Seanad reform plan would give election vote to all Irish citizens
Thirty of 60 seats should be elected by universal suffrage, working group urges
Working group chairman Maurice Manning: “Rather than set aside a specific number of seats for emigrants and the North, we though it better to allow all citizens to vote on the same basis.” Photograph; Dara Mac Dónaill
Allowing all Irish citizens to vote in Seanad elections is an essential component of political reform, Maurice Manning, the chairman of a working group on the future of the Upper House, has said.
Dr Manning, the chancellor of the National University of Ireland and a former leader of the Seanad, said the working group had received more than 60 submissions and not one of them proposed retaining the current system of election.
The report, published yesterday, recommends that all citizens, including emigrants and Northern Ireland residents, should have a vote in Seanad elections. It says 30 of the 60-member Seanad should in future be elected by universal suffrage, with all Irish passport holders entitled to vote.
A further 13 members would be elected by members of the incoming Dáil and county councillors, while six would be elected by third -level graduates. The Taoiseach would continue to appoint 11 members.
Dr Manning said the group’s proposals were compatible with the Constitution, which meant a referendum would not be required for changes.
In relation to votes for emigrants and residents of the North, he said the Seanad had no powers with regard to money Bills so there was no question of allowing representation without taxation.
“Rather than set aside a specific number of seats for emigrants and the North, we though it better to allow all citizens to vote on the same basis,” said Dr Manning.
One person, one vote
“The principle of one person one vote underpins the report. People will be able to decide which of the five vocational panels they wish to opt for, or they can opt to vote on the university panel if they wish. Nobody will have more than one vote,” he said.
Dr Manning stressed that the establishment of an interim implementation body under the auspices of the Department of the Taoiseach would be essential to get the process of reform under way quickly.
The report recommends a Bill implementing the proposals should be published and presented to the houses of the Oireachtas before summer recess and that it be signed into law before the end of the year.
The report proposes online registration, with voting papers being sent via the internet, but Dr Manning stressed this would not involve internet voting as the ballots would have to be returned by post.
The report recommends that the Seanad should give particular attention to North- South Ministerial Council proposals; secondary legislation of the EU; and consulting with relevant bodies prior to and during second stage debates.
The Seanad should investigate and report on matters of public policy interest and consider reports from regulators and other statutory inspectors.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny welcomed the report, describing it as “innovative and radical.”