A new referendum commission is set up for each new referendum that takes place, if the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government makes a ministerial order to appoint a commission.
The primary role of a referendum commission is to explain the subject matter of referendum proposals, to promote public awareness of the referendum and to encourage the electorate to vote at the poll.
Each referendum commission prepares independent and unbiased information about the referendum and makes that information available to the public. The commission publishes and distributes leaflets and brochures giving general information about the referendum. It prepares a statement or statements on the main issues and it may include any other information which it considers appropriate. It also promotes debate and discussion about the referendum and may also advertise the referendum in the media.
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. The television broadcasts are subtitled and a special video of the information booklet is produced in Irish sign language and is distributed to members of the deaf community. The commission's information booklets are also produced in Braille and audiotape for distribution to people with visual impairments.
The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government may establish a referendum commission after (and not before) the date on which a Constitution Amendment Bill is initiated in Dáil Éireann. In the case of an "ordinary referendum", the Minister may establish a referendum commission no later than the date of the order appointing polling day.
A referendum commission comprises a chairperson who must be a former Supreme Court judge or a serving or former High Court judge nominated by the Chief Justice; the Comptroller and Auditor General; the Ombudsman; and the Clerks of the Dáil and the Seanad.
The referendum commission must carry out its functions in a way that is fair to everyone concerned.
An order under the Referendum Act 1998 was made on 27 January 2015 establishing a Referendum Commission for the referendum on the Thirty-Fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015. An order was also made on 27 January 2015 establishing a Referendum Commission for the referendum on the Thirty-Fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Age of Eligibility for Election to the Office of President) Bill 2015.
Information on past referenda is available on the Referendum Commission website.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000. The Phone Service will operate Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm during January 2017. You can also visit your local Citizens Information Centre.