The method of election to each House is different. The 166 Members of Dail Éireann (who are called Deputies or TDs) are directly elected by the people. Citizens aged 18 years and over may vote. By law, a General Election to Dáil Éireann must be held at least every five years.
For electoral purposes, the country is divided into areas known as constituencies and provides an essential democratic link between constituents, Government and Parliament. A Deputy can be a member of a Government Party, an Opposition Party or can sit as an Independent.
The main parliamentary function of Deputies is to enact legislation. The Constitution also provides that the Government shall be accountable to Dáil Éireann and various mechanisms are used to discharge this function. The principal mechanisms are parliamentary questions and motions. Members also spend a great deal of their time acting and making representations on behalf of members of the public and interest groups.
A General Election to Seanad Éireann must be held within 90 days of the dissolution of Dáil Éireann. Seanad Éireann is composed of 60 Members as follows:
In theory, Seanad Éireann does not recognise party affiliations. However, as the electorate for the panels is made up of the Members of the incoming Dáil, the outgoing Seanad, county councils and county borough councils, the composition of Seanad Éireann, including the Taoiseach's nominees, will tend to reflect party strengths in Dáil Éireann.
In practice, Senators will divide into groups supporting and opposing Government business when voting on issues. Furthermore, the Constitution provides that not more than two Senators may be members of the Government and this provision has been exercised twice in the last 60 years.
Like TDs the main parliamentary function of Senators is to enact legislation. Although strictly speaking the Government is not accountable to Seanad Éireann the Seanad employs similar mechanisms with exception of parliamentary questions.
Detailed scrutiny of Government activities increasingly takes place in Joint Committees where Deputies and Senators can work together to discuss, shape or recommend change to policies impacting on the people they represent.