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).
Here are the main trends of interest:
Of the 33 democracies in Europe, 14 of these have upper houses.
Of the 14 European democracies with upper houses:
- 5 of these are federations (so that the upper house has a distinct role in representing the interests of the states)
- 7 are directly elected
- All but Slovenia (population 1.9 million) have a population size greater than Ireland’s (4.7 million), and Slovenia doesn’t directly elect its upper house
What all this amounts to is the following fact: were Ireland to opt for the direct election of the Seanad it would quite literally be the only small non-federal country in Europe to do so.