Those radical Seanad reforms include enfranchising passport holders in Northern Ireland…

So, finally, the Seanad reforms are out [Report]. This, it seems, is serious business. Having been told by the Irish people they want to keep the upper chamber, these proposals are likely to re-emerge is as little as two weeks in the form of draft legislation.

Broadly, they are these:

  • Thirty-six of the 60 seats be directly elected from five vocational panels and from the university constituency
  • Thirteen of the 60 seats be indirectly elected from an electoral college of all elected county and city councillors, TDs (MPs) and outgoing senators
  • Concept of vocational representation be retained but modernised
  • Legislative change with a view to ensuring access to nomination for as wide a range of candidates as is necessary to reflect the complexity and diversity of modern Irish society.

As was obvious from the Quinn/Zappone and Crown bills which debated in the Seanad in the run up to last year’s referendum, these reforms do not need constitutional law change.

Of particular note is bringing in a direct vote for 800,000 holders of Irish passports both within and outwith the state (that includes Northern Ireland for those of us who are terminally confused or confusing on that matter):

Dr Elaine Byrne who sat on the working group, notes in her oped in the Irish Independent today:

We believe that the important link between national and local politics should be retained; that 13 of the 60 seats be indirectly elected from an electoral college of all elected county and city councillors, TDs and outgoing Senators. This reflects a respect for local democracy and creates a chain of democracy between communities and parliament.

The practical and logistical challenge around postal votes for Irish citizens was surmounted by a system of online registration. This system is as secure, if not more so, in its confidentiality as online banking.

Ballot papers for Irish citizens, holders of Irish passports living overseas and citizens in Northern Ireland will have to be downloaded and then sent by post. There will be no polling stations.

This formalises and modernises an idea about the Seanad which dates from partition, that it should be a more pluralist body than those elected to the Dail.

Over time that began to breakdown, and has become notorious as a space for politicians ‘resting’ between Dail elections. Inclusion of northerners was effected through the Taoiseach’s appointment, though in latter years it has fallen into neglect.

The co-option of a northern electorate is interesting and is politically far more significant than granting the franchise to the Presidency. Though having accepted the principle here, that may follow albeit at some distance.

Interview with Brian Hayes on previous attempts at Seanad reform from October 2009:


  • Ernekid

    Technically Northerners can vote for the Seanad already if they’ve graduated from TCD or NUI.

    It’s good that they are paying attention to those in the North. Hopefully similar reforms will be made for Presidential elections so the Irish citizens in the North and across the world can vote for the President.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Citizens of the Republic in university in the North can also vote.

  • mickfealty

    So can Malaysians. I don’t think that will change with these reforms. But the northern constituency is a single common interest zone and therefore, unlike emigrants at large, a highly gameable constituency.

    The effects could be profound in the medium to long run…

  • Makhno

    Some Trinity senators have been playing the Nordy game for years, one advising people to tick the ‘Irish’ box on the form, difficult though that might be…
    I take it that Northern Trinity grads with an Irish passport won’t have two votes?

  • steaming

    People who graduated from Trinity and NUI (say with a BA from one and an MA from another) already have two votes to the Seanad. Sure why not make it three?!

  • Makhno

    Then the cry should be, “one man, three votes!”.

  • Barneyt

    Profound is the word. What next? Home rule 🙂 In theory, the British Northern Irish in particular can (assuming they can tick that wee Irish box with fingers crossed)…..start to shape the land that they may one day integrate with? ok, world of fantasy I know.

  • tmitch57

    All the standard histories of Northern Ireland comment on how undemocratic was the system of corporation voting in the 1960s. It would appear that the Republic then lags behind the UK in allowing special votes for certain privileged citizens or non-citizens in the form of the university franchise. But if the Republic wants to allow passport holders abroad who have never lived on Irish territory to vote I suppose that is its business.

  • NMS

    Representation without taxation? Surely the logic of allowing those who claim Irish citizenship, is that they should first be liable to and pay Irish tax? This can be done easily in the next Finance Bill and must be a precursor to the granting of any right to vote.

    Otherwise, you could have lots of layabouts collecting DLA ( from West & North Belfast deciding an election in another country.

    There is also the minor issue of all the EU citizens from countries outside of the UK, resident in Ireland and paying tax in Ireland. I would suggest that they have far more right to participate as they are paying taxes to the State. The rights already afforded to those from the UK can be easily extended to them for all elections, rather than just Local and European Parliament ones as at present.

  • Kevin Breslin

    You could tax the bloody passports … Problem solved.

  • Kevin Breslin

    On the EU citizens, I believe EU citizens who are denizens in the Republic from outside the British and Irish region have every right to stand and vote in elections in the Republic bar the Presidential one (unless they gain Irish nationality like De Valera did). I actually think EFTA citizens who are denizen long enough have the same rights.

    Unless you mean non-Irish passport holding EU citizens in Northern Ireland such as Poles and Lithuanians and even British

  • NMS

    A poll tax?

  • NMS

    Kevin, No, EU nationals, other than those from the UK, can only vote in LE & European elections. UK Nationals can vote in Dáil elections, but not Presidential. Old Eamon was born to an Irish mother.

    Non-EU of course are only allowed to vote in Locals and only resident citizens have an entitlement to vote in Referenda & Presidential Elections, details taken from

    I tried to paste the Table below, but the format has been disrupted.

  • aor26

    Well there would be ‘layabouts’ (as you call them – people less hateful than you tend to refer to people receiving dla as welfare recipients due to illness) all over the U.K not paying income tax as they do not work and also have the right to vote in all U.K elections. By your logic those who do not pay income tax should be stripped of the right to vote.

    do they pay tax into the U.K system ? no
    Do they have the right to vote? yes.

  • Steve Larson

    Your argument falls flat when one considers the House of Lords, one of the least democratic upper houses in the western world.

  • jimjam

    The problem of representation without taxation doesn’t arise because the Seanad has no influence over financial matters.

  • tmitch57

    I didn’t claim that Britain was more democratic than Ireland, merely that the Republic allows something that is very similar to whatwas so criticized some 50 years ago in NI.

  • Thomas Girvan

    They are not layabouts, they are suffering from depression/anxiety.
    It is a legacy of the troubles, apparently.

  • Gingray

    Eh? You are comparing the Seanad, with its vocational panels aimed at bringing in disengaged elements of the electorate, to Northern Ireland 50 years ago with its one party sectarian government, gerrymandered seats and exclusion of 35% of the population? Interesting

    OK in the south, Dáil Éireann is democratically elected through proportional representation. Northern Ireland initially used the same system but it was replaced in 1929 to ensure one party rule in the north.

    The Seanad has always been broader than just political parties, although this has been abused at times. From the off it provided a voice for the protestant minority, and there has been northerners of different backgrounds appointed.

    If this happens it would be a fantastic step – the Seanad is still effectively going to be a talking shop albeit with more powers, but potentially representing all irish people, on the island or off.

  • Gingray

    Totally Mick, Northern Ireland would add a new dimension to the vote, but I don’t think it would be too significant initially with PR.(I’ve assumed from the report only those in the north with an irish passport could vote, is this your understanding?)

    In theory unionists have little to worry about with this. It provides a talking shop to northerners with no power, and could be a long term outlet in the event of status quo.

    On the other, if done well it could impact on southern parties forming alliances or organising up here, and raise the profile of unity just as demographics change in northern Ireland.

  • Reader

    Gingray: Northern Ireland initially used the same system but it was replaced in 1929 to ensure one party rule in the north.
    I.e. – to kill off Labour.

  • Gingray

    Partially – if you look on wiki at the vote share at elections you will see that nationalist seat share dropped from 25% to 21% from 1925 to 1929.

    Labour never really got going (somewhat due to change from PR to FPTP, but also because they never had support outside of Belfast) while the biggest threat to the Ulster Unionists was the rise of independent unionists.

  • Reader

    The old Unionist party thought they had to worry about a red/green alliance, which would never have threatened the union, but could have brought down their Conservative government. They acted very cynically to control the threat, and it worked for 40 years.
    But by talking up the nationalist threat over the decades, they created Paisley, and Vanguard, and all the rest, and in the end they couldn’t respond flexibly to the late 60s and early 70s. Unionism destroyed Stormont.

  • Gingray

    This was a quote from one of the few Nationalist MPs to sit at Stormont – Thomas Campbell.

    “If a minority anywhere are to regard themselves as condemned to be in a permanent minority in Parliament with no inducement to tempt ambition or ability into their ranks they will inevitably become discouraged and indifferent. A Parliamentary constitution depends on the continuance of parties and if this factor is eliminated the constitution will of itself cease to exist. Parliamentary government will fall into contempt. The system will collapse”.

  • Granni Trixie

    This suggestion reminds me of the “let’s have a Northerner SF-er for President” attempt – which went down like a lead balloon in the South. It ain’t gonna happen.

  • Dec

    How about the ‘Mary McAleese for President – tribal time-bomb’ attempt? Does it remind you of that?

  • Reader

    I am not sure we are disagreeing on very much, though there are nuances:
    1) I think that in the late 20s and 30s, the Unionist government were primarily worried about labour, as the violence ended and the labour movement and the depression ramped up. The UP formulated a cunning plan…
    2) Thomas Campbell may have comforted himself with this deterministic prediction, but really it was the cynical demolition of labour that left the UP as the only party of Government – the Nationalist party had no chance anyway, whether under STV or FPTP. However, the various anti-partition campaigns did give the UP repeated opportunities to kick labour arse.
    So look at the missed opportunities – a Labour Government in Stormont would have abolished the Ratepayer franchise in 1946 (as Labour did in GB) instead of in 1968.

  • So when’s the next ballot for the Senate? Will there be any electoral register? Genuine questions.

  • mickfealty

    Yes, absolutely.

  • Gingray

    Naw he was dead by the time it all collapsed. His point is valid however, create a permanent minority and the system will collapse.

    Labour could have succeeded in some urban areas, but ultimately rural Christianity in northern Ireland triumphs

  • Reader

    Even west of the Bann? With STV, and an acceptance by the electorate that there was no realistic prospect of a United Ireland, Labour *could* have beaten the Conservative and Unionist Party.

  • Gingray

    Reader, I think that’s the aspirational unionist in you there. For want of a better label, liberal unionists believing that Catholics would vote for pro union parties if a viable non sectarian option was available.

    I don’t buy it, but of course it’s only an opinion. Pre and post partition people in Ireland have had the option of parties based in gb and here and overwhelmingly choose here. For a lot of us parties in gb don’t represent our interests or priorities.

  • Gingray

    Then as you say, if this happens it could be profound!

  • Gingray

    Granni, I assume you are joking here? SF came in 3Rd that election, 14%, after a 4th place earlier in the year in the generals on 10% – not sure how increasing your vote share election on election is bad?

    Anyways I think this will happen, fairly easy to implement, and it gives a voice to the diaspora who are a lot more vocal than you would imagine