Sunday 18 February 2018

Radical reforms of Seanad will not occur before next election

Former Senator Maurice Manning
Former Senator Maurice Manning
John Downing

John Downing

Radical proposals to reform the workings of the Seanad will not happen in time for the next election, it has emerged.

A new expert report proposed major changes to the upper house of parliament, which voters decided to retain in a referendum in October 2013. Changes include giving people living north of the Border and Irish emigrants a vote to choose the country's senators.

The move to abolish Seanad Éireann had been personally proposed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who conceded that the referendum loss was a political blow.

But the Taoiseach yesterday welcomed the reform report and told reporters in Castlebar it would not be another in the long line of 11 Seanad reform reports dating back 50 years.

"It is innovative and radical, and contains some far-reaching recommendations to the way members are elected to the Seanad, and on how the Seanad should perform its functions," Mr Kenny said.

But despite the failure to have the reforms enacted in time for the next election, the chairman of the report group, Maurice Manning, said the report was done on the basis that they expected implementation as soon as possible.

Mr Manning, a former Seanad leader and chancellor the National University of Ireland (NUI), said he and his colleagues had told the Taoiseach they undertook the work in the belief that change would happen.

"This cannot become just another one of those reports which were ignored," he told the Irish Independent.

The proposed changes were framed within the terms of the 1937 Constitution articles relating to the Seanad as another referendum was ruled out. The plan envisages 60 senators, 11 of whom would still be nominated by the Taoiseach.

But 30 senators would be directly elected by voters from five vocational panels. In line with draft legislation already published by the Government, six senators would come from a new third-level education constituency, expanded from the current one confined to TCD and NUI, and comprising all third-level colleges and taking in 740,000 graduates.

The current number of 43 senators, elected by city and county councillors and TDs and senators, would be reduced to 13. Councillors, TDs and senators would no longer have up to five Seanad votes.

A central part of the reforms would be giving everyone just one vote, with third-level graduates also choosing whether they would register for that constituency or the more general one. Mr Manning defended the voting registration system which would be done via computers online with the voting itself done by post.

Voting by Irish immigrants would be confined to current Irish passport holders, while those in the North would have to satisfy existing voter registration standards in that jurisdiction.

"We consulted information technology experts on voter registration and believe it can be done securely and efficiently. After that it is essentially about sending in a postal vote with a security bar code," Mr Manning said, adding that a draft bill to effect the changes would be ready within weeks.

Working group members included Mary O'Rourke of Fianna Fáil and Labour's Pat Magner.

Irish Independent

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