Reforming the Seanad


A chara, – I support John Hughes’s call (Letters, February 18th) for bringing the law into line with the 1979 referendum on extending the Seanad vote to all third-level graduates.

How has every government for four decades neglected to act on this?

However, if the next government does act on this, it still leaves the meagre tenth of our Upper House that is directly elected to those who have completed third-level education.

A referendum on more comprehensive Seanad reform should have followed the 2013 referendum where voters rejected abolition. I was among them, yet I had not anticipated how spiteful Fine Gael would be by leaving the Seanad unreformed.

It was only in late 2019 that the Seanad Reform Implementation Group had its proposals debated in the Seanad and Dáil chambers. Confined to keeping the constitutional structure of the Seanad, they propose acting on the 1979 referendum, as well as having 28 seats across the five vocational panels elected by the public. This would require voters selecting one of six panels to vote for, but would at least see over half of Seanad seats directly elected. This imperfect solution is worth acting on, as it improves on our current system without needing a referendum.

Of course, constitutional changes to the Seanad could be considered by a citizens’ assembly. In the meantime, the next government must prioritise Seanad reforms that can be put in place for the next election. What excuse is there for delaying reforms passed by referendum the year Leo Varadkar was born? – Is mise,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – As a graduate of both University College Dublin (NUI) and Dublin University (Trinity College), I wholeheartedly agree with John Hughes (February 18th) about extending the Seanad university panel franchise to all Irish third-level graduates.

I am all in favour of democratising the utter misery of being inundated with another deluge of tiresome snail mail from the candidates for this rotten borough. Perhaps if more graduates were worn out traipsing to the recycle bin we might see an end to this elitist nonsense altogether. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Seanad Éireann has only one responsibility – to debate Bills passed to it for approval by the Dáil, and only one powers – to delay the passing of such Bills by up to nine months (or just three weeks for a “money” Bill).

Assuming normal political rules apply, the government of the day will either have a majority in the Seanad, in which case its Bills will never be delayed, or the opposition will have a majority, in which case its Bills will always be delayed. The quality of any debate is entirely incidental.

With that in mind, the elaborate electoral revisions proposed by self-styled reformers such as Michael McDowell and others to make the Seanad “more representative” are diversionary tactics that serve only to distract from the obvious pointlessness of the Seanad, and are purposed to do little more than prolong the elevated status of the small number of direct beneficiaries of the current rotten system.

The Seanad should be abolished entirely and its responsibilities for scrutinising Bills transferred to a non-political body, such a citizens’ assembly with delegates chosen by lot. That would be real democracy.



Dublin 7.