Reforming the Seanad

 

Sir, – As we are now facing a Seanad Éireann election, it is worth reflecting that one of the most egregious failures of government in recent years is the failure to introduce legislation to reform the Seanad, as mandated by the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution of 1979, passed on July 5th, 1979, by a huge majority of 96.4 per cent. This referendum extended the university vote, currently restricted to graduates of the University of Dublin, Trinity College, and the National University of Ireland (NUI), to graduates of all higher education institutions. An Act to reflect the required change to Article 18 of the Constitution was enacted on August 3rd, 1979, but, more than four decades later, no changes have been made.

At the Fine Gael ardfheis of 2018, my resolution calling for the implementation of the principal of subsidiarity in Irish local government was unanimously accepted.

Given that local authority councillors are the primary electorate in our Seanad elections, together with graduates of NUI and Trinity College Dublin, there is an intimate connection between local government and the amendment of 1979. However, the extension of the Seanad vote to more third-level graduates would still leave the ordinary citizen without representation. There is then a need to extend the electorate so that the ordinary citizen may contribute to the work of the Seanad.

Ireland has long enjoyed a vibrant but unofficial form of local representation in the activities of our community councils and residents’ associations. Such organisations are, of course, a spontaneous expression of local democracy at the level closest to the people, even if this has been ignored by central government. They are a true expression of subsidiarity at work.

Their membership tends to represent households rather than individual persons, and are the building blocks of subsidiarity in local government. They deserve proper representation.

I suggest that, in addition to extending the university vote to the graduates of all legislatively designated third-level institutions, reform of the Seanad should include our community and residents’ associations among its electors. There are no great difficulties in this reform.

Most local authorities already maintain a list of community and residents’ associations within their area. Just as the local authorities currently maintain the list of general electors, they might also maintain a list of community and residents’ association members, regulating it to ensure the legitimacy of the local organisations, and their proper governance and administration.

Powers of nomination to the Seanad should be vested in such regulated organisations as they are legislatively vested in many cultural, educational, professional and administrative bodies. Ideally, the power of nomination should be organised on a regional basis, such that the residents’ associations in a particular region could come together to make a nomination to the Seanad.

A single ballot paper could be issued to each household, to be completed as the head of the household determines, just as in the census.

These changes which would likely greatly enhance the application of the principle of subsidiarity in Irish politics and would go some way to freeing senators from their servitude to party politics. Alternatively, ballot papers could be issued to all electors.

While it may be that that this proposal initially might not enjoy the support of the Oireachtas, if supported by community and residents’ associations, its legislative enactment would soon be unavoidable as a political reality, from which much good would flow.

As a life fellow of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland, having served for many years as a member of my local authority, and as the author of books both on local government reform and of the role of the sovereign citizen, I believe that these proposals would enjoy much public support and therefore should be enacted. – Yours, etc,

MYLES TIERNEY,

Dublin 16.