A High Court challenge to the system of eligibility for University graduates to vote in Seanad elections has been brought by Tomás Henegan, University of Limerick (UL) graduate. He claims that it is unconstitutional that, as a UL graduate, he is not entitled to vote on the National University of Ireland (NUI) graduate panel or the panel selected by registered Trinity College Dublin (TCD) graduates.
Mr. Henegan is bringing the case against the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Government, the State and the Attorney General. He claims he is being discriminated against on the grounds of his third-level education.
The three-judge High Court hearing the case consists of President of the High Court Ms. Justice Mary Irvine, as well as Mr. Justice Garrett Simons and Mr. Justice Brian O’Moore. It is expected to last three days.
It was to Mr. Henegan’s understanding that the passing of a 1979 constitutional amendment mandated the Oireachtas to expand voting rights of university panels to graduates of universities and higher education institutes which had been excluded until then.
The Government failed to act upon the people’s vote, legal historian and senior lecturer in Law at UL Laura Cahillane told the court.
Rosario Boyle SC argues on behalf of the applicant that this dereliction of duty interferes with Mr. Henegan’s constitutional right to choose a democratic government, his right to free expression, and the right to have his personal rights vindicated.
Mr. Henegan claims all of these restrictions are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Ms. Boyle SC accepted universal suffrage was not possible in the remit of the Seanad. What the plaintiff was pointing at was the unconstitutional approach that dissolved the independence of the Seanad from the Dáil which proved so successful in the first sitting of the Seanad.
Dr. Eoin O’Malley, Associate Professor at DCU School of Law, provided a written statement for the respondent. Dr. O’Malley told the Court that the 1979 amendment was to break up the NUI and re-organise management of university education across Ireland.
Mr. Henegan is seeking declarations on various sections of the 1947 Seanad Electoral Acts as invalid, in relation to Article 18.9 of the Irish Constitution, and provisions of EU law, and the European Convention of Human Rights, as well as the refusal of his registration to vote in the elections as unlawful.
Medb McBrearty – Reporter