DCU graduates may get Seanad vote

DCU graduates may get Seanad vote
March 2008
The College View
By Cian Ginty

Renewed efforts for reform of the Seanad would open voting to students from DCU and other third level institutions.

Expanding the university vote beyond students of Trinity College and the National University of Ireland (NUI) is viewed as the first step to wider reform in voting rights.

Unlike a move to give voting rights to the general public, expansion of third level voting can happen without a constitutional referendum.

In the Seanad last week Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government John Gormley revealed a short timetable for reform based on a 2004 all-party report and new consultation.

Gormley said he is “anxious” to see Seanad reform advanced with an all-party consensus before the next general election and he “committed to ensuring” reform happens while he is Minister.

“Aside from the disparity between graduates who are entitled to vote and those who are not, the system has been criticised because it confers a basic democratic right to certain people and therefore denies it to others solely on the basis of educational achievement,” Gormley said in the Seanad.

“However, given the constitutional opening, reform should focus initially on the area of widening the third level franchise.

“I am anxious to see Seanad reform advanced based on all-party consensus before the election of the 24th Seanad… I am committed to ensuring some of these reforms are made while I am Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government,” he added.

The all-party report on Seanad reform in 2004 recommended the inclusion of DCU, Saint Patrick’s College in Drumcondra, the National College of Art and Design, the University of Limerick, the Institutes of Technology, and colleges governed by the Higher Education and Training Awards Council.

Currently the third level vote fills six seats – three from Trinity and three from the NUI.

Eleven senators are appointed by the Taoiseach, and the remaining 43 are voted on by local councillors.

The report was the 12th such report on changing how the Seanad is elected and works, but Gormley has said he will introduce legislation by the end of this year with or without consensus.

The Minister thanked Senator Joe O’Toole for his work on this issue, while also noting that there is not full consensus on reform.

“Senators have said they want to see a whole package and not a piecemeal approach. I do not believe it is piecemeal. We can have a number of smaller reforms,” Gormley said.

“It is vital to have some reform because if there is no reform, people will say we are stuck in a situation where nothing is happening at all. Once we get the ball rolling we can then see what further reforms are possible.

“If consensus cannot be reached it is my intention to introduce legislation by the end of this year that is as close as I can identify to such a consensus. Part of such legislation will include the extension of the university franchise to ensure elections to the 24th Seanad will be conducted with an increased electorate,” he added.

It is understood to be the first time advancements have been made beyond reports, with the Minister laying down a timetable and saying after all-party consultation he would look to have a “final meeting over the coming weeks”.

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