Referendum Commission

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A Referendum Commission (Irish: An Coimisiún Reifrinn) is an independent statutory body in Ireland which is set up in advance of any referendum. The Referendum Act 1998 as amended by the Referendum Act 2001 provides for the establishment of the body.[1][2]


In 1995 Patricia McKenna won a case in the Supreme Court of Ireland, in which she argued successfully that it was unconstitutional for the Government of Ireland to spend taxpayers' money promoting only one side of the argument in a referendum campaign. Following the McKenna case, the first Referendum Commission was set up for the Amsterdam Treaty referendum.


The 1998 Act, as amended, provides that the Chairperson of the commission should be a former judge of the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal or a serving or former judge of the High Court nominated by the Chief Justice. The other members of the commission are the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Ombudsman, the Clerk of Dáil Éireann and the Clerk of Seanad Éireann. In the event any of those offices are vacant, the 1998 Act provides that the following be appointed respectively instead: Secretary and Director of Audit of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, Director of the Office of the Ombudsman, Clerk Assistant of Dáil Éireann, Clerk Assistant of Seanad Éireann.

The members of the commission for the most recent referendum, on the Thirty-eighth Amendment held in 2019, were:

Name Role / Office
Tara Burns Chairperson / High Court judge
Seamus McCarthy Comptroller and Auditor General
Peter Tyndall Ombudsman
Peter Finnegan Clerk of Dáil Éireann
Martin Groves Clerk of Seanad Éireann


Under the Referendum Act 1998 the commission initially had the role of setting out the arguments for and against referendum proposals, having regard to submissions received from the public. Following the passing of the Referendum Act 2001 the commission no longer has a statutory function in relation to putting the arguments for and against referendum proposals. The 2001 Act also removed from the commission the statutory function of fostering and promoting debate or discussion on referendum proposals.[3]

A new referendum commission may be set up in for each new referendum that takes place, if the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government makes a ministerial order to appoint a commission. The current primary role of the commission is to explain the subject matter of referendum proposals, to promote public awareness of the referendum and to encourage the electorate to vote.[4] It may use television, radio, press, outdoor and cinema advertising and any other media over the weeks in advance of the referendum to give general information about the issues involved. It may help citizens find out some basic information about how to register to vote.[3] The commission's information booklets are also produced in braille and audiotape for persons with visual impairments. A publication in Irish Sign Language is also produced.[4] A dedicated website is created for the referendum.

Once the commission completes its functions it furnishes a report to the Minister, within six months. The report details the carrying out of its functions, and the commission then dissolves one month after its submission.

List of commissions[edit]

Date established[3] Subject Date of referendum Referendum Chairperson Cost References
2 March 1998 Treaty of Amsterdam 22 May 1998 18th Amendment Thomas Finlay £2.2m
22 April 1998 Good Friday Agreement 22 May 1998 19th Amendment £2.1m
4 May 1999 Local government 11 June 1999 20th Amendment £0.6m
17 April 2001 Death penalty 7 June 2001 21st Amendment £0.8m [5]
International Criminal Court 23rd Amendment £0.8m [6]
Treaty of Nice 24th Amendment Bill 2001 £1.2m [7]
8 February 2002 Abortion 6 March 2002 25th Amendment Bill 2001 Frederick Morris €2.6m [8]
9 July 2002 Treaty of Nice 19 October 2002 26th Amendment Thomas Finlay €4.1m [9]
22 April 2004 Irish Citizenship 11 June 2004 27th Amendment Nicholas Kearns €3.1m [10]
6 March 2008 Treaty of Lisbon 12 June 2008 28th Amendment Bill 2008 Iarfhlaith O'Neill €4.9m [11]
7 July 2009 Treaty of Lisbon 2 October 2009 28th Amendment Frank Clarke €4.1m [12]
5 September 2011 Judges' Remuneration 27 October 2011 29th Amendment Bryan MacMahon €0.6m [13]
13 September 2011 Oireachtas Inquiries 27 October 2011 30th Amendment Bill 2011 €0.6m [13]
30 March 2012 European Fiscal Compact 31 May 2012 30th Amendment Kevin Feeney €2.0m [14]
19 September 2012 Children's rights 10 November 2012 31st Amendment Mary Finlay Geoghegan €1.7m [15]
6 June 2013 Abolition of Seanad Éireann 4 October 2013 32nd Amendment Bill 2013 Elizabeth Dunne €2.4m [16][17]
Court of Appeal 33rd Amendment
27 January 2015 Same-sex marriage 22 May 2015 34th Amendment Kevin Cross €1.1m [18]
Age of candidacy for Presidency 35th Amendment Bill 2015 €1.0m
9 March 2018 Abortion 25 May 2018 36th Amendment Isobel Kennedy €2.5m [19]
18 July 2018 Blasphemy 26 October 2018 37th Amendment €2.1m [20][21]
26 February 2019 Divorce 24 May 2018 38th Amendment Tara Burns [22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Referendum Act, 1998". Irish Statue Book – Office of the Attorney General. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  2. ^ "Referendum Act, 2001". Irish Statue Book – Office of the Attorney General. Retrieved 22 July 2008.
  3. ^ a b c "Referendum Results 1937–2018" (PDF). Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Referendum Commission". Citizens Information Board. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
  5. ^ "Abolition of the Death Penalty". Referendum Commission. December 2001. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  6. ^ "International Criminal Court". Referendum Commission. December 2001. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  7. ^ "Treaty of Nice 2001". Referendum Commission. December 2001. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  8. ^ "Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy". Referendum Commission. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  9. ^ "Treaty of Nice 2002". Referendum Commission. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  10. ^ "Irish Citizenship". Referendum Commission. December 2008. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  11. ^ "Lisbon Treaty 2008". Referendum Commission. December 2008. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  12. ^ "Lisbon Treaty 2009". Referendum Commission. January 2010. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  13. ^ a b "Judges' Remuneration and on Oireachtas Inquiries 2011". Referendum Commission. March 2012. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  14. ^ "Fiscal Stability Treaty 2012". Referendum Commission. September 2012. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  15. ^ "The Children Referendum". Referendum Commission. May 2013. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  16. ^ "Abolition of Seanad Éireann and Court of Appeal Bill referendums". Referendum Commission. 25 November 2013. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
  17. ^ McGee, Harry (13 June 2013). "New referendum commission will have long lead-in time for poll on Seanad". The Irish Times. p. 7. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  18. ^ "Marriage Referendum and Age of Presidential Candidates Referendum". Referendum Commission. October 2015. Retrieved 27 July 2013.
  19. ^ "The referendum on the regulation of termination of pregnancy". Referendum Commission. September 2018. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  20. ^ "Referendum on Blasphemy". Referendum Commission. 15 February 2019. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  21. ^ "Referendum Commission (Establishment) (No.2) Order 2018" (PDF). Iris Oifigiúil. 20 July 2018. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  22. ^ "Minister Murphy announces establishment of Referendum Commission". Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Retrieved 12 May 2019.

External links[edit]