STATEMENT BY SENATOR MICHAEL MCDOWELL
SUPREME COURT DECISION ON SEANAD UNIVERSITIES REPRESENTATION
Today’s decision by the Supreme Court on the Seanad representation of universities is of huge importance.
It comes in the context of the Seventh Amendment of 1979 and the decision of the people in a referendum on the 32nd Amendment Bill of 2013 not to abolish the Seanad and the declared intention of successive governments since then to accept that the Seanad required reform as to its manner of election.
The Implementation Group Which I Chaired
The then Government established the Manning committee in 2014 and its successor later established an Implementation Group which I was elected to chair in 2018, tasked with the outcome of the Manning report.
That all-party implementation group submitted its report in December 2018 together with an appended major Seanad reform bill which was drafted by a professional parliamentary draftsman paid for by the Department of the Taoiseach.
Reform Bill Now At Third Stage
That Bill has now passed to Third Stage in the Seanad and is awaiting its Committee stage examination.
It provides for extension of the university franchise to all graduates of third level institutions in the State.
It also provides that every citizen in the State, whether a graduate or not, will be entitled to register to have a vote in the vocational panels – Labour, Industrial and Commercial, Administrative, Cultural and Educational, or Agricultural – or, if a graduate, on the Universities panel, and that the majority of senators elected on the vocational panels should be elected by citizens choosing to exercise their single vote on such panels.
The Bill ends the present discredited and party-dominated system of local authority members and members of the Oireachtas - each with five votes - -electing 43 members out of the sixty member Seanad, so as to ensure that a clear majority of senators would be elected by citizens on the basis of one person one vote.
Ending Arbitrary Discrimination
It prevents Ireland being arbitrarily and invidiously divided into two parts – a minority being graduates with a Seanad vote and a majority of non-graduates with no Seanad vote. It guarantees every citizen the right to vote in a Seanad general election – including graduates of foreign universities who cannot vote for the Universities senators and Irish citizens residing outside the State.
An Elastoplast solution which resulted in 1.2 million graduates electing 6 senators, 1200 public representative electing 43, and the great majority having no vote in Seanad general elections is grotesque and unthinkable.
No Referendum Needed – Only Action
No referendum is needed to pass this major reform. The Bill was professionally drafted in accordance with terms of reference agreed by Government.
The recent establishment of the statutory Election Commission greatly facilitates the reform of the Seanad franchise. The new panel registers and the universities register can be compiled and maintained by the Commission.
No further delay or foot-dragging is permissible. The Government has until the 31st of July to inform the Supreme Court of its intentions and to set out a timetable for reform.