The future of Seanad Éireann
Sir, – As a co-author of the Seanad Reform Bill 2018, I share much of the frustration expressed by Dr Colum Kenny (Letters, March 4th). The public gave a clear mandate for Seanad reform in 1979 and 2013, yet legislation to open up the university panel and give every citizen a vote has been consistently obstructed and delayed by the Government.
However, I would encourage those who express outrage at the Seanad during elections to also give attention to the important work that happens in between. The Seanad plays a crucial role in proposing, examining and amending laws. It has a history of highlighting important issues and driving social progress. This was particularly true in the last term, where the Government did not have a majority. I was proud to be part of the 25th Seanad which made coercive control a criminal offence, improved workers’ rights, strengthened rules on animal welfare, child protection and biodiversity and introduced important human rights legislation such as Senator Frances Black’s Occupied Territories Bill.
As a full-time Senator and legislator, I have made over 50 changes to law and policy. The decisions made in the Seanad make a real difference in people’s lives. Which is why everyone who has a vote has a responsibility to use it. It is also why we need continued internal and external pressure to deliver a universal franchise during the next Oireachtas. – Yours, etc,
Kildare Street, Dublin 2.
Sir, – As I write, Seanad candidates all over the country are driving up every little boreen to canvass the councillors, TDs and current senators who make up the restricted electorate for the vocational panels of the Seanad. At the same time, the lucky graduates of only two of our universities are getting more and more literature from the university candidates. We still don’t know who will be Taoiseach by the time the new Seanad sits but no doubt Mary Lou, Leo and Micheál are drawing up their lists of the lucky 11 who they could appoint to the second chamber.
Meanwhile, for the vast majority of Irish citizens at home and abroad, the Seanad election passes by unnoticed. The reforms proposed by the most recent report on reform would have at least put an end to the nonsensical way the vocational panels are elected. All Irish citizens at home and abroad could register for one vocational or graduate panel only and cast a postal vote to elect the Seanad.
Indeed the university seats in the Seanad are a ridiculous anachronism inherited from the British in a less democratic age. Even the British had the good sense to get rid of the concept of university graduate representation 70 years ago. It’s high time we did the same.
By adopting the recommendations of the last Seanad reform report, we could at long last have a second chamber that is elected on a purely vocational rather than political basis and put an end to the concept of the Seanad as little more than a holding-pen for candidates who fail to get elected to the Dáil. I urge whoever makes up the next government to put an end to elitism and give every Irish citizen a vote to elect our Seanad. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Dr Colum Kenny’s complaints about “seats reserved for graduates” and the “charade of vocational representation” in the Seanad highlights the mistake that was made when the the proposal to abolish the Seanad was defeated in 2013.
The present proposals for “reform” are just an attempt to turn the Seanad into another Dáil.
Our political representation per head of population would roughly equal the average for similar-sized European countries if we had abolished the Seanad.
With the Seanad, we are far above average in the numbers of politicians relative to population.
Another referendum proposal to abolish the Seanad is needed. – Yours, etc,
Sutton, Dublin 13.