Ireland’s Supreme Court has ruled that university electoral panels, under which Trinity graduates make up a specific constituency in Seanad Éireann elections, are unconstitutional.
The Court found that the Oireachtas had failed to extend franchise for Seanad Éireann elections to graduates of institutions other than Trinity and the National University of Ireland (NUI), despite a 1979 referendum providing for such changes to be made, under the seventh amendment to the constitution.
The Court ruled that further action on the decision be suspended until July 31, while it hears submissions on how the reconstitution of the Seanad electorate will proceed.
While the legal defence for the government argued that the amendment only allowed for, rather than mandated, the franchise to be extended, the Court ruled against their claims.
Justice Peter Charleton, an alumnus of Trinity, was the only judge to dissent from the majority ruling.
The case was brought by Tomás Heneghan, a journalism graduate of the University of Limerick (UL), who was denied the right to register to vote in Seanad elections, as UL is not a constituent institution of NUI.
Speaking after today’s ruling, Heneghan thanked the Court “for their sincere consideration of the arguments put forward”, as well as his legal team for their support.
“I hope the Oireachtas now acts speedily to ensure that the democratic right to vote in Seanad elections is extended to all, regardless of educational or socio-economic background,” Heneghan added.
Eilis Barry, Chief Executive of the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) who aided Heneghan called the ruling a “landmark case for democracy, equality and the rule of law”.
FLAC Managing Solicitor Sinéad Lucey said that “the significance of the case goes beyond the issue of votes in the Seanad as a profound reflection on a democratic nature of the State”.
Under present arrangements, graduates of Trinity and constituent universities of NUI have the exclusive right to elect three senators each, six in total. Graduates of other colleges or universities have no special representation in the Seanad.
NUI comprises University College Dublin (UCD), University College Cork (UCC), University of Galway and Maynooth University. While it represents over 77,500 students, its Seanad seats are equal to Trinity, which represents less than 20,000 students.
Current senators of the University of Dublin (Trinity) constituency are David Norris, who has served since 1987, former Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President Lynn Ruane, and Tom Clonan, who was elected last year. All three are independents.