Seanad Electoral (University Members) (Amendment) Bill 2020
First Stage: 25 Nov 2020
Oireachtas Link: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/bills/bill/2020/11/
Bill entitled an Act to provide for the amendment of the Seanad Electoral (University Members) Acts 1937 to 2006, to provide for the provisions of the seventh amendment of Bunreacht na hÉireann and to extend the franchise of the university panel of Seanad Éireann to all people who are over eighteen and are holders of an appropriate third level qualification from an Irish Institute of Higher Education and to provide for related matters.
Report and Final Stages: 08/12/2020
I welcome the Minister of State. I echo the words of Senator Wall. As he rightly said, we in the Labour Party entirely support the Government's efforts to ensure a deal is reached with regard to Brexit. We know what a critical time we are at this week. We understand and acknowledge that. We are certainly not opposing the Bill but, as Senator Wall has said, our amendment on Committee Stage last week, amendment No. 4, was not opposed by any Government Senator. It was passed. I know things can happen and that it may have passed inadvertently. We saw that happen with Government amendments on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017. We understand why the Government has proposed this amendment today but we have to oppose it. The reasons we tabled amendment No. 4, which would insert a new section 68 allowing for a review after 12 months, were set out eloquently by Senator Wall on Committee Stage last week. The amendment was supported by many, as he has said. We will oppose the Government amendment which seeks to take out that review. We understood that a commitment was given in the Dáil that there would be such a review.
For all of those reasons, we cannot support the Government amendment, although we will not oppose the Bill, despite our discomfort with the guillotine which Senator Sherlock expressed on the Order of Business earlier. As leader of the Labour Party group, I have put our position on the record. Our amendment was reasonable and it deserved and got Government support last week. We are disappointed to see the Government seeking to delete it this week. It is for that reason that we will oppose the Government amendment.
Second Stage: 10/11/2020
I welcome the Minister of State. I commend Senators Byrne, Cassells and their colleagues on proposing this Bill and highlighting Seanad reform so early in the term of this new Seanad. Reform is clearly long overdue as the Senators have said. Many of us who have been in this House for some time will feel a strong sense of déjà vu because we have debated Seanad reform on several occasions. Unfortunately, successive governments over many decades have dragged their heels on it.
It is disappointing that the programme for Government does not specifically mention Seanad reform, although I very much welcome the electoral commission proposal, which is also Labour Party policy. I think the Green Party was the only one of the three coalition parties to mention Seanad reform and to commit to implementing the Manning report. The Manning report gives us an important blueprint for reform. In 2015, the Labour Party group, of which I was then leader, made a submission to the Manning process. I urge colleagues to read that submission, which made some very practical suggestions and recommendations for reform that would not require constitutional amendment and yet would introduce universal suffrage, which is clearly the gold standard.
Of course, it would also have implemented the seventh amendment and extended the franchise on the university panels to graduates of all the institutions.
I do support that, as does the Labour Party, but the difficulty for me is that the reform is one that needs to be done as part of a package of reforms because, otherwise, we are going to see such a skewing of the electorate. We would have six Senators elected by 800,000 university graduates with just this Bill. Without the other much needed reforms, one would not have any reform to the electoral process for the other 43 Senators. It is clear that the 11 are contained in the Constitution and that cannot be changed.
Our proposal in 2015 was that there would be universal suffrage and that those who were graduates of any third level institution would have the option of voting for the university panel instead of one of the other panels, so that one would not be doubly enfranchised as a university graduate, but the franchise would be extended to all third level graduates for one panel. It is a simple and straightforward way of dealing with necessary Seanad reform.
Clearly, there are other big issues with the Bill in terms of logistical challenges, operational challenges and the cost of running for an election where one potentially has 800,000 electors, but those should not stand in the way of reform. I very much support the momentum towards reform. I hope we will see the great work that was done in the Manning reform process and with Senator McDowell's group, the Seanad reform implementation group, on which I was proud to represent the Labour Party. I hope we will be able to build on that in the lifetime of this Government and this Seanad, and we will be able to bring forward the package of reforms that is so badly needed, that can be done within the Constitution and that can bring about universal suffrage, including also the expansion of the university panel to graduates of all third level institutions.