A bye-election is an election to fill a seat that has been vacated in between general or Seanad elections.

If an elected member of the Dáil or the Seanad dies, resigns or retires, their seat is filled in a bye-election unless it is only a short time until the next general election.

Candidates from political parties and independents can contest a bye-election. Usually, only one person is elected, unless more than one seat in the constituency has been vacated.

The European Parliament does not operate a bye-election system. Candidates submit a replacement list before the election, which is used to fill their seat if it is vacated. Normally, the candidates on the replacement list come from the same political party or background. If no replacement candidates list was presented in respect of the MEP who won the seat at the election or it is not possible to fill the vacancy from the relevant list, the Dáil may select a person to fill the vacancy from any replacement candidates list presented for that constituency at the election.

Where a local councillor resigns, retires or dies, their party nominates a replacement candidate. If an independent councillor dies, the local authority follows its own procedures as set out in its standing orders.

Dáil bye-elections

When a TD (a member of the Dáil) dies or resigns, the Dáil (one of the houses of Parliament in Ireland) passes a resolution directing the returning officer of the TD's constituency to hold an election to fill the vacancy. The Dáil issues a writ to the returning officer. A writ is a type of legal order.

The Dáil must issue the writ within 6 months of the death or retirement of the TD. If it does not, then the Ceann Comhairle must direct the Clerk of the Dáil to issue the writ. The law governing the issuing of writs in bye-elections is the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2011.

The procedure for nominating candidates, voting and the conduct of the count in Dáil bye-elections is the same as for a general election.

A person who is currently a member of Dáil Eireann cannot be a candidate in a Dáil bye-election.

Seanad bye-elections

If a senator dies or resigns, the Seanad passes a motion directing the Clerk of Seanad Eireann to notify the Minister for Local Government that a seat has been vacated.

The Minister must make an order directing that a bye-election be held to fill the vacated seat. This must be done within 180 days. Nomination of candidates and voting is the same as in a Seanad election. The bye-election is held only in respect of the relevant panel.

Bye-election posters

You must have advance permission of the owner of the pole or structure to hang posters and signs in public places.

Under the Litter Pollution Act 1997, as amended by Section 9 of the Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 2009, election posters and signs cannot be erected until an order has been made appointing the polling date for the bye-election or for 30 days prior to the date of the poll (whichever is the shorter period). Local authorities have the power to remove these items should they disintegrate or cause a litter nuisance.

Following a bye-election, a party or candidate must remove posters within a 7-day period. After that date, an on-the-spot fine of €150 is issued by your local authority in respect of each remaining poster. Your local authority will remove the poster as the fine is issued.

If a party or candidate has been issued with a fine and refuses to pay, they can be prosecuted in the District Court by your local authority to enforce payment. The maximum penalty in the District Court following conviction for non-payment of the fine is €4,000.

A person convicted of a litter offence may also be required by the court to pay the local authority’s costs and expenses in investigating the offence and bringing the prosecution, as well as the costs of clearing up the litter.

Page edited: 30 April 2021