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FAQs: Representation at General Synod

Frequently asked questions regarding the size, shape and history of the Church of Ireland’s General Synod.

 

What is the membership of the General Synod?

The General Synod currently has 660 members in total:

12 in the House of Bishops (the serving Archbishops and Bishops)

648 in the House of Representatives

One–third of the members of the House of Representatives are clergy and two–thirds are lay people.

The House of Representatives consists of 216 clerical members and 432 lay members who are elected by the diocesan synods and who hold office for a three–year period (a triennium).

 

How has the membership developed over time?

The General Synod was formed in 1870 during the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland with:

14 members of the House of Bishops

624 members of the House of Representatives (208 clerical and 416 lay)

The membership of the House of Representatives was based on a ratio of one clerical member for 10 clergypersons serving at the time, and two lay members for every clerical member.

In 1967, the General Synod’s Advisory Committee on Administration recommended a reduction in the number of House of Representatives seats to 501.  The Standing Committee proposed an increase to 648, which was approved by a resolution of General Synod in the following year and passed into legislation in 1969.

The size of the House of Bishops was subsequently reduced from 14 to 12 bishops due to the mergers of the dioceses of Limerick and Killaloe (1976), and Cashel and Ossory (1977).  The membership of General Synod was 660 from then onwards.

 

How are seats currently distributed between dioceses?

Diocese

Clerical

Lay

Armagh

18

36

Cashel, Ferns & Ossory

21

42

Clogher

14

28

Connor

32

64

Cork, Cloyne & Ross

14

28

Derry & Raphoe

20

40

Down & Dromore

30

60

Dublin & Glendalough

22

44

Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh

13

26

Limerick & Killaloe

14

28

Meath & Kildare

11

22

Tuam, Killala & Achonry

7

14

Total

216

432

 

What proposals for change have been made to date?

A private member’s Bill to redistribute the number of seats was lost at its first reading in 1983.  Since then, a number of proposals have been made to revise the membership of the House of Representatives.

The Standing Committee report in 1994 included a proposal by an Honorary Secretary, JLB Deane, for a 300–member House of Representatives.

A Bill was brought forward by the Standing Committee in 2001, to reduce the membership to 393 (one clerical member for every five clergy).  This followed a review by a Synodical Structures Working Group.  General Synod voted against the Bill and also against a subsequent proposal in 2002 (one clerical member for every two cures).

A subsequent Standing Committee Bill, in 2007, sought to reduce the membership to 570 (one clerical member for every 2.5 cures) but was also unsuccessful.

Bill No.7, which was debated at General Synod 2018, sought to allocate one seat to each diocese or united diocese for every cure and allocate six extra seats to every diocese or united diocese to increase proportionally the representation of smaller dioceses.  This Bill would, in its initial effect, have reduced the House of Representatives to 531 seats

The Bill received its second reading but was withdrawn following a private member’s motion that the Standing Committee be requested “to consider the contents of the Bill and the proposed amendments, and with that focus return to the 2019 General Synod with a report and legislative proposals for decision.”