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 A Seanad for the 21st Century

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PostSubject: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Tue Jul 01, 2008 7:26 pm

Ard Taoiseach's plans for a Council of State brought me back to this old chestnut.

This is what we've got (courtesy of Wikipedia).

Quote :

Seanad Éireann consists of sixty members:

  • Eleven appointed by the Taoiseach (prime minister)
  • Six elected by the graduates of certain Irish universities:


  • 43 elected from five special panels of nominees (known as vocational panels) by an electorate consisting of TDs (member of Dáil Éireann), senators and local councillors. Nomination is restrictive for the panel seats with only Oireachtas members and designated 'nominating bodies' entitled to nominate. Each of the five panels consists, in theory, of individuals possessing special knowledge of, or experience in, one of five specific fields. In practice the nominees are party members, often, though not always, failed or aspiring Dáil candidates:



My suggestion is to scratch the '(s)election' system we currently have - which is completely unfair, and start again.

I think the idea of panels is a good one, but maybe we need more - a science and technology panel and one that looks at social and legal matters (not just social services).

1. Obviously the Taoiseach should not be in a position to grant political favours by rewarding the unelected with a seat in what should be a democratic institution.

2. Either all the universities vote - or none, and I'd propose the latter. None of my siblings are entitled to vote, and I don't claim to be a better citizen than any of them are. There's no justitification in supporting such elitism.

3.Elected representatives electing more representatives smacks of cronyism - that would have to go too. Each citizen who registers to vote should be entitled to vote for a Seanad member.

That's where the difficulty arises. My tentative (and nowhere near fully worked out!) suggestion would be that those who wish to vote in the Seanad election would be entitled to make a selection in three of the (whatever number of) panels, and would register their panel preference at registration time.

(And as a person who got three polling cards, I know the current voter registration system is not good but that doesn't mean we can't aspire to greatness in efficiency!).

The nomination system would be trickier - I'm open to suggestions on that. But it should allow us to nominate the Peter McVerrys and Garry Hynes of the world, not just the Feargal Quinns...

As to the work of the Seanad, perhaps that's a debate for another thread but for now, I'm open to all kinds of suggestions...

...the floor is yours.
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Tue Jul 01, 2008 8:06 pm

I think they should give everybody a vote in it's formation or scrap it. The fact that there are any requrements other than being a citizen is abhorrent to me. They should have moved them out to accomodate the Natural History Museum.
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Wed Jul 02, 2008 12:17 am

Way back when KateP, I think in the mid or late 20s much of the Seanad was elected by a single nationwide constituency. Apparently the ballot paper was a sight to behold. But I think your solutions/proposals are better! Very Happy
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Wed Jul 02, 2008 12:25 am

Quote :
Apparently the ballot paper was a sight to behold

... and with no pictures, however did the electorate manage. But manage they did. Shocked

Have you any suggestions for a nomination process, WBS? Do you recall (ahem) how it worked way back then?
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Wed Jul 02, 2008 12:33 am

I seem to think it was open, or more or less open, but I could be wrong... it's so long ago now Wink

A nomination process? I'll have to think about that. It's very tricky. An open one? No conditions? Really it depends on what we want the Seanad to be like and what we think it's for.
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Wed Jul 02, 2008 1:56 am

Kate P wrote:
Ard Taoiseach's plans for a Council of State brought me back to this old chestnut.

I like the thread title Kate P!

Quote :
...the floor is yours.

Thanks very much. I wonder whether it might be good to have a Seanad which is elected very much like the Senate in the United States where each constituency elects an equal number of Senators to Seanad Éireann.

What about dividing the State into 30 electoral constituencies for an Seanad with each constituencies returning 2 representatives to the chamber. That would mean that we would get a direct democratic link between Seanad Éireann and the People.

This would also help smaller counties like Leitrim in having their voice heard on a national stage. At the moment Leitrim has been shorn into two with it being forced to ride pillion passenger with Sligo and Roscommon in elections. As a result, Leitrim returned no TDanna to Dáil Éireann in 2007. In this new system for Seanad Éireann, Leitrim could get a national representative to bring their concerns to the capital and to communicate their issues to the Government.

Making the Seanad into a chamber where real control can be won and lost in the cut and thrust of a direct election would bring fresh relevance and attention to this institution. It would no longer be the poor relation, the less-appreciated sister of Dáil Éireann. It would be its equal.
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Fri Jul 18, 2008 7:00 pm

What is people's opinion on appointment to the Seanad and to the cabinet thereafter?
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Fri Jul 18, 2008 7:02 pm

johnfás wrote:
What is people's opinion on appointment to the Seanad and to the cabinet thereafter?

Anyone in particular? Or in principle
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Fri Jul 18, 2008 7:04 pm

In principle. So say for instance, appointing Gerry Robinson to the Seanad and then straight in as Minister for Health. Not a proposal, merely hypothesising.

It is perfectly permissible under the Constitution.
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Fri Jul 18, 2008 7:09 pm

johnfás wrote:
In principle. So say for instance, appointing Gerry Robinson to the Seanad and then straight in as Minister for Health. Not a proposal, merely hypothesising.

It is perfectly permissible under the Constitution.

Has it never been done?

It would be fine if everyone had a vote for the Seanad.
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Fri Jul 18, 2008 7:18 pm

Well I was talking about it from the point of view of Taoiseach nominees, which would be inherently unelected. The point would be in certain circumstances to appoint someone who is unelected to the cabinet in order to fulfil a particular task - where you have a crisis in the health service, or where you need oversight of a national development plan and do not possess the expertise in elected representatives. Of course you do assme that the senior civil servants should be capable. You already have it in a limited extent with the Attorney General, but of course s/he does not have voting rights at the Cabinet Table.

Under the Constitution you can have two senators serve in the cabinet. I believe it was done for some small ministries in the 1930s and 1940s, but not since.
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Fri Jul 18, 2008 8:54 pm

The one and only time I bought the Sunday Independent was to read what Harris would have to say about becoming a senator. He modestly proposed a cabinet position for himself, justice or defence preferably.

I recently became eligible for voting in senators, thanks to my graduating from Maynooth. It rasies a few conundrums. Should I vote, when the average Joe is denied a voice. Doesn't sound democratic to me. Would I be failing in my duties as a citizen if I didn't register? Should I be bothered at all; it's not like the senate does anything, right? Does anyone here vote in senators?
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Fri Jul 18, 2008 9:10 pm

Wasn't eligible last time round, but I will be voting next time in the NUI if Seanad reform hasn't occurred.
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Sat Jul 19, 2008 8:55 am

johnfás wrote:
In principle. So say for instance, appointing Gerry Robinson to the Seanad and then straight in as Minister for Health. Not a proposal, merely hypothesising.

It is perfectly permissible under the Constitution.

Can't rem. exactly, but didn't Garret FitzGerald appoint Jim Dooge to the Senate and then made him Min. for Foreign Affairs? No idea of Garret's reasons for that.
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Sun Jul 20, 2008 5:39 pm

I've merged the last few quotes here from Should Have Listened to Joseph.

Kate P, Mod.
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Mon Jul 21, 2008 2:09 am

johnfás wrote:
Well I was talking about it from the point of view of Taoiseach nominees, which would be inherently unelected.

I like the fact that an Taoiseach can appoint a certain number of Senators to Seanad Éireann. It means that he/she can indeed appoint the likes of Gerry Robinson to subsequently become a Cabinet minister. It means that an Taoiseach can bring fresh experience from outside into the political and legislative process. It also means an Taoiseach can bring in people not beholden to the party hierarchy who can go about a job in a largely apolitical fashion. It is an unexercised jewel in the crown of Bunreacht na hÉireann. We could've had some Ministers as a result of Taoiseachúil appointments.

Quote :
Under the Constitution you can have two senators serve in the cabinet. I believe it was done for some small ministries in the 1930s and 1940s, but not since.

It should be done again. David Norris would make a great Minister for Arts Sport and Tourism, Shane Ross would do well as Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Dan Boyle could be junior Minister for Transport and so on.
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Mon Jul 21, 2008 2:14 am

Aren't there certain ministerial positions that can't be given to senators?
Minister for Finance I think is one and I'm fairly sure there's another.
What I mean is that they have to be selected from among members of the Dail
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Mon Jul 21, 2008 2:16 am

Count me as an outsider, Ard-T, but remind me who has behaved as a genuine outsider to the party political process, from the govt appointees of the last 10 or so years... genuine honest question ...
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Mon Jul 21, 2008 2:21 am

Atticus wrote:
Count me as an outsider, Ard-T, but remind me who has behaved as a genuine outsider to the party political process, from the govt appointees of the last 10 or so years... genuine honest question ...

I know Atticus. There is a degree of grubbiness to our bodypolitik. I was talking in idealistic terms. In an ideal world, outsiders are unpolluted by the skullduggeries and nefarious necessities of a successful political career.
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Mon Jul 21, 2008 4:50 pm

Quote :
I like the fact that an Taoiseach can appoint a certain number of Senators to Seanad Éireann. It means that he/she can indeed appoint the likes of Gerry Robinson to subsequently become a Cabinet minister. It means that an Taoiseach can bring fresh experience from outside into the political and legislative process. It also means an Taoiseach can bring in people not beholden to the party hierarchy who can go about a job in a largely apolitical fashion. It is an unexercised jewel in the crown of Bunreacht na hÉireann. We could've had some Ministers as a result of Taoiseachúil appointments.

I couldn't agree with you less, A-T, if only because it's not in the spirit of political animals to make non-political appointments. I think it's the people who should have all the rights in this area - not the Taoiseach.
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Mon Jul 21, 2008 5:40 pm

Interesting topic.

Here are some of the recommendations from the latest in a very, very long line of proposals for reform of the Seanad.


RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE FUTURE
COMPOSITION OF SEANAD ÉIREANN


Size
- The reformed Seanad should have 65 members, of
whom 32 should be directly elected, 20 should be
indirectly elected and 12 nominated by the
Taoiseach. The remaining seat should be filled by
the Cathaoirleach who should be deemed to be reelected
as a member of the House (note: if the
Cathaoirleach decided not to serve again, the
membership of the Seanad should be 64).
- Of the directly elected senators, 26 should be elected
to a national constituency under list-PR, and 6 to a
national higher education constituency under PR-STV.
- 20 senators should be indirectly elected under PRSTV
to a national constituency by county
councillors, Dáil deputies and senators.
- 12 senators should be nominated by the Taoiseach.

Rolling Renewal
- The Seanad should be renewed on a rolling basis.
- The direct elections should take place on the same
day as the European Parliament and local elections.
- The indirect elections should take place not later
than 90 days after the Dáil General Election.
- The Taoiseach’s nominations should be made after
the Dáil General Election.

Direct Elections
- There should be a single national constituency
consisting of 26 seats elected under list-PR using
the largest remainder system.
The direct election to the Seanad should take place
on the same day as the European and local elections.
- A national register of Seanad electors should be
compiled. The electorate should comprise all those
entitled to vote at Dáil general elections, excluding
those who had chosen to exercise their franchise in
the higher education elections and those entitled to
vote in indirect elections.
- Voters should cast their votes at polling stations (a
person could apply to vote by postal ballot if he/she
were to be away from the constituency on polling
day; such application to be made not later than one
month before the polling date).
Higher Education Constituency
- 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.
- To run in the election, each candidate should be
nominated by ten graduates.
- Each candidate should nominate an alternate in
accordance with the arrangements in place for
European Parliament elections.
- Voters should cast their votes at polling stations (a
person could apply to vote by postal ballot if he/she
were to be away from their constituency on polling
day; such application to be made not later than one
month before the polling date).
- A once-off registration process should take place for
existing graduates so that they can decide whether
they wish to opt onto the Higher Education register
of electors and out of the National Register of
electors.
- Once the initial register is compiled, each
succeeding year’s graduates should choose on
graduating between being on the Higher Education
Register or the National Register.
Indirect Elections
- There should be a single national constituency for
indirect elections consisting of 20 seats elected
under PR-STV.
- The indirect election to the Seanad should take
place not later than 90 days after a Dáil General
Election.
- The electorate should comprise county and county
borough councillors, and members of the incoming
Dáil and Seanad.
- A national register for indirect elections should be
compiled by the Clerk of the Seanad.
- To run in the indirect election, a candidate should
be nominated by ten people on the register of
electors for indirect elections. Each nominator could
only nominate one candidate.
- Voters should cast their votes by postal ballot.

Taoiseach’s Nominees
- The Taoiseach should nominate twelve senators.
- Two senators should be from Northern Ireland, one
each from the Unionist and Nationalist traditions.
This provision should be specifically defined either
by way of constitutional amendment or legislation
(the Sub-Committee recommends the latter).
- In nominating senators, the Taoiseach should have
regard to the capacity of his nominees to represent
emigrants, immigrants and under-represented
groups in Irish society. This should be provided for
in legislation.

Former Taoisigh and Tánaistí
- Former Taoisigh and Tánaistí should have the right
to attend and speak, but not vote, in the Seanad.
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Mon Jul 21, 2008 5:42 pm

I think some of these suggestions are interesting.

Senior Public Appointments
- The Seanad should be assigned responsibility for
the scrutiny of senior public appointments, and
legislation to give effect to this role should be
brought forward by the Government.
Right of Attendance at Cabinet
- The next Leader of the Seanad should have the right
to attend Cabinet with the status of either a Minister
or Minister of State (the current Leader of the
Seanad has stated that she does not wish to be
considered for this Cabinet position).

Legislation
- A formal system of public consultation should be put
in place in the Seanad to allow for consultation with
interested groups and individuals early in the
legislative process.

EU Affairs
- The Seanad should be given a new role in EU
affairs with responsibility for —
i Assessing legislative and other proposals going
before EU Councils;
ii Reviewing draft EU legislation of major national
policy importance;
iii Providing Irish MEPs with a domestic forum to
discuss EU issues and account for their work; and
iv Developing a medium-term policy framework to
address the challenges and opportunities facing
Ireland in Europe over the next ten years.
Public Policy
- The Seanad should assume the role of principal
policy reviewer in the Houses of the Oireachtas,
concentrating initially on —
i Medium-term economic and social planning;
ii Performance of Government Departments, State
agencies and Semi-State bodies;
iii Social Partnership; and
iv North-South Implementation Bodies established
under the British-Irish Agreement.
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Mon Jul 21, 2008 7:24 pm

Whose proposals are these, unaligned? There's food for thought in there for sure...
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Tue Jul 22, 2008 6:07 pm

Kate P wrote:
Whose proposals are these, unaligned? There's food for thought in there for sure...

They are a summary of the proposals from a Seanad Sub-Committee. It was convened in 2004 and the group reported its findings late last year. Mary O'Rourke and Brian Hayes did a lot of the running on what is (in my opinion) a very worthwhile reform package. It will, in all likelihood, never see the light of day.

Here is the link to the full report.


Full Report
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PostSubject: Re: A Seanad for the 21st Century   Tue Jul 22, 2008 11:09 pm

Quote :
EU Affairs
- The Seanad should be given a new role in EU
affairs with responsibility for —
i Assessing legislative and other proposals going
before EU Councils;
ii Reviewing draft EU legislation of major national
policy importance;
iii Providing Irish MEPs with a domestic forum to
discuss EU issues and account for their work; and
iv Developing a medium-term policy framework to
address the challenges and opportunities facing
Ireland in Europe over the next ten years.
Public Policy
- The Seanad should assume the role of principal
policy reviewer in the Houses of the Oireachtas,
concentrating initially on —
i Medium-term economic and social planning;
ii Performance of Government Departments, State
agencies and Semi-State bodies;
iii Social Partnership; and
iv North-South Implementation Bodies established
under the British-Irish Agreement.

This is interesting: one of the things coming out of the Lisbon debate is the serious lack of scrutiny and discussion of EU draft policy / policy at national level.
On the one hand there is clearly a need for a proper structure to deal with it but on the other hand, given the overriding importance of EU legislation, should it be delegated to the lesser of the two houses?
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