Dáil Éireann is one of the Houses of the Oireachtas, the national parliament. The upper house of the Oireachtas is the Seanad.
The elected members of Dáil Éireann are called TDs – Teachta Dála (or Deputies). TDs are elected directly to the Dáil in a general election. If a vacancy occurs at the Dáil, the seat will be filled by a bye-election.
The Constitution states that the number of TDs cannot be more than one for every 20,000 of the population and cannot be less than one for every 30,000.
There are 160 TDs.
Ireland is divided into 39 constituencies and each constituency must elect at least three members to the Dáil.
The Dáil is part of the legislative (or law making) branch of the Irish State. Its members also elect the Taoiseach and Government following a general election.
Eligibility for Dáil Eireann
To be eligible for membership of the Dáil, you must be:
- An Irish citizen
- Over 21 years old
You also cannot be both a member of the Dáil and:
- A member of a local authority. Until 2003, it was possible to be an elected Councillor and a TD.
- A member of the European Parliament (an MEP), or another senior official in an institution of the European Union.
- A member of the Garda Síochána or a full-time member of the Defence Forces.
- A civil servant, unless your contract specifically allows it.
- Serving a prison sentence of greater than 6 months.
- The President, a Senator, the Comptroller and Auditor General or a judge.
The Electoral Act 1992 also says that you cannot be a TD if you are ‘of unsound mind’.
The role of TDs
Your TD is your elected representative in Dáil Éireann.
A TD can be part of a political party or independent. Usually, the party with the most TDs forms the Government. Following a general election, if no party has enough TDs elected to form a government, a smaller party (or parties) might join with a larger party to form a coalition government, or there might be an agreement to support a government even though it does not have a majority of TDs (a minority government).
A TD that is part of the government might be chosen as a Minister of State. If a TD is not part of the government, they might support the government, or be in opposition.
The work of a TD locally
TDs have both national and local roles. As your local representative, a TD can ask questions in the Dáil or raise issues that are important to you or your local area. Most TDs have constituency clinics, where you can meet them and discuss issues that might then be raised in the Dáil or in PQs. A full list of current TDs is published on Oireachtas.ie.
The work of a TD nationally
TDs are an important part of the law-making function of Dáil Éireann. They can propose new legislation, even if they are not part of the government (in Private Member’s Bills). They debate proposed legislation, examine drafts and suggest amendments. Finally, they vote on the legislation, which, if it passes, will then go to the Seanad to be debated and voted on.
TDs appoint the Taoiseach and the Government following a general election.
A TD might sit on a specialist committee, which can advise the Dáil on a broad range of legislative, social, economic and financial issues. A TD might also sit on a committee that looks at the Government’s spending, or examines the work of a particular government department (for example, the Joint Committee on Health). Committees also examine draft legislation.
The Ceann Comhairle
When a new Dáil is formed after a general election, the first thing it does is elect a Ceann Comhairle from the members of the Dáil (TDs).
The Ceann Comhairle is the chairperson of the Dáil, and is responsible for:
- Keeping order in the Dáil
- Calling on members to speak
- Making sure that the business of the Dáil follows the rules for procedure in the Dáil (the standing orders)
- Running the Committee on Procedure, which considers changes to the standing orders
- Supervising voting, counting votes and declaring the results
Even though the Ceann Comhairle is a member of a political party, he or she must act impartially and must try to ensure that all parties and independent members are treated fairly.
The Ceann Comhairle is automatically re-elected to the next Dáil, and does not have to contest a general election.
The Ceann Comhairle has the casting vote when there is a tie of votes in the Dáil.
Parliamentary Questions (PQs)
TDs can ask the Taoiseach and government ministers questions. These are called Parliamentary Questions or PQs.
The Taoiseach answers questions on Tuesdays on matters relating to his own department. Other government ministers reply to questions on a rota basis. This means that they take turns to answer questions, and the rota is repeated every 5 weeks or so.
A TD cannot ask more than 2 oral questions to a Minister, or 3 to the Taoiseach, but there is no limit to the number of written questions that can be sent. Every day 5 oral questions are given priority.
The Minister must be given 3 days’ notice for priority oral questions and 4 days’ notice for other questions. The Ceann Comhairle may accept questions about an urgent issue at short notice. These are called private notice questions and are taken at the end of question time.
PQs and replies are published on the Oireachtas website.
The Irish Constitution sets out rights and privileges that apply to TDs and Senators when they are undertaking their work in the Oireachtas.
TDs may not be arrested when they are going to or returning from the Houses of the Oireachtas. This does not apply to arrest for treason, felony (a serious crime that must be tried before a jury) or breach of the peace. This privilege does not mean that TDs are immune from prosecution.
TDs cannot be sued for defamation based on a speech given in the House. If a member of the public believes that a TD has defamed them in the Oireachtas, they can make a submission to the Dáil Committee on Procedure. If a TD is found to have abused this privilege, the Committee on Procedure can discipline them.
Dissolution of the Dáil
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 the support of a majority in the Dáil.
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.
Once the Dáil has been dissolved, a general election must be held within 30 days.
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