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Why will abolishing the Seanad mean deleting Article 27 from the Constitution?

Article 27 of the Constitution will be deleted if the referendum to abolish the Seanad is passed. But what is it and why is it being deleted?

The Constitution will be a bit lighter if the Seanad referendum passes.
The Constitution will be a bit lighter if the Seanad referendum passes.
Image: Sasko Lazarov via Photocall Ireland

FRIDAY’S REFERENDUM TO abolish the Seanad includes a proposal to delete Article 27 from the Constitution in a move that has been criticised, unsurprisingly, by those calling for a No vote.

Article 27 of the Constitution is a little-known and never-used provision which allows Senators and TDs to petition the President to refer a Bill to a referendum if they believe it contains a proposal of such national importance it should be decided by the Irish people.

A bill can be referred to the president if a majority of Senators (31) and at least one-third of TDs (55) sign a petition urging him not to sign the Bill into law until a referendum is held. The President is not obliged to agree to the request.

Article 27 has never been used and will be deleted from the Constitution if the Seanad referendum is passed.

Why? The government says the rationale for deletion is that the article exists for the purpose of resolving a disagreement between the Dáil and Seanad.

Therefore, if the upper house does not exist, there is no need for it.

“The rationale for deleting this Article and not replacing it is that the purpose of this procedure is to resolve a disagreement between the Dail and Seanad,” a statement from the government office said.

“Accordingly, if the Seanad is abolished there will no longer be a need for this provision.”

Never been used

The government also points out that the Article 27 mechanism “does not apply to Money Bills or Bills containing a proposal to amend the Constitution and has never in fact been used.”

But Fianna Fáil says the proposed deletion is “the most disturbing element of the Government’s Seanad abolition power grab”.

Its deputy director of elections, councillor and barrister Jim O’Callaghan said last week that Article 27 is “an important protection inserted in the original Constitution at a time when democracy across Europe was under threat”.

He acknowledges that it has never been fully deployed put points that current junior minister Brian Hayes proposed using it in relation to electronic voting in 2004.

Sinn Féin threatened its use when the State’s bad bank, the National Asset Mangement Agency, was being set up.

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Article 27 was also floated by independent TD Colm Keaveney during the course of the debate on the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill.

O’Callaghan said that the argument that the article can be disposed because it hasn’t been used is a “dangerous one”.

He said: “The fire escape in every apartment block is thankfully never used in the vast majority of cases, but would that seriously be deployed as an argument to prevent their construction?

Fine Gael TD Simon Harris has dismissed Fianna Fáil’s concerns as a scaremongering. He said: “The reality is Article 27 has never been used in the last eight decades.

“It was designed to resolve a dispute between the Seanad and the Dáil – which again has never happened. So why would it be needed if the Seanad was abolished?”

Explainer: What else will change if we scrap the Seanad?

Read all of TheJournal.ie’s coverage of the Seanad Referendum >

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Hugh O'Connell

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