Citizens’ Assembly Makes Recommendations On The Manner In Which Referenda Are Held

Sunday January 14, 2018: The Citizens’ Assembly (the Assembly) has today voted and made a number of recommendations on its penultimate topic – the Manner In Which Referenda Are Held. The recommendations of the 99 members of the Assembly will now form the basis of a report that will be submitted to the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The recommendations were reached by ballot paper voting and follow a weekend of deliberation which focussed on a number of areas. These included the history of referendums in Ireland, the legal background, regulations surrounding a referendum, impact of regulation on the media, turnout, ‘super’ referendums, and citizens initiatives.

A total of 11 questions appeared on the ballot and the recommendations were reached by majority vote.

The following recommendations were made by the Assembly;

  1. 94% voted for the functions of the Referendum Commission to be carried out by a permanent Electoral Commission;
  2. 94% voted for the Referendum Commission to be obliged to give its view on significant matters of factual or legal dispute that arise during a referendum campaign in the public domain (including on social media);
  3. 87% voted in agreement with the current position where the Government is not permitted to spend public money to advocate on one side only of a referendum campaign;
  4. 68% voted that the Government should provide money to both sides equally in referendum campaigns;
  5. The Assembly made a number of recommendations in respect of spending in referendum campaigns, namely:
    1. 98% voted for the Oireachtas to develop and effectively implement a system of spending limits in referendum campaigns for registered political parties, campaign groups and individuals;
    2. 72% voted for anonymous donations to registered political parties and campaign groups to be prohibited;
  6. 80% voted for to have more than one referendum on unrelated issues at the same time;
  7. In the event of more than one referendum at the same time, the Assembly voted that the maximum number should be no more than two (41.7%);
  8. The Assembly made a number of recommendations in respect of multi-option voting, namely:
    1. 76% voted in favour of allowing more than two options on a ballot paper in a constitutional referendum;
    2. 52% voted in favour that when there are more than two options on the ballot paper in a constitutional referendum the outcome should be decided by PR STV;
  9. 89% voted in favour that in principle the Oireachtas and the Government should give effect to the outcome of a referendum within 5 years;
  10. The Assembly voted on a number of measures to enhance voter turnout in referendums, namely:
  • 56% for early voting in the weeks before the poll;
  • 100% for weekend voting;
  • 70% for online voting;
  • 83% for wider availability of postal voting;
  • 89% for the ability to vote at any polling station in the State;
  • 95% for the automatic inclusion of all eligible voters on the electoral register;
  • 80% for lowering the voting age to 16;
  • 77% for allowing voting by otherwise eligible voters, who are resident outside the State, for no more than five years;
  • 96% for greater provision of voter education on Referendums;

NOTE: On a proposal to extend voting over a number of days, Assembly members voted 51% NO and 49% YES; On a proposal to make voting compulsory, Assembly members voted 85% NO and 15% YES;

11.The Assembly voted on a number of proposals for citizens’ initiatives, namely:

    1. 69% in favour of putting a constitutional referendum proposal to the people;
    2. 69% in favour of a citizens’ initiative to put a legislative change proposal to the people (including enacting, changing or repealing legislation);
    3. 83% voted in favour of a citizens’ initiative to put an item on the agenda for decision by the Oireachtas.


    Voting took place by secret ballot and the voting process and counting of the ballot papers was overseen by former Returning Office for County Dublin, John Fitzpatrick, and his team.

    The Chair of the Assembly the Honourable Ms Mary Laffoy said: “Throughout this weekend, we have considered the way in which referendums are held in Ireland from the historical position to the legal regulation of campaigns to voter turnout, super referendums, repeat referendums, citizens’ initiatives and direct democracy.  We have made important recommendations in all of these areas.

    “You have made your recommendations known through your vote on the ballot. I will now fulfil the next step of the terms of reference. I will aim to finalise the report and furnish it to the House of the Oireachtas as soon as possible. The Secretariat will communicate the contents of the report and the date it will be submitted to the Houses to the Members in advance of that date”, the chair added.

    The Honourable Ms Mary Laffoy went on to acknowledge the contribution the 99 members of the Assembly have made to the issues they were tasked with discussing. “I am delighted that so many of you have returned in 2018 to see this process through.  Your dedication and enthusiasm has not diminished since we began this process in November 2016. Many of you travel long distances to be with us and I realise that this travel and devotion of time is not easy.  I am also delighted to have met so many new Members this weekend.  We have welcomed 13 new Members, only recently recruited, all of whom agreed, without hesitation, to come along this weekend without very much notice.  It is much appreciated and my sincere thanks to you all”.


    The full ballot paper, presentations and associated papers made to the Assembly are available on the Assembly website. All public sessions of the Assembly can be watched back on the Assembly’s YouTube Channel .

    The Citizens’ Assembly meets again on the 3rd  and 4th of March to make recommendations on the fifth and final topic the Assembly is tasked with considering, namely Fixed Term Parliaments. Submissions from members of the public, organisations and representative groups are now being sought by the Assembly. Submissions can be made online or by post up until the deadline of 12pm on February 23rd 2018.


    Media Contact: Páraic Gallagher, Q4PR, 087 818 0555