#DigitalLunch short: Seanad Reform…

It’s rare I’d pull out a leader for the subject of a blog, but this morning’s editorial in the Irish Times is also a useful reader for those who’ve missed the intricacies of the debate on the future of Seanad Eireann. And not least its shifting loyalties on the benches of Dail Eireann.

When I was first taken round the Houses of the Oireachtas by a Irish Labour Party friend he introduced the Seanad as a place where resting politicians go between terms in the Dail or as a sort of a pension house for those on their last hurrah.

That’s a perception widely shared amongst the Irish public, since: one, they have no say in who gets elected; and two, the Seanad itself cannot inflict any corrective pain on the executive if it wanted to.

I’m just about to start a conversation with Kealan Flynn of the Seanad Reform Group, on the private members bill that’s making its way through Seanad this week:

  • John Ó Néill

    Technically, the public elect some members of the Seanad via a very indirect route – their elected representatives get to vote on individual places (although not all) and other interest groups get to elect panels.

    Its all convoluted.

  • Mick Fealty

    What I was pushing Kealan on was what political outworkings might be of extending the franchise and making it more direct.

    My sense is that it could be quite profound…

  • Kealan Flynn

    The Seanad Bill opens up the right to vote and the right to nominate. It also provides for the election of equal numbers of women and men. And it limits what a candidate may spend to between €40,000 and €50,000.

    With these provisions, we should expect more open contests, more candidates in the fray, fewer with a party badge (and wearing it like a badge of honour), and a Seanad with a markedly different complexion.

    As the Explanatory Memorandum says of the extension of the franchise, “in a departure from the current elitist approach [where only incoming TDs, outgoing Senators, City and County Councillors, and graduates of NUI and TCD have a vote], section 30 enunciates the principle that every person shall have one vote in a Seanad election.” Section 31 divides the electorate into four divisions:

    1. People entitled to vote in local, general and European elections.

    2. People who live in Northern Ireland and who qualify for Irish citizenship.

    3. People who hold and Irish passport but who live abroad.

    4. Graduates of all universities and other third-level colleges in the State.

    Regarding the right to nominate, under the current law a vocational panel candidate may be nominated by nominating bodies, and a university panel candidate can be nominated by two registered voters. Under the Seanad Bill 2013, candidates can be nominated in one of three ways:

    1. By a nominating body (a candidate will require the support of only one body and each body will be allowed to nominate only one candidate).

    2. By a local authority (four required, as per a Presidential election).

    3. By popular nomination (500 people registered to vote in a Seanad election required; each voter includes their voter registration number on the nomination paper and each voter may nominate only one candidate).

    Finally, the Bill provides for near-perfect gender balance for elected candidates. To achieve this, each of the six constituencies (Cultural & Educational, Agricultural, Labour, Industrial & Commercial, Administrative, and University) will have a gender sub-panel made up of equal numbers of men and women.

    With this Bill, there will be a much bigger electorate, a more diverse pool of candidates, and greater numbers of women elected to the Seanad.

    Limiting the amount a candidate may spend should help to ensure the Upper House does not become a rich man’s (or woman’s) playground.

    Cutting the salary to 50% of a TD’s should make the Seanad a cold house for career-minded politicians and a warm hearth for men and women, from North and South, who would like to play a part in national life.