Thirty Years Waiting for Seanad Reform
Deaglán de Bréadún
It’s hard to believe that 30 years have elapsed since the people decided by referendum to extend the Seanad election franchise beyond Trinity and the National University of Ireland, to include graduates of other institutions of higher education.
‘Non-TCD and non-NUI graduates need not apply for a vote’ (Photograph of Seanad chamber by Alan Betson)
Yet this elitist arrangement still remains in place. Green Party leader and Environment Minister John Gormley is committed to Seanad reform and, if the Greens remain in government long enough, he will get a chance to fulfil that commitment, beginning with the constituency for electing the six university seats.
The various parties have sent in submissions giving their views on Seanad reform. Fianna Fáil were last out of the blocks and I have a report on their document in today’s Irish Times. I have a feeling Dan Sullivan may want to comment . . .
FF seeks to cut Seanad university seats to two
DEAGLÁN de BRÉADÚN, Political Correspondent
Wed, Aug 19, 2009
THE NUMBER of Seanad seats for Trinity College Dublin and the National University should be reduced from six to two, according to a Fianna Fáil document on reform of the Seanad which has been presented to Minister for the Environment John Gormley.
At present, Trinity and NUI graduates elect three Senators each, but the submission from the 26 Fianna Fáil Senators advocates a widening of the franchise to include graduates of other third-level institutions.
A constitutional amendment in 1979 made provision for extension of the franchise to all third-level institutions, but no legislation has been put in place so far to implement this.
“It is only right that these graduates are recognised, it is only right that they should have a say,” leader of the Seanad and head of the Fianna Fáil group Senator Donie Cassidy told The Irish Times.
Under the Fianna Fáil proposals, one senator would be elected by graduates of Dublin University/TCD, one by NUI graduates and one by “currently unrepresented institutions”, with the remaining three senators elected in a ballot of all third-level graduates.
Mr Cassidy said the average turnout in the last five general elections was only 33 per cent among Dublin University graduates and 34 per cent in the NUI constituency, whereas the level of voter participation among the Oireachtas members, county councillors and county borough councillors who comprise the electorate for the five vocational panels was in excess of 98.5 per cent.
The Fianna Fáil submission says consideration should also be given to a reciprocal arrangement with the Northern Ireland Assembly, “whereby the Assembly and Seanad Éireann would exchange a right of audience for up to 10 members of each at sittings of each body”.
Mr Cassidy said it was envisaged that, on one or two occasions each year, members of the Stormont Assembly would attend and speak in the Seanad chamber on issues of particular North-South interest such as tourism or energy, but that they would not have voting rights. The same arrangement would also operate in reverse, with Senators attending and speaking in the Assembly.
The Fianna Fáil Senators also propose that, as is already the case with the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad should be automatically re-elected, as one of the 11 senators nominated by the taoiseach after a general election, although the submission notes that this would require a constitutional amendment.
The submission backs the proposal that the leader of the Seanad “should have the right to attend Cabinet with the status of either a minister or minister of state”.
A spokesman for Mr Gormley said: “The Minister is keen to press ahead with, at the very least, reform of the university panel. The make-up and election of the Seanad will also be part of a major package of political reforms that the Greens will be seeking in the programme for government review.”
(c) 2009 The Irish Times