Seanad election sees no change to voting system

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The elitist voting system remains as the Seanad elections takes place this month, despite years of promises to reform the upper house.

Currently only graduates from TCD and the National University Ireland (NUI) constituency can vote for the six university panel seats. The NUI constituency is made up of NUI Galway; NUI Maynooth; UCD and UCC.
This makes an electorate of 160,000 people.

The university panel candidates include TCD SU president Lynn Ruane and former USI president Laura Harmon.
“The whole thing is mad really. There’s no justification for it,” Brian Hayes MEP told the College View. Hayes was vocal about abolishing the Seanad during the 2013 referendum.

“I don’t see how you can justify letting graduates vote, and excluding people who aren’t. The you have this even more anachronistic thing where not all universities can vote.”

Technically, students from DCU, UL and countless institutes of technologies should be allowed to vote. The Seventh Amendment to the constitution was introduced in 1979, opening up the right to vote for all graduates of higher education.

Unfortunately, no government since has bothered to invoke the amendment despite promises from Enda Kenny to do so.
The system for the 54 remaining seats is just as exclusive with 11 seats appointed by the Taoiseach.
43 seats belong to ‘vocational panels’ which are elected by current TDs, Senators and councillors. These candidates must represent of either agriculture; education and culture; industry and commerce; labour or public administration.

Other candidates include ousted Labour TDs such as Aodhán Ó Riordáin, Joanne Tuffy and Kevin Humphreys.
The Seanad is routinely criticised for being a “talking shop”. It shares minimal powers with the Dáil such as being able to impeach the president, declare an emergency and remove a judge.

However, it can only delay a non-money bill for 90 days. If the house rejects a money bill, it has three weeks to make recommendations. This is futile as the Dáil has the power to overturn their decision in both cases.
The 2013 abolition referendum was narrowly defeated by 51.73 per cent to 48.27 per cent. The turn-out was a low 39 per cent.

Brian Hayes was elected to the Seanad in 1995 and 2002, serving full terms for both. Before his move to Brussels, the former Fine Gael TD stated that getting rid of the Seanad would show the public that Fine Gael was serious about political reform.

“When I was there the second time, it was in the opposition. We put together what I thought was a very, very honest reform package.

“It did not contain any constitutional change. It recommended keeping the university seats but extended it to all graduates. This was in 2006. I don’t think it’s reform-able, quite frankly.”

Those who supported the house said it was a place for independent opinions and would preserve democracy. The No side disputed Fine Gael’s claims that it would save €20 million a year, putting the true figure at about a third of that. It claimed to be a space for minority voices.

The Democracy Matters group made up of senators like Katherine Zappone, Fergal Quinn and John Crown vowed that a reformed Seanad would serve a purpose. Three years later and no reform has been seen.

The Manning Report was the result of a Seanad working group created by Enda Kenny in December 2014. Since then, it’s been gathering dust on a shelf. It recommended granting suffrage to any Irish citizen for the majority of the vocational seats.

As another Seanad election looms, reform is added to the list of unkept promises from the government.

Aura McMenamin

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