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:
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty