NUI Seanad Candidate, Daniel Sullivan, has called on the Minister for the Environment, John Gormley to explain why he has still not taken a single step towards fulfilling his commitment to extend voting rights to all third level graduates. (I sent this - well a variation on it - out as a press release last week and it got the usual amount of attention that matters related to the Seanad tend to get)
‘Minister John Gormley made quite a splash for himself in a highly publicised speech about Seanad Reform on Nov 28th of last year. In particular he drew attention to the extension of the franchise to all 3rd level graduates.’ said Daniel Sullivan ‘He said that should the Seanad impede his efforts he would plough ahead anyway. Strong words, yet 12 months on we see no legislation in the pipeline. Almost one third of the way through the life of the 30th Dail and the legislative pen hasn’t even been dipped into the inkwell of lawmaking.
The minister addressing the Seanad on the issue of agreeing a consensus on the topic said “I will not be deterred from pressing ahead with the university changes if that co-operation did not materialise.” Minister Gormley specifically committed himself to reforming the university constituencies, as a first step in a complete revamp of Seanad Éireann that will allow all citizens to have a vote. For all the fanfare there has been no action to date.
Next summer will see the 30th anniversary of the referendum where the people expressed their opinion that the state should act to extend the franchise. Dan Sullivan says “Had I been elected in 2007 I would have looked to have had legislation before the house during the current autumn session. I have previously explored the option of taking a constitutional challenge regarding the failure to legislate as the people at the time were led to believe it was about taking imminent action on the matter. If the costs of such a challenge were more within the reach of someone with modest means I would already have taken the risk that the Supreme Court might view it as a matter of public interest and award me costs. I am still actively considering that option“
An amendment to the Constitution to widen the university franchise was passed as long ago as 1979 but successive governments have failed to implement the change. The 2004 report from the committee chaired by then Sen. Mary O'Rourke proposed the abolition of the Trinity College and National University of Ireland constituencies and its replacement with a single constituency of 6 seats. It’s really that simple. The same 6 Seanad seats as present but voted on by a single constituency of all Irish graduates of an Irish education institution with a level seven qualification. Close to 400,000 people or 20% of the adult population would be given a direct say in the Seanad if the registers were properly updated to include all graduates. Not the whole journey towards a fully reformed Seanad by any means but a simple first step that could be taken immediately.
Further reform of the Seanad beyond the electorate of the university panel would require another referendum. Among the proposals in the 2004 report were that the Seanad be increased to 65 senators, from 60. Some 26 of these seats would be filled from a single national constituency under a list-PR system, with a further six elected by a reformed higher-education constituency. Under these proposals another 20 senators would be indirectly elected by county and city councillors, deputies and senators under PR-STV system while 12 senators would be nominated by the Taoiseach.