A Fine Gael bill proposing that bye-elections be held within six months of a vacancy arising in a constituency has been defeated in the Dáil.
The Government's side won the vote 72-68.
Bye-elections are due in the constituencies of Dublin South, Waterford and Donegal South-West. The seat in Donegal has remained vacant for nearly a year.
Fine Gael Environment Spokesman Phil Hogan said the Bill would take away from any Government the decision on holding a bye-election.
Fianna Fáil TD Seán Power said he could see merit in a FG proposal to hold bye-elections within six months of a vacancy arising.
Deputy Power said that the people of Donegal South-West need their rightful representation but that the Fine Gael proposal needs more 'flexibility'.
The Bill was also supported by three Independents - Joe Behan, Finian McGrath and Maureen O'Sullivan.
Minister for the Environment John Gormley yesterday told the Dáil he may fast-track the proposed commission that would oversee elections.
He was speaking during a Private Members' debate on a Fine Gael Bill seeking to have the bye-elections held.
Setting up the proposed Electoral Commission would be a major task, John Gormley said, but added that he did not want to see reform delayed unduly.
The Environment Minister told the House that he was considering establishing a commission on a non-statutory basis to report on the electoral reform agenda contained in the renewed Programme for Government.