A Fianna Fáil submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Seanad Reform has proposed reducing the number of University seats in the Seanad from six down to two. This possible reform could see the College lose two of its current three Senators.
This will have obvious implications for the incumbent University Senators David Norris and Shane Ross (Independents) and recent Labour convert Ivana Bacik.
Following on from the publication of the McCarthy report, the 26 Fianna Fáil Senators have submitted their proposals to Minister for the Environment John Gormley on the long-talked about reform of the Upper House.
According to the proposals, both the National University and Trinity College should have their seats reduced to one each, and a further seat should be created to include graduates from other third-level institutions.
There has been a constitutional amendment in place since 1979 to allow for the creation of an extra place for other institutions but so far, this has not been implemented. According to leader of the Fianna Fáil group in the Senate, Donie Cassidy, the implementation of such a seat is only fair. According to Cassidy, “it is only right that these graduates are recognised, it is only right that they should have their say”.
The current proposal has left University Senators defending their seats. Senator Norris has acknowledged the current disproportionate representatives from other third-level institutions but has admitted that while there may be a “disproportion mathematically, we make up for it in quality!”
While all of the current University Senators admit that a reform of the Senate is needed, no Senator believes that the University seats alone should be subject to such a reform.
According to Senator Ross, “University senators have a proud record of independent thought. Some, like Mary Robinson, have made a political mark with effective political action. It would be a pity to abandon this proud tradition, if we were to allow the government its wish to single out the university seats for isolated abolition.”
Speaking on the planned reform, Senator Norris has said “like all institutions, the Seanad is imperfect and should of course be subject to reform.”
However, he sees the current proposal as a “deliberate attack on the most vocal, independent voice in the Seanad”. The Senator continued, claiming the University Senators are seen as a “disruptive element and a challenge to the government”. He believes that such a move by the government would only be to “take the beam out of their own eye” and is an “attempt to deflect the real corruption in the Seanad”.
All three Senators have admitted that there is, as Senator Ross puts it, a need for the “entire chamber to be uprooted”. Senator Bacik has added, “this change should be made as part of a much more comprehensive package of Seanad reforms, to include reform of the way in which the other panels are elected to ensure greater democracy in that process”.
Senator Bacik admits that while the House currently provides a valuable service to the people of Ireland, a reform, of some form, is needed: “The Seanad can fulfill a very important role as the upper house within the parliamentary system, but it needs substantial reform in order to fulfill this role more effectively in the future.”
The Dail is also under review following the creation of a committee to review the role of the Dail itself and it’s TD’s. The committee will review the effects of the current electoral system on constituency representation.