Seanad Q&A: who gets to vote, from where and why?

Six Senators are elected by NUI and Trinity College graduates

Of the 161,000 Irish citizens registered to vote in the Seanad election, some 94 per cent have addresses on the island of Ireland, while the remaining 6 per cent are located in more than 100 countries. So, who gets to vote and why?

Who gets to vote in the Seanad election?
Of the 60 seats in the Seanad, six are elected by registered graduates of two universities: three each for the National University of Ireland and Dublin University (Trinity College).

A further 43 senators are elected by members of the incoming Dáil, the outgoing Seanad and county and city councillors.

The remaining 11 Seanad places are nominated by the taoiseach.


Why can people living abroad vote in the Seanad election but not the Dáil?
The rules stipulate that registered graduates (excluding honorary graduates) who are citizens of Ireland are entitled to vote for the university panel places. People who meet these criteria can vote regardless of where they live.

When will the next Seanad election happen?
It must be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the Dáil, meaning it will take place in early June next year at the latest.

I am a graduate of one of the universities covered. Can I still register to vote in the next Seanad election?
Probably not. Given the logistics involved in dispatching polling cards to almost 161,000 voters, it is very likely that the current register of electors (published June 2nd, 2015) will be used for the next election even if it takes place after the new register is published on June 1st next year.

Only certain people get to vote. Isn't that elitist?
The accusation of elitism has often been levelled at the Seanad election/nomination processes.

However, in absolute terms the total electorate for the three Trinity seats is broadly comparable to that of a Dáil constituency, while the NUI electorate is even higher.

In the 2011 election there were 97,734 registered NUI electors, while the Trinity register had 53,583 people on it. The vocation panel had an electorate of 1,092 in the last Seanad election.

This means the NUI panel has 90 times the electorate of the vocational panel while Trinity's electorate is almost 50 times greater. As David Norris pointed out in a Seanad debate in May, the combined university panel electorate is "150,000 times the number for the taoiseach's 11 nominees".

Didn't we have a referendum to abolish the Seanad?
Yes. On October 4th, 2013, the Irish people voted, by 51.7 per cent to 48.3 per cent, against its abolition.

Are there any proposals for reform?
Yes. Following the referendum, a working group on Seanad reform was established. A draft Bill and explanatory memorandum setting out the proposed reforms can be accessed on the Department of an Taoiseach website.

It recommends reforms including a proposal to reduce the number of senators elected by councillors from 43 to 13. It suggests that all citizens of the State and Northern Ireland and all Irish passport holders worldwide should directly elect 30 senators.

Six seats would still be voted on by third-level graduates but this vote would be opened to “all graduates of universities or other institutions of higher education in the State”.

The final 11 senators would still be nominated by the taoiseach (as per the Constitution).

Whether or not the proposed reforms will be brought about is now in the hands of the Oireachtas.

Will any reform take place ahead of the next election?
No. The working group said there should be no changes until after the next Seanad election.