Seanad ‘needs to be opened to people, not abolished’

The Seanad needs to be opened up to the people, not closed down by politicians, independent senators have demanded.

Launching a bill aimed at widening the democratic base of the upper house and extending the powers of its members, Senators Feargal Quinn and Katherine Zappone called for a no vote in the referendum to abolish the Seanad.

Under the proposed reforms, all citizens would be eligible to elect senators, as well as Irish passport holders living abroad and people in the North.

However, because reformers want to avoid constitutional change that would avoid a referendum, and which could be done via legislation, the Taoiseach’s gift of appointing 11 senators would remain, as would the six university members — but they would represent all universities, not just two.

The reformed upper house would also have a 50/50 gender balance, and wider powers of investigation, and drafting law.

Mr Quinn said that a revamped upper chamber could act as a bridge back home for young people forced abroad.

“One of the most distressing aspects of our recent economic difficulties has been the return of forced emigration and the toll this takes on families and communities.”

Ms Zappone said the financial saving from abolishing the Seanad would be small, and a vital democratic checking chamber would be lost.

She said she believed the bill would get support from Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, and suggested government parties might allow it to go to committee stage when it goes before the Seanad this week. A referendum on abolition is set to be held in October, along with reducing the voting age to 16.


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