Reforming the Seanad

 

Sir, – Attendance at university is determined hugely by social circumstances. Huge swathes of the population have never had a Seanad vote, and never will. In particular, older generations simply did not have the opportunity to go to university. Moreover, it is undeniable that wealthier people will have more opportunity even in this present day. Added to this that plans to extend the university voting franchise to other colleges ignores those who went to university abroad, and we can see that it is tilted towards those within a certain circle.

But the most egregious offence is that those who do not attend university are denied an equal right to vote. Is the opinion of a farmer or a plumber or a shop assistant worth less than that of someone from privilege who obtained a pass arts degree in the 1970s?

Aidan Coyne (Letters, August 5th) cites, among others, Ivana Bacik. She was rejected by the electorate three times and finally got elected in the wealthiest constituency in the country, the one with the highest percentage of college graduates. It may be unfair to pick on her, but since her election she has certainly displayed poor judgment in her attendance at the Merrion Hotel party.

The Seanad is a holding pen for those trying to keep up their profiles while continually running in real elections. – Yours, etc,

TOM NEVILLE,

Leopardstown,

Co Dublin.

A chara, – A Leavy (Letters, August 6th) makes the claim that voters chose not to abolish the Seanad in 2013 because “the Irish media controlled the agenda in the referendum”. While media outlets play an important role, I believe that the Irish electorate, as they do in every poll, can make up their own minds and I respect the result in every case, even if not always happy with it.

A Leavy further claims that had we abolished the Seanad, we would now have a similar-sized national parliament to European countries of a similar population. While there is some truth in this, it ignores the fact that other European countries have a much stronger system of local government. In fact, with every councillor in Ireland representing an average of over 5,200 people, this is the highest ratio in Europe.

For example, the ratio in other European countries: UK 1:2,900; Netherlands 1:1,700; Denmark 1:1,200; Belgium 1:800; Spain 1:620; Germany 1:420; and France 1:120.

Irish councillors also have the least powers.

The Seanad is in need of reform. I have a Bill before it to extend franchise rights to other higher education graduates (giving effect to the seventh amendment to the Constitution). There are proposals from a committee chaired by Michael McDowell, which involved my colleague, Senator Shane Cassells, that will significantly open up the second chamber. Our Cathaoirleach, Mark Daly, has also pushed forward with a number of proposals to reform Seanad business.

I also believe that the contribution at many debates in the Seanad (and the consequent impact on legislation) is of a very high standard from all sides and does serve as a check on the far more combative Lower House. There has been some excellent coverage by The Irish Times’s Marie O’Halloran on these engagements.

We do need to debate how our democracy works the role of the Seanad, how it is elected, how we empower local government, the balance of power and accountability between Government and the Civil Service, and the role of the media and social media.

A debate in that context is very welcome. – Is mise,

Senator MALCOLM

BYRNE,

Gorey,

Co Wexford.