Refcom Logo

HomeseparatorFrequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are a selection of questions we are asked most often in the Commission.

 

What is a Referendum?

A Referendum is a vote by the People on a proposed amendment to the Constitution. If a simple majority vote Yes the amendment is approved and the appropriate words in the Constitution are removed and/or inserted. If a simple majority vote No the document remains unchanged. A Referendum is governed by Articles 46 and 47 of the Constitution.

Who can vote in a Referendum?

  • You must be an Irish citizen
  • You must be at least 18 years old
  • Your name must be on the Register of Electors

If you are an Irish citizen living abroad you cannot be entered on the Register of electors. This means that you cannot vote in an election or referendum here in Ireland. (The only exception to this is Irish diplomats (and their spouses) on duty abroad who may cast their vote by post)

What are Approved Bodies?

A body may apply to the Referendum Commission to be an approved body for the purposes of the referendum. Approved bodies may appoint agents to attend at the issue and opening of postal voters' ballot papers, at polling stations and at the count.

In order to become an approved body, an applicant must:

  • be having a membership of not less than 300
  • have an interest in the referendum and have a name which does not closely resemble the name of a political party registered in the Register of Political Parties

You can make an application to be an approved body online.

What is the Role of the Referendum Commission?

Since 2001, the Commission's primary role has been:

  1. To prepare one or more statements containing a general explanation of the subject matter of the proposal and of the text thereof in the relevant Bill and any other information relating to those matters that the Commission considers appropriate.
  2. To publish and distribute those statements in such manner and by such means including the use of television, radio and other electronic media as the Commission considers most likely to bring them to the attention of the electorate and to ensure as far as practicable that the means employed enable those with a sight or hearing disability to read or hear the statements concerned.
  3. To promote public awareness of the referendum and encourage the electorate to vote at the poll.

I heard the Referendum Commission provides the argument for and against the referendum?

Since 2001 the Commission no longer has the role of putting the arguments for and against referendum proposals. However, in a number of areas, where the Commission considered that is was a matter of significant public concern and importance, it may decide to clarify matters and to provide appropriate information in relation to them.

Who are the people in the Referendum Commission?

The Commission is Chaired by a former member of the High Court or the Supreme Court or by a serving member of the High Court. The Chairman is appointed by the Chief Justice at the request of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. There are four ex officio members. They are:

  • The Clerk of Dáil Éireann
  • The Clerk of Seanad Éireann
  • The Ombudsman
  • The Comptroller and Auditor General

The Secretariat to the Commission is provided by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Who funds the Commission?

The Commission is funded by the sponsoring Department of the relevant referendum proposal.

Can you vote by post?

You will normally be required to vote in person at an official voting centre, however, you may be eligible for a postal vote if you are:

  • A full-time member of the Defence Force
  • A member of the Garda Siochana
  • An Irish diplomat or his/her spouse posted abroad

Further details are available on the Citizens Information website.

I haven't received my polling card yet. Do I need it to vote?

You do not need your polling card. You must bring a valid form of personal identification, such as a passport or driving licence, with you when you go to vote.

Referendums or referenda?

On each occasion that a Referendum Commission is established, a number of people complain to the Commission about its use of the word "referendums" as the plural for "referendum". They usually make the point that the plural of "referendum" is "referenda". For information, although either form of the plural is acceptable, the Commission prefers to use "referendums" and takes its lead in this matter from the Oxford English Dictionary, the relevant extract of which is reproduced here -

referendum . Pl. referendums, -enda. [L., gerund or neut. gerundive of referre to refer.] The practice or principle (in early use chiefly associated with the Swiss constitution) of submitting a question at issue to the whole body of voters. In terms of its Latin origin, referendums is logically preferable as a modern plural form meaning ballots on one issue (as a Latin gerund referendum has no plural); the Latin plural gerundive referenda, meaning 'things to be referred', necessarily connotes a plurality of issues. Those who prefer the form referenda are presumably using words like agenda and memoranda as models. Usage varies at the present time (1981), but The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (1981) recommends referendums, and this form seems likely to prevail.

Who designs the ballot paper?

The Referendum Commission has no function in designing the format or content of the ballot paper. The form and content of the referendum ballot paper is set by law, in the Referendum Act 1994.

How can I get on the Electoral Register?

The Electoral Register is compiled every year by the local authorities (county councils and city councils). It is published on 1 February each year and is valid from 15 February of each year. Copies of the Register are normally available in post offices, public libraries and Garda Stations so you can check there to see if your name is on the register. You can also check online at http://www.checktheregister.ie

For inclusion in the Register of Electors you must complete an application form RFA. Click here to download form RFA.

How do I get on the Supplemental Register?

If your name is not on the electoral register or, if it is on the register but you are no longer living at the place where you are registered, you can get on the Supplemental Register. You should do this immediately.

Application forms to get onto the Supplemental Register are available from your City or County Council, Garda Station, Library, Post Office and on-line at http://www.checktheregister.ie

  • Change of address: If you are on the Register of Electors but have moved address from one Dáil or local authority constituency to another, you may apply for entry to the supplement to the Register at the new address by completing an application form RFA3. Click here to download form RFA3
  • Not Registered: For inclusion in the Supplement to the Register of Electors you must complete an application form RFA2.Click here to download form RFA2.

Where is my local Polling Station?

This information is available on your Polling Card. Alternatively, you can contact your local authority for the location of your Polling Station.

What time does my Polling Station open and close?

This information is available on your Polling Card. Alternatively, you can contact your local authority for the location of your Polling Station.

What are the rules on postering at referendums?

The Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 2009 provides for the control of postering in elections and referenda. For further information please click on this link.

Can the referendum be postponed for any reason?

The law on the conduct of referendums is set out in the Referendum Act 1994.  This provides that, when a Bill containing a proposal for the amendment of the Constitution has been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government shall make an order setting the date on which the referendum is to take place.

Once that order is made, the only circumstance in which it may be changed, according to the Referendum Act 1994, is if a general election is called.  If a general election is called, the Minister may change the referendum date to the date of the proposed general election.

There are no other circumstances under the Referendum Act 1994 in which the Minister has the power to postpone a referendum nor has the Minister the power to rescind the order to hold a referendum.