Seanad elections – time for reform

 

Sir, – Once again I may vote twice in elections to Seanad Éireann. Once again, on principle, I shall not do so even once.

Graduates of the National University of Ireland and Trinity College Dublin can vote in the election of six senators “representing” those bodies. As I graduated from each, I have two votes. However, not a single graduate of any other Irish university such as Dublin City University gets to elect a senator “representing” it. Most citizens have no direct say in the process.

Back in 1979 a referendum mandated the Oireachtas (by a majority of 12 to one!) to widen the electorate for third-level seats. The Oireachtas has failed to do so in over 40 years. In 2013, a government proposal to abolish the Seanad altogether was narrowly defeated in a referendum. Reforms based on greater democracy and value for money would not have been.

As I wrote both nine and again four years ago, the fact that NUI and Trinity graduates continue to participate in the present discriminatory farce, either as voters or as candidates, seems inexcusable.

Where is the intellectual integrity? The very notion of seats reserved for graduates is questionable.

Most of the rest of the Seanad is a charade of vocational representation that in practice is compromised by the fact that only members of the Oireachtas and councillors get to vote. They do so on a nakedly partisan basis.

The Taoiseach appoints the last 11 senators directly.

Maybe this time Sinn Féin will use its influence to have some of its seven members of the UK parliament seated in the Seanad, as they refuse to sit at Westminster. The €68,000 per annum “basic salary” with top-ups that each Irish senator gets for the part-time job (a salary almost half that of each powerful US senator) could come in handy on top of the expenses that abstentionist Sinn Féin MPs receive from London. Besides, abstention must be very boring.

One of the benefits of being a senator is that, unlike citizens seated in the public gallery looking at you, you can use your iPad or mobile phone to do other business while ostensibly “present” in the chamber when the Seanad occasionally sits. Another is the free parking. But it’s the archaic free-ride of the NUI and Trinity that is particularly galling. – Yours, etc,

Dr COLUM KENNY,

Professor Emeritus,

Dublin City University,

Dublin 9.