Franchise bump for Seanad a step one reform? Or taping up the box on further reform?

Well, the government’s first response to defeat in the last referendum is to bring forward a broadening of the university franchise which gives the votes to all graduates of third level education in the Republic. So if you graduated at the Institute of Technology in Letterkenny, congratulations, you now have a vote. Erm, that is if the College still knows where you live.

Minister for Agriculture has said this morning that ‘more fundamental reform’ is needed, and certainly given the damning case the government put before the country you would want to hope that the matter is not going to rest there. This afternoon Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin noted:

“During the referendum campaign, Fine Gael was quick to take up the Sinn Féin theme that asking graduates to vote for members of Seanad Éireann was ‘elitist’. It was a key part of the Fine Gael argument that the Seanad could not be fixed. Now, just two months later, people are being asked to swallow the proposition that strengthening and extending the franchise of graduates is somehow evidence of actual reform.

In truth, there is no party in the south which is good at sustaining attention on policy for more than a term. The problem with constitutional issues are that: one, it comes under the heading of important, but not urgent; and two, there’s next no votes in it.

Getting rid of the Seanad would have depleted oversight. Having avoided that negative, the questions have to run to how to make the upper house more responsive and meaningful to the wider population.

Having played a blinder in a whirlwind referendum campaign, the responsibility for keeping up the pressure on the mainstream politicians rests with civil society, which in Ireland has a track record of being almost as fickle as its political classes.


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