In 2013 the Irish electorate voted to retain our upper house of parliament, the Seanad, despite the coalition government’s campaign to abolish it. The referendum sparked a deal of debate, with proponents to keep the Seanad arguing in favour of reforming the institution. To abolish the Seanad, without attempting some element of reform, was seen as a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Since then several measures of reform have been proposed in the Oireachtas. December 2014 saw the establishment of the Seanad Working Group on Reform, which drafted a Bill allowing for electoral reform within the bounds of the constitution. Concurrent to this there was talk about reforming the NUI & Trinity panels. In early 2014 then Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan, published for consultation the General Scheme of a Bill to reform these six seats. This Bill would have allowed for the ratification of the 1979 Constitutional amendment, which would see the panels merged and the vote extended to graduates of all third level institutions. This would have seen an increase in the electorate from the current 150,000 to a possible 800,000 for these seats.
Neither the Bill nor the ratification have come to fruition. The Bill, like the work for many Seanad Reform groups before it, seems to have disappeared into the ether. As for finally implementing the 7th Constitutional Amendment, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said last October that he couldn’t see this happening in time for the next election.
And so the Seanad not only remains; it also remains untouched.
Recent (and not so recent) NUI graduates may now be considering claiming their right to vote and exert some fresh influence over the house. However if these graduates are not already on the electoral register it is most likely that they will not be able to vote.
Currently the Seanad electoral register is published every year on June 1st. In order to appear on this register you must have sent in your forms by the preceding 28th of February and, unlike the General Election, there is no supplementary register for the NUI panel. As such anyone who has graduated since last February, or anyone who has forgotten register in previous years, is not eligible to vote.
Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly, should now address this issue and ensure these people realise their right to vote. As there is no constitutional or legislative obstacle to the existence of a supplemental register, it lays in the Minister’s power to call for the creation of one. It would be one small measure, by a government that has failed to implement any Seanad reforms during its tenure, to ensure maximum suffrage under current legislation.
- Una Power, Editor
This article originally appeared in Volume 29, Issue 7 published Tuesday February 2nd 2016