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Up to one million graduates could be eligible to vote under Seanad election reform plan

Currently, six members of Seanad Eireann are elected by graduates from specified universities – which has been ruled unconstitutional.

UP TO ONE million people could be eligible to vote in the election of six senators under government proposals to extend voting rights to all graduates.

The reforms to the current system won’t be in place for the next Seanad elections, it has been confirmed. 

Instead, it will come into force at the end of May 2025. 

Minister Darragh O’Brien today got Government to approve the drafting of a General Scheme of a Seanad Electoral (University Members) (Amendment) Bill.

The proposed legislation will extend the right to vote in Seanad elections to all graduates of designated higher education institutions who are Irish citizens. 

The legislation comes after a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year has found that university electoral panels for Seanad Eireann are unconstitutional.

Currently, six members of Seanad Eireann are elected by graduates from specified universities in Ireland. 

The Universities permitted to vote in the election are Trinity College Dublin and the universities of University College Dublin, University College Cork, University of Galway and Maynooth University. 

The case was taken by Tomás Heneghan, a graduate of University of Limerick, who stated that the limiting of access to these panels and the laws governing the election to the Upper House were unconstitutional. 

The Supreme Court ruled that the Oireachtas has failed in its obligation to expand the ability of voters from outside of certain universities to vote in elections. 

As a result, the new legislation will seek to establish a new six-seat ‘Higher Education’ constituency for electing University members of Seanad Éireann, to replace the existing NUI and University of Dublin university constituencies.

The Supreme Court gave until 31 May 2025 for the changes to come into force.

The implication of the ruling being that Senators elected under the existing legislation after 31 May 2025, will not be valid.

Approximately 177,000 people are on the registers of electors for either the NUI or University of Dublin constituencies.

Census 2022 data shows that there were 951,445 Irish citizens aged 15 years and over living in Ireland on Census night who had completed an ordinary bachelor degree or higher, the government has confirmed. 

Higher Education Authority data indicates that between 2016 and 2022 approximately 40,600 people living in Ireland obtained an Honours or Ordinary degree from a relevant higher education institution.

A range of options is available for government to consider as to how the six university seats might be elected by an expanded number of graduates.

However, it is proposed to establish a six-seat constituency, with Senators elected through proportional representation by way of single transferable vote.

The government now proposes to engage with the Department of Further and Higher Education and draft a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) on the costs, benefits and impacts of extending the franchise and reforming the electoral system for electing university members of Seanad Éireann. 

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