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 of it there are massive practical issues around how the register would be generated and maintained and the costs associated with this, how counting could take place, the fact that panels will elect senators with no reference to the size of the electorate as well as the broader issue of having a body potentially with significant democratic legitimacy in conflict with the lower house.
Most agree if you are to have meaningful Seanad reform it probably can’t happen within the confines of the Constitution, though it’s debatable whether this is desirable (see Michael Gallagher on this)  and it’s unlikely any government will want to go to the people again on this issue anytime soon. If we are looking at Seanad reform, perhaps a few issues arise: Who votes? When do they vote? What powers should a Seanad have/ what should it do?

Seanad Reform Bills

Seanad Bill 2013 Seanad Electoral Reform Bill
Proposed by who? Katherine Zappone, Fergal Quinn John Crowne
University Panels One University Panel Three University Panels – TCD, NUI, others
Six Members Two Members in each

Vocational Panels

Cultural & Education Panel Eight Members Nine Members
Agricultural Nine Members Eight Members
Labour Ten Members Nine Members (renamed Workers)
Industrial and Commercial Eight Members Eight Members (renamed Professional)
Administration Eight Members Nine Members (renamed Civic)
Gender? Each panel must return 50% of each gender Silent on this
Who can vote in Vocational Panels? All people who can vote in other elections All local government elections
Overseas? All passport holders can vote All citizens of Ireland who have a passport can vote
Northern Irish? All who are eligible for Irish citizenship No specific mention. Person has to be a citizen & passport holder.
Who can nominate to vocational panels? 500 people 1,000 nominations required from local government electors
One or more local authority
A nominating body
How is suitability for vocational panels attested? Person’s credentials are to be reviewed by a Judicial Assessor (a retired judge) The 1,000 nomination forms must attest to suitability for the relevant panel
Remuneration 50% of a TDs salary. No severance pay for Senators who lose their seat Silent on this
Additional Role Creation of Seanad Select Committees on Statutory Instruments, EU Legislation and Public Appointments Silent on additional roles 

3 thoughts on “Seanad reform – what’s on offer?

  1. Thanks for this John.

    This is just the kind of thing that the Constitutional Convention would eat up. Here we have two well-thought through proposals for legislative-based reform. Both are broadly similar but differ on details.

    Why not put the details of these proposals (and others, if forthcoming) to the Constitutional Convention and have the Convention discuss and recommend on the individual details of each (a sort of Seanad reform à la carte)? Then have the Oireacthas go implement the Convention’s recommendations.

    • I suggest that the Constitutional Convention would get a severe case of indigestion if it were asked to look at the Quinn-Zappone bill.

      As an example fo the issues the Convention would have to grapple with, I refer you to the searching analysis by Richard Humphreys SC ( a Labour Party Councillor) of the Quinn-Zappone bill in this forum.

      Note also that it only drew “ad hominem” comments from Noel Whelan – another barrister who campaigned actively in favour of retaining the Seanad.

      Having read read the Quinn-Zappone Bill as soon as I could get my hands on a printed copy, I was completely underwhelmed by two proposed measures, as they cannot add to the checks and balances to limit the scope for excess by by the powerful in this Republic.

      1) Extension of the electorate to non-resident citizens;
      2) the retention of vocational interest groups – necessary because of Article 18.7

      1) Extension of the electorate to non-resident citizens;
      The extension of the electorate to all Irish passport holders and to those Northern Irish eligible for Irish citizenship needs far more consideration that I heard given to it by Senator Zappone herself or others supporting the retention of the Seanad.

      I remain puzzled by the continuous drive to give citizens who do not reside here a vote and similarly, no equal drive to give other citizens who do live here a vote. There may be good and valid reasons for what seems to be an unquestioned form of discrimination.

      I suggest that to maintain social cohesion and legitimacy of government, it seems sensible that those with the right to vote in elections in this Republic should be subject to the outcome of that vote, in terms of laws passed by the Oireachtas and other measures enacted by the Governments and local authorities which govern after elections.
      On this basis, why should
      a) Some long time residents in this state, who are not citizens of the Republic, have the right to vote in elections here,
      b) While other long time residents in this state, but who are also not citizens of the Republic, do not have the right to vote in elections here –
      when both groups are subject to the outcomes of these elections eg. taxes, other legislative measures ie. NCT rules?

      On the same basis, why should
      c) Irish citizens who no longer reside here (eg. emigrants) be granted the right to vote in any election here
      d) Irish citizens who have never lived here, be granted the right to vote –
      or even some form of representation in our elected assemblies when they are not subject to the outcomes?

      I raised this general issue in a submission to the Constitutional Convention ie. Reforming the Dáil electoral system solves what problem? par 5.4 p.15
      and also in a comment here

      2) the retention of vocational interest groups – necessary because of Article 18.7 of our 1937 Constitution.

      NESC ( a forum (members appointed by the Taoiseach) for vocational interest groups has admitted that incompetence and lack of insight has led to the current social, economic and fiscal crisis here. (Among the seven Government nominees are the Secretaries-General of five Government Departments.)
      “ In the past decade, Ireland’s approach to fiscal policy, prices, costs and financial regulation were not sufficiently adapted to the disciplines of a single currency.”
      Press Release from National Economic and Social Council (NESC) on a report “The Euro: an Irish Perspective” 17th August 2010. Among the seven Government nominees are the Secretaries-General of five Government Departments.

      Click to access The%20euro%20MEDIA%20RELEASE%20from%20NESC.pdf

      Our political/administrative/trade union/financial/business leaders have no excuse for overlooking the constraints of being a member of a currency union. For much of our history since independence, we were in a currency union with Britain as is Northern Ireland still. This had pros and cons, as does being a €urozone member.

      In a Seanad debate on 26 March 2003, the tnen Senator Joe O’Toole expressed, pithily, the kind of perspective that most interest groups have when dealing with the State. In this case, Joe O’Toole was talking about the benchmarking process
      “The ATM machine is nicely stacked up after today’s business. I look [356]forward to that spitting out money in all directions, including the Members of the Oireachtas, in a short period.”

      (Apart from retaining the Seanad, we have yet to hear what the now retired Joe O’Toole proposes now that the Government ATM can only function with borrowings of about €1bn/month and ECB support for the banks here)

      The late Mancur Olson made some striking observations on the societal effects of the cumulation of the powers of interest groups. Recently, this was succinctly summarised as follows,

      ” Olsen argues that small distributional coalitions tend to form over time in countries to influence policies in their favor. These policies will generally generate selective benefits concentrated amongst the few members of the coalition, while the costs are diffused through¬out the whole population; the “Logic” therefore dictates that there will be little public resistance to them. Hence as time goes on, and these distributional coalitions accumulate in greater and greater numbers, the nation burdened by them will fall into economic decline. See: Olson. M. (1971) [1965]. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (Revised edition ed.). Harvard, Harvard University Press.”
      Curtin, Joseph & Hanrahan, Gina. Why Legislate? Designing a Climate Law for Ireland, Dublin: Institute of International and European Affairs, February 2012.

      The Quinn-Zappone Bill would do absolutely nothing to rid the citizens of this Republic of the accumulation of interest group-based distributional coalitions. In fact, it would cement such corporatist influences in this Republic.

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