Elections in the Republic of Ireland

In Ireland, direct elections by universal suffrage are used for the President, the ceremonial head of state; for Dáil Éireann, the house of representatives of the Oireachtas or parliament; for the European Parliament; and for local government. All elections use the proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote (PR-STV) in constituencies returning three or more members, except that the presidential election and by-elections use the single-winner analogue of STV, elsewhere called instant-runoff voting or the alternative vote. Members of Seanad Éireann, the second house of the Oireachtas, are partly nominated, partly indirectly elected, and partly elected by graduates of particular universities.

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the Republic of Ireland

Coalition governments have been the norm since 1989. Fine Gael (or its predecessor Cumann na nGaedheal) or Fianna Fáil have led every government since independence in 1922. Traditionally, Labour Party was the third party, although since 2016 it has been surpassed by Sinn Féin. Smaller parties and independents exist in the Dáil and more so in local government. At present, there are three Independent government ministers.

Eligibility to vote

Residents of the state who are Irish citizens or British citizens may vote in elections to the national parliament. Residents who are citizens of any EU state may vote in European Parliament elections, while any resident, regardless of citizenship, may vote in local elections.[1]

The right of Irish expatriates to vote is heavily restricted. Only members of the armed forces and diplomatic staff abroad may vote in Dáil elections, while only expatriates who are graduates of the National University of Ireland or Trinity College, Dublin may vote in Seanad elections to the university constituencies. However, in March 2017, the Taoiseach announced that a referendum would be held to amend the Constitution to allow expatriate Irish citizens to vote in presidential elections.[2]

Entitlement to vote is based on citizenship:

Resident citizens Local elections European elections Dáil Elections Presidential elections Referendums
Irish citizens
British citizens [n 1]
EU citizens
Non-EU citizens
  1. UK citizens will lose the vote in European elections if and when Brexit occurs.[3]

Early voting

Military personnel, whether serving at home or abroad, vote by postal ballot. These votes are delivered by a courier service, usually a commercial one, but a military courier is used for ballots cast by Irish troops in Lebanon and Syria.[4] Voters living on islands off the west coast in Galway, Mayo, and Donegal traditionally voted two or three days before polling day, but in 2014 the gap was narrowed, when they voted just one day beforehand.[5]

General elections

Under the Constitution, the term of a Dáil is a maximum of seven years; statute law, currently the Electoral Act 1992, establishes a lower maximum of five years. Elections are by single transferable vote (STV), with each constituency returning between three and five deputies, each called a Teachta Dála or TD. Since 1981, constituencies have been redrawn by an independent Constituency Commission after each census.

General elections to Dáil Éireann and resulting Irish governments
Polling Dates of:—
  • dissolution
  • nominations
  • first meeting
Dáil Government
Date Day
No. Days No.[nb 1] Head[nb 2] Party or parties[nb 3]
14 Dec 1918
[nb 4]
  • 25 Nov[nb 5]
  • 4 Dec
  • 21 Jan 1919
1st 840 1st DM/
2nd DM
[nb 6]
Cathal Brugha/
Éamon de Valera[nb 6]
Sinn Féin
24 May 1921 Tue 2nd 394 3rd DM Éamon de Valera Sinn Féin
4th DM[nb 9] Arthur Griffith Sinn Féin (Pro-Treaty)
16 Jun 1922
[nb 10]
Fri 3rd 427 2nd PG/[nb 14]
1st EC[nb 15]
W. T. Cosgrave[nb 14] Cumann na nGaedheal[nb 16]
27 Aug 1923 Mon
  • 9 Aug
  • 18 Aug
  • 19 Sep
4th 1,382 2nd EC
9 Jun 1927 Thu
  • 23 May
  • 1 Jun
  • 23 Jun
5th 98 3rd EC
15 Sep 1927 Thu
  • 25 Aug
  • 3 Sep
  • 11 Oct
6th 1,615 4th EC
16 Feb 1932 Tue
  • 29 Jan
  • 8 Feb
  • 9 Mar
7th 343 5th EC Éamon de Valera Fianna Fáil
24 Jan 1933 Tue
  • 2 Jan
  • 11 Jan
  • 8 Feb
8th 1,619 6th EC
1 Jul 1937 Thu
  • 14 Jun
  • 21 Jul
9th 351 7th EC /
1st GI
[nb 17]
17 Jun 1938 Fri
  • 27 May
  • 7 Jun
  • 30 Jun
10th 1,832 2nd GI
23 Jun 1943 Wed 11th 342 3rd GI
30 May 1944 Tue
  • 10 May
  • 19 May
  • 9 Jun
12th 1,345 4th GI
4 Feb 1948 Wed
  • 12 Jan
  • 18 Feb
13th 1,211 5th GI John A. Costello Fine Gael
Labour Party
Clann na Poblachta
Clann na Talmhan
National Labour[nb 19]
30 May 1951 Wed
  • 7 May
  • 17 May
  • 13 Jun
14th 1,084 6th GI Éamon de Valera Fianna Fáil
18 May 1954 Tue
  • 24 Apr
  • 4 May
  • 2 Jun
15th 1,022 7th GI John A. Costello Fine Gael
Labour Party
Clann na Talmhan
5 Mar 1957 Tue
  • 12 Feb
  • 21 Feb
  • 20 Mar
16th 1,674 8th/
9th GI
[nb 20]
Éamon de Valera/
Seán Lemass[nb 20]
Fianna Fáil
4 Oct 1961 Wed
  • 15 Sep
  • 11 Oct
17th 1,281 10th GI Seán Lemass
7 Apr 1965 Wed
  • 18 Mar
  • 21 Apr
18th 1,533 11th/
12th GI
[nb 21]
Seán Lemass/
Jack Lynch[nb 21]
18 Jun 1969 Wed
  • 22 May
  • 2 Jul
19th 1,351 13th GI Jack Lynch
28 Feb 1973 Wed
  • 5 Feb
  • 14 Mar
20th 1,569 14th GI Liam Cosgrave Fine Gael
Labour Party
16 Jun 1977 Thu
  • 25 May
  • 5 Jul
21st 1,456 15th/
16th GI
[nb 22]
Jack Lynch/
Charles Haughey[nb 22]
Fianna Fáil
11 Jun 1981 Thu
  • 21 May
  • 30 Jun
22nd 252 17th GI Garret FitzGerald Fine Gael
Labour Party
18 Feb 1982 Thu
  • 27 Jan
  • 9 Mar
23rd 279 18th GI Charles Haughey Fianna Fáil
24 Nov 1982 Wed
  • 4 Nov
  • 14 Dec
24th 1,546 19th GI Garret FitzGerald Fine Gael
Labour Party
17 Feb 1987 Tue
  • 21 Jan
  • 10 Mar
25th 849 20th GI Charles Haughey Fianna Fáil
15 Jun 1989 Thu
  • 25 May
  • 29 Jun
26th 1,259 21st/
22nd GI
[nb 23]
Charles Haughey/
Albert Reynolds[nb 23]
Fianna Fáil
Progressive Democrats
25 Nov 1992 Wed
  • 5 Nov
  • 14 Dec
27th 1,654 23rd GI Albert Reynolds Fianna Fáil
Labour Party
24th GI[nb 24] John Bruton Fine Gael
Labour Party
Democratic Left
6 Jun 1997 Fri
  • 15 May
  • 26 May
  • 26 Jun
28th 1,806 25th GI Bertie Ahern Fianna Fáil
Progressive Democrats
17 May 2002 Fri
  • 25 Apr
  • 3 May
  • 6 Jun
29th 1,833 26th GI Fianna Fáil
Progressive Democrats
24 May 2007 Thu
  • 29 Apr
  • 9 May
  • 14 Jun
30th 1,343 27th/
28th GI
[nb 25]
Bertie Ahern/
Brian Cowen[nb 25]
Fianna Fáil
Green Party
Progressive Democrats[nb 26]
25 Feb 2011 Fri
  • 1 Feb
  • 9 Feb
  • 9 Mar
31st 1,803 29th GI Enda Kenny Fine Gael
Labour Party
26 Feb 2016 Fri
  • 3 Feb
  • 11 Feb
  • 10 Mar
32nd 1,318
to date
31st GI
[nb 27]
Enda Kenny/
Leo Varadkar[nb 27]
Fine Gael
  1. See table for the government title corresponding to each abbreviation.
  2. See table for the title of the head of government.
  3. Coalition government parties are listed in descending order of number of Dáil seats (and government members)
  4. Territorial constituencies only; in those the results were declared on 28 Dec, to allow time for votes by members of the British Armed Forces to be sent to the returning officers. The university constituencies voted as follows: University of Dublin polling 16–20 Dec, declaration 21 Dec; National University of Ireland polling 18–22 Dec, declaration 23 Dec and Queen's University of Belfast polling 16–20 Dec, declaration 20 Dec.
  5. Dissolution of the 30th Parliament of the United Kingdom, convened after the December 1910 election
  6. De Valera (2nd) replaced Brugha (1st) on 1 April 1919.
  7. Last meeting of the First Dáil. A resolution passed at that meeting provided for the First Dáil to be dissolved on the assembling of the Second Dáil.
  8. except National University of Ireland whose nominations closed on 14 May 1921
  9. De Valera resigned on 7 January 1922 after losing the Anglo-Irish Treaty Dáil vote. Griffith's pro-Treaty ministry was formed on 10 January.
  10. The polling days for National University of Ireland were 12–15 Jun 1922, with the declaration being made on 16 Jun 1922.
  11. Last meeting of the Second Dáil before the election. A meeting scheduled for 30 Jun 1922 was preempted by the outbreak of the Civil War. The Second Dáil was never formally dissolved and Irish republican legitimists have regarded it as de jure continuing while the Third Dáil was illegitimate.
  12. Except Dublin University whose nominations closed on 8 Jun 1922
  13. Originally to have been 1 Jul 1922. The Dáil was prorogued on five occasions and eventually met on 9 Sep 1922.
  14. The 1st Provisional Government with Michael Collins as chairman was formed on 14 January 1922, without reference to the then Second Dáil. Collins was killed on 22 August 1922 and Cosgrave's Provisional Government formed on 30 August, after the June election to the Third Dáil but before its first meeting in September.
  15. On 6 December 1922, the Free State constitution came into force, with the provisional government and its chairman becoming the executive council and its president.
  16. Cumann na nGaedheal was founded in early 1923, before which Cosgrave's pro-Treaty government was not affiliated to any party, Sinn Féin having ceased to function.
  17. A constitution came into force on 29 December 1937, with the former Free State's final executive council and president becoming the first government of Ireland and Taoiseach.
  18. Exceptionally, because of the state of emergency arising from the Second World War, the outgoing Dáil was not dissolved until after the election, although it did not meet after 26 May.[6]
  19. National Labour merged back into the Labour Party in 1950
  20. De Valera's 8th government was replaced by Lemass's 9th in 1959.
  21. Lemass's 11th government was replaced by Lynch's 12th in 1966.
  22. In 1979 Haughey (16th) replaced Lynch (15th)
  23. On 11 February 1992 Reynolds (22nd) replaces Haughey (21st)
  24. On 15 December 1994 the 24th government replaced the 23rd. Whereas other Dáil terms saw one Taoiseach replace another from the same party, this has been the only occasion on which the government and opposition parties alternated without a general election.
  25. On 7 May 2008 Cowen (28th) replaced Ahern (27th)
  26. The Progressive Democrats were dissolved in 2009 and their ministers and other TDs sat as independents thereafter.
  27. On 14 Jun 2017 Varadkar (31st) replaced Kenny (30th).
Titles of the government and its head
DatesAbbrTitle of governmentHead of government
1919–22DMDáil MinistryPresident of Dáil Éireann
1922PGProvisional GovernmentChairman of the Provisional Government
1922–37ECExecutive Council of the Irish Free StatePresident of the Executive Council
1937–GIGovernment of IrelandTaoiseach

European elections

Elections to the European Parliament are held simultaneously across Europe every five years. In Ireland, as for Dáil elections, STV is used in constituencies returning three to five members.

Local elections

Local elections are held on the same day as European elections. Local electoral areas (LEAs) return between three and ten councillors by STV. Until the Local Government Reform Act 2014, separate county councils and borough/town councils were elected in parallel. The 2014 act replaced borough and town councils with municipal district councils comprising the county councillors from the LEA coterminous with the district.

Some members of Údarás na Gaeltachta were directly elected by Gaeltacht residents between 1980 and 2012, since then all have been appointed by the government.[7][8]

Presidential elections

The President of Ireland is formally elected by the citizens of Ireland once in every seven years, except in the event of premature vacancy, when an election must be held within sixty days. The President is directly elected by secret ballot under the system of the instant-runoff voting (although the Constitution describes it as the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote). While both Irish and British citizens resident in the state may vote in Dáil elections, only Irish citizens, who must be at least eighteen years of age, may vote in the election of the President. The presidency is open to all citizens of the state who are at least 35. A candidate must, however be nominated by one of the following:

  • Twenty members of the Oireachtas (Dáil or Seanad).
  • Four local authorities.
  • Themselves (in the case of an incumbent or former president that has served only one term).

Where only one candidate is nominated, that candidate is declared elected without a ballot. No one may serve as President for more than two terms.


The Constitution of Ireland recognises two types of referendums:

  • On a proposed amendment to the Constitution, for which a referendum is always required, and the amendment is defeated by a majority of those voting;
  • An "ordinary referendum", on a bill other than an amendment to the Constitution, for which a referendum is only required on petition of Oireachtas members, and the bill is defeated by a majority of those eligible to vote;

There have been 38 referendums for amendments to the Constitution of Ireland. There have been no ordinary referendums. A Referendum Commission is established for each referendum to provide neutral information. An organisation can register with the commission as an "approved body" in order to campaign publicly for or against the proposal, and to have monitors in polling stations and counting agents at count centres.

For a proposal to change the name of a place, a "plebiscite" is required of "ratepayers": that is, residents of the place and businesses paying rates for property there. Such a plebiscite is carried out by the local authority via a postal vote.[9] In a County Cork town, Charleville was chosen in a 1989 four-option plebiscite ahead of Ráth Luirc, An Rath, and Rathgoggan.[10][11] The Official Languages Act 2003 prevented the plebiscite provision applying to places in the Gaeltacht, and so a 2005 plebiscite to change the name of Dingle, County Kerry was ruled invalid; in 2011 the 2003 act was amended to remove the anomaly.[12] The 2011 amendment also changes the electorate from ratepayers to local government electors, but has not yet been commenced.[13]

See also


  1. "System seems complicated but your vote really does matter". Irish Independent. 23 May 2014.
  2. Ruth, Maguire. "Announcement by the Taoiseach on Voting Rights in Presidential Elections for Irish Citizens outside the State". www.taoiseach.gov.ie. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  3. Phelan, John Paul (6 March 2019). "European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill 2019: Committee Stage". Seanad Éireann (25th Seanad) debates. Oireachtas. Retrieved 15 April 2019.; "European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Act 2019". electronic Irish Statute Book. §§ 2, 9. Retrieved 15 April 2019.
  4. "Our peacekeepers among first to cast votes". Irish Independent. 23 May 2014.
  5. "Defence Forces helicopter glitch delays island poll". Irish Independent. 23 May 2014.
  6. de Valera, Éamon (26 May 1943). "The General Election: Announcement by Taoiseach". pp. Vol.90 No.5 p.19 c.562. Retrieved 27 March 2018. the Dáil will rise to–day. ... It is my intention to advise the President so that on the 31st May he may issue his direction for the holding of a general election. His proclamation may be issued on the 31st May. ... the 22nd June [sic] will be the polling day and then the outgoing Dáil, the present Dáil, would have to be dissolved not later than 8th July. The House is aware that it will be dissolved as soon as the Clerk of the Dáil is able to inform us that he has got returns for all the writs.
  7. "Údarás na Gaeltachta Act, 1979, Section 29". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  8. "Gaeltacht Act 2012, Schedule". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 11 June 2015.
  9. "S.I. No. 31/1956 - Local Government (Changing of Place Names) Regulations, 1956". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 19 April 2018.; "Proposed Change Of Name Of A Locality (Palmerston Village To Palmerstown Village)" (PDF). South Dublin County Council. 2014. Retrieved 19 April 2018. In accordance with Section 79 of the Local Government Act 1946 and the Local Government (Changing of Place Names Regulations) 1956 (as amended by Section 67 of Local Government Act 1994); Brophy, Daragh (13 January 2015). "Palmerston or Palmerstown? ... Residents have voted on a name change". TheJournal.ie. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  10. Hogan, Dick (11 December 1989). "King Charles wins handsome majority". p. 4.
  11. Ferrie, Liam (17 December 1989). "Bits and Pieces". The Irish Emigrant. Archived from the original on 26 May 2015. Retrieved 22 May 2015. The people of the north Cork town of Rath Luirc (or Charleville, or An Rath, or Rathgoggan) have voted to use the name Charleville for their town. Road signs in the area will be replaced.
  12. "Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011, Section 48". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 20 April 2018.; "Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011: Instruction to Committee". Dáil Éireann Debates. Oireachtas. 21 July 2011. Vol.739 No.4 p.22. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  13. "Local Government Act 2001 Revised". Revised Acts. Law Reform Commission. 10 November 2017. Retrieved 20 April 2018. Prospective amending provision: section substituted by Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 (20/2011), s. 48, not commenced as of date of revision; amended by Local Government Reform Act 2014 (1/2014) as per F-note above.
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