Acts – primary legislation of Ireland. Part of the work of the Oireachtas is to make laws, called Acts of the Oireachtas. See also Bills.


Backbenches (backbenchers) – the backbenches are the seats where TDs or Senators sit if they are not Ministers or spokespersons for their party.

Bills – proposals for new laws. To become law a Bill must first be approved by both the Dáil and in most circumstances the Seanad, although the Dáil can override a Seanad refusal to pass a Bill. Once the Bill has been passed by the Oireachtas, the Taoiseach presents it to the President to sign into law, and it then becomes an Act.  See also Acts.

By-elections - these occur when a seat in the Dáil or Seanad becomes vacant during its lifetime (between general elections), generally because the sitting TD or Senator dies, resigns (for example to take a job in the European Commission) or becomes ineligible to sit for some reason.


Cabinet - the senior Ministers chosen by the Taoiseach. This group is collectively responsible for government policy and oversees and co-ordinates the work of the various government departments.

Cathaoirleach - the Chair (or "speaker") of Seanad Éireann. The Cathaoirleach is the sole judge of order and calls on members to speak. All speeches must be addressed to the Chair. Other functions include supervising Divisions (votes) and declaring the results.

Clerk of the Dáil – the senior civil servant in the administration of the Dáil, who is also Secretary General of the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas, Registrar of Political Parties, and Accounting Officer.

Clerk of the Seanad – the senior civil servant of the Seanad.

Ceann Comhairle - the Chair (or "speaker") of Dáil Éireann. The Ceann Comhairle is the sole judge of order and calls on members to speak. All speeches must be addressed to the Chair. Other functions include supervising Divisions and declaring the results. The Chair may order Members to withdraw from the House or name them for suspension by the House for a period. In the case of great disorder the Chair can suspend or adjourn the House.

Commencement Matter- A matter for discussion which is raised by a Senator at the commencement of a sitting for response in the Chamber by the relevant Minister.  Up to four matters, which must be submitted by Senators the day before, are selected for discussion by the Cathaoirleach.

Committees – groups covering many key areas of Oireachtas business. Committees can receive submissions and hear evidence from interested parties or groups, discuss and draft legislative proposals, and require attendance of Ministers and public servants to discuss current policies and practices. Each house of the Oireachtas has its own Standing Committees and Select Committees, but there are also a number of Joint Committees that include members of both. 

Constitution of Ireland - Bunreacht na hÉireann, the constitution of Ireland which came into operation on 29 December 1937. Since 25 June 1941 the Constitution may only be amended by referendum.


Dissolution - the official term for the end of a Dáil. A Dáil can last for up to five years but the Taoiseach may call a general election before the end of this term by asking the President for the Dáil to be dissolved.

Division – the point in parliamentary proceedings where a motion is put to a formal vote. Before this, the Chair asks members present to shout "Tá" (Yes) or "Níl" (No), and then gives his opinion about the outcome of the voice vote. Members can challenge the Chair by shouting "Votáil", the Irish word for division. A "division bell" is then sounded for members to assemble and be counted in the formal vote.


Front bench (Frontbencher) – this term comes from the front benches where Ministers and their counterparts in the Opposition (the official Opposition spokespersons) sit in the Dáil or Senate.


General election – election in which citizens on the voting register cast their votes to elect TDs to a new Dáil.

Green Papers - consultation documents produced by the Government, such as when a government department is considering the need for a new law and looking for feedback on the proposal.


Laid or laying documents – the term "documents laid" refers to documents that are officially presented to the Dáil and the Seanad for the information of TDs and Senators. These are generally laid by Government Departments under legal obligation, but can also include documents that may be of interest for other reasons.

Leas-Cheann Comhairle - the deputy chairman of Dáil Éireann. See Ceann Comhairle.


Ministers – leading members of the Government, who are usually members of the Dáil (although sometimes Senators have been made Ministers).  Ministers are in charge of government departments. Ministers of State (sometimes referred to as "Junior Ministers") assist the Minister in charge of the department and usually have responsibility for particular areas within the department and sometimes have a title that reflects this.


Oireachtas - Ireland's national parliament or legislature. It consists of the President of Ireland and two Houses: Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann.


Pairing - an arrangement where a TD of one party agrees with a TD of an opposing party not to vote in a particular division, giving both TDs the opportunity to be elsewhere.

Parliamentary question (PQ) – a question by a TD or Senator to a Minister. The question can take the form of a written question or a question asked directly of the Minister in the Chamber.

President of Ireland - in terms of Oireachtas business, Bills that have been passed by both Houses are then presented to the President to sign into law. The President can veto a Bill if it is in conflict with the Constitution of Ireland. For this to happen, the President must consult an advisory body, the Council of State, and then refer the Bill to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. The President is elected for a term of seven years and may not serve more than two terms.


Recess – the Houses of the Oireachtas do not sit for the entire year – there are periods when they are "in recess" and do not sit.

Referendum – a vote by the electorate, usually on a single issue such as a change to the Constitution or a European Treaty.


Seanad Éireann – the upper house of the Oireachtas.

Senator – Seanadóir, member of the Seanad. Unlike TDs, Senators are not directly elected but consist of a mixture of members chosen by various methods. There are 60 Senators at present.

Single Transferable Vote (STV) -
the system used in general elections, in which voters can list candidates in order of preference in a multi-member constituency. In Dáil elections a candidate is elected once his or her votes reach the relevant quota – any excess votes over this quota are then transferred according to the further preferences made by these voters.

Statutory Instrument (SI) – a form of delegated or "secondary" legislation, such as Ministerial orders and regulations which are made under the European Communities Act 1972 in order to give effect to European Union law.


Taoiseach – the prime minister and head of government.

TD - Teachta Dála, member of the Dáil. There are 158 TDs at present.

Topical Issues - Topical Issues provide TDs with the opportunity to raise issues of concern to them on the floor of the Dáil chamber. To do this, members must give notice in writing to the Ceann Comhairle of the issues they want to raise before 10 a.m. on each sitting day. The Ceann Comhairle then selects four issues for debate. In each case the TD concerned makes a four-minute statement and the Minister has a right to make a four-minute statement in reply. The TD is then allowed to make a further two-minute statement and the Minister is allowed a further two minutes to reply.


Whip - a TD or Senator appointed by each party to maintain party discipline and to encourage members of their party to vote in a particular way in important divisions. Whips also manage the pairing system.