Last Friday (April 1), Tom Clonan was elected a University of Dublin Senator on the 16th count. The disability campaigner and retired Irish army captain won the by-election by 160 votes and will represent Trinity in the 26th Seanad Éireann.
On the final count, Clonan received 5358 votes while psychologist Dr Maureen Gaffney received 5198.
17 candidates ran for the seat such as former Dublin Lord Mayor Hazel Chu and rugby player Hugo MacNeill, who were eliminated in previous rounds. Most of Clonan’s votes had been transfers from Chu.
This was Clonan’s third campaign for the Dublin University Seanad seat, having been unsuccessful in previous runs. A seat on the panel opened up last year when former Senator Ivana Bacik won a Dáil by-election in the Dublin Bay South constituency.
Clonan will join David Norris and Lynn Ruane on the panel.
Voting in the by-election is limited to just under 68,000 graduates of College. This year, just under 20% of those eligible voted in the election, with the total number of ballots returned amounting to 13,434.
Following his win, the Trinity Graduate admitted to RTÉ that it was unexpected and that he “ran almost as a protest, to raise the fundamental human rights issues that confront people with disabilities and the cruel obstacles they face to lead a full and fulfilling life”.
Clonan added that he thinks the Seanad “is a place where we can begin to work for Ireland’s ethical and social recovery”.
“I think it is very important that we have independent university senators who are not members of political parties, who are not just going to rubberstamp Government policy, who will hold Government to account and try to drive forward positive change.”
He continued: “My sole motivation is from our experience as a family of the challenges of having a disability in Ireland”. Clonan’s son is a wheelchair user and was his campaign manager.
“It is one of the worst countries in the European Union to have a disability on every measure – social isolation, poverty, sub-optimal outcomes – we can do better,” Clonan concluded.
In a press release, Provost Linda Doyle said: “I would like to congratulate Tom Clonan on his election to represent Trinity in Seanad Éireann. He will be following in the footsteps of some of Ireland’s most renowned and accomplished public representatives.”
“We look forward to working with Tom and the positive contributions he will make in the Seanad.”
Taoiseach Micheál Martin congratulated the winning candidate on Twitter, saying: “No doubt you will be a strong voice and advocate for disability rights in Seanad Éireann and I wish you every success.”
Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris added: “I have no doubt Tom will bring great energy, determination & dedication to his new role & will be a passionate advocate for people with disabilities.”
“Congratulations also to his son Eoghan who ran his campaign & inspires much of his dad’s work.”