40 articles of Constitution may have to be amended

Removal of references to Seanad would be required

Some 40 articles of the Constitution will have to be amended to remove references to the Seanad if the public votes to scrap the Upper House.

Among other changes, these would increase to 80 per cent the threshold for a Dáil majority to impeach the President, up from a two-thirds majority at present. Similarly, the threshold for the impeachment of a judge would rise to a two-thirds Dáil majority from a simple majority as the Constitution now stands.

In addition, the leas-cheann comhairle of the Dáil would replace the cathaoirleach of the Seanad on the Council of State and the Presidential Commission, which acts for the President in the event of his absence or incapacity.

There was criticism yesterday from Fianna Fáil, which opposes abolition, of a referendum Bill clause which would delete an article in the Constitution under which legislation deemed to be of "national importance" can be referred to the people directly. The clause has never been invoked.


“This article contains references to ‘both Houses of the Oireachtas’ and, therefore, could have been subject to proposed amendments in the Government’s Bill to exclude all references to Seanad Éireann,” said Jim O’Callaghan, adviser to the Fianna Fáil front bench.

If the referendum is carried, the Seanad would be abolished from midnight on the day immediately before the next Dáil first meets after the next general election.

Draft laws
At the same time, the Government has proposed a swathe of procedural changes to fortify the Dáil's oversight of draft laws. These are designed to increase parliamentary debate on legislation.

As a general rule in the future major non-emergency legislation will first be submitted to the relevant Dáil committee before it goes to the House at large.

A further reform is to introduce an additional sixth stage of debate in the house, to be known as the “pre-enactment stage”. In this stage each Bill would go back to the relevant committee for a final examination after the report stage and before the Bill is passed by the House. This can be done by way of a change to Dáil standing orders.

There will be 14 Dáil committees in the new dispensation, four of them to be known as “strategic committees” on major issues. These include the public accounts, finance and EU scrutiny committees.

A further seven sectoral committees will shadow government departments and three "thematic" committees should concentrate on petitions, the Belfast Agreement and members' interests.

Electoral system
The D'Hondt electoral system will be deployed to ensure a proportionate allocation of committee chairmanships between all sides of the House.

The D’Hondt system, named after a 19th century Belgian lawyer who invented it, is deployed in the Northern Ireland Assembly to divide ministerial portfolios in the powersharing executive between parties.