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Fianna Fáil: Our Seanad bill is 'fundamental reform that people deserve'

The party has published a bill to reform the upper house within the constraints of the current Constitution.

Senator Averil Power with Micheál Martin
Senator Averil Power with Micheál Martin
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

FIANNA FÁIL HAS published a bill to reform the Seanad and broaden its electorate to allow everyone who is eligible to vote in Dáil elections as well as Irish citizens in the North and abroad to elect members for the upper house.

Launching the bill today, the party leader Micheál Martin said that his proposals are giving “the kind of fundamental reform that the people were looking for and that the people deserve” within the constraints of the current Constitution.

The bill proposes that 43 of the 60 seats would be elected through universal suffrage with everyone eligible to vote in the Dáil elections also able to vote for the Seanad.

Citizens living in the North, and anyone holding an Irish passport will also be able to apply to vote in the elections. The six university seats would be opened-up to allow all third-level graduates to vote – a reform already proposed by the current government.

The Taoiseach’s 11 nominees remain but he or she will be required to consider representation of the elderly, the young, the ‘new Irish’ community, the Irish diaspora, disabled people, sporting organisations, the arts and the Traveller community and consider persons nominated by interest groups in these areas.

Though the Taoiseach of the day will not be mandated to appoint them.

Not the same as the US

Under the proposals, a person can run for the Seanad if they are nominated by a local authority, a political party or if they obtain 500 signatures of persons on the Seanad’s electoral register.

The bill, which has many similarities to the Quinn-Zappone reform bill, also proposes gender balance with a requirement that on the six-seat university panel, two members must be women while on the vocational panels at least three or four must be women depending on the overall numbers on a panel.

Martin pointed out that “not a single person advocated the retention of an unreformed Seanad” in the recent abolition referendum and that the Taoiseach is “not proposing to do anything radical”.

“Nothing fundamental is going to happen. I think thats very, very disappointing and a rejection of where the people are at,” he said, adding that his bill is achieving “the maximum we possibly can within a legislative context”.

Martin also rejected suggestions from the Taoiseach that the framers of the Constitution did not intend that you’d have universal suffrage for the upper house in the same way as the Dáil, saying this was a “ridiculous reference”.

“The framers of the Constitution clearly didn’t envisage abolition either,” he said.

Senator Averil Power pointed out that the Taoiseach’s reference to political deadlock caused by two directly elected chambers would not be similar in Ireland as the Seanad doesn’t have the power to delay budgets indefinitely.

“There’s absolute no link between the two,” she said. “All our senate can do is delay legislation.

“It’s a house of persuasion rather than like the US house which is there to actually stop government and stop the president from delivering on his objectives. This won’t change that.”

Read: Taoiseach rules out giving voting rights to all in Seanad elections

Read: All third-level graduates to get vote as part of Seanad reforms agreed by Cabinet

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Hugh O'Connell

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