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History of the franchise in Ireland

The basic law of the electoral franchise in the Republic of Ireland is Article 16 of the Constitution of Ireland, which states who can vote for Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas or parliament. Irish citizens who are Dáil electors have the right to vote in all other elections, though not conversely.



The relevant parts of the Constitution state:[1]

Article Section Subsection Text
12 2 The President shall be elected by direct vote of the people.
Every citizen who has the right to vote at an election for members of Dáil Éireann shall have the right to vote at an election for President.
The voting shall be by secret ballot and on the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote.
16 1 i All citizens, and
ii such other persons in the State as may be determined by law,
without distinction of sex who have reached the age of eighteen years who are not disqualified by law and comply with the provisions of the law relating to the election of members of Dáil Éireann, shall have the right to vote at an election for members of Dáil Éireann.
No law shall be enacted placing any citizen under disability or incapacity for membership of Dáil Éireann on the ground of sex or disqualifying any citizen or other person from voting at an election for members of Dáil Éireann on that ground.
No voter may exercise more than one vote at an election for Dáil Éireann, and the voting shall be by secret ballot.
28A 4 Every citizen who has the right to vote at an election for members of Dáil Éireann and such other persons as may be determined by law shall have the right to vote at an election for members of such of the local authorities referred to in section 2 of this Article as shall be determined by law.
47 3 Every citizen who has the right to vote at an election for members of Dáil Éireann shall have the right to vote at a Referendum.

Before independenceEdit

In the pre-1801 Irish House of Commons, the forty-shilling freehold was used in county constituencies, while borough constituencies were mostly rotten boroughs with closed electorates. Roman Catholics were explicitly disenfranchised from the Disenfranchising Act of 1727 to 1793, although earlier penal laws had effectively prevented Catholics from voting:[2] the 1703 Popery Act required an oath of abjuration which most found incompatible with their faith,[3] and a 1716 act required this oath at least six months before an election.[4]

From the Act of Union 1800 to the 1922 creation of the Irish Free State, Irish electoral law was largely the same as contemporary British law. One difference was that voter registration was every eight years in Ireland instead of annually.[5] The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, which allowed Catholics to stand for Parliament, also increased the freeholder qualification from forty shillings (two pounds) to ten pounds, reducing the county constituencies electorate from c.216,000 to c.37,000.[5] This was a quid-pro-quo to secure support from Protestants afraid of being overwhelmed by votes of less well-off Catholics.[5] The Irish Reform Act 1832 was vaguely worded and provoked numerous court cases, although the ancillary Representation of the People (Ireland) Act 1832 increased the total electorate from c.75,000 to c.90,000.[5] In the wake of the Great Famine, the Representation of the People (Ireland) Act 1850 quadrupled the electorate.[5]

From 1836, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) were not allowed to vote.[6][7] This was to preserve the impression of the forces' political impartiality.[8] While police in England and Wales were enfranchised from 1887, this did not extend to Ireland.[9][10][11]

Women's suffrage developed as in Great Britain. In England and Wales, an 1894 act allowed women to vote for the local authorities established in 1888; the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 replicated both the 1888 authorities and the 1894 suffrage in Ireland. The Representation of the People Act 1918 allowed all men over 21 and most women over 30 to vote in parliamentary elections. The Second Dáil resolved to hold a general election in June 1922 for an assembly which would be both the Third Dáil of the soon-to-be-defunct Irish Republic and a Provisional Parliament for the nascent Irish Free State. The republican minority wanted the franchise for this election to be equal for men and women, but the pro-Free State majority argued it was impractical and unlawful to change the 1918 franchise.[12] Both sides were motivated by the belief that young women tended to be republican.[13] The Second Dáil did agree that, if the post-election government, which was responsible to the new assembly, were to collapse, the consequent election would be on "Adult Suffrage".[14]

Since independenceEdit

The 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State reduced the voting age for women in elections for Dáil Éireann (the lower house) from 30 to 21, the same as for men.[15] This was retained by the 1937 Constitution of Ireland.[16] The Seanad (upper house) voting age was 30 for both sexes from its establishment in 1922 until 1928, when direct election was abolished.[15][17] The only direct election was in 1925.[18]

University constituencies, where graduates vote for legislators, existed in the lower house until 1937, and have been in the Seanad since its recreation in 1938. Dublin University was enfranchised in the pre-Union Commons in 1613, and the National University of Ireland at Westminster in 1918. In 1979, the Seventh Amendment of the Constitution allowed for the franchise to be extended to graduates of other Irish third-level institutions, but this has not been invoked. One of the arguments made in support of the rejected 2013 proposal to abolish the Seanad was the elitism of giving graduates an extra legislative vote; some proposals for Seanad reform would give non-graduates a vote for the Vocational panel senators instead.[19]

In 1935, the voting age for women was reduced from 30 to 21 for local elections[20] In 1960, members of the Garda Síochána were allowed to vote; the 1923 electoral act had carried forward the previous ban on RIC and DMP members voting for parliament, though they could vote in local elections.[8][21] In 1972, the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution reduced the voting age to 18.[22]

In 1985, UK citizens gained the right to vote in Dáil elections,[23] reciprocating Irish citizens' right to vote in UK elections under the Ireland Act 1949. The Ninth Amendment of the Constitution was passed in 1984 to allow for this. The Electoral Amendment Bill 1983 had purported to allow UK citizens to vote, but was ruled to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.[24] The 1985 change,[23] restated in 1992,[25] allows the Dáil franchise to be similarly extended on a reciprocal basis to citizens of other countries.[26] As of 2014 this has not been applied.[26]

Since 2006, prisoners have been able to vote.[27] They were never explicitly prohibited from voting, but the lack of postal voting and inability to travel to an external polling station effectively disenfranchised them.[28]

There is no right of Irish expatriates to vote, except for Seanad university seats. Proposals to extend the right to the Seanad more generally, and to Presidential elections, have been made at intervals since the 1990s.[29]



  • Simms, J. G. (March 1960). "Irish Catholics and the Parliamentary Franchise, 1692–1728". Irish Historical Studies. Cambridge University Press. 12 (45): 28–37. JSTOR 30005038.


  1. ^ "CONSTITUTION OF IRELAND". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  2. ^ Johnston-Liik, E. M. (2007-01-01). Commons, Constituencies and Statutes. History of the Irish Parliament 1692-1800. Vol.VI. Ulster Historical Foundation. p. 124. ISBN 9781903688717. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  3. ^ 2 Anne c.6 s.24; Simms 1960, p.35
  4. ^ 2 George I c.19 s.7; Simms 1960, p.32
  5. ^ a b c d e Ball, Stephen (17 March 2013). "The Irish dimension". The Victorian Commons. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  6. ^ "Constabulary (Ireland) Act, 1836". Irish Statute Book. sec.18. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  7. ^ "Dublin Police Act, 1836". Irish Statute Book. sec.19. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  8. ^ a b "Disqualifications — Committee Stage". Dáil Éireann debates. 15 November 1922. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  9. ^ Emsley, Clive (2014-09-19). The English Police: A Political and Social History. Taylor & Francis. p. 128. ISBN 9781317890232. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  10. ^ Police Disabilities Removal Acts 1887 and 1893 (franchise for parliamentary and local elections respectively)
  11. ^ Coakley, John; Gallagher, Michael (2017). Politics in the Republic of Ireland. Routledge. p. 30. ISBN 9781317312697. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
  12. ^ "Irishwomen and the Franchise". Dáil Éireann (2nd Dáil). Oireachtas. 2 Mar 1922. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  13. ^ McCarthy, Cal (2007-04-03). "Division and Civil War 1921–23". Cumann na mBan and the Irish Revolution. Collins Press. ISBN 9781848898608. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  14. ^ "National Coalition Panel : Joint Statement". Dáil Éireann (2nd Dáil). Oireachtas. 20 May 1922. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  15. ^ a b "Constitution of the Irish Free State". Irish Statute Book. Article 14. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  16. ^ "Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill, 1972: Second Stage". Dáil Éireann debates. 5 July 1972. pp. Vol.262 No.5 p.6 cc.672–703. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  17. ^ "Constitution (Amendment No. 6) Act, 1928". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  18. ^ Coakley, John (September 2005). "Ireland's Unique Electoral Experiment: The Senate Election of 1925". Irish Political Studies. 20 (3): 231–269. doi:10.1080/07907180500359327.
  19. ^ Michael McDowell, Joe O'Toole, Noel Whelan, Feargal Quinn and Katherine Zappone (26 September 2012). "Options For A More Democratic Seanad Through Legislative Change" (PDF). Radical seanad reform through legislative change. p. 25; §7.2.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. ^ "Local Government (Extension of Franchise) Act, 1935, Section 2". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  21. ^ "Electoral Act, 1923, Section 5". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 4 December 2015.; "Electoral Act, 1960". Irish Statute Book. pp. sec.3 and Schedule. Retrieved 4 December 2015.; "Private Members' Business. - Garda Síochána Franchise—Motion". Dáil Éireann debates. Oireachtas. 2 November 1955. Retrieved 8 December 2015.; Blaney, Neil (6 December 1960). "Electoral Bill, 1960 — Second Stages". Dáil Éireann debates. Oireachtas. Retrieved 4 December 2015. One of the important proposals is contained in Section 3 and in the Schedule which provides for the repeal of the prohibition on the registration of Gardaí as voters at Dáil elections. In future, if this provision is enacted, Gardaí can vote at Dáil and Presidential elections and at referenda.
  22. ^ "Fourth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1972, Section 1". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  23. ^ a b "Electoral (Amendment) Act, 1985, Section 2". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  24. ^ Supreme Court of Ireland (8 February 1984). "In the Matter of Article 26 of the Constitution and in the Matter of The Electoral (Amendment) Bill , 1983 [S.C. No. 373 of 1983]". Dublin: Courts Service. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  25. ^ "Electoral Act, 1992, Section 8". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  26. ^ a b "Written Answers No. 505: Electoral Reform". Dáil Éireann debates. 27 May 2014. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  27. ^ "Electoral (Amendment) Act 2006". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 10 December 2015.
  28. ^ Molony, Senan (23 October 2006). "Inmates to vote by post in next election". Irish Independent. Retrieved 14 December 2015. The Irish situation has been that prisoners are not legally denied the vote, but have had no opportunity of taking up this right.
  29. ^ Honohan, Iseult (2011). "Should Irish Emigrants have Votes? External Voting in Ireland" (PDF). Irish Political Studies. 26 (4): 545–561 : p.14 of preprint. doi:10.1080/07907184.2011.619749. ISSN 0790-7184.; Kenny, Ciara (13 November 2014). "Irish emigrants should have right to vote, report says". The Irish Times. Retrieved 23 April 2018.; "Coveney publishes an Options Paper on extending the eligibility for citizens resident outside the State to vote at presidential elections". MerrionStreet (Press release). Government of Ireland. 22 March 2017. Retrieved 23 April 2018.; Ruth, Maguire. "Announcement by the Taoiseach on Voting Rights in Presidential Elections for Irish Citizens outside the State" (Press release). Department of the Taoiseach. Retrieved 2017-03-23.