Universal franchise for Seanad ‘too costly’ at €5.25 a ballot paper

FF Bill rejected because Constitution creators did not want everyone to have a vote, FG says

Fine Gael has rejected the idea of a universal franchise for the Seanad. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Fine Gael has rejected the idea of a universal franchise for the Seanad. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Fri, Mar 28, 2014, 20:00

Allowing every citizen a vote in the Seanad elections would cost too much without a referendum, the Dáil has heard.

Minister of State Fergus O’Dowd said it cost €5.25 to post each ballot paper in the 2011 Seanad elections. Voting papers are sent by registered post to take account of the requirement for a secret ballot.

The price of running the election on a universal franchise “without a referendum to amend the secret postal ballot provision in the Constitution would be quite significant”, he said.

The Minister was speaking as he rejected a Fianna Fáil Bill on reform of the Seanad which calls for a universal franchise for the election of 43 of the upper House’s 60 Senators.

He said the €5.25 per ballot “indicates what it might cost to send a ballot paper by registered post to over three million voters” currently entitled to vote in the Dáil elections.

This does not include voters in Northern Ireland who qualify for Irish citizenship and citizens with a current valid passport living outside the State, which Fianna Fáil proposes.

It also does not include staff costs in administering the election and counting votes, Mr O’Dowd added.

He also rejected the legislation on the grounds that “the Government has already settled its approach to Seanad reform”.

The Government also opposes the Bill because if those who wrote the Constitution wanted a universal franchise “then the Constitution would have so provided”, Mr O’Dowd said.

Introducing the Seanad Reform Bill, Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said the electorate demanded Seanad reform in the referendum last year and TDs had a duty and the ability to deliver it.

“To fail to act, to do the minimum possible and move to other issues, would be an act of political arrogance which would reinforce the growing public disillusionment with the failure to reform Irish politics.”

Calling for universal franchise to elect 43 of the 60 Senators, Mr Martin said every citizen could have a vote without resort to a referendum, “due to the broader wording of Bunreacht na hÉireann”.

This was a reasonable proposal “given that the Dáil will retain the final word on all matters as well as the only word on taxation and expenditure”.

Independent TD Finian McGrath welcomed the provision in the legislation that the 11 Taoiseach’s nominees should be representative of the elderly, the young, the new Irish community, the Irish diaspora, people with disabilities, sporting organisations, the arts and the Traveller community.

Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan said she could not see why in a democracy, “some citizens should have an extra right to vote because they have happen to have had a third level education”.

“Equally, I cannot see why being a Deputy or a counsellor should bring an additional vote.”

Sinn Féin’s Sean Crowe said that before the Seanad abolition referendum the Taoiseach opposed extending the franchise to all third level graduates as a “farcical response” to the demand for reform, but this was what the Government was now proposing.