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

Seanad Referendum in Perspective


By Michael Marsh

Another weekend of referendums is now over and the debate is well under way as to what the result means: what did the people say when they spoke? We have various evidence to go on: the polls, anecdotal evidence, and the nature of the campaign itself, but all these are flawed. The polls after all were ‘wrong’, or at least did not provide any simple indication of what would happen and so the ‘intentions’ voiced in the polls may diverge from the reality of what people did. Anecdotes are just that, often chosen to fit an argument rather that employed to test one. And the campaign themes themselves are not necessarily those that motivated most voters to pick yes, no, or indeed to switch off. 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.

Continue reading

Seanad reform – what’s on offer?

Post by John Carroll
During the past few weeks, we’ve heard much about the Zappone/Quinn and Crowne Seanad bills offering a roadmap for non-constitutional Seanad reform. Apparently these Bills can be the “legislative template” for Seanad reform that could be put in place within 75 days yet surprisingly few people (beyond Richard Humphreys and Eoin O’Malley) seem to have considered what is in them and the issues they throw up.  So, for those interested in what these Bills contain, I’ve put a general summary below, which might give people food for thought. From a cursory reading Continue reading

The people have mumbled. What was it they said?

election-count-1_3By Seán Patrick Donlan (University of Limerick)

It’s all too easy after any election, no matter how slight the margin of victory, by however small a portion of the electorate, to declare that the result represents a mandate of some sort. When this isn’t merely spin, it’s often the product of wishful thinking, the hope that some clear intention is waiting for us to discover and act on. Indeed, both the winners and losers might desire this clarity so that each can move on with their lives. Continue reading

Democracy and Other Matters

Dr Seán Patrick Donlan, School of Law, University of Limerick


Predictably if depressingly, the debates around the Government referendum on the abolition of the Seanad have proven to be as ideological as intellectual, often more sophomoric than substantive. The vote honours a political promise initially made by parties and personalities now on both sides of the issue. Most of the membership of Fine Gael and the Labour Party, allied in this instance with strange bed-fellows Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party, want a YES vote. Fianna Fáil, who led coalition governments for the fourteen or so years before the debacle of the last general election only two years ago, are now campaigning for a NO result. Continue reading

Would a reformed Seanad be the worst outcome of all?

By Michael Gallagher

Never in its history has the Seanad been the focus of so much attention. Is it a vital bastion of democracy without which governments would be able to trample all over everyone’s rights, or conversely an expensive anachronism draining resources that could make a huge difference elsewhere?

Probably neither. It does a little bit of good – it provides a venue where legislation might be scrutinised in a more reflective atmosphere than in the Dáil, though no-one seems to have attempted to quantify its impact. In an article in the Sunday Business Post of 1 September Senator Katherine Zappone writes that ‘members of the Seanad have tabled 529 amendments to 14 Bills that have been passed over the past two years’. That’s a bit cryptic, but even if it is saying that all 529 amendments have been passed, it leaves uncertain how many of these represented good ideas that Senators and no-one else thought of, and how many were government amendments that happened to be introduced in the Seanad rather than the Dáil. Senators also take part in Oireachtas committees, which pretty much everyone seems to agree should have a larger role than they do – but on the whole the committees, if given a more meaningful role in preparing legislation and scrutinising government, would function perfectly well without Senators.

  Continue reading

It’s time for a political reform roadmap, a plan, an info-graphic, anything!

dohertyPosted by Theresa Reidy (UCC)

Fine Gael launched its campaign to abolish the Seanad last week and this week, we finally got the date for the referendum. Political reform is back in the headlines and set to take up a reasonable chunk of the airtime during silly season. Seanad abolition is one of the central planks of the Government’s reform agenda. Whatever your views on the Seanad itself, this campaign reminds us that we are engaged in the most significant Continue reading

If the Seanad is to be abolished then the government must explain (properly!) why

And so they’re off! The Fine Gael party today launched their referendum campaign to abolish the Seanad, with Richard Bruton in the driving seat as director of elections for the party and Regina Doherty as his deputy.

Having brought this issue to a head, the onus is now firmly on the government, and particularly on Fine Gael (given that we all know who really is responsible for this referendum question) to produce a coherent argument as to why the Seanad should be abolished. Up until now the Taoiseach’s line has been – wrongly – that abolition of the Seanad would be a major piece of political reform. To his credit, in his press statement today Richard Bruton steers clear from that silly notion. Continue reading