Elections for the three Dublin University seats in Seanad Éireann are continuing as normal despite the University being closed, a spokesperson for Academic Registry has confirmed to Trinity News. “We are still receiving ballots at the moment, we are currently on a rota and each staff member is sitting in separate rooms for safety purposes”, they stated, adding that “the university is planning to proceed with the count at present”.
This comes following an Oireachtas press release on March 18 confirming that the election will proceed as planned despite the coronavirus pandemic. However, when the count for the non-university seats takes place “access to the count will be restricted to those who are entitled by law to be there. Other appropriate safety measures will be in place in order to mitigate risk”.
All Seanad election candidates have ceased face-to-face canvassing following government advice on social distancing. It is unclear what impact this might have on voter turnout and engagement.
In addition to the university panels, incoming TDs, outgoing Senators and local authority councillors elect 43 Senators. Voting procedures have changed for Oireachtas members due to the Covid 19 pandemic.
Under normal circumstances, their votes are witnessed in the Dáil and the Seanad. However, this year, they have been asked to have their votes witnessed by a Garda superintendent or local authorities in a bid to minimise human contact in the houses of the Oireachtas.
The Taoiseach also nominates 11 Senators and this cannot be done by a caretaker Taoiseach. Therefore, it is likely to be quite some time before these appointments are made.
The Irish Times also reports growing fears that the returning officer and assistant returning officer could contract COVID-19. Their roles are crucial to the Seanad election and could jeopardise the formation of the Seanad. The Irish Times states that these officers are “limiting their contact with others”.
Completed ballot papers for the Trinity seats must be received by College by March 30 at 11am. Counting will commence shortly afterwards.