NUI graduates split on extending Seanad vote to Irish abroad, survey finds

Ten former TDs among Fianna Fáil candidates as nominations for vocational panels close

Fianna Fáil’s Lisa Chambers, who lost her seat in the general election, has secured a party nomination for the Seanad on the Cultural and Educational Panel. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Fianna Fáil’s Lisa Chambers, who lost her seat in the general election, has secured a party nomination for the Seanad on the Cultural and Educational Panel. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


National University of Ireland graduates are split on extending the right to vote in Seanad elections to Irish citizens living abroad, according to findings of a survey on reforming the Upper House.

Some 51.8 per cent of graduates who responded to the survey were against opening up the voting franchise for the Seanad to citizens not resident in Ireland while 48.2 per cent agreed in principle with expanding the electorate.

The survey was conducted by NUI Senator Michael McDowell who posted the questionnaire to the 40,000 graduates who voted in the 2016 Seanad elections, out of an electorate of 102,000. He received 7,119 replies.

University College Cork, University College Dublin, NUI Galway, Maynooth University and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland all come under the National University of Ireland umbrella.

A total of 85.7 per cent of respondents believe that the 2013 referendum result to retain the Seanad also meant reforming it and how its members were elected.

And 90.7 per cent of respondents support reforms that would allow all citizens registered to vote to decide a majority of the panel seats, rather than the current restriction to just under 1,200 councillors, Senators and TDs.

The respondents went against the recommendations of the Manning report published after the Seanad referendum which proposed giving the right to vote to citizens in the North and those outside Ireland who hold Irish passports.

Mr McDowell who chaired the Seanad reform implementation group following publication of the Manning report accused the political parties of “using the Seanad as a lifeboat for unsuccessful candidates of whom there are so many because of the result of the election”.

“It’s a real Grand National in the amount of horses that are running and slots that are available for some of the parties.”

The survey results come as the last of the political parties submitted their final nominations to run for the Seanad ahead of the noon deadline on Monday for the 43 seats on five vocational panels.

Fianna Fáil’s total of 35 candidates includes 10 former TDs, among them Lisa Chambers (Mayo) and Margaret Murphy O’Connor (Cork South-West), while Fine Gael’s 35 candidates include five former TDs. Former Dublin Bay South TD Kate O’Connell surprisingly failed to secure a nomination.

In the NUI questionnaire, 92.9 per cent of those who responded said they usually exercised their right to vote in the Seanad election.

Mr McDowell said “it came as quite a surprise to me that a slight majority is against an extension of the vote to people outside the country.

“People are slow to allow the Oireachtas to be elected by people who aren’t paying taxes or involved in the country or connected with it via the internet only,” he said.

A 1979 referendum favoured extending the university franchise to all third-level colleges. Mr McDowell said implementing the referendum result by itself would result in between 800,000 and 900,000 people electing six Senators while roughly 1,200 politicians would continue to elect 43 Senators.

“It is a bit demeaning to say to somebody who isn’t a graduate at all that ‘you’re a second-class citizen’. Why shouldn’t a farmer who has no third-level degree vote for the agricultural panel?” he said.

Fianna Fáil has 35 candidates in total running on the vocational panels but has sufficient TDs, Senators and councillors to elect up to 15.

Aontú has nominated Paul Lawless from Mayo in the party’s first Seanad election since its formation just over a year ago.