The Seanad Election for 2016 has been called. Voting takes place from March 21st to April 21st. The following is a very quick summation of the declared candidates, with links to whatever websites and social media accounts they have at time of writing. I held off on posting this until I actually received my ballot paper.
No in-depth looks at policy here, since it’s all so very similar in most cases. Indeed, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a candidate that doesn’t have “Seanad reform” in their list of priorities, and the vast majority reference the 8th Amendment, economic issues and other things a single Independent Senator hasn’t a hope of influencing seriously.
Just as a means of gauging where a candidates’ heart really lies, I’m going to list what the very first policy idea/commitment is, going first by any literature I have received at this point, then their website (front page if applicable, then a policy page), then their other social media accounts.
Lastly, all of the following is based on my own online research and what I would consider to be reasonable assumptions along with a dash of personal opinion. If candidates feel something is factually incorrect, they are welcome to contact me, in comments or social media, and I will correct. Let’s get to it.
Former Fianna Fail (doesn’t like to mention it though), founder of “New Land League” group that seeks to combat evictions. You may remember them from the kerfuffle over Brian O’Donnell, the man who barricaded himself inside his Kiliney mansion when Bank of Ireland tried to repossess it in pursuit of a 70 million euro debt. Beades has quite a few debts himself. And some other unpleasantness. No electoral history. Unlikely to seriously challenge.
Priority Issue: A leaflet arrived very later in the process – a week after I actually voted – in which Beades says “I am opposed to the present plans for the construction of wind farms throughout our country”.
Former CEO of charity Concern, former board member of the Central Bank and former general secretary of trade union ICTU. Currently head of the Pensions Authority, appointed controversially. I believe a Labour Party member, (or at least a strong supporter) but open to correction. No electoral history. Prominent, not exactly very popular, but who knows? Potential challenger.
Priority Issue: On his leaflet Begg promises “If elected I will use the Seanad to advocate for a new development model that will secure a better, fairer and more sustainable future for our people”.
Solicitor, founder of charity The Guardian Project. Specialises in family law, divorce and custody cases. Emphasis on supports for children affected by familial separation and bereavement. No electoral history. Unlikely to seriously challenge.
Priority Issue: On her leaflet Burke advocates first “Further reform of the Family & Child Law system: cut court waiting times, train more family judges and make sure children’s voices are heard in all courts”.
Founder of Aer Arann and carehome ventures. On the board of RTE. Once had Presidential ambitions. Serious Irish language candidate, as well as being pro-business. No electoral history. An outside bet.
Priority Issue: From his leaflet, the “promoting of a climate supportive of enterprise and entrepreneurship”.
Clinical psychologist. Former President of the Psychological Society of Ireland. Emphasis on healthcare reform, particularly mental health. No electoral history. Unlikely to seriously challenge.
Priority Issue: On his leaflet, in a section on mental health, D’Alton states his intention to “Reform mental health services to provide care in the appropriate setting.”
Doctor, General Practitioner. Former President of the Irish Medical Organisation. Rural and healthcare focus. No electoral history. Unlikely to seriously challenge.
Priority Issue: From his leaflet, Daly says “I want to ensure that, in the years ahead, there is a real and significant investment in broadband infrastructure, in our health services and in the infrastructure to help rural communities help themselves.”
A “voluntary worker”. Law graduate from UCD. Emphasis on healthcare, economic security and heritage. No electoral history. Unlikely to seriously challenge.
Priority Issue: Darker states on her leaflet that “Forbairt agus freastal a dheanamh ar chur chun cinn na Gaeilge san Earnail Phobail” which loosely translated means “I support the development and promotion of the Irish language in the public sector”. Only candidate whose first policy is “as Gaeilge”.
International Relations Lecturer in DCU, foreign policy expert. Multiple TV/Radio appearances. Emphasis on gender in politics and increasing female representation/participation. No electoral history. Outside bet.
Priority Issue: On her leaflet, Devine states “In the context of the 1916 Rising commemorations and the critical mass of new TD’s elected to Dail Eireann, I see an opportunity to introduce new legislation to combat long-standing issues of sexual and domestic violence, discrimination in education in Ireland, and Ireland’s inequality in the European Union.”
Former train driver, now member of UCC governing body, NUI Senate and IRFU. Very education focussed. No electoral history. Outside bet.
Priority Issue: On his website, under first policy heading of “Education”, Dineen endorses “A fair system of access to local schools for all children.”
UCD Tutor. Labour Party member (and endorsed by Labour Youth), though doesn’t seem eager to tell people that. Education focus in terms of policy, prioritising actual representation of the NUI. No electoral history. Likely mid-pack.
Priority Issue: In his leaflet, he states first in his “Key Areas” his support for “Ending precarious work in the higher-education sector”.
Galway Councillor elected in 2014, self-employed. Member of Fine Gael, and only “out” party member of the 30 candidates. Campaigned for Seanad retention. Lengthy policy section, including Seanad reform, enterprise stimulation and 8th Amendment repeal. Respect wearing party colours on his sleeve, but it’ll hurt his chances. Mid-pack.
Priority Issue: On his leaflet, Flannery says that he wants to “Address Transport Costs in Ireland”.
Journalist, food writer. Anti-TTIP, Pro 8th Amendment repeal. No electoral history. Unlikely to seriously challenge.
Priority Issue: On his leaflet, Golden-Bannon asks “Why do we obsess over a single supplier to our housing market when other economies flourish with state-built housing?”
Former USI President. I believe a Labour Party member, or at least used to be, but has “Independent” in big letters on her website for whatever that’s worth. Pro Seanad reform, 8th Amendment repeal, gender equality advocacy. No electoral history. Outside bet.
Priority Issue: On her leaflet, Harmon says she wants to “Diversify school patronage and end religious discrimination in admission policies”.
Sitting Senator, a Taoiseach nominee. Labour Party member, but insists she “will not take the Labour whip” if elected (but happily campaigned for Labour in February). Big emphasis on housing issues, and she is the chairperson of housing charity Threshold. Likely mid-pack.
Priority Issue: On her leaflet, Hayden states her support for “A ‘Right to a Home’ in the Constitution”.
TASC “Policy analyst” on social issues, former lecturer. Former Trinity SU President. Former People Before Profit member, now Independent. Unsuccessful GE candidate in 2007. Describes self as holding “broad and progressive left-wing views”. Big emphasis on housing issues. Mid-pack.
Priority Issue: From his leaflet, Hearne states “I will work tirelessly to ensure that we have a National Housing & Affordable Homes Agency; better tenant protections; strong housing rights; and a public forum on the housing crisis.”
Policy coordinator, on the National Women’s Council. Numerous charity and NGO positions. President Higgins’ daughter, but rightfully doesn’t draw attention to it. Was an adviser to him during Presidential campaign, but not a member of any political party. Big gender equality focus. No electoral history. Potential challenger.
Priority Issue: On her leaflet, Higgins says “If elected, I will seek equality proofing of social and economic policies.”
“Community affairs consultant”. Former secretary general of the Progressive Democrats. Leader of anti-bailout demonstrations. Anti-TTIP. No electoral history. Unlikely to seriously challenge.
Priority Issue: On his leaflet Higgins states “If elected to Seanad Eireann a top priority for me will be to bring increased emphasis on a greater spread of economic and social development and job creation throughout the entire country.”
Journalist, Sindo/Indo columnist, social justice campaigner. Just ran in the General in Dun Laoghaire, unsuccessfully. Pro-8th Amendment repeal, political reform. Unlikely to seriously challenge.
Priority Issue: On her leaflet Hunt says her priorities include ”Reform of the Seanad: The implementation of the proposals put forward by the 2015 Seanad Working Group on Reform.”
Human rights campaigner. Head of Advocacy in Action Aid UK. Strong emphasis on emigrant issues, notably voting rights for citizens abroad, which is practically the only thing he talks about. No electoral history. Likely mid-pack.
Priority Issue: On his leaflet, Johnston says he “will campaign to ensure fair voting rights for all Irish citizens, support Irish citizens living abroad, and those who wish to return”
Communications consultant, documentarian, public speaker. Big emphasis on mental health issues, suicide and the elderly. No electoral history. Unlikely to seriously challenge.
Priority Issue: On his leaflet, Kenneally states he is “passionate about…Suicide Prevention and Postvention”.
Barrister, senior counsel of the Bar Council. Former TD, Minister, Attorney General, Tanaiste and leader of the Progressive Democrats. Pro Seanad reform, now. Endorsed by outgoing Senator Fergal Quinn. Serious challenger.
Priority Issue: On his leaflet, McDowell says he is in favour of “Supporting sound and sustainable economic policies so that the success of a growing economy will be fairly shared among all our citizens and across our regions”.
Economist and Law lecturer. Human rights advisor to a few NGO’s. Labour Party member (self-identified on Vincent Browne). Emphasis heavily on economic expertise, as well as gender pay gap, abortion rights and Seanad reform. No electoral history. Mid-pack.
Priority Issue: From his leaflet, a brief “Gender pay gap”.
Hospital consultant. Ran in 2011, didn’t do well. No other information. Unlikely to seriously challenge.
Priority Issue: Who knows?
Barrister. Heavy education focus in policy terms, especially in regards restrictive religious policies (which he opposes). No electoral history. Mid-pack.
Priority Issue: On his leaflet Monahan states his support for “Equal school access for all children, regardless of religion.”
Sitting Independent Senator. Hard-right. Prominent Catholic conservative campaigner, anti-abortion, anti-SSM. Very well-known nationally. Very likely to win a seat.
Priority Issue: On his leaflet, Mullen prioritises “Genuine reform: a partial ‘list’ electoral system could help re-balance our national politics”.
Clinical psychologist. Known for his appearances on Operation Transformation. Mental health, suicide and disability services focus. No electoral history. Potential challenger.
Priority Issue: On his leaflet Murphy states his hope to “Reduce Suicide & Self-Harm: Provide rapid access crises supports, outreach, homecare and talk therapies”.
Entrepreneur, author. Noted transatlantic sailor. Apparently endorsed by outgoing NUI Senator Fergal Quinn? Maritime, employment and tourism focused. No electoral history. Mid-pack.
Priority Issue: O’Coineen’s leaflet states ”If elected, Enda will take Senator Quinn’s mantle to support enterprise and innovation in Ireland and help create jobs.”
Former CEO of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. Numerous roles on NGO’s and boards on topics of sexual violence, family therapy and psychotherapy. As you would expect, very focused on those issues. Endorsed by Frances FitzGerald. No electoral history. Potential challenger.
Priority Issue: On her leaflet, O’Malley Dunlop states she “will work for legislative reform for women’s and victims’ rights.”
Biologist. Six previous failed Seanad runs, and one failed MEP run. Heavy on the environmental issues and lobbying. Noted for his rather passive-aggressive messages. Mid-pack.
Priority Issue: Hard to find, or to pick something specific from his disjointed website, but I’ll go with his statement calling on us to “Think of Eco-tourism as a primary driver of economic and sustainable development. Think of sustainability practises, now of necessity, part of all human and economic activity, for further new opportunities. Think of Brendan’s own role in these areas and ultimate successes.”
LGBT and human rights activist. Co-chair of GLEN. City planner. Very active in SSM campaign, and on housing issues. No electoral history. Mid-pack.
Priority Issue: On his leaflet, Rose says “As a Senator I will work on…Improved supply of affordable quality housing.”
It’s only fair that I take a moment to talk about the sheer number of candidates. I thought 2011 was a bumper year, with 27 candidates. Well, 2016 has 30, and all of them are competing for just three seats. I mean, look at this ballot paper:
There are a lot of reasons something like this happens. You don’t need to a pay a fee to register as a candidate for one thing, and even a modest amount to be paid (and lost if you fail to reach a certain percentage, as in Dail elections) would put many of the below off.
But wait, I hear you say. What’s wrong with removing barriers to candidacy? The problem is that by removing even these base barriers, you get a field cluttered to the point of stupidity. A rare thing, a Senator from the NUI who actually reaches quota in a Seanad election: in the last, it only happened on the 24th of 24 counts. Why? Because the gigantic field of candidates diluted the vote so much that no one had the chance to do so, with most of those candidates also-rans before they even started. The Dail system is a great way to ferret out those who have no serious intentions of competing, because if you don’t think you can get .25% of a quota – the amount you need to reclaim expenses – why are you running? To raise an issue? With less than .25% of the quota, not many people were listening. The average vote of the 24 who missed out in 2011 was around 750. The quota was over 8’000.
Combined with reduced nomination signature requirements, the lack of a registration fee means a lot of people can make knee-jerk decisions late-on to run, and there is no major obstacle to that. And there are additional attractions to a Seanad run: a campaign where door-knocking and putting up posters is largely irrelevant due to the gigantic scattered constituency; the Seanad being an avenue for party members unlikely to get support for Dail runs to run for national office (usually declaring as Independents, as noted); no real need, or opportunity, to engage in debates with other candidates, and an end result where the actual role carries little of the stress that affects TD’s. If you were pro-active on social media and scrapped together enough funding to send out a leaflet to half the registered households, you could probably be in the mid-pack without doing anything else.
But you won’t get elected. In the Seanad, in elections where there tends to be such huge numbers of candidates, I’ve found that the two main keys to success are:
-being a sitting Senator already, which carries a lot of practical advantages.
-having a national profile, whether from the first point, or in some other way, like Fergal Quinn’s supermarket chain and TV work, or John Crown’s noted position in the media as a critic of the last government.
What it comes down to, essentially, is that when the electorate receives the ballot paper and opens it up, if they already know who you are from your name and picture, you have a good chance. When you have 30 names to pick from, a large amount of those bothering to vote will go with who they know, or will give second and third preferences to who they know.
And if you are hoping to see someone you dislike not get elected – because, let’s be honest, the increasing notice given to one Senator Ronan Mullen is going to fuel a lot of the attention given to this race, from certain quarters – that process becomes complicated, and all but impossible, when you have 29 alternatives. There is no clear “anti-Mullen” candidate, there’s more than two dozen.
And that means someone like Mullen – with a record, with a national profile, with a base he has spent a while establishing – will once again stroll to another victory, probabaly without ever reaching quota. He will probably be joined by Michael McDowell, who has a similar national profile, even if a lot of people dislike him (but a lot of them can’t vote in this election).
After that? The likes of David Begg, as leader of a very prominent trade union, Aideen Hayden as a sitting senator from one of the vocational panels, Alice-Mary Higgins, Eddie Murphy and Ellen O’Malley Dunlop strike me as the ones most likely to be in contention for the last seat. But, when you are dealing with these kinds of numbers, and a transfer situation that could charitably be described as “complicated”, anything can really happen.
At some point before the close of voting, I’ll talk about who I’ll be voting for and why. As soon as I make up my mind.