Appeal, will be held on the same day but a notionally separate referendum commission will be established to provide information on that issue once the Bill on that matter is published.

The referendum commission will be chaired by a serving or retired judge and will contain four other members including the clerk of the Dáil; the clerk of the Seanad; the Ombudsman and the Comptroller and Auditor General.