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Counting in Seanad election to begin today - but access to count venue will be restricted

This has been an election like none other for candidates hoping for a seat in the upper house.

Counting in the Seanad election will begin today.
Counting in the Seanad election will begin today.
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

COUNTING IN THE Seanad general election will begin today despite the Covid-19 public health emergency.

Postal voting in the election closes today at 11am for the 43 seats on the five vocational panels and tomorrow at 11am for the six seats on the university panels. 

There are 118 candidates seeking election to the vocational panels. 

Many going for the seats are former senators and politicians who lost Dáil seats in the general election, but there are some newcomers in the mix too.

This has been an election like none other, as candidates’ election campaigns have been put on hold throughout the Covid-19 outbreak due to social distancing and isolation measures.

Last week, a number of candidates appealed to voters to send in their postal ballots – expressing concern at the low turnout. 

Votes from the 43 vocational panel seats will be counted at the Printworks Centre in Dublin Castle this year.

The count will be restricted to those who are entitled by law to be there and other appropriate safety measures will be in place at the Printworks venue in order to mitigate risk.

Counting of the votes begins this morning and is expected to continue until Friday 3 April. 

Following February’s general election, government formation has been side-tracked due to the public health emergency.

Until this week, government formation talks have made little progress. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ruled out doing business with Sinn Féin, while post the February election Fine Gael said it was readying itself for the opposition. 

While there have been calls for a national government to be formed by the Green party and also Sinn Féin, the crisis has pushed Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael into one another’s arms. 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the country needs a government that is strong and stable, stating that one can be formed relatively quickly. 

Coveney said it is possible to get a government formed quickly. He said Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are putting in place a process he hopes will encourage other parties to join them.

While there does seem to be some movement, the Upper House might actually force the hand of parties to agree a programme for government. 

There are 60 seats in the Seanad up for grabs, but 11 of these are nominated by the Taoiseach.

An outgoing Taoiseach – Leo Varadkar in this instance – is not allowed to nominate new members. 

Only a newly-elected Taoiseach, who has been elected by the Dáil after a general election, has the power to appoint 11 nominees.

Even if parties decided that they would divvy up the seats, it is understood they would not be allowed.

The Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil, Sean O’Fhearghail, said legal advice he received said that the Seanad could not pass legislation until the 11 nominees are appointed.

However, the Labour Party claims a change in Seanad regulations would allow a newly elected Seanad to sit without the appointments being made.

Labour senator Ivana Bacik made the case on Friday, claiming that a change in Seanad regulations would allow a newly elected Upper House to sit without the Taoiseach’s 11 nominees.

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However, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Denis O’Donovan said the matter was something the government would have to deal with.

Before a new Seanad is formed, let’s look at what the Seanad is and does. 

The Seanad is the upper house of the Oireachtas and forms one third of the Irish legislature. The Dáil, the lower house, and the President make up the other two-thirds.

The Seanad is not directly elected by the people, but contains a mixture of members elected through various methods. To run for the Seanad, an Irish citizen must be over 21.

It is not as powerful as the Dáil and can only delay laws with which it disagrees by a total of 90 days. It cannot stop them. It has no powers to delay a budget, but it can initiate legislation.

Here’s a quick look at how legislation becomes law, to properly explain the extra scrutiny the Seanad provides.

It’s made up of 60 members. As stated above, 11 of them are nominated by the Taoiseach of the day, six are elected by graduates of Trinity College Dublin and the National Universities of Ireland and 43 are elected from five special panels of nominees, known as vocational panels, by a small electorate of politicians.

The five panels are made up of candidates who are said to have knowledge and experience of the following areas:

  • Cultural and Educational Panel (5 seats)- national language and culture, literature, art, education, law and medicine.
  • Agricultural Panel (11 seats) – agricultural and allied interests and fisheries;
  • Labour Panel (11 seats) – labour, whether organised or unorganised;
  • Industrial and Commercial Panel (9 seats) - industry and commerce, including banking, finance, accountancy, engineering and architecture;
  • Administrative Panel (7 seats) – public administration and social services, including voluntary social activities.

The electorate is tiny. It consists of members of the incoming Dáil, the outgoing Seanad and city and county councillors.

That’s a total electorate of about 1,169. 

The function of the upper house is provide another layer of democracy; essentially it’s to keep the Dáil in check.

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