Impasse in the Seanad
Sir, – Senator Michael McDowell seems to weaken his own argument, ie that a new 49-seat Seanad can be constitutionally convened (Opinion, April 8th).
As he points out, in 1978 the Supreme Court ruled that the outgoing chairs of the Dáil and Seanad may continue to serve as members of the Presidential Commission (to act in the absence or demise of a president), until their successors are elected. So there is no hiatus there.
If, however, a Seanad of 49 purports to elect a replacement Cathoirleach with the support of 25 of its members (a minority in a house of 60) and a Presidential Commission were constituted to include this Senator, could not a court challenge to such a constituted Presidential Commission (and any of its actions) be successful on the grounds that the Supreme Court had already dealt with this hiatus and the outgoing Cathoirleach of Seanad Éireann remains a member of the Commission, until a duly elected successor is installed, ie one elected by a majority of its members?
The court also ruled that vacant seats in Dáil Éireann cannot be ignored and byelections must be held within a reasonable period after a seat becomes vacant. By comparison to the Dáil, is the Seanad so irrelevant that more than 18 per cent of its seats can be left vacant after a general election when it requires only the appointment of a Taoiseach to complete the make-up of the House? An equivalent number of vacancies in the Dáil would be 30 members.
I voted in referendum for the retention of Seanad Éireann, and respect the Upper House which I fully expect to act within the spirit and the letter of the law.
Senator McDowell has made a significant contribution to public life. He could do one more service – introduce a Bill to give effect to the 7th amendment of the Constitution to allow all third-level institutions be a part of the constituency to elect the six University Senators. This amendment was passed by the people 41 years ago, it requires no further constitutional action, which some of the reforms being proposed do.
Lastly, article 14.4 of the Constitution may allow the Council of the State to act, by majority, to nominate a taoiseach for appointment by the president (thereby triggering the appointment of the remaining 11 senators), if the Dáil were to fail to do so.
It would be interesting to hear views on just what that provision does allow, if not this. – Yours, etc,
Former TD and MEP,