Ordinary referendum
The ordinary referendum is a referendum in the Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

 in which the president may refer a bill directly to the electorate before it becomes law. Articles 27 and 47 of the Constitution of Ireland
Constitution of Ireland
The Constitution of Ireland is the fundamental law of the Irish state. The constitution falls broadly within the liberal democratic tradition. It establishes an independent state based on a system of representative democracy and guarantees certain fundamental rights, along with a popularly elected...

 provides for a referendum on a proposal other than a proposal to amend the constitution (referred to in law as an "ordinary referendum"). The ordinary referendum exists in a reserve power of the President of Ireland
President of Ireland
The President of Ireland is the head of state of Ireland. The President is usually directly elected by the people for seven years, and can be elected for a maximum of two terms. The presidency is largely a ceremonial office, but the President does exercise certain limited powers with absolute...

 known as "reference of bills to the People". However this power has not yet been invoked so, to date, no ordinary referendum has ever occurred. Like the constitutional referendum
Amendments to the Constitution of Ireland
An amendment may be made to any part of the Constitution of Ireland but only by referendum. An amendment must first be approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas , then submitted to a referendum, and finally signed into law by the President....

, which is a frequent occurrence in the Republic, the ordinary referendum is open to all adult Irish citizens.


The Irish presidency is largely a ceremonial position but the constitution does grant certain discretionary powers to the President that may be invoked in unusual circumstances. Usually a bill that has been approved (or deemed to have been approved) by both houses of the Oireachtas
The Oireachtas , sometimes referred to as Oireachtas Éireann, is the "national parliament" or legislature of Ireland. The Oireachtas consists of:*The President of Ireland*The two Houses of the Oireachtas :**Dáil Éireann...

 (parliament) must be signed into law by the President within seven days. However if a majority of members of the Seanad
Seanad Éireann
Seanad Éireann is the upper house of the Oireachtas , which also comprises the President of Ireland and Dáil Éireann . It is commonly called the Seanad or Senate and its members Senators or Seanadóirí . Unlike Dáil Éireann, it is not directly elected but consists of a mixture of members chosen by...

 (upper house) and one third of members of Dáil Éireann
Dáil Éireann
Dáil Éireann is the lower house, but principal chamber, of the Oireachtas , which also includes the President of Ireland and Seanad Éireann . It is directly elected at least once in every five years under the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote...

 (lower house) present a petition to the President stating that a bill is of great "national importance" then the President may, after consulting the Council of State
Council of State (Ireland)
The Council of State is a body established by the Constitution of Ireland to advise the President of Ireland in the exercise of many of his or her discretionary, reserve powers...

, choose to refer the bill to the 'people'. A bill that is referred to the people cannot be signed into law until it is either approved:
  • in an ordinary referendum
  • by the Dáil reassembling after a general election, held within eight months.

In an ordinary referendum voters are asked to vote either in favour of or against the bill that has been referred to them. However, unlike in a constitutional referendum, a bill is considered to have been approved by the people unless the absolute number of votes cast against it is equal to at least one-third of the total number of registered voters. For this reason, if turn-out were low, a bill could be deemed to have been 'approved' by the people even if a majority of votes cast were against it.

The ordinary referendum is intended, in part, to protect the prerogatives of the Seanad from the much more powerful Dáil. Normally the Seanad can only delay a bill that has been approved by the Dáil. In theory the ordinary referendum provides a means by which the Seanad (with the agreement of the President) can overrule the Dáil if it believes that the lower house is defying the wishes of voters. However the method prescribed by the constitution for the selection of senators means that in practice the Government of the day almost always enjoys a majority in both houses of the Oireachtas. It is partly for this reason that no ordinary referendum has ever occurred.
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