FactFind: One year in, is this really a "do-nothing" Dáil?

We take a deeper look at how the 32nd Dáil compares to its predecessors.

LAST THURSDAY MARKED the first full year of the 32nd Dáil, which first met on 10 March 2016.

For months, some commentators and politicians, particularly from the Labour party, have dubbed it a “do-nothing” Dáil, pointing to procedural delays and the number of laws passed since last spring.

However, Fine Gael’s Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty has rejected these claims and insisted that, in fact, this has been an unusually productive Dáil.

She recently told RTE Radio One’s This Week programme: “This is absolutely probably one of the most productive – from a legislation perspective – Dáils that I’ve ever encountered”.

So for this FactFind article, we’ve decided to see whether the 32nd Dáil has been exceptionally productive, exceptionally unproductive, or somewhere in between, in its first 365 days.

Acts signed into law

For a full-size version of this chart, click here For a full-size version of this chart, click here

We examined the archives of the Irish Statute Book, and found the date on which almost 1,000 acts were signed into law by the President.

We cross-referenced those dates with the first calendar year of each Dáil, on the official Oireachtas website.

You can download a spreadsheet containing all these details, below.

Here’s what we found.

In the first year of the 32nd Dáil20 acts were signed into law by President Michael D. Higgins.

This is the joint lowest number for any Dáil, in its first year, in history.

The 13th Dáil also saw just 20 acts signed into law between its first meeting on 18 February 1948 and 17 February 1949.

The only Dáils that saw fewer laws signed were the 5th, 22nd and 11th, but none of those lasted a full year.

In fact, there have been four Dáils which saw more laws signed than the current one, despite not lasting a full year (the 3rd, 7th, 9th and 23rd).

The highest number of acts signed into law came in the first year of the 4th Dáil (59 laws, September 1923-September 1924) and 8th Dáil (58 laws, February 1933-February 1934).


The current Dáil may have passed the joint-lowest number of laws in its first year, but the number of days on which the Dáil actually meets to do its business can vary from year to year.

While obviously each year has 365 or 366 days, the number of Dáil sitting days is often only a fraction of this. Could an unusually low number of working days explain the 32nd Dáil’s lack of legislative productivity?

The answer, in short, is no.

In fact, when you take into account Dáil sitting days, the 32nd Dáil is the least efficient in history when it comes to producing laws, as this chart shows.

For a full-size version of this chart, click here For a full-size version of this chart, click here

Between 10 March 2016 and 9 March 2017, the Dáil met on 106 days, producing 20 laws. This means for every act signed into law, there were 5.3 Dáil sitting days, the highest number since the foundation of the State.

By contrast, the average for all Dáils since 1922 is 2.6, meaning one law was passed for every 2.6 sitting days.

The most efficient Dáil was the 9th, which sat on just 47 days between July 1937 and May 1938, but produced 38 signed laws, an average of one every 1.2 sitting days.

Exceptional circumstances?

The long wait

In our research, we couldn’t find a longer delay in Irish history, between a new Dáil’s first meeting (10 March 2016), and the formation of the new government (6 May 2016).

The absence of a new government for almost the first two months of the 32nd Dáil’s life was obviously not helpful to the process of making and passing laws, and indeed, none were signed during this period.

However, it is worth noting that Dáils have previously experienced significant delays before government formation (albeit none as long as last year’s).

For example, the 27th Dáil convened on 14 December 1992 and passed six laws while waiting a month for a government to be formed, which finally happened on 12 January 1993.

In its first year, the 27th Dáil saw 37 laws signed – the seventh-highest number in history, despite a month-long delay in government formation.


There has also been a series of changes to the rules around how the Dáil does its business. If you need a refresher on how legislation passes through the Dáil, you can find a good guide on the official Oireachtas website.

These reforms have included:

  • A new Dáil Business Committee, which meets once a week and agrees on the agenda of the House for the following week
  • Only five TDs (previously seven) required to form technical groups which now have fuller rights at Leaders’ Questions and the right to propose private members’ bills and motions
  • An increase in the number of committees and time allotted to committee hearings means a longer overall process for legislation moving through the Dáil
  • An increase in scheduled time for private members’ bills and motions from one to two slots per week, with a third slot allocated by lottery.

Private members’ bills are, in short, bills that are put forward by any TD who is not a member of the government. They can also be introduced by Senators.

All these changes have arguably made the Dáil’s business more open and transparent and more friendly to the opposition, particularly when it comes to drafting and debating legislation.

However, it could also be argued that, combined with the fact that the government doesn’t have a numerical majority in the Dáil, these measures have slowed the process involved in getting a bill through the House and in front of the President.

In previous Dáils, this process was much more streamlined, with a majority government proposing legislation, safe in the knowledge that it had the votes to carry it.

The opposition might successfully make amendments and occasionally (rarely) some private members’ bills might make it through the various stages of debate and committee scrutiny, and into law.

The 32nd Dáil is very different. The government has lost an unusually high number of votes on legislation, and there has been a sharp increase in the number of private members’ bills being introduced, but an almost unprecedentedly low numbers of laws passed.

Other legislative activities


While the 32nd Dáil is making very few laws, it has been engaged in plenty of other legislative activity.

In the first year, 100 private members’ bills were introduced. That’s a dramatic increase from recent Dáils. (At the same stage, there were 32 in the 31st Dáil, 17 in the 30th, 10 in the 29th and 27 in the 28th).

The Government Press Office told that statistics provided to them by the Houses of the Oireachtas show that:

  • 24 private members’ bills have passed the second stage of debate and are in front of various committees
  • 33 government bills have been published
  • 39 private members’ bills have been debated in the Dáil


Despite all that activity, though, the end result has been just 20 acts signed into law. And notably, none of those began as private members’ bills.

Obviously, there’s no definition of what a “do-nothing” Dáil is, and clearly this one hasn’t literally done nothing.

But as our research has discovered, the fact is that in its first year, no Dáil in history has produced fewer laws, and only one has produced as few.

And when you take into account the number of days on which TDs met, the 32nd Dáil is also the least efficient in history, when it comes to passing laws.

There are certainly several factors which have contributed to this: a delay in forming the government, a government without a majority, significant Dáil reforms, for example.

In light of all these facts, it’s for you to decide whether this batch of TDs, while they may not be a “do-nothing” Dáil, have done enough.

To download a spreadsheet containing all the relevant details and figures, click here.

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