Real reform of Seanad will require Constitutional change

Kenny’s refusal to compromise during the referendum campaign will change to realpolitik

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Government colleagues bought a little time to work out a response to the crushing Seanad referendum defeat by saying a period of reflection was necessary.

Irrespective of the length of the period, Seanad reform must be tackled and without too much delay.

The Labour Party had less ownership of the Seanad abolition proposal and is likely to press for reform. During the course of the campaign, Kenny said the Seanad would remain unreformed in the event of a No vote. But the refusal to compromise during the campaign will now change to realpolitik and a recognition that something must be done.

The problem is that article 18 of the Constitution is quite prescriptive on the Seanad.


That means a House of 60 members with 11 unelected Taoiseach’s nominees, six university senators, and 43 others elected from five vocational panels.

Programme unveiled
The Government has already unveiled a programme for reforming the Dáil. It will meet an hour earlier each day and there will be two Friday sittings each month, rather than one.

The present committees will be replaced by 14 committees, relatively free of the stranglehold of government (the chairs will be allocated on the proportional D’Hondt system borrowed from the North).

Two extra stages will be introduced in the processing of legislation, one of them involving the public.

The Seanad can be reformed without constitutional change but there are limits to what can be done about its electoral system or its powers.

The Seanad Bill, sponsored by Katherine Zappone and Feargal Quinn, has allowed for the taoiseach's nominees to remain, university senators to be elected by graduates of all third-level institutions, and 43 members to be elected on vocational panels.

However, the electorate for the latter would not be confined to TDs and councillors but would comprise the whole electorate as well as the diaspora abroad (potentially millions of people) and residents of Northern Ireland.