From top: Seanad Eireann; Anne Marie McNally
Are you are one of the lucky ones who can cast your vote in the upcoming Seanad election?
Make it count.
Anne Marie McNally writes:
It’s almost election time again. No matter what Bill and Ben decide in the big room of chats, there will be an election in the coming weeks – an election to elect national legislators who will preside over the passage of legislation that will impact on both the country as a whole and your life personally.
The catch here is this; unless you are one of a handful of elite graduates from select institutions then you will not get the chance to that vote in that election.
Yes, you guessed it, it’s the Seanad election.
To be clear, even if a General Election is called we will still have to go ahead with the current Seanad election and then following the General Election there would be yet another Seanad election with the same process. The Seanad election MUST take place within 90 days of a General Election being called.
Two years ago there was a referendum put to the people as to whether to keep or abolish the Seanad. The third (& seemingly most favoured option) which was not put to the people was to maintain the Seanad with dramatic reforms to the institution itself and to the process which ‘elects’ the institution.
Two years since that referendum we stand poised to have another run of the Upper House with absolutely zero changes to either the institution or the electoral process associated with it.
Of the 60 members who will sit in our Upper House, 11 will be nominated by the Taoiseach (whomever that may be!) six will be elected from the University Panels – consisting of just two universities – the National University of Ireland and the University Of Dublin (Trinity).
Each of those two institutions will elect three members to make up the six University members of the Seanad.
Feeling represented yet?
The remaining 43 ‘panel’ members of the Seanad will run on the panel where they supposedly have ‘knowledge and practical experience’ on the subject of the panel.
It’s not clear if being a rejected General Election candidate qualifies you but it appears so judging by the candidates for the upcoming panels).
The panels are as follows:
-Cultural and Educational Panel
-Industrial and Commercial Panel
Now here’s the real rub…you may be thinking ‘OK I didn’t attend either Trinity or NUI but I can choose my legislators on the general panel elections…’
Not unless you are either (a) a member of the incoming Dáil (b) a Member of the outgoing Seanad –the irony! Or (c) an elected Councillor on either a city or county council.
So unless you’re one of a very select few who went to either of the ‘chosen’ Universities or an elected official (or a Senator vacating your seat!) then you will not have the opportunity to have any say whatsoever in the election of the 60 people who will sit in the Upper House of our Oireachtas.
Now you may console yourself by saying things like ‘ah sure they’ve no power anyway’ and for the most part you wouldn’t be far wrong however if we want an Oireachtas and a legislature that is truly representative of the citizens and that is for and of the citizens then we cannot sit back and allow the Seanad to continue in its current form.
We should not accept that 60 undemocratically elected people will spend the next few years (or months depending on the political landscape) coasting along on very nice salaries and expense accounts while being cushioned by the ‘there’s not much we can do anyway’ argument.
That’s why when you (if you are one of the very few lucky ones who can) cast your vote in the upcoming Seanad election then vote for someone who is not satisfied to hide in the shadows for the next lifespan of the Seanad.
Elect someone who is prepared to stand up and challenge the status quo both inside and outside the Upper House,
Someone with genuine background on the panel they are running on or someone on the University panels who has raised their voice for change against the odds rather than the high-profile politician who’s using a branch of our democracy as a stepping stone or a layover on their political career.
Anne Marie McNally is a founding member of the Social Democrats. Follow Anne Marie on Twitter: @amomcnally