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.