Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, a member of the cross-party Seanad Reform Implementation Group, welcomed the publication today of a report and proposed legislation on Seanad Reform.
Speaking on the proposals, Senator Higgins noted that “on the centenary of women’s suffrage, we are again seeking to extend the franchise by opening the Seanad to all citizens”. If implemented, the draft Bill will deliver widespread reform of the upper house of the Irish parliament, giving a vote on the vocational panel to all those of voting age in Ireland.
Senator Higgins, who campaigned for the retention and reform of the Seanad in the 2013 referendum, was one of a small group of members of the Oireachtas asked by the Taoiseach to form the Seanad Reform Implementation group earlier in 2018. The group were tasked with examining the recommendations of the Manning Report which had set out provisions to expand the franchise and enhance the democratic mandate of the Seanad within the current constitutional constraints. During a final meeting of the group last week, the group voted on crucial sections of the draft bill and report, which have now been approved by the Taoiseach.
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.
While Senator Higgins would have liked to see certain aspects of the Bill go further, she has welcomed the significant progress achieved. Concluding, she emphasised the need to follow through on reform.
“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.”
Download the full report below: