Independents criticise long delay in reform of Seanad

Government promised to establish committee to implement reform in September 2016

Independent Senators sponsored a Bill last year that would allow reforms of the 60-seat chamber to happen.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Independent Senators sponsored a Bill last year that would allow reforms of the 60-seat chamber to happen. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The Government has yet to establish an Oireachtas committee to implement reform of Seanad Éireann, despite promising to do so in September 2016.

Fifteen months after the 25th Seanad came into being, there is still no sign of the committee being formed. Given the make-up of the current Oireachtas, the indications now are that long-promised reform of the Upper House will be long-fingered until after the next general election.

The delay in setting up the committee has been harshly criticised by Independent Senators who sponsored a Bill last year that would allow reforms of the 60-seat chamber to happen.

The Bill was drafted by Senator Michael McDowell on the back of a report drawn up in 2015 by an expert committee, chaired by former senator Maurice Manning.

It had recommended that the majority of Senators should be elected by popular vote in a one person, one vote system. It also recommended extending voting rights to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and those living overseas who hold a valid Irish passport.

Mr McDowell’s Bill would have allowed implementation of that report.

Intention

In the Dáil last September, then taoiseach Enda Kenny said it was his intention to form an all-party committee to ensure implementation of the Manning committee report. However, nothing has happened since then and, according to Mr McDowell, the whole process seems to have “stalled”.

Green Party Senator Grace O’Sullivan has also complained about the delay, pointing that the first anniversary of this Seanad has long passed without any indication the committee will be formed. She is her party’s nominee for the committee.

“I’m concerned that by the time the committee is formed, if it ever is, it will be too late for this Seanad and Dáil as it will not have time to do its work before the next election,” she said.

A spokesman for the Taoiseach said the Programme for Government gave a commitment to implement the Manning report.

“One of the recommendations of the report was the establishment of an implementation group to oversee implementation of the reforms contained in the report.

Dissatisfaction

“The former taoiseach [Mr Kenny] wrote to Party Leaders in September last year seeking their agreement to the setting up of the Implementation Group and seeking nominees for same. This process is ongoing with a small number of nominees awaited. The Taoiseach [Mr Varadkar] hopes this process is concluded as soon as possible and the joint committee is established in the very near future.”

However, Independent Senators have expressed dissatisfaction with this response and have contended that it shows the lack of Government commitment to Seanad reform and fuelled suspicions that the Manning recommendations have been dropped. It is expected the issue will be raised again before the summer recess.

Speaking last month in the Seanad, Mr McDowell said: “To say that matters are ongoing in June, more than nine months later, is, frankly, ridiculous. If there was any appetite for moving ahead with the implementation group, it would have been progressed long before now.”