Frequently Asked Questions
Browse our most popular questions and answers for information on the Referendum Commission.
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.
- 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, who are on duty abroad and may cast their vote by post.
An approved body may have representatives present when postal ballot papers are being sent out and opened, at polling stations and at the counting of the vote. Applications to become an approved body must be sent to the Referendum Commission.
Applicants must have:
- at least 300 members
- an interest in the referendum
- and a name that 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.
Since 2001, the Commission's primary role has been:
- prepare one or more statements explaining the referendum proposal, the text in the relevant Bill and any other related information the Commission considers appropriate
- publish and distribute those statements via television, radio and other media the Commission considers most likely to bring them to public attention. This includes ensuring as far as practicable that those with a sight or hearing disability can read or hear the statements concerned.
- promote public awareness of the referendum and encourage voters to vote at the poll
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 Housing, Planning and Local Government. There are four ex officio members:
- the Comptroller and Auditor General (Mr Seamus McCarthy),
- the Ombudsman (Mr Peter Tyndall),
- the Clerk of the Dáil (Mr Peter Finnegan), and
- the Clerk of the Seanad (Mr Martin Groves).
The Secretariat to the Commission is provided by the Office of the Ombudsman.
Normally, you must vote in person at an official voting centre. However, you may be able to vote by post if you are:
- a full-time member of the Defence Force
- a member of An Garda Síochána
- an Irish diplomat or his/her spouse posted abroad
studying full time at an educational institution in Ireland, which is away from your home address where you are registered
Further details are available on the Citizens Information website.
Each time a Referendum Commission is put in place, 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’. Either form of the plural is acceptable. The Commission prefers to use ‘referendums’ as per the Oxford English Dictionary entry, 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.
A tactile ballot paper template has been developed to enable you to vote independently and in secret in the Referendum. The template will be used on the same ballot paper used by everyone. The template sticks onto the ballot paper.
The template has clear and non-decorative lettering, large print, good colour contrast, raised up letters, Braille and the cut-out sections have a black border to assist people to find where to mark their vote. There are two cut out boxes on the template, one for yes and one for no. The template is placed over the ballot paper to match the boxes to be marked on the ballot paper.
The presiding officers have all been briefed on the different elements of the template and will give verbal directions before you enter the booth to mark the ballot paper. The presiding officer is advised to stick the template to the ballot paper and hand it to you or place it on the table in front of you, right way up.
The template will be available in all polling stations. NCBI have templates that you can “try out” before the next referendum in each of their offices nationwide. Get in touch with your local NCBI office if you would like a demonstration of the new template
The Register of Electors 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 that year. Copies of the Register are normally available in post offices, public libraries and Garda stations. You can check at any of these places to see if your name is on the register. You can also check online.
To be included on the Register of Electors, you must complete an RFA application form. Click here to download form RFA.
If your name is not on the Register of Electors 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 supplement to the Register of Electors. You should do this immediately.
Application forms to get on the supplement to the Register of Electors are available from your city or county council, Garda station, public library, post office and online.
- 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 to be on the supplement to the Register of Electors at your new address by completing an RFA3 application form.
- Not Registered: For inclusion on the supplement to the Register of Electors you must complete an RFA2 application.
The law on how referendums are held is set out in the Referendum Act 1994. Under this Act, when a Bill containing a proposed amendment to the Constitution has been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government makes an order setting the date for the referendum.
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 this happens, 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 can postpone a referendum. The Minister can’t cancel the order to hold a referendum.