Bicameralism in the Republic of Ireland: The Seanad Abolition Referendum
17 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2017
Date Written: July 25, 2014
Scholars of comparative politics have long pondered the significance of whether parliament is constitutionally comprised of one chamber (unicameral) or two chambers (bicameral). Empirically, around two-thirds of democratic political systems in the world today operate with a unicameral legislature (Heller and Branduse 2014). Moreover, the degree to which each chamber in a bicameral system is politically significant varies greatly (Lijphart 2012). Ultimately, the cameral structure of the legislature has been found to have important consequence (Tsebelis and Money 1997). The Irish Constitution of 1937 specified a bicameral system comprising a directly elected lower chamber (Dáil Éireann) and a less powerful, partly-appointed, partly indirectly elected, upper chamber (Seanad Éireann).
In a referendum held on October 4th 2013, voters in the Irish Republic were given the opportunity to abolish Seanad Éireann (hereafter the Seanad). With a turnout of 39.17 percent, and by a margin of 42,500 ballots, the proposal to abolish the upper chamber at the next general election was rejected by 51.7 percent of those voting. What was meant to have been a populist centrepiece of political reform for the governing coalition ultimately produced a surprising outcome: Irish voters, despite being heavily disillusioned with the political system and political elites in the midst of a major economic crisis, voted to retain bicameralism.
Keywords: Bicameralism, Ireland, Referendum, Parliament
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