GOREY SENATOR Malcolm Byrne has been heavily involved in progressing a Bill through the Seanad that aims to bring sweeping reform to the upper house of the Oireachtas.
At present, only a limited number of Irish citizens have a vote in the Seanad, but if the reform bill is enacted, votes will be extended to all citizens.
Senator Byrne said that reform being addressed is important for the Seanad’s place in Irish society and politics.
“The Seanad is an important chamber as legislation is often scrutinised in far more detail and in a more collegial way than in the Dáil but it does need reform in terms of how senators are elected. There are six university seats but they are only elected by graduates of certain universities. There was a referendum to change this in 1979 but was never implemented. I decided it was time this should be addressed in 2020, and while there was support in principle, it is now caught up in the grindingly slow process of trying to get time to debate further,” he said.
If enacted, Seanad Éireann will be reformed within the terms of the constitution to expand the franchise at Seanad elections and provide for the establishment of the Seanad Electoral Commission.
This would involve repealing of the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act 1947 and the Seanad Electoral (University Members) Act 1937, changing the course of history.
Seanad Éireann consists of 60 senators and to date, the majority have been in support of reform and this has been cross-party.
Senator Byrne said that although there are more topics to be covered in politics than this, he feels that being part of Seanad reform will leave a lasting legacy.
“I know it would probably be easier for me to focus less on legislating and more on dealing with constituency matters to just focus on getting votes, but I don’t see that as my purpose. Even if I were to be out of politics at the end of this term, I’d like to be able to point back to areas where I made a real difference, being able to effect change in policy.
“It is much easier to be a populist and use a few sound bites to tell people what they want to hear but the harder part is working through the detail of legislation and policy that will really improve the long term opportunities for people in all our communities.
“I bring the experiences that people share with me to policy development but I find it can be a quite frustrating process at times as the legislative agenda is very much controlled by the government”.
Senator Byrne said that if the Bill was enacted, it would create a more democratic Ireland.
“The legislation relates to a broader question on our democracy and what we would like to see happen during the lifetime of this Oireachtas. It will be good if, at the end of this period, we are able to say that we introduced an effective electoral commission and implemented Seanad reform.
"What we don’t need is a rerun of the 2013 referendum on the Seanad, as it’s time we move beyond that to look at modern ways of voting to have a more modern electoral register and engage more people in politics”.