The Irish State - Political Parties and Elections

Voting in Elections and Referenda

Opportunities to vote arise in five decision-making procedures:

  • the election of the President every seven years;

  • Dáil (parliamentary) elections, at least every five years;

  • referenda on proposed Constitutional amendments;

  • the election of representatives to the European Parliament, every five years;

  • elections to local authorities, usually every five years.

Resident citizens over the age of 18 years may vote at Dáil, Presidential, local and European elections, and referenda. British citizens living in Ireland may vote at Dáil, European and local elections. European Union citizens may vote at European and local elections. All residents, regardless of citizenship, may vote at local elections.The electoral system is proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote (PR-STV) in multi-member constituencies.

  • Dáil Elections

    Voting in Dáil elections is by secret ballot; postal voting is confined to members of the defence forces and civil servants and their spouses serving abroad. The system of voting used can be described as follows: The voter marks the ballot paper by placing the figure "1" opposite the name of the candidate of his or her first choice and, if the voter wishes, "2" is placed opposite the name of the second choice, and so on.

    The elector is, in effect, telling the returning officer "I wish to vote for A, but if that candidate does not need my vote or has no chance of being elected, transfer my vote to B; if B in turn does not need my vote, or in turn has no chance of election, transfer my vote to C". At the opening of the count, the ballot papers are mixed together and then sorted according to the first preferences recorded for the candidates. The total number of valid papers is counted, and the electoral quota is calculated.The quota is the smallest number of votes necessary to secure the election of a candidate. The quota is established according to the formula:

    Total valid votes

    ------------------------ +1

    number of seats +1

    Thus, if there were 40,000 valid votes and four seats to be filled, the quota for election would be 8,001 and only four candidates could reach the quota. If, on the first count, no candidate has reached the quota, the candidate who received the lowest number of votes is eliminated and his or her votes are transferred to the candidate for whom a second preference is recorded. If a candidate receives more than the quota required for election, his or her surplus votes are transferred to the remaining candidates in accordance with the subsequent preferences expressed by the electors.

    When the number of remaining candidates who have neither been elected nor eliminated corresponds to the number of vacancies to be filled, those candidates are declared elected. This applies even though the remaining candidates may not have reached the quota.

  • Seanad Elections

    An election for the Seanad takes place not later than ninety days after a dissolution of Dáil Éireann. The voting system used is proportional representation by secret postal ballot.The electorate for the forty-three members of the Seanad elected from panels of candidates, numbers just over 1,100. The electorate comprises the members of the newly-elected Dáil, the members of the outgoing Seanad, and the members of every council of a county or county borough. There is a separate election for each of the five panels. The electorate for the six members elected from the universities consists of every citizen who has received a degree (other than an honorary one) from those universities and who has attained the age of eighteen years and is registered as an elector.

  • Political Parties

    Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, The Progressive Democrats, Democratic Left, and the Green Party are represented in the Dáil.

  • Fianna Fáil

    Fianna Fáil, the Republican Party, was founded by Éamon de Valera in 1926. Its aims are to secure the unity and independence of Ireland as a republic, to restore the Irish language, to develop a distinctive national life in accordance with Irish traditions and ideals, and to make the resources and wealth of Ireland subservient to the needs and welfare of all the people of Ireland. Its policy also includes the provision of employment for the maximum number of people.

    Fianna Fáil was in government in 1932-1948, 1951-1954, 1957-1973, 1977-1981, in 1982 and from 1987 to December 1994. Its leaders have been Éamon de Valera, 1926-1959, Sean Lemass, 1959-1966, Jack Lynch, 1966-1979, Charles Haughey, 1979-1992, AlbertReynolds, 1992-1994, and Bertie Ahern, from November, 1994. Its achievements have included the consolidation of Irish independence, promulgation of the Constitution in 1937, maintenance of Irish neutrality in the Second World War, construction of a domestic industrial base, redistribution of agricultural land, the introduction and extension of housing and social assistance programmes, the opening up of Ireland to trade and investment, negotiating entry into the EEC and participation in the EU, including a massive increase in EU funding and the attraction of high technology industry and financial services to Ireland. In the 1992 to 1994 Government, in which Fianna Fáil was the main partner, the Joint Declaration on peace in Northern Ireland was signed by the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister at Downing Street on 15 December, 1993.

    Fianna Fáil is a broad based party with strong representation in both urban and rural Ireland. Since 1932 it has consistently been the largest party in the Dáil, and at the election in November, 1992 won 39% of the popular vote. It holds 67 out of the 166 seats in Dáil Éireann. Fianna Fáil is part of the European Democratic Alliance in the European Parliament. The Party’s Head Office is at 13 Upper Mount Street, Dublin 2.

  • Fine Gael

    Fine Gael won over 25% of the total votes cast in the general election of November, 1992. The party holds 47 out of the 166 seats in Dáil Éireann, and is the largest party in the Government. The leader of Fine Gael is An Taoiseach, John Bruton.

    Fine Gael was founded in 1933 by the coming together of a number of parties. The predominant party in this amalgamation was Cumann na nGaedheal. Cumann na nGaedheal had been founded in 1923 to sustain the Government of the infant Free State in its efforts to build and develop the new nation on the basis of the treaty negotiated a few months earlier. The Cumann na nGaedheal party governed from the foundation of the State until 1932. Fine Gael has committed itself to an ideal which was shared by Cumann na nGaedheal of developing a wider, pluralistic sense of Irish nationalism.

    Fine Gael policy is based on the principles of the encouragement of enterprise combined with social justice and with decision-making devolved to the appropriate level, as well as on the ideal of reconciliation with the people of Northern Ireland. Fine Gael favours a planned approach to encourage expansion to counteract the effect of world recession. This is to be done by a mixture of State encouragement for private enterprise and effort and direct State involvement. It has as its immediate objectives improved access for young people and women to decision-making, greater tax equity, fairer opportunities in education and the maintenance or improvement of social welfare provisions.

    Fine Gael is also committed to the development and unification of the European Union. Along with its fellow Christian Democrats in the European People’s Party, Fine Gael seeks solutions on a European level to the problems and challenges of the 1990’s. The EPP is the second largest group in the European Parliament and is a strong advocate of European integration. Fine Gael’s Head Office is at 51 Upper Mount Street, Dublin 2.

  • Labour Party

    The Labour Party is represented in Dáil Éireann, Seanad Éireann and in the European Parliament as a member of the Party of European Socialists (PES).

    The Party was founded in 1912 at a conference of the Irish Trade Union Congress in Clonmel under the inspiration of James Connolly, Jim Larkin and William O’Brien.

    It is the oldest political party in Ireland and through its affiliation to the Socialist International is a sister party of the Social Democratic and Labour Party in Northern Ireland.The Labour Party seeks to build a society free from deprivation and based on the principles of democracy, equality, participation and co-operation.

    The Labour Party has twelve affiliated trade unions representing 50% of all trade union members in the State.Since its foundation, the Labour Party has taken part in seven coalition Governments, the present one of which dates from late 1994.

    At the General Election of 1992 the Party won 19.3% of the votes and 33 seats which was its highest ever. This enabled the Party to enter Government early in 1993. In that Government the Labour Party contributed to the negotiation of the Joint Declaration on peace in Northern Ireland signed by the Taoiseach and British Prime Minister at Downing Street on 15 December, 1993.

    In 1990 Labour T.D.s and Senators nominated Mary Robinson as President of Ireland. She went on to win the election and became Ireland’s first woman President.The leader of the Labour Party is Dick Spring who is also Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Party Head Office is at 17 Ely Place, Dublin 2.

  • The Progressive Democrats

    The Progressive Democrats were formed in 1985. There are ten members of the parliamentary party, eight Dáil Deputies and two Senators.The leader of the Progressive Democrats is Mary Harney, the first woman leader of a political party in the history of the State. Mary Harney was elected leader in October, 1993. She succeeded the founder of the Party, Desmond O’Malley.

    The Progressive Democrats were established with the aim of providing Ireland with a modern, forward looking liberal party in the European mould. The party favours positive Government action to create an enterprise society and a review of the role of the State in the economic and social life of the country. The party supports the movement towards greater political and economic integration amongst the Member States of the European Union.

    The party was a member of the Coalition Government of 1989 to 1991 and is the second largest opposition party in Dáil Éireann. Its headquarters are at 25 South Frederick Street, Dublin 2.

  • Democratic Left

    Democratic Left was founded in 1992. The party has five members in the Dáil and one member in the Seanad. In the November, 1992 General Election it recorded 3% of the first-preference vote. The party is organised in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and is represented on a total of 19 local authorities. Democratic Left entered government as part of the coalition formed in December, 1994.

    Among the principal objectives of Democratic Left are:

  • the development of a pluralist, socialist society in Ireland;

  • commitment to a positive neutrality for Ireland and global collective security;

  • the incorporation of ecological principles into social, economic and political decision-making.

    Party policy is decided at the Annual Delegate Conference which also elects the party leader and a National Executive Committee of 20 members.Democratic Left is particularly committed to the achievement of gender equality in society and in its own internal structures. There is a minimum 40% gender quota on the party’s NEC. Democratic Left believes that neither traditional unionism nor traditional nationalism can provide a solution to the problems in Northern Ireland. The party belongs to a "third strand" of political opinion which emphasises equal recognition of and respect for the opposing national allegiances which have been at the heart of the conflict in Northern Ireland, and supports the concept of weighted-majority decision making at central and local level.

    The party is committed to the development of the European Union along democratic lines but is opposed to the emergence of an EU military super-power.The leader of Democratic Left is Proinsias De Rossa, Minister for Social Welfare. The Party’s address is c/o Dáil Éireann, Kildare Street, Dublin 2.

  • The Green Party

    The Green Party/Comhaontas Glas was founded in 1982 from an alliance of social movements and protest groups. The Party’s electoral breakthrough came in 1989 when the first Green TD was elected. This was followed by further electoral successes in local government elections, with another major breakthrough coming in the 1994 European elections when the electorate sent two Green MEPs to Brussels.

    The motto of the Green Party is, Think Globally, Act Locally, and it puts this into practice by its activities on a number of social and environmental issues in Ireland. It is linked with the European-wide Green movement, and with them is working for a sustainable, just and ecological world.

    The Party has no leaders, with all positions within it rotating after one year. Experience has shown that an open, non-hierarchial party works the best. The Party’s headquarters are at 5A Upper Fownes St., Dublin 2.

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