Overview and context
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The Republic of Ireland is a parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature. The National Parliament consists of the President and two Houses: the House of Representatives (Lower), and the Senate (Upper). The functions and powers of each body derive from the 1937 constitution.
A general election must be held at least once every five years. Because the constitution specifies that there must be at least one deputy for every 20,000 to 30,000 people, the number of deputies elected varies with the country’s demographic data, registered in the census every five years. The last election was held in February 2016. The next election is expected in 2021. Elections of the Senate are held within 90 days of the dissolution of the House of Representatives. The Senate has 60 Members, 43 elected by five panels representing vocational interests, six elected by the graduates of the National University of Ireland and the University of Dublin and 11 nominated by the Prime Minister.
Proposed laws, known as bills, move through each chamber of the National Parliament before coming into force as Acts. There are five stages to forming legislation. The first stage involves the initiation of bills. With three exceptions, bills can be initiated in either House, although traditionally bills begin in the House of Representatives. The exceptions are bills related to finance and amendment of the Constitution, which may only be initiated in the House of Representatives, and private bills, which may only come from the Senate. In the second stage the content of the bill is discussed, although no amendments to the text may be made at this point. If successful, in the third stage, the bill undergoes a more detailed examination and a legislative committee proposes amendments. The fourth stage involves a review of the amendments from stage three, but not a re-examination of the rest of the bill. The fifth and final stage of forming legislation involves a debate around the desirability of enacting the finalised bill. If the bill successfully passes through each stage, it is sent to the other House (usually from Lower to Upper Houses) where the process is repeated from stage two onwards. Amendments are then sent back and considered by the initiating House. Amendments may be agreed to, rejected or themselves amended. Once the bill has passed through both houses, the President brings it into force as an Act by signing it. The President cannot veto a bill that both chambers have adopted, although he or she may refer it to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. If the Supreme Court upholds the bill, the President must sign it.
Policies or measures are subject to oversight to ensure they are well-designed and cost-effective. Any policy involving spending more than EUR20m (USD25.1m), or any “innovative” policy with Exchequer implications over EUR5m (USD6.3m) should be subject to cost benefit analysis or cost effectiveness analysis. Taxation measures are considered by a Tax Strategy Group before each annual budget. Any proposal requiring legislation is subject to Regulatory Impact Analysis. Those requiring primary legislation are subject to scrutiny by the Parliament before being enacted.
There is another form of legislation known as a Statutory Instrument, a form of delegated, secondary legislation where Parliament passes its law-making powers to other bodies. Statutory Instruments include, for example, ministerial orders or regulations made to implement European Union law.