Bicameralism in the Republic of Ireland: The Seanad Abolition Referendum

Muiris MacCarthaigh*, Shane Martin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
107 Downloads (Pure)


Whether or not a legislature is uni- or bi-cameral has been found to have important consequences. Ireland's 1937 constitution provided for a directly elected lower chamber (Dáil Éireann) and an indirectly elected upper chamber (Seanad Éireann). With the appointment to government in 2011 of two political parties with a common electoral commitment to abolish bicameralism, the subsequent coalition agreement included a promise to hold a referendum offering voters the option to move to a unicameral parliamentary system. On 4 October 2013, the electorate voted to retain the upper chamber, albeit by a narrow majority of 51.7 per cent, on a turnout of 39.17 per cent. The outcome was arguably surprising, given that opinion polls signalled a plurality of voters favoured abolition, and there was a general public antipathy towards political institutions in the midst of a major economic crisis. Public opinion research suggests that a combination of factors explained voting behaviour, including a lack of interest amongst those who did not vote. A cost savings argument was a significant factor for those favouring abolition, while concerns over government control of the legislative process appear to have been most prominent in the minds of those who voted to retain the upper chamber.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-131
Number of pages11
JournalIrish Political Studies
Issue number1
Early online date05 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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