Call for more representation in the Seanad from Northern Ireland

Seanad leader Senator Regina Doherty proposes Taoiseach should nominate at least three representatives from the North

Three of the Taoiseach’s 11 Seanad nominees should be reserved for representatives from Northern Ireland, the leader of the Seanad Regina Doherty has suggested.

Senator Doherty said she was hopeful the leaders of the parties in the Seanad, all whom are women, would agree to the measure to ensure that more voices from the North are heard in the Oireachtas.

She admitted it was “somewhat ironic” as she was a Taoiseach’s nominee after losing her seat in Dáil Éireann, but she said the country is changing and the Seanad needs to move with it. Having three nominees could be part of the Shared Island initiative.

Those representatives need not be from political parties, she explained, but could be people prominent in civil society in the North.


“Given the way the country is going to go and the conversation we need to have around a shared island and an agreement on that, we are going to need them in here,” she said.

“The northern voices have had an enormous positive impact on the contributions to the Seanad, but also as contributors to Irish public life.”

She will also propose that another three seats should be reserved for people from minority communities, similar to how Senator Eileen Flynn, a member of the travelling community, is a Taoiseach’s nominee in the current Seanad.

She was speaking at an event in which the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann, Senator Mark Daly, officially launched the ‘Northern Voices’ exhibition at Leinster House as part of the Seanad100 celebrations.

Senator Daly was joined for the launch by three former members of the Seanad from the North: Catherine McGuinness, Martin McAleese and Ian Marshall. Senator Daly recalled the original Senate had disproportionate representation from minorities. Those from a southern unionist background had a third of the seats though they were just 10 per cent of the population.

In 2018, Mr Marshall became the first northern unionist to be elected to the Seanad when he topped the poll for the Agriculture panel. He lost his seat at the 2020 Seanad election. Sinn Féin supported his candidature in a Seanad by-election in 2021, but he lost out to Maria Byrne of Fine Gael.

Mr Marshall said many unionists had “no knowledge” of the Oireachtas or how it worked and had “very little understanding about the people from the Republic”.

He suggested that appointing more northern representatives to the Seanad would be a “completely pointless exercise” without reform. This includes an appointments commission to find ideal candidates from all walks of life.

The guest of honour Catherine McGuinness was a senator from 1979 to 1982 and from 1983 to 1987.

At the time she said the New Ireland Forum identified much hostility to people from a northern Protestant background like herself.

Ms McGuinness, now a retired judge, said the Republic has changed significantly in the last 40 years but she said there were still aspects that remain – including Catholic Church control over the schools.

She agreed with Senator Michael McDowell’s column in The Irish Times when he suggested that true republicans should not focus on a 50%-cent plus one vote in a Border Poll, but instead seek to persuade doubters by bringing about a “good” united Ireland based on consent.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times