Brexit legislation and divorce referendum priorities for new Dáil term

Up to five Bills may be needed to amend 60 EU Acts to deal with UK withdrawal

Brexit will dominate the new Dáil term, which gets under way on Tuesday, and the legislation linked to the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union will be the "top priority".

Bills to allow whatever referendums are decided on to coincide with the local and European elections in May will also be prioritised.

Referendums are expected on whether to allow Irish citizens living outside the State vote in presidential elections and on whether to cut the waiting time for a divorce from four years to two after separation.

A backlog on other Dáil legislation, including some Bills currently proceeding through the Oireachtas, is now inevitable.


Government Chief Whip Seán Kyne confirmed it was unlikely many other Bills could be progressed before the end of March if they had not already been drafted, or if drafting was not near completion.

Pressing issues

“The work of the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and the Attorney General’s office will focus mainly on Brexit legislation, both primary and secondary [statutory instruments] between now and the end of March,” he said.

“That will be their top priority.”

Other pressing issues include legislation to allow the tribunal into the CervicalCheck controversy to proceed, to create exclusion zones around abortion clinics and to allow the excavation of the Tuam Mother and Baby home to go ahead. This law needs to be passed before the summer if the target to start excavations before year’s end is to be met.

The Cabinet will agree the legislative list on Tuesday.

Up to 60 pieces of legislation have to be amended to deal with Brexit. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said before Christmas that ideally they would do this in one omnibus Brexit Bill but that may not be possible and up to five separate Bills may be necessary to comprehensively deal with the crisis.

The Dáil will on Thursday debate the outcome of Tuesday’s crucial Westminster vote on whether to accept the EU-UK withdrawal agreement deal.

Opposition parties have said they will facilitate legislation dealing with Brexit. Sinn Féin whip Aengus Ó Snodaigh said nobody could oppose legislation to protect Ireland’s interests, but that all the issues would be up for discussion.

He also said the Government is expected to this week make decisions on a number of opposition Bills with financial implications.

A memorandum of understanding on private members’ motions was agreed before Christmas where the Government will make a decision within three months on whether to accept or reject Bills that have been languishing, some for almost two years.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times