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Members launch plan to reform Seanad and prevent abolition

Feargal Quinn and Katherine Zappone will call a vote this Wednesday on plans to overhaul how the chamber is elected.

Feargal Quinn and Katherine Zappone read their Bill - with some help, obviously - at the launch of their legislation earlier today.
Feargal Quinn and Katherine Zappone read their Bill - with some help, obviously - at the launch of their legislation earlier today.
Image: Tony Kinlan

TWO INDEPENDENT SENATORS have launched a Bill which would mark the biggest reform of the Seanad in modern history – and which would give emigrant Irish citizens the right to vote in its elections.

The proposals from Katherine Zappone and Feargal Quinn would also require the Seanad to retain a gender balance, by ensuring that an equal number of men and women were elected from each of the five vocational panels – which are required to be retained under the current constitution.

The legislation would also impose a pay cut of nearly €20,000 for Seanad members – defining their pay as being half of that for a TD. This would mean the current wage of over €65,000 would fall to €46,336.

Other changes would include extending elections for the university panels – which, again, would require a constitutional referendum to fully abolish – so that graduates of all Irish third-level institutions could take part.

The changes would also allow candidates in Seanad elections to appear on the ballot paper as a result of a popular nomination, signed by 500 citizens. Public petitions, by 1,000 people, could also force items to be added to the Seanad’s agenda for discussion.

Other reforms would give the Seanad powers similar to its US counterpart, the Senate, by scrutinising ministerial appointments to public bodies, and also force the Seanad to approve most statutory instruments – which account for over 80 per cent of all laws enacted in Ireland.

Debate on the Bill is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, and a vote is likely to be held at the conclusion of the two-hour discussion.

Fate of proposal unclear – despite abolition threat

Whether the Bill would pass, if pushed to a vote, is unclear. While both Fine Gael and Labour have asserted their plans to abolish the Seanad, a previous bill from Senator John Crown – which also proposed reforms to the Seanad election process – was met with a warm reception.

On that occasion, the government parties asked Crown not to force a vote – partially to give the parties a chance to consider amendments, but also to avert the prospect of having some FG and Labour senators defy party instructions and vote in its favour.

The only occasions on which the current government has been defeated in a Seanad vote were on matters relating to Seanad reform – when three Labour senators defied the party whip and sided with the opposition when it asked for the Constitutional Convention to consider the issue.

All three of those Senators expressed fundamental problems with plans to reform the Seanad, and a vote – if one was called – could end up causing further embarrassing defeats.

Read: A new Vice President, and other things that happen if the Seanad is scrapped

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Gavan Reilly

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