Scrapping Seanad would see 40 changes to Constitution
Referendum Commission will have budget of €3.3m for its information campaign
Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly and Justice Elizabeth Dunne, chairperson of the Referendum Commission at a press conference in Dublin today. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times
The referendum on the proposal to abolish the Seanad will involve some 40 changes to the Constitution, the chairwoman of the Referendum Commission has said.
At the launch of the Commission’s €3.3 million information campaign on the two referendums that will be held on October 4th, Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne said that many of the changes would be “simple deletions”.
She said the most significant are described in the Commission’s independent guide which was also published today.
She also disclosed the commission had used focus groups to assist its preparations of its guide and its campaign - this initiative, she said, was possible because the Commission has had a longer run-in period than in previous referendums.
Next month’s referendums will ask people to decide whether to abolish the Seanad and whether or not a new Court of Appeal should be established.
The guide sets out the facts in relation to the referendum and explains what situation will arise should the referendum be passed.
It sets out the 14 major changes that will occur if the Seanad is abolished. All but one will involve either a transfer of powers to the Dáil or the Dáil assuming sole responsibility in a matter.
This includes the passage of legislation through the Oireachtas. According to the guide, the power that currently resides in the Seanad to delay the passage of a non-money Bill by 90 days will no longer be applicable with a unicameral (single-chamber) House.
One explicit Constitutional power that will be discontinued is a provision whereby a Bill can be referred to the people for a referendum if a majority of Seanad members, and more than a third of Dáil members, ask the President not to do so. The grounds for the petition must be that it contains a proposal of such national importance that the decision to have such a law should be made by the people. The President can accept or reject the request.
The guide states: “If this referendum is passed, the possibility of the reference to Bills to the people by the President will be removed from the Constitution.”
All five members of the Commission were at the launch. They were Ms Justice Dunne: the Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly; retiring Clerk of the Dáil Kieran Coughlan; Clerk of the Seanad Deirdre Lane; and the Comptroller and Auditor General Séamus McCarthy.
Ms Justice Dunne said the Commission had a budget of €3.3 million but would be unlikely to spend all of its funds over the next month.
Its campaign would involve all forms of media, including social media such as twitter and facebook and reminded people that part of its remit was to encourage voter turn-out.