Apart from the European Union, the Oireachtas is the only institution in Ireland with power to make laws for the State. The Oireachtas consists of the President, and the 2 Houses of the Oireachtas: Dáil Eireann and Seanad Eireann.
A new law starts life as a Bill. A Bill is a proposal for legislation. Apart from Private Members' Bills, Bills are usually initiated by the Government.
A Bill may be commenced in either the Dáil or the Seanad but it must be passed by both Houses to become law. Usually, Bills are commenced in Dáil Eireann.
Before it is introduced to the Dáil, the contents of the Bill are approved by the Government. Usually there will be a process of consultation with government departments and groups likely to be affected by the Bill. (Examples of these groups are voluntary organisations, lobby groups or members of the public.)
Sometimes, the Government will publish a Green Paper. A Green Paper is a discussion document setting out ideas and inviting comment and views from individuals and relevant organisations.
The Bill is then put before the Dáil for a general debate on the principles of the Bill. Members of the Dáil may make suggestions for amendments and additions to the Bill.
The Bill is then sent to committees to be examined section by section. After the committee stage, more amendments may be made to the Bill. This is known as the report stage.
The final stage in the process is a debate in the Dáil, confined to the contents of the Bill. The members of the Dáil will then vote on whether to pass the Bill.
The Bill will then be sent down to the Seanad to go through the entire process of debate and committee examination again. The Seanad has 90 days (or any longer period agreed by both Houses) to consider the Bill and do one of the following:
- Pass the Bill without any amendment or
- Reject the Bill completely or
- Return the Bill to the Dáil with amendments
If the Seanad rejects the Bill or returns it to the Dáil with amendments that the Dáil does not accept, the Bill will lapse after 180 days. The Dáil may, within those 180 days, pass a resolution declaring that the Bill is deemed to have been passed by both Houses. This provision means that the Seanad cannot generally stop the Dáil from introducing legislation – it can only cause delays.
Money Bills are Bills that relate to taxation or relate to spending by the Government. The Seanad has only 21 days to consider these Bills.
Once the Bill has been passed by both Houses, the Taoiseach presents a copy of the Bill to the President for signature. Once the President has signed the Bill it becomes an Act and has legal force. You can view all Irish legislation 1922 to date here.
When the Bill comes to the President for signature, they do have an important power. If they consider that the new Bill may conflict with the Constitution, they may, after consultation with the Council of State, refer the question of whether or not the Bill is constitutional to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court must then decide whether or not the Bill is constitutional before it can be made law.