Home > Irish politics > Keep 3 Trinity and 3 NUI seats or abolish the Seanad

Keep 3 Trinity and 3 NUI seats or abolish the Seanad

Three of the best cases for not abolishing Seanad Éireann to me seem to be the three elected for the University of Dublin, Shane Ross, David Norris and Ivana Bacik. Ironically, outside of wholesale abolition, their seats seem to be most at risk. I can understand the argument that if it were to be abolished now, we would lose the great independent voices they provide, but it is quite possible that we will lose them regardless.

The Seventh Amendment to the Constitution, approved in 1979 by 92%, allowed a redistribution of the three University of Dublin and 3 National University of Ireland seats to include graduates of other third-level institutions. Legislation has yet to be made for this provision, but Minister John Gormley has promised a change by the end of the year. This looks likely to be a move to reduce to one each the seats elected by Trinity and NUI, with the other four graduate seats elected by graduates of all other third-level institutions.

Any change of this nature implicitly accepts the idea that graduates deserve an extra voice in the Oireachtas by virtue of being a graduate. By the four general graduate seats not being tied to any particular institution, there would be no appeal in the campaign for that election to any institutional loyalty, as occurs particularly in the election for Trinity, because of its size and unity. These would be seats that would end up being fought by the political parties on a national scale, to all those who happen to be graduates. So rather than the current seats, which have long historic origins, dating back to 1613, and which have served a useful purpose by electing good Senators, an election under this proposal would be much more elitist in nature, fought on a national scale in the media but directed only at graduates of any institution. It’s easy to dismiss the current system as an historic quirk, but that would be the case under the proposed change.

However much one might dislike the idea that there are certain graduates and not others who have this extra franchise, the answer for those who find this distasteful is not to extend this elite section of the electorate, but to end it entirely. Until then, let us be thankful for the benefits of this inequality gives us in the form of the great Senators it has delivered to date.

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  1. 7 November, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    There’s always a risk that they’ll loose their seats, but I agree that relying on the idiosyncratic style of the Seanad voting system is not a wise move. We need to find a way to let the best and brightest voices of Ireland to make a valid contribution.

    Had to smile at your gratitude for the inequalities – you’re right. We’ve got great senators through that system. The best ones are elected through universities. But, it is pretty elitist and condescending in this day and age that graduates get more of a voice than ‘normal’ people.

    Surely, we can come up with a better system.

  2. Vincent O' Sullivan
    8 November, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Sorry to come across all “Jack O’ Connor re: Trophy House” on you but is your opinion even slightly coloured by your own association with TCD? Even just slightly?

    Shane Ross is excellent. Ivana Bacik, Norris, Quinn and Mullan are important voices to have. It’s the other 55 anonymous Senators and their associated cost that people are concerned about. You could argue that the amount of money that Ross has saved us could offset the combined expense of the others but it seems like a very inefficient way of unearthing talent.

    Do you support Kenny on abolition and his other constitutional proposals? Also wondering what you thought about Dan O Brien in the Irish Times yesterday? (Is the book worth buying?)

    • 8 November, 2009 at 7:56 pm

      Well, yes, I’ll admit it that of course it the fact that I am one of those who get that extra vote for the Oireachtas unavoidably colours my opinion, however much I put my case in broad terms. Even the fact that I mentioned our own Senators rather than yours gives that away.

      In general, I do agree with Enda Kenny on the abolition of the Senate, and as you mention Dan O’Brien’s article, I’d have to say that he didn’t by any means go far enough. I particularly like the suggestion of extra-parliamentary ministers, something I mentioned before in a Facebook note.

      I probably will buy Dan O’Brien’s book, especially if I can get it cheap in Reads.

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