Seanad Reform Bill proposes vote for emigrants and Northern Irish

Candidates would be nominated by popular support under new proposals

Dr Katherine Zappone published the Seanad Reform Bill today with Senator Fergal Quinn. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Dr Katherine Zappone published the Seanad Reform Bill today with Senator Fergal Quinn. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Sun, May 12, 2013, 18:43

A radical reform of the Seanad is being proposed by two leading senators as an alternative to the Government’s plan to abolish the chamber.

Senators Feargal Quinn and Katherine Zappone published the Seanad Reform Bill 2013 today, which will be debated in the Seanad on Wednesday.

A number of figures like former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell and former senator, Joe O’Toole, who have announced their intention to campaign to retain the Seanad were present at the launch of the bill.

The Bill proposes to give every citizen a vote in Seanad elections and also proposes to extend the franchise to emigrants and people living in Northern Ireland.

It also proposes that the make-up of a reformed Seanad should be half female and half male and that the salary paid to senators should be half that of TDs.

The process of nominating candidates would be radically changed, allowing individuals to be nominated by popular support.

The Bill would give a range of additional powers to the Seanad in the scrutiny of legislation, the examination of public appointments as well as the holding of inquiries.

Mr Quinn said the bill would provide for radical and far-reaching reforms of Seanad Éireann without the need for an expensive referendum.

“Too many of the best and brightest of the next generation have had to depart our shores out of sheer economic necessity. I passionately believe that these young people, like other emigrants, are entitled to a voice in our national parliament,” he said.

Ms Zappone said the Irish system of government was broken but abolishing the Seanad would only strengthen and underpin the worst parts of that system.

“A new Seanad can help reform and fix the way we conduct our affairs of state. It can provide the accountability, the new ideas and the questions we so urgenly need,” she added.

Ms Zappone hopeed the Bill would get a proper hearing. She said Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein would support it and she hoped enough Government senators would vote to ensure it would get a committee stage debate.

She said the possibility of a reformed Seanad should provide a strong reason for people to vote No to the government’s plans to abolish the chamber.

Professor Gary Murphy of DCU who chaired the meeting said the Government’s proposal to abolish the Seanad did not represent reform. “Rather it is a cull to a vital aspect of our constitutional democracy but it is an arm of our democracy that is not working to its full potential,” he said.

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