To Ourselves, Articles Eighteen and Nineteen

Oh, the Seanad. What can you stay about it?

1.    Seanad Éireann shall be composed of sixty members, of whom eleven shall be nominated members and forty-nine shall be elected members.

Plenty of Senators for one thing. Too many really. And when they say “elected members” it comes with some major caveats. Mostly the fact that only a tiny percentage of the electorate actually gets to vote for them.

2.    A person to be eligible for membership of Seanad Éireann must be eligible to become a member of Dáil Éireann.

They just aren’t able to become members of Dail Eireann. So many Senators over the years are [arty faithful who couldn’t get elected or lost their seats in the lower chamber.

3.    The nominated members of Seanad Éireann shall be nominated, with their prior consent, by the Taoiseach who is appointed next after the re-assembly of Dáil Éireann following the dissolution thereof which occasions the nomination of the said members.

The Taoiseach picks 11 of the of Seanad. It’s a provision designed for a single purpose: to neuter the power of the upper house. Barring a completely unlikely electoral result, the fact that the head of government can pick over a sixth of the Seanad ensures that the leading party of the Dail will always be in the majority in the other house. Perhaps no other provision highlights the problem with the upper house. There is no power there, no room for division or disagreement.

The Seanad isn’t capable of performing its stated function of being a ‘check and balence’ in the legislative process. It always goes along with the government.

4.    1° The elected members of Seanad Éireann shall be elected as follows:—

i Three shall be elected by the National University of Ireland.

ii Three shall be elected by the University of Dublin.

iii Forty-three shall be elected from panels of candidates constituted as hereinafter provided.

Can you say disenfranchisement?

Th point of this, on the face of it anyway, is to ensure that members of the Oireachtas educated types elected by educated types, people who aren’t picked on the sole basis of popularity (like the Dail is, arguably).

In this country, if you don’t have a college degree, you don’t have full voting rights. And that’s wrong.

My parents have worked hard in this country for decades. Always paid their taxes, never broke laws, always voted. But, because they don’t have a college degree, our state doesn’t feel they are capable of voting for the upper house.

The colleges vote a proportion of the Seanad with UCD getting a bigger number than others. Why? I’m not sure. In a system that is dedicated to having only a select electorate, it doesn’t seem that bizarre.

The panels, I’ll get into in just a minute.

2° Provision may be made by law for the election, on a franchise and in the manner to be provided by law, by one or more of the following institutions, namely:

i the universities mentioned in subsection 1° of this section,

ii any other institutions of higher education in the State,

of so many members of Seanad Éireann as may be fixed by law in substitution for an equal number of the members to be elected pursuant to paragraphs i and ii of the said subsection 1°.

A member or members of Seanad Éireann may be elected under this subsection by institutions grouped together or by a single institution.

This provision allows for changes in the electoral process for the Seanad, in case we ever want to let other universities or institutions have a go in electing Senators.

3° Nothing in this Article shall be invoked to prohibit the dissolution by law of a university mentioned in subsection 1° of this section.

The Seanad can’t get rid of a university that has voting rights over it. Fair enough, since such an action could be viewed as a constitutional crisis.

5.    Every election of the elected members of Seanad Éireann shall be held on the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote, and by secret postal ballot.
6.    The members of Seanad Éireann to be elected by the Universities shall be elected on a franchise and in the manner to be provided by law.

Even though its limited, the Seanad votes use STV PR, just like the Dail. Since all the candidates are lumped in together, the process resembles a Presidential election, as it’s on a national scale.

7.    1° Before each general election of the members of Seanad Éireann to be elected from panels of candidates, five panels of candidates shall be formed in the manner provided by law containing respectively the names of persons having knowledge and practical experience of the following interests and services, namely:–

i National Language and Culture, Literature, Art, Education and such professional interests as may be defined by law for the purpose of this panel;

ii Agriculture and allied interests, and Fisheries;

iii Labour, whether organised or unorganised;

iv Industry and Commerce, including banking, finance, accountancy, engineering and architecture;

v Public Administration and social services, including voluntary social activities.

So here we have the panels that choose the vast majority of Senators. It’s supposed to be a general make-up of society in general and the process for getting on the panels is complex. A huge range of institutions is involved.

Honestly, if the whole Seanad was elected this way I wouldn’t have a huge problem. But the half-assed democratic way others are elected makes a mockery of the whole process. The panels aren’t a bad idea, but as you’d expect, they get dominated by political factions. The process of creating a balanced upper house, representitive of the whole society, just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

2° Not more than eleven and, subject to the provisions of Article 19 hereof, not less than five members of Seanad Éireann shall be elected from any one panel.

Just makes sure that no one panel becomes dominant.

8.    A general election for Seanad Éireann shall take place not later than ninety days after a dissolution of Dáil Éireann, and the first meeting of Seanad Éireann after the general election shall take place on a day to be fixed by the President on the advice of the Taoiseach.

Just the standard continuity section, making sure that the Seanad comes into being around the same time as a post election Dail.

9.    Every member of Seanad Éireann shall, unless he dies, resigns, or becomes disqualified, continue to hold office until the day before the polling day of the general election for Seanad Éireann next held after his election or nomination.

Standard clause.

10.   1° Subject to the foregoing provisions of this Article elections of the elected members of Seanad Éireann shall be regulated by law.

2° Casual vacancies in the number of the nominated members of Seanad Éireann shall be filled by nomination by the Taoiseach with the prior consent of persons so nominated.

3° Casual vacancies in the number of the elected members of Seanad Éireann shall be filled in the manner provided by law.

The Taoiseach gets to pick and choose nominated members of the Seanad and does so throughout the term in the event that one leaves the office. Right now, Irish political news is dominated by the Ivor Callely affair. As a nominated member, if he does resign (as he surly well at some point) Brian Cowen will have the right to choose his successor.

Article Nineteen

Provision may be made by law for the direct election by any functional or vocational group or association or council of so many members of Seanad Éireann as may be fixed by such law in substitution for an equal number of the members to be elected from the corresponding panels of candidates constituted under Article 18 of this Constitution.

If the Oireachtas so wishes, any vocational group, a very loose term, can directly elect members of the Seanad rather than a panel. A little odd, this provision. But like I said, anything odd about the panel process in the Seanad is overshadowed by its larger disenfranchisement of the electorate.

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