The Irish Times view on Seanad reform: here we go again

There have been 14 reports on overhauling the upper house over the past 80 years but one after another has simply gathered dust

Reforming the Seanad does pose difficulties, whatever is proposed, and it is doubtful if serious reform can be undertaken without another referendum. Photograph: Alan Betson

Reforming the Seanad does pose difficulties, whatever is proposed, and it is doubtful if serious reform can be undertaken without another referendum. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The closure of nominations from vocational bodies and the university panels for the forthcoming Seanad election has focused attention once more on the failure to reform the Upper House. There have been 14 reports on Seanad reform over the past 80 years but one after another has simply gathered dust.

The Fine Gael-Labour coalition of 2011-2016 attempted to deal with the issue by holding a referendum to abolish the institution but the proposal was narrowly rejected by the electorate in 2013 by 52 per cent to 48 per cent. In the wake of that decision yet another report into Seanad reform chaired by Chancellor of the National University of Ireland Maurice Manning was instigated by then taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Given the record of failure, the next government should at least ensure that the taoiseach’s 11 is not composed of party apparatchiks

The committee’s brief was to recommend changes that would not require another referendum. It proposed that every citizen be allowed to vote in Seanad elections and that the right be given to people living in Northern Ireland and to all Irish citizens living abroad. It suggested that 36 of the 60 Seanad seats should be filled in this way with a further 13 being voted for under the current system in which councillors, TDs and senators vote for candidates on five panels. The final 11 seats would be filled by nominees of the Taoiseach as set out in the constitution, it said.

There was a lack of enthusiasm across the political spectrum for the proposal that residents of Northern Ireland and Irish people living abroad should be allowed to vote. An implementation group chaired by Michael McDowell proposed a modified version of the plan and although Taoiseach Leo Varadkar promised to act on its recommendations, it lapsed with the general election.

Reforming the Seanad does pose difficulties, and it is doubtful if serious reform can be undertaken without another referendum. Given the record of failure, the next government should at least ensure that the taoiseach’s 11 is not composed of party apparatchiks. Our democracy is facing major challenges; it is more important than ever that the Seanad contains members who can make a serious contribution to public life.

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