To Ourselves, Article Twenty

1.    Every Bill initiated in and passed by Dáil Éireann shall be sent to Seanad Éireann and may, unless it be a Money Bill, be amended in Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann shall consider any such amendment.

2.    1° A Bill other than a Money Bill may be initiated in Seanad Éireann, and if passed by Seanad Éireann, shall be introduced in Dáil Éireann.

2° A Bill initiated in Seanad Éireann if amended in Dáil Éireann shall be considered as a Bill initiated in Dáil Éireann.

3.    A Bill passed by either House and accepted by the other House shall be deemed to have been passed by both Houses.

This is the sort of article that talks a good game, but doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans in the end.

Any bill started and passed in the Dail goes to the Seanad for amendments. Only this rarely happens at all, due to the inevitable government majority in the upper house. When they do happen, all the Dail has to do is “consider any such amendment.” As in, they just have to have a think, a brief discussion about them. They are very much non-binding. And of course, the more important money bills are exempt from such discussion. The Seanad is powerless.

The opposite also applies in that the Seanad can start and pass a bill that then goes to the Dail for approval or amendments. Doesn’t happen much and I daresay if it dies it’s with the prodding of the Dail anyway. And of course, in an astonishing bit of neutering, if the Dail makes just a single amendment, they take over the bill completely. It really is a case where the Dail is calling nearly every shot, and the Seanad is following behind on a leash.

In the end, if either house accepts a bill from the other (that is, makes no amendments and maybe doesn’t even have a vote) it’s considered to have passed automatically. It’s really just to insure that the houses don’t have a vote on absolutely everything.

That might sound a bit odd, but it’s completely normal parliamentary procedure. You will always find a few bits of legislation that actually have no opposition. Ireland’s Civil Partnership law springs to mind. In such a case, the Ceann Cohairle simply calls for a verbal “Ta” or “Nil” from the house and chooses what the result is on auditory evidence alone. Any TD or Senator can call “Votail” and force an actual vote, done electronically. If they don’t call it, the bill is considered to have passed automatically. It’s just an arrangement designed to speed the process up ever so slightly. Every country has one like that I imagine.

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