Bunreacht na hÉireann is the basic law or Constitution of Ireland. It was enacted in 1937 and has been amended several times.
The Constitution can only be amended if the proposed amendment has been approved by the people of Ireland in a referendum. A referendum gives the people the opportunity to express their opinion and vote for or against the proposed amendment.
Up to 2019, thirty-seven constitutional referendums had been held. They are listed on taoiseach.gov.ie. You can read reports and recommendations relating to several previous referendums on refcom.ie.
On Friday 24 May 2019, a referendum proposing a change in the Constitution in relation to divorce will be held. The proposal is about two issues relating to divorce:
- How long people must be living apart before applying for a divorce
- The recognition of foreign divorces
There will be one question on the ballot paper and voters can either vote Yes to allow both changes, or No to reject both changes. Voters cannot accept one change and reject the other.
The proposal to amend the Constitution must first be introduced in the Dáil as a Bill, setting out the text of the proposed amendment. The Bill cannot contain any other proposals. If the Bill is passed by both the Dáil and the Seanad it is then submitted to the people in a constitutional referendum, so that they can vote for or against it.
If the majority of the votes cast at the referendum are in favour of the change, the President signs the Bill into law and the Constitution is then amended.
If the majority of the votes cast at the referendum are not in favour of the change, the Bill is not signed into law and the Constitution is not amended.
Read more about the President and legislation.
The Referendum Commission is an independent body set up to communicate factual information about referendums. Its main role is to:
- Explain what the referendum proposal means
- Promote public awareness of the referendum
- Encourage people to vote
Only Irish citizens who are aged at least 18 can vote in a referendum. You need to be registered in order to vote – either on the main Register of Electors, the Postal Voters List, the Special Voters list or the supplement to one of these lists. You can use checktheregister.ie to see if you are registered. If you are not registered, you can apply to be added to the relevant supplement, but you must do this by a certain deadline once a referendum has been called. Read more in our document on registering to vote.
The referendum proposal is printed on the ballot paper and you are asked to indicate whether you are in favour of the proposal or against it. Read more in our document on voting in a referendum.
Facilities in place for voters with disabilities include postal voting; voting in a nursing home or similar; companion voting; and a tactile ballot paper template for visually impaired voters. Read more in our document on facilities for voters with disabilities.
When the results from all constituencies have been collated, the referendum returning officer draws up a provisional referendum certificate, stating the overall result of the voting. The certificate also states whether or not the proposed amendment has been approved by the people.
The provisional certificate is published in Iris Oifigiúil (the Irish State Gazette). If you wish to challenge the provisional certificate, you must present a petition to the High Court within 7 days of the publication of the provisional certificate. If no petition in presented to the High Court, the certificate becomes final.
If the final certificate shows that the majority of the votes cast were in favour of the proposal to amend the Constitution, the President signs the Bill and the Constitution is then amended.
How to apply
Application forms for inclusion on the Electoral Register, Special Voters List, Postal Voters List and the supplements to all these lists are available on checktheregister.ie. Forms are also available from all local authorities, post offices and public libraries.
Return the completed form to your local authority
The Constitution also provides for an ordinary referendum to be held in certain circumstances. An ordinary referendum does not relate to amending the Constitution. To date, no ordinary referendum has been held.