Varadkar calls for urgent reform of the Seanad

As the votes are being counted, Fine Gael TD Leo Varadkar calls for reform of Seanad Eireann.

In a survey conducted by Varadkar's office, several of the bodies with responsibility for nominating people to the Seanad were found to be uncontactable.

“My office has carried out a detailed survey of the bodies nominating candidates to the Seanad. While many of the nominating bodies are large trade unions or business organisations, most are not household names. In the case of three bodies, we were unable to contact them by telephone or registered letter: The Old Dublin Society, Local Authority Medical Specialist Ltd and The Irish Architects Society”, Vadkar said in a statement released today.

"None of these bodies has a public listed phone number and they are joined in that distinction by the Association of Patent and Trademark Attorneys and The Hospitality Institute. Three other nominating bodies only have a PO Box address and six others use a private home address,” Varadkar said.

Another report commissioned by Sean O'Connor shows that “up to  €800,000 in public money could be wasted in the current elections, with 1.8 million pieces of undeliverable mail being generated”.

The report, carried out by Experian, an information services group, analysed the Seanad electoral registery of Trinity and the NUI graduates. On his website, O'Connor made the following statement: “Astonishingly, the report revealed that the NUI register was 67 per cent incorrect while the Trinity register of voters was 57 per cent incorrect. The two registers combined total almost 150,000 graduates of the respective universities”.

The Report on Seanad Reform released in 2004 called for a major reform of the Seanad. None of these reforms have been implemented to date.

Currently, graduates from Trinity (TCD), UCC, UCD and UCG are eligible to vote in the Seanad elections. The report had the following recommendations on the issue of higher education senators:

 “There should be a single national constituency consisting of six seats elected under PR-STV. The election to the university seats should take place on the same day as the European and local elections. The electorate should comprise all graduates of institutions of higher education in the State holding a primary degree or an equivalent award at level 7 in the National Framework of Qualifications”.

Upon release of the survey Varadkar was adamant about the need to reform the Seanad. “This survey exposes the urgent need for Seanad reform. Some of the Seanad nominating bodies are little more than a one-man band. Many, though genuine, have only a few hundred members. In fact, they have fewer members and less democratic legitimacy than most Residents' Associations or Sports Clubs in my Dublin West Constituency. This is no way to elect a parliament.”

"Seanad Éireann is very much a creature of its time, created in the 1930s. Today, counting begins for the Senate elections. This should be the last time that the Seanad is elected in this way. In 2004, an all-party committee of the Seanad drew up proposals for fundamental reform of the Seanad. That report is on the desks of the Taoiseach and the Minister for the Environment. I am calling on the Taoiseach and Environment Minister to commit to wholesale reform of the Seanad so that a new parliament can be elected under new rules at the same time as the local and European elections in 2009."

More Stories: Click here to read Vincent Browne's July 2007 editorial on Seanad Reform