Why we need to reform the Seanad

Alan talks about getting young people more involved in politics, and raising awareness of youth issues, by reforming the Seanad

Written by Alan Reynolds


For many young people, engaging with political issues has often been difficult. It can often seem like our political leaders actively ignore the issues facing us, forget what’s best for us and, act against our best interests. What makes these issues facing us worse in my opinion, is that the election to one of our key political institutions, the Seanad, does not involve everyone in the country, particularly young people.

How are people elected to the Seanad?

The Seanad is composed of 60 members, known as Senators. 11 Senators are nominated to the Seanad by the Taoiseach. 43 are elected by panels of candidates representing specific areas of interest, such as agriculture and labour. The final 6 are then elected by graduates of certain universities in the country. Trinity College elects three of the six candidates and the National University of Ireland (NUI) elects the other three. NUI consists of University College Dublin, University College Cork, NUI Galway, and Maynooth University.

Reforming the Seanad

One of the most glaring questions you may have, especially if you attend a third-level institute that is not named above, is why you would not be able to cast a vote for a Seanad election? How is that fair? In 1979 an Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland allowed for the make-up of the Seanad to be changed, which was mainly to allow for a broader University representation in the Seanad, including all institutes in the country. For some reason or another, this legislation has never been enacted. This makes it even more confusing since the question of fairness has been asked for at least the last 42 years, but there has been no action.

The whole discussion around reforming the Seanad has gone nowhere and has largely become a political issue no one wants to touch. Much of what we hear about the Seanad is that it is a flawed system. It has been widely recognised that reform is needed for the entire institution and not just with regard to University representation. All things considered however, reforming the Seanad bring with it an exciting opportunity. Reforming how we vote and who can vote in the Seanad elections could allow for broader youth issues to be discussed more openly in the public eye.

Awareness around youth issues

Universities and ITs offer many young people not just a chance for education but a place to identify with. When we look at politics broadly it can be somewhat hard to differentiate between political parties and how they represent us, our issues and our beliefs. Youth issues so often have to compete with so many other issues or crises such as housing and healthcare. We can often get lost in the shuffle. With this in mind should it not be of utmost importance for Seanad reform to begin with allowing all graduates in the country from all third-level institutions to vote?

The opportunity that Seanad reform gives is a chance for youth issues and educational issues, which are very much tied to each other, to have a place where they can be heard on an equal and consistent basis. Graduates from UL, DCU, GMIT, IT Tralee to name a few are, as it currently stands, unknown to them or not, unable to get involved in this political arena. Allowing certain graduates to vote in the Seanad and others not to, paints a picture that only certain types of votes are wanted. This calls into question the true fairness of the Seanad’s representation as a whole.

Changing how young people engage with politics

The Seanad is something that many young people care very little about but in times of uncertainty like these, it is important to never forget that political institutions and representatives are there to represent you. It is in everyone’s interest to see equal third-level representation in the Seanad as it forms the first step in changing how people engage with youth issues firstly. As well as this, it changes how young people engage with broader political issues going forward. The issue of Seanad reform is something we should not let pass us by. With all of the reform questions surrounding the Seanad, perhaps the easiest problem to solve is its University representation issue. Potentially the first step on a long ladder to broader political reform.

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