Gormley will proceed with Seanad reform plan

 

Minister for the Environment John Gormley has said he intends to proceed with plans to abolish the two Seanad university constituencies and create one new six-seat constituency in which all graduates will be eligible to vote.

He told the Seanad yesterday that he intended to reform the House with the co-operation of the Opposition parties, but he would not be deterred from pressing ahead with the university changes if that co-operation did not materialise.

Mr Gormley committed himself to reforming the university constituencies, the first step in a complete revamp of Seanad Éireann that will allow all citizens to have a vote.

It will be based on a wide-ranging scheme of Seanad reform, including a new university constituency for all graduates, proposed in 2004 in a report devised by a committee chaired by Mary O'Rourke. Mr Gormley is expected to announce his support for the principles of the O'Rourke report along with the university changes, which will involve the abolition of the Trinity College and National University of Ireland constituencies.

An amendment to the Constitution to widen the university franchise was passed as long ago as 1979 but successive governments have failed to implement the change. Further reform of the Seanad will require another referendum. Among the proposals are that the Seanad be increased to 65 senators, from 60. Some 26 of these seats would be filled from a single national constituency under a list-PR system, with a further six elected by a reformed higher-education constituency.

Another 20 senators would be indirectly elected by county and city councillors, deputies and senators under PR-STV system while 12 senators would be nominated by the Taoiseach.

The Fine Gael Seanad leader, Senator Frances Fitzgerald, said she would not be supporting the Green Party Private Members' motion on the Government's intentions on Seanad reform, saying the party's commitment to reform rang very hollow in a week when the Government had brought no legislation through the Upper House.