Elaine Byrne, University of New South Wales: 4 September 2013
“10 reports in 75 years – NO reforms introduced to the Seanad” is Fine Gael’s slogan to abolish the Seanad.
That’s not true. The Seanad was reformed in 1947 with the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1947. A longer version of my Sunday Independent article will be published on Historyhub.ie later this week.
The Act addressed the areas which had been open to abuse during the 1938 and 1943 Seanad elections.
Nominating bodies were more tightly defined. The Electoral College was tripled to 900 and included all senators, deputies and all hues of councillors. Election procedures were reformed so that each vocational panel had two sub-panels – the nominating bodies’ sub-panel and the Oireachtas sub-panel. The postal voting system was changed – electors now had to mark and post their ballot papers in the presence of a returning officer. The Act forms the procedures for elections to the Seanad today, with minor modifications made in the Acts of 1954 and 1972, though the legitimacy of the nomination process and the closed electoral college continues to raise eyebrows.
This solitary major reform of the Seanad in its 75-year history was due to Taoiseach Eamon de Valera. The 1947 reform shows that it is only the Taoiseach of the day that can bring about meaningful Seanad reform.