Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, along with colleagues from across the political spectrum, introduced the Seanad Reform Bill on the first sitting day of the Seanad in June 2016. In 2018, she was a member of the Seanad Reform Implementation group, delivering a report and draft bill to the Taoiseach for consideration in December.
The 2016 Seanad Reform Bill, being introduced at such an early point in the new Seanad term, reflected the urgency and
high demand for reform which was heard from the electorate and the
general public during the campaign and during the 2013 referendum on
the abolition of the Seanad.
The 2018 Seanad Reform implementation group was tasked with delivering on the reform demanding by the public and set out in the Manning Report of 2015.
In December, the group sent their draft bill and final report to the Taoiseach. While Senator Higgins would have liked to see certain aspects of reform go furtehr, she believes the bill is a positive step forward for democracy.
Among the key reforms set forth in the bill are:
- Graduates of all universities and institutes of higher education will be entitled to vote in a single six-seater constituency.
- The 43 seats on the five vocational panels will be opened up with a majority, 28, now elected directly by the public. 15 seats will still be elected indirectly by councillors and other political representatives.
- Each person of eligible age will be entitled to choose which one of the vocational panels they want to cast their vote on. These panels are set by the constitution and based on themes such as Agriculture or Culture and Education.
- Graduates will also have just one vote and can choose whether to cast it on one of the vocational panels or on the expanded higher education panel.
- The Bill also extends the Seanad franchise to residents in Northern Ireland who are entitled to Irish citizenship and to certain Irish citizens overseas subject to conditions.
Senator Higgins campaigned for the retention and reform of the Seanad during the 2013 referendum and is deeply committed to delivering a more transparent, accountable and participative national house that reflects the entire nation. Speaking at the delivery of the Seanad Reform report and bill, Senator Higgins said, “When the people of Ireland voted to retain the Seanad in 2013, they told us that they saw its value but they also sent a clear message that they wanted reform. The public retained the Seanad with the expectation that we would open it up to them. This cross-party Bill is a significant and important step to delivering that reform, enhancing the democratic mandate of the Seanad and deepening the engagement between the public and Senators. The implementation group have delivered and it is imperative that the Taoiseach now follow through on the commitments made in the Programme for Partnership Government by bringing this legislation through the Oireachtas in a timely fashion.”