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I have been interested to read reports recently that the Minister for Environment Phil Hogan has prepared legislation for a partial reform of the Senate and apparently presented this to cabinet.
I welcome any move, however small, in the direction of reform of the Seanad, but I consider it a curious form of consultation as proposed by the Taoiseach that he should have agreed to meet the leaders of the different groups within the Senate, including myself, apparently now after the discussion on the Bill will already have started in the Dáil. This is not a very good harbinger for the future.
I have already expressed concern that the expansion from under 200,000 to what I then estimated to 500,000 voters would make this a quite problematic constituency. I understand now from reliable sources that the Government’s own figures are 750,000 voters. This will have the effect of favouring those of us who have a high profile, and that, and the cost of electioneering, will seriously disadvantage the new blood the Senate certainly needs.
It is an interesting view of reform and democratisation that takes a constituency that represents independence of voice and is about the smallest group in the entire Oireachtas, albeit the most democratic, and expands its membership to 750,000, while retaining the 43 political rotten boroughs with an electorate of approximately 1,000 electors, each with five votes, one for each panel, and that the third and final constituency that of the Taoiseach’s 11, in which there is only 1 voters in the electorate and he votes 11 times without any necessary consultation with anybody.
In order for Seanad reform to be successful there should be a full-scale overhaul and the thing should not be done piecemeal, especially considering the cynicism with which the present Government approached the referendum in which they were defeated. There must be an accurate register assembled of all those 750,000 entitled to vote and it would be only fair to allow candidates access to the email addresses of their constituents.
I am also very concerned that the creation of one super constituency and the abolition entirely of the Trinity and NUI constituencies is partly intended to facilitate the takeover by party interests of some of the last remaining genuinely independent voices in the house. For this reason I hope to propose an amendment that this constituency shall not be open to members who stand in the party interest but should be the preserved to protect that independence which has been the strength of Seanad Eireann.
Senator David Norris
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