Renewed calls to expand number of graduates who can vote in Seanad elections

There have been fresh calls to expand the number of people who can vote in the Seanad’s university constituencies in the wake of this week’s byelection.

Currently the the voting for six Seanad seats is limited to graduates from either Trinity College Dublin (TCD) or National University of Ireland (NUI) colleges.

People who went to the University of Limerick, Dublin City University or Technological Universities are among those excluded.

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris has said the vote “has to be the last time a Seanad university election takes place without the reforms that people voted for in a referendum many years ago being put in place”.

A large majority voted to extend voting rights to graduates of all third level institutions in a 1979 referendum but successive Governments have failed to act on the powers it granted to reform the system.

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne – who previously brought forward proposed legislation to expand the electorate said Seanad reform is “long overdue”.

Security analyst, academic and disabilities campaigner Tom Clonan on Thursday night won the byelection for the TCD seat left vacant by Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik.

Turnout was just less than 20 per cent of the almost 68,000 eligible voters – all TCD graduates – in the University of Dublin constituency.

Currently the two university constituencies have an electorate of around 178,000.

Expanding voting rights to graduates of other third level institutions would see more than 800,000 people able cast ballots in Seanad elections.

The Seventh Amendment of the Constitution brought about by the 1979 allows for the electorate to be expanded.

Mr Harris said: “92 per cent of people voted to extend the vote in Seanad university panels in 1979. Forty-three years on, it hasn’t happened. It needs to.”

In a post on Twitter he added: “I want to see it resolved. So let’s take this long overdue step – enact the will of the people to allow many more vote for university seats.” The Fine Gael minister said a “broader conversation” should follow on “how the electorate for these six university seats can be grounded in the principles of inclusivity and equality”.

Mr Byrne congratulated Mr Clonan on his election success. He previously proposed legislation that would provide for a single six-seat university constituency for all graduates of recognised higher education institutions.

However, the Bill has not progressed beyond Second Stage as the Government suggested it would be bringing its own legislation. Mr Byrne said he has raised the matter with the Taoiseach and ministers. Mr Byrne said: “The Seanad performs really useful functions on legislative oversight but the franchise needs to reflect 21st Century Ireland.”

The manner in which Senators are elected has long been the subject of accusations of elitism.

The electorate for a further 43 Seanad seats is made up of an even smaller pool of voters than in the university constituencies – an electorate of more than 1,000 TDs, outgoing Senators and city and county councillors.

The Taoiseach has the power to appoint 11 Senators.

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