Could the call for radical Seanad reform re-ignite debate over Oireachtas reform?

Posted by David Farrell, April 13, 2015

The Report of the Working Group on Seanad Reform was published earlier today (see here). It was given a limited range of options: no change, minor change, or major change (but not involving constitutional reform). In opting for the latter the working group has defied most expectations (certainly mine), and in so doing has potentially re-opened the far more important debate over the need for radical Oireachtas reform. Continue reading

Survey on Seanad Reform*

The rejection of the Seanad-abolition referendum in 2013 left more questions unanswered than it asked. However, what was clear from discussion during the referendum is that the Seanad as-is is unsatisfactory to the consensus of people.
With the question still lingering, and numerous reform bills circulating the Oireachtas, the Government announced in December that it was setting up a working group to recommend options for Seanad reform. The group, chaired by Dr. Maurice Manning, comprises former senators and political scientists, including an editor of this website, Dr. Elaine Byrne.

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Seanad Éireann: Lots to Reform

After the Irish people chose to retain the Seanad last year, the focus has now shifted to the question of reform. The government has announced its intention to reform the University franchise as allowed by the 1978 amendment to the Constitution. The main campaigning platform for Seanad retention, Democracy Matters, has embarked on a new campaign to argue for reform. The Royal Irish Academy recently held a symposium bringing experts on Bicameralism together to discuss the prospects for change.

The main focus of reform is on the extension of the franchise as envisaged in the Zappone-Quinn and Crown bills tabled last year. However David Farrell, in today’s Irish Times, points out Continue reading

RIA discussion forum ‘Models of Bicameralism’


Posted on behalf of the RIA

Venue: Academy House
Date: Tuesday 4 February 2014, 11.00-18.00

Following the recent referendum in which the Irish people rejected the proposal to abolish Seanad Éireann, the question of possible directions for reform has emerged as a significant theme in discussion of political change. The aim of this discussion seminar is to place the current reform discourse in its historical context, provide an overview on the reform of second chambers internationally, and finally act as a forum in which potential proposals for the reform of Seanad Éireann can be discussed. This discussion will consider the following key elements:

The role of the Seanad
The composition of membership
The powers of the Seanad

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Why do we need a directly elected Seanad?

The fallout from the Seanad referendum continues.  Various groups (most prominent among them Democracy Matters), political parties (notably Fianna Fáil) and prominent individuals such as Michael McDowell are clamouring for the government to introduce legislation to allow for the direct election of the next Seanad.  An editorial in today’s Irish Times makes supportive noises in the same direction, inviting the government to show some ‘flexibility’ on the matter.

To put some comparative context, the table below shows the state of play today in Europe’s 33 democracies.  (I would be grateful for information on any errors that might need correcting.)  As set out below, the facts speak for themselves.  Were we to move to a system of directly electing our Seanad, we would be pretty much a unique case in Europe (based particularly on our small population size and the fact that we have a unitary system of government). Continue reading

Referendum campaigns are not like election campaigns

This post is based on a brief talk I gave on October 10 at a post-mortem on the referendum organized by the Voters, Parties and Elections section of the Political Studies Association of Ireland.


The more recent referendums on Seanad abolition and the Court of Appeal should give political parties – and particularly their back room strategists – some cause to reflect on how referendums are run in this country. Ireland is third to Switzerland and Italy in terms of the number of referendums held, and yet how we administer referendums and how the parties fight them are still in the Stone Age. With the promise of more referendums to come, this is a problem that needs urgent attention. Continue reading

Perspective on Seanad Abolition

By Vanessa Liston (

Opinion polls are built into the fabric of our political system. We look to them as a fountain of knowledge on people’s minds, as we search for clues and cues in meandering a fractious course to the polling booth. Yet, given the outcome of the Seanad referendum, that quite dramatically violated most poll predictions, it should be of concern that there are few alternatives to understanding public opinion in such significant decision-making events.

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