The Seanad is the upper house of the Oireachtas (parliament), and comprises of 60 members - 11 of whom are appointed by the Taoiseach, and 49 of whom are elected. Forty-three are elected through a number of vocational panels (eg agricultural, labour, public administration). Three are elected by the National University of Ireland and three by the University of Dublin (Trinity College). The election for the Seanad must take place within 90 days of the dissolution of the Dáil - and a general election for the Dail must take place within 30 days of the dissolution of the Dáil, so there are usually about 60 days between the Dáil and Seanad elections.
Many of the Dublin University Senators, including outstanding Senators like Mary Robinson and Mary Henry, have used the Seanad as a forum for expressing progressive and radical views that would not get an airing otherwise in the Oireachtas. The role of an upper chamber can be an important one within the legislative process, but to be more effective, complete reform of the Seanad is needed. Worthwhile reforms have been proposed by the All-Party Committee on Seanad Reform which reported in 2004, and I support those. In particular, I propose the following reforms:
- Expansion of the electorate for the University panels to include other third-level institutions
- Reform of the Seanad vocational panel electoral process to remove party political patronage and give citizens a real voice in who is elected
- Reform of the Taoiseach’s power to nominate 11 Senators without election
With these and other changes, the Seanad could become a more democratic and representative structure and could play a more effective role in our legislative process.
I have always campaigned for fundamental reform of the Seanad. Now that the incoming Government is proposing to abolish the Seanad, I would support Seanad abolition only as part of a package of broader Oireachtas reform, to include changes to the Dáil to ensure a higher level of scrutiny over legislation in that chamber. In particular, I would like to see at least some TDs elected on a national list basis as I believe this would provide for a stronger sense of the need to have regard to the national interest in passing legislation - rather than the narrow interest of an individual geographic constituency.