McDowell urges Dáil to take lead on Seanad election reforms

Senator argues Seanad should not be relied on to implement changes in a timely fashion

Michael McDowell: “The reform of the Seanad is not a matter best left to the initiative of the unreformed Seanad.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Michael McDowell: “The reform of the Seanad is not a matter best left to the initiative of the unreformed Seanad.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Taoiseach is being urged to introduce legislation on Seanad reform into the Dáil before it is brought before the Upper House because of concerns Senators may not act quickly enough to change how they are elected.

An all-party group of TDs and Senators established to consider the future of the Seanad is to publish its final report today. The group, led by Independent Senator Michael McDowell, recommends changes to how the Seanad is elected, such as giving every citizen a vote.

Mr McDowell wrote to Leo Varadkar earlier this week and asked that the Dáil take the lead on reforming the Seanad.

“The reform of the Seanad is not a matter best left to the initiative of the unreformed Seanad but is a matter on which the will of the people as expressed through the Dáil should be ascertained and implemented,” Mr McDowell wrote.

“In that way, the long-needed process of reforming and improving the Seanad as a chamber of the Oireachtas will have the greatest chance of speedy implementation.”

A referendum to abolish the Seanad was defeated in 2013. The changes proposed by the reform group can all be achieved through legislation and do not require constitutional amendments.

There are 60 members of the Seanad and, currently, six are elected by graduates of the National University of Ireland and Trinity College Dublin, with 11 directly appointed by the Taoiseach of the day. The remaining 43 are elected by TDs, senators and councillors.

The report from Mr McDowell’s group recommends that the 43 currently elected by public representatives be divided into one group of 28 that is chosen by the electorate at large, with the remaining 15 still chosen by TDs, senators and councillors.

Third-level panels

Citizens can voluntarily choose to take part in a new Seanad election. They would also have to choose which of the five vocational panels they would vote on. There was no consensus among the reform group on how to widen the higher education panels to include graduates of other third-level institutions.

“There is no unanimity in the group on the issue as to whether there should be one large higher-education six-seat constituency or three panels representing grouped institutions,” Mr McDowell wrote to Mr Varadkar. “A majority favoured a single constituency.”

Mr McDowell also stressed to Mr Varadkar that a reformed Seanad would not be a rival to the Dáil. But he said it had “important constitutional functions, including acting as a check and balance on the exercise of governmental powers, not least in relation to the dilution of Ireland’s vetoes at EU level”.