The Seanad – the great stitch-up

IS THERE any useful point in Seanad Eireann? Not really. Is there any potential in Seanad Eireann? Yes indeed.

But first a recap because very few people know a lot about the Senate, including me. So I’ve had a read-up on it.

The Seanad has 60 members. Eleven are nominated by the Taoiseach and 49 are elected.

Of the 49 elected senators three are elected by the graduates of Trinity College, three are elected by the graduates of the NUI (UCD, UCG, UCC and Maynooth) and 43 are elected by the 971 TDs, Senators and local councillors.

The 43 are nominated for election by five panels: Agriculture – 11; Cultural – 5; Labour – 11; Industrial – 9; Administrative – 7.

Candidates may be nominated by TDs, senators and by organisations listed in law for each panel.

So, for example, Dr Martin Mansergh has been nominated on the Agricultural Panel by the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association. Helen Keogh has been nominated by the Association of Patent and Trade Mark Agents.

So that’s it. That’s how the Seanad comes about. And what a stitch-up it is.

The first problem for me is the electorate. There is not a word in the Constitution about who should elect the 43 panel senators. So the politicians have decided that the 971 elected politicians should do the electing. Isn’t that outrageous?

How is the Senate supposed to represent civic society when candidates have to be best buddies with the politicians already elected? And most of the senators turn out to be aspirant or failed politicians anyway.

I wouldn’t mind if the Seanad had an executive role, but it doesn’t. It can initiate legislation which must be approved by the Dáil anyway and it can amend laws coming from the Dáil but the Dáil can throw out any amendments it doesn’t like.

In other words, it’s a nice little lucrative trough for the politicians to have their snout in. Reform must come from the politicians so there hasn’t been any reform.

The role the Seanad should have, in my view, is to oversee the political system. It should organise elections and referendums; it should run the various ombudsmen; it should decide who is appointed to public bodies; it should have powers to investigate political patronage and corruption. In short, it should be there to ensure that the people who make decisions in this country don’t benefit from those decisions. This would mean a Seanad elected by the general population from candidates who are not attached to political parties.

Let’s be honest. There’s not the slightest chance of any of this happening.

As Well As That...

Those poor graduates

FUNNILY enough, a lot of pressure for reform is coming from graduates outside the NUI and TCD.

It’s a fair point. All graduates should have a vote.

But it should also be noted that graduates are not exactly an excluded section of this society.

If there is a lack of influence in the places that matter it is among the poor. Only a handful of young people from poor areas ever see the inside of a third-level institution, never mind worrying about Seanad elections.

Taigs and Prods

WE HERE in the South would never indulge in crude sectarianism. I mean, who cares who represents us whether they be Christian, Muslim or Jew. You know how smug we can get.

So my right eyebrow raised itself a full millimetre upon reading the senator lists for the universities.

All three senators for Trinners are prods while all three senators for the universities for the RCs are, well, RC. (Of course, there’s no such distinctions really. Really). I must admit that I’m not 100 per cent sure about the religion of each senator. So, go on, tell me I’m wrong.

National University of Ireland (UCD, UCG, UCC, Maynooth): Joe O’Toole, Feargal Quinn and Brendan Ryan.

University of Dublin (Trinity): Mary Henry, David Norris and Shane Ross.

A nice leisurely election

BALLOT papers for the election of senators will be issued on Tuesday July 2 and the poll will close on Tuesday July 16.

Isn’t that nice?

All those TDs, senators and councillors will have two weeks to cast their ballots. Ah, what’s the rush?

We, the great unwashed, have to cast our ballots between 7am and 10pm on one day. The polling times were only extended after an outcry in the Abortion Referendum, when many people (including yours truly) couldn’t make it to the polls. I left for work before the polls opened and I didn’t get home until after they closed. Because I was working.

Two weeks, eh? I’m not bitter about that. Not at all.