Thursday 19 April 2018

Seanad Eireann cheat sheet: What is the Seanad and what does it do?

Fiach Kelly

Use these handy cheat sheets to get yourself up to speed on the Seanad, what it does and why it's there.

What is the Seanad?

The Seanad is the second chamber of parliament in the Houses of the Oireachas, and is known as the 'Upper House' to the Dail’s 'lower house'.

The current Seanad is based on the 1937 constitution, drafted by Eamon de Valera. It is elected by a combination of TDs, senators and county councillors.

Most senators are elected to vocational panels, such as administrative, vocational, agricultural, etc.

There are also six seats set aside for graduates of the National University of Ireland (NUI) and Trinity College.

The Taoiseach of the day nominates 11 senators to ensure the chamber is always controlled by the Government.

Great, so what does the Seanad do?

Once bills pass the Dail, they are sent to the Seanad for its consideration. It can amend bills – but not reject them – and cannot change money bill, such as the Budget.

It can only delay bills by 90 days, following which the Dail can override the Seanad and send the bill to the President.

Senators maintain it is a place for more considered debate, when contrasting with the more political Dail. However, the whip system is just as strict in the Seanad and all votes fall along party lines. 

How come I never hear much about it?

The Seanad has very little power and is not given much attention by the main parties or the political system generally.

Senators insist people would appreciate them more if they only got more attention. The problem is, the few times focus shifts to the Upper House, the Seanad doesn’t come out well.

Think of David Norris’s reported comments or the sometimes gruesome contributions to the abortion debates.

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