Ireland is a parliamentary democracy, which means that the people of Ireland decide who will represent them in Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Oireachtas, or Irish parliament), and which political party or parties will form the government.
Members of the Dáil are called TDs (Teachta Dála) and the head of government is the Taoiseach. The upper house of the Oireachtas is the Seanad.
Under Irish law, the Dáil cannot continue for longer than 5 years. The President dissolves the Dáil, usually on the advice of the Taoiseach. See ‘How often are general elections held’ below.
The Constitution states there must be a TD for every 20,000 to 30,000 people in the population. Following the general election in 2020 (which will be held on Saturday 8 February 2020), there will be 160 TDs serving 39 constituencies. The TD’s constituency is the area that they are elected to represent.
You can vote in a general election if you are:
- An Irish or British citizen
- Aged 18 or over on the day of the election
- Registered to vote
You can read more about:
How often are general elections held?
A Dáil cannot continue for longer than 5 years. This is set out in the Electoral (Amendment) Act 1927.
The Taoiseach can ask the President to dissolve the Dáil at any time. The President can only refuse to do this if the government does not have a majority in the Dáil (a minority government).
A general election may also be called if:
- The Taoiseach and government have lost a vote of no confidence in the Dáil. Under the Constitution of Ireland, the Taoiseach and government must resign once a new government is formed.
- A coalition partner (a smaller party that joins a larger party to form a government) has withdrawn its support for the government.
In both situations, opposition parties may be able to form a government and elect a new Taoiseach without a general election taking place.
The act of ending a Dáil is known as dissolution. A general election must be held within 30 days of the dissolution of the Dáil. Once the President proclaims that the Dáil is dissolved, the Clerk of the Dáil directs the returning officer in each constituency to prepare for an election. The polling day is set by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.
Who can run as a candidate in a general election?
To run as a candidate for Dáil Eireann, you must be:
- A citizen of Ireland
- Over 21 years of age
If you want to run as a candidate for a political party, you will have to go through the party’s selection procedure. You can read about registering a political party.
If you want to run as an independent candidate, you must present a nomination paper to the returning officer in the constituency where you want to stand. You can nominate yourself, and you can run in more than one constituency. You do not have to live in, or own property in, the constituency where you want to run.
You also must be able to give the returning officer:
- A Certificate of Party Affiliation or
- Statutory declarations signed by 30 constituents or
- A deposit of €500
Your nomination paper must be submitted by 12 noon on the 7th day after the Clerk of the Dáil has issued a writ (a written document containing a legal order) directing that an election be held.
You can read more about eligibility for membership of Dáil Eireann.
General election posters and campaigning
Once the date of a general election has been set, candidates will canvass for your vote. This can involve calling from door to door, sending out election leaflets, putting up posters, and televised debates and party political broadcasts.
There are strict rules governing how parties and candidates campaign for an election. There are also laws governing how much money can be spent by candidates and parties.
How much can candidates spend on their campaign?
The legal limit that can be spent by candidates depends on the number of seats that are being contested in the constituency.
The maximum that a candidate can spend on a Dáil election is:
- €45,200 per candidate in a five-seat constituency
- €37,650 per candidate in a four-seat constituency
- €30,150 per candidate in a three-seat constituency
If a candidate receives at least one quarter of the quota of votes for the constituency, they can claim back up to €8700 in election expenses. You can read more about quotas in our document on proportional representation.
Posters and leaflets
There are rules governing posters and leaflets, and other forms of advertising during an election campaign:
- Posters can only be hung on poles with the permission of the pole owner
- Leaflets cannot be left under windscreen wipers
- Posters must carry the name and address of the printer
- Posters should not cause any disruption to road users
Laws on election posters and leaflets do not cover:
- Posters erected on private land (with the owner’s permission)
- Billboard advertisements, which come under regular planning laws
- Cars or trucks with election signage or pictures, so long as the signage is secured
Local authorities have powers to remove posters where it is in the public interest to do so.
When can candidates put up election posters?
Posters can be put up by candidates 30 days before the polling date, or from the date that the ministerial polling day order, whichever is the shortest period.
On polling day, campaigning is forbidden, and posters must not be displayed within 50 metres of a polling station.
Failure to remove election posters before 7 days after the polling date is an offence.
How to vote in a general election
To vote in a general election, you must go to a polling station on the day of the election (polling day). Some people are eligible to vote by post.
If you are on the Register of Electors, a polling card will be sent to your home before the date of the general election. Your polling card includes your elector number and will tell you where you can vote.
What happens if I cannot attend the polling station?Ireland only allows for postal voting in limited circumstances, and you must be registered on either the postal voters list or the special voters list in advance of the election.
If you cannot attend on the day of the election and do not qualify as a special or postal voter, you will be unable to vote.
You can read more about Facilities for voters with disabilities.
Forming a government
Once all the seats have been filled, the Dáil votes on who will serve as Taoiseach and lead a government. If one party has a majority, or has the support of other parties and/or independents, it will be clear who will lead the country into the new Dáil session.
If there is no clear majority, there may be a period of negotiation, where groups of parties and/or independent TDs try to build a majority.
If there is no clear winner, and T.D.s are unable to decide who should form a government, the Taoiseach (from the previous government) may have to ask the President to dissolve the Dáil again.