Report says emigrants ‘should get Seanad vote’

Radical reform of Upper House would include extending franchise to NI residents

The working group on Seanad reform chaired by the former leader of the House and current Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, Maurice Manning, has recommended that work begin immediately on legislation to give effect to the recommendations.  Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The working group on Seanad reform chaired by the former leader of the House and current Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, Maurice Manning, has recommended that work begin immediately on legislation to give effect to the recommendations. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

All Irish citizens including emigrants and residents of Northern Ireland should be allowed to vote in Seanad elections according to an official report which recommends radical reform of the Upper House.

The report published today recommends that 30 of the 60 Seanad members should in future be elected by universal suffrage with all Irish passport holders entitled to vote.

The working group on Seanad reform chaired by the former leader of the House and current Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, Maurice Manning, has recommended that work begin immediately on legislation to give effect to the recommendations.

The report said fundamental reform of the Seanad must be underpinned by three fundamental principles.

They were popular legitimacy, adequate powers and functions and distinct composition.

The report recommends that a majority of the seats on the five panels that currently exist should be elected by popular vote.

It proposes that 30 seats be filled by popular vote and that the current system of election by councillors and members of the Dáil and Seanad be limited to 13 seats.

The report also endorses the efforts underway to widen the university electorate which currently fills six seats.

If the system is adopted all citizens would be entitled to one vote and would have to opt for one of the five vocational panels or a vote in the university constituency.

“The working group believes that the principle of one person one vote be extended to include Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and to the holders of Irish passports living overseas,” says the report.

It proposes a system of online registration with voting papers being sent to people over the internet.

The report says that such a system can be secure in terms of confidentiality and integrity and it recommends that it be adopted in tandem with the constitutional requirement of secret postal voting.

“The working group is aware that online skills and usage are not universally available and recommends that voter registration and distribution be made available through county councils and local libraries and other public bodies in the Republic,” it says.

The report also said that a clear statement of the constitutional role of the Seanad as subordinate to the Dáil but with a very special and distinct role in the legislative and political process is a proper starting point for a redefinition of the role and contribution of the Seanad.

It recommends that the Seanad give particular attention to:

North-South Ministerial Council proposals.

Secondary legislation of the EU.

Consult with relevant bodies prior to and during second stage debates on legislation.

Investigate and report on matters of public policy interest.

Consider reports from regulators and other statutory inspectors.

The report also recommends the establishment of an interim implementation body as a matter of urgency.

It says a Bill implementing the proposals should be published and presented to the houses of the Oireachtas before the summer recess and that it be signed into law before the end of the year.

The new arrangements will not come into effect for the next Seanad election, due within the next 12 months, but for the one after that.

Apart from Dr Manning the other members of the review group are former Minister and leader of the Seanad, Mary O’Rourke, former senators Joe O’Toole, Maurice Hayes and Pat Magner, political scientists Mary C.

Murphy of University College Cork and Elaine Byrne, and former public servant and chair of the Irish Times Trust, Tom Arnold.

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