The Legislative Process

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The Constitution of Ireland, provides that the sole and exclusive power of making laws for the State is vested in the Oireachtas (Parliament). The Oireachtas consists of the President and two Houses, Dáil Éireann (House of Representatives) and Seanad Éireann (Senate).

Although most Bills can be introduced in either the Dáil or Seanad, there are a number of important legislative areas where the Dáil has primacy e.g. Bills to amend the Constitution and Money Bills i.e.financial legislation, can only be initiated in Dáil Éireann; Seanad Éireann can make recommendations (but not amendments) to Money Bills and these must be made within 21 days.

All Acts of the Oireachtas start life as Bills which are proposals for legislation: those applicable to the general body of citizens are called Public Bills and those promoted by local authorities and private bodies or individuals for their own purposes are called Private Bills. Private Bills are very rare and are dealt with under separate procedures.

Before a Government Bill is initiated in the Dáil or Seanad its contents will have been approved by the Government. A process of consultation with Government Departments and groups likely to be affected by the Bill will have taken place beforehand. Sometimes, the Government will publish a Green Paper which will be a discussion document in which it sets out its ideas and invites comment and views from individuals and relevant organisations.

Legislation will generally be initiated in either House by the Government but parliamentary procedures also allow Opposition parties and Independent Members to introduce Bills which are called "Private Members' Bills", some of which have become law.

There are five stages in considering a Bill. The second and third stages are considered the most important as they offer the fullest opportunities to Members to discuss and amend the contents of the Bill.

The Second stage of a Bill consists of a general debate on the principles of the Bill and Members may refer not only to what is in the Bill but to what could relevantly be put into the Bill.

At Third (Committee) Stage, a Bill is examined section by section and it is open to each House to modify the Bill by way of amendment. However, only a Minister or Minister of State can propose an amendment in either House which could have the effect of imposing or increasing a money charge upon the people or State funds. The Third Stage of most Dáil Bills is now dealt with by a range of Select Committees, each of which corresponds to a relevant Government Department. Ministers and Ministers of State may attend and be heard in Seanad Éireann where Government amendments to Bills are proposed from the Chair.

On the Fourth (Report) Stage further amendments, which arise out of the Third Stage can be made to the Bill and on the Fifth Stage the debate is confined to the contents of the Bill.

From time to time, the Members will vote on a question before the House - that is they will separate, for the purpose of being counted into two lobbies, those voting for (Tá) and those against (Níl).

Where a Bill passes through all Stages in one House, it is automatically set down for Second Stage in the other House. Once a Bill has been passed by both Houses, the Taoiseach presents a vellum copy of the Bill, prepared in the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas to the President for signature and promulgation as a law. The signed text is then enrolled for record in the Office of the Registrar of the Supreme Court.

The Constitution provides that where a Bill is presented for signature, the President may, after consultation with the Council of State, refer the question of whether the Bill or any of its provisions is unconstitutional to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court so finds, then the President declines to sign the Bill.

Moreover, if a majority of the Seanad and at least one-third of the Dáil petition the President not to sign a Bill on the grounds that it contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people ought to be ascertained, the President may agree to the request after consultation with the Council of State. In these circumstances, the President shall decline to sign the Bill unless and until the proposal has been approved by the people in a Referendum or by a new Dáil after a dissolution and a General Election.

Bills to amend the Constitution are always published in the two official languages - Irish and English. Other Bills are generally published in only one official language. In this case, an official translation of the text is issued in the other official language once the Bill has become law.


Legislative History
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