Government not ‘kicking can down the road’ on Seanad reform, says Minister

Malcolm Noonan urged to honour pledges as 2020 Seanad Bill delayed for another year

Minister of State Malcolm Noonan: said he understood senators’ ‘frustration and impatience’ at delay. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister of State Malcolm Noonan: said he understood senators’ ‘frustration and impatience’ at delay. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Government’s decision to delay debate on Seanad reform for another year is not an exercise in “kicking the can down the road”, Minister of State Malcolm Noonan has insisted.

Saying he understood senators’ “frustration and impatience”, Mr Noonan said the Minister for Local Government, Darragh O’Brien, will bring legislation before the Seanad by next May.

Speaking after the Government voted by 29 to 14 to delay the 2020 Seanad Bill, Mr Noonan said work is well under way to create a dedicated Seanad electoral register and an electoral commission.

The delayed legislation is based on a 2018 cross-party Seanad report led by Independent Senator Michael McDowell which was set up to work out ways to implement reforms produced three years before that.

Mr McDowell, who co-sponsored the Bill with Independent Senator Alice Mary Higgins, said “I haven’t as heavy a heart as I did” initially, adding that “I do accept the Minister’s commitment”.

Faith

Senator Eileen Flynn, a Taoiseach’s nominee, said she had faith that Mr Noonan would honour his pledges, but she called on him to do it “sooner rather than later” to ensure the Seanad “can be a House for all of us”.

However, Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield said he is losing faith in the possibility of reform, as he urged colleagues to set aside “self-interest, the comfort of the status quo” and the protection of their own seats.

Fine Gael Senator Paddy Burke warned, though, that the reform proposals would make the Seanad twice as costly to elect as it does to elect 160 members to the Dáil, because the changes would offer 5.3 million people living abroad a vote.

The 105-page Bill offers every Irish citizen the right to vote in the Seanad election, currently restricted to graduates of NUI, Trinity College, TDs, Senators and councillors.

Twenty-eight of the 60 senators would be elected by Irish citizens in the State and in Northern Ireland and those who hold a valid Irish passport and live outside the State.

Six more would be elected by graduates of all third level institutions, as happens now. Fifteen more, rather than 43 seats currently, would be decided by votes of TDs, Senators and councillors.