Published on Friday 14th February 2014

General Scheme of the Seanad Electoral (University Members) (Amendment) Bill

Draft legislation to extend voting rights to graduates of higher education institutions in Seanad elections published by Minister Hogan for consultation

Publication of General Scheme of Bill is first step in implementation of 1979 constitutional referendum

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan T.D. today (14th Feb 2014) published for consultation the General Scheme of a Bill to reform arrangements for the election of six senators by institutions of higher education in the State. Currently three senators are elected by the graduates of the National University of Ireland and three by Trinity College. The General Scheme is part of the legislative process to implement the 1979 amendment to Article 18.4.2 of the Constitution to extend the right to vote to graduates of other colleges and universities. It will create one constituency with six members.

It is estimated that up to 800,000 people would be entitled to register under the planned reforms. When the present arrangements were established in 1937 the National University of Ireland had 9,000 electors and Trinity College had 3,400. At the 2011 Seanad elections there were some 151,000 voters on the combined registers for the two university constituencies. Minister Hogan said that the reforms will represent a significant expansion of the electorate and will make the election more democratic.

In publishing the General Scheme the Minister commented that:
“Implementation of this constitutional provision could have been done at any point since 1979. The Government is now taking action to implement the will of the people. The approach being adopted is for a broad definition of institutions of higher education to be applied in order to include universities, institutes of technology, other higher education institutions and private colleges.

In publishing legislative proposals in draft form in this manner the Government looks forward to a public debate on its contents and invites citizens, elected representatives, the institutions of higher education, and any other interested individuals or groups to make written submissions setting out their views.”

Consultation Process
The General Scheme is now being circulated to Seanad Éireann and forwarded to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht for consideration. Copies are also being sent to stakeholders, including the institutions of higher education in the State.

The deadline for receipt of written submissions is Friday 11 April 2014. All submissions received are to be published online on the website www.environ.ie.

Submissions or queries on the draft legislation can be addressed to:

‘Seanad Electoral (University Members) (Amendment) Bill 2014’,
Franchise Section,
Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government,
Custom House,
Dublin 1.
Email: franchise@environ.ie

Technical working group
The Minister also announced that a technical working group is being set up in his Department to examine and make observations on operational matters including in respect of the creation and maintenance of a register of electors, the administration of elections in the new Seanad constituency and issues of cost arising from implementation of the proposed new electoral arrangements. The technical working group is to include representatives from his Department, the Department of Education and Skills, the National University of Ireland, Trinity College and other institutions of higher education.

Key elements of the General Scheme
Some of the main features of the General Scheme are:
o a single six-member constituency to replace the present two university constituencies;
o an extension of the franchise to include graduates from third level educational institutions that heretofore did not form part of the university constituencies of Seanad Éireann;
o the franchise to apply to the holders of a major award validated by an awards body in the State and recognised through the National Framework of Qualifications to be at least ordinary bachelor degree level;
o other technical provisions for the organisation of elections – this includes the creation of a register of electors, the appointment of a returning officer and arrangements for taking the poll and counting the votes;
o alternative arrangements for the nomination of candidates to bring them more into line with reforms made in other electoral codes;
o new provisions for the filling of casual vacancies based on the ‘replacement candidates list’ system that operates for European Parliament elections in Ireland.

The General Scheme of the Seanad Electoral (University Members) (Amendment) Bill 2014 can be downloaded from http://www.environ.ie/en/LocalGovernment/Voting/PublicConsultations/

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