Kenny urged to appoint outside experts to Seanad

 

MARIE O’HALLORAN

TAOISEACH ENDA Kenny is being urged to demonstrate an immediate commitment to political reform by appointing independent experts as his 11 nominees to the Seanad.

Forty-five candidates are standing for election for six university Seanad places on the NUI and Dublin University/Trinity College panels. The majority have urged the Government to reform but not abolish the Upper House, proposing among other things the appointment of outside experts.

There are 60 senators in the Upper House: the Taoiseach can appoint 11, graduates of the NUI and Trinity College each elect three senators, while the remaining 43 senators are elected by the outgoing Seanad, the new Dáil and county and city councillors, an electorate of 1,092.

The 27 candidates on the NUI panel, the highest number in decades, have an electorate of 97,734, while there is an electorate of 53,583 for Trinity College candidates.

The 45 include four outgoing senators – Ivana Bacik and David Norris on the Trinity panel and Feargal Quinn and Rónán Mullen on the NUI panel. Senator Joe O’Toole is retiring from the NUI panel, while former Trinity senator Shane Ross was elected to the Dáil.

There are nine candidates, five on the NUI panel and four on the Trinity panel, who have previously stood unsuccessfully for the university panels. Three medical doctors, two economists, three youth representatives, and six disability and human rights campaigners are among the candidates.

Five primary or secondary teachers are among the aspiring senators along with four third-level lecturers, seven business/IT specialists, seven women, nine lawyers, three candidates representing youth organisations and one campaigning on tourism.

Three of the candidates are former teachers’ union presidents: Declan Kelleher of the INTO, Paddy Healy of the TUI and Bernadine O’Sullivan of the ASTI. Teacher and ASTI official David Martin is also running.

There are three candidates living outside the State, including former UN diplomat Frank O’Donnell, who has retired as UN country representative in Ukraine.

Jeffrey Dudgeon, whose European court case led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the North, is a Belfast resident and standing as a “liberal unionist”.

A number of candidates urged the Taoiseach to implement existing recommendations from numerous Oireachtas reports. The youngest candidate Paul Lynam (24), president of UCD’s students’ union, said the Taoiseach should at least implement recommendations of the last Oireachtas report on the Seanad, that the appointees ”should be outside experts, including two from the North”.

The failure to implement decades-old recommendations was repeatedly raised by candidates, including the failure to legislate for the 1979 referendum, which called for graduates of all third-level colleges to be given a vote.

Daniel Sullivan, a Limerick-based engineer standing for the second time on the NUI panel, said he did not have a vote because he went to the University of Limerick and he pointed out that just 5 per cent of the State’s 3.2 million electorate had a vote.

Just one candidate, barrister Dermot Sheehan on the Trinity panel, called for the outright abolition of the Seanad and said the State only needed one chamber, based on the New Zealand system, with 100 seats – 50 geographically based and 50 on a national list system of political parties.

A Fine Gael member and candidate John Kennedy believed, however, that debates about Seanad reform would be irrelevant. “Enda Kenny is fairly determined to see it abolished,” he said. “Therefore the focus for university candidates should be Dáil reform.” Fourth-time candidate Dr Maurice Gueret said the Taoiseach should offer a third option and not just “Yes or No” for abolition in a referendum. He said “90 per cent of the people want to get rid of the Seanad because they don’t have a vote”.

Trinity candidate and solicitor Tony Williams, a member of the Democracy Now movement and a former member of the Progressive Democrats, said there was an opportunity for the Taoiseach to “make a strong statement” and appoint 11 outside experts, not party politicians.

Hospital doctor and NUI candidate Mick Molloy said all the talk of abolishing the Seanad was a “diversion” from the real issue of the failure of the Dáil to do its own job properly.

Voting for the university seats closes at 11am on April 27th.

RUNNING COSTS 

SEANAD COSTS are approximately €23 million a year, or €115 million over the five-year term, according to the Houses of the Oireachtas.

This includes direct costs such as members’ salaries and allowances, as well as indirect costs such as staff, a proportion of Oireachtas services, such as the broadcasting and the compilation of debate records and official journals.

Based on the figures available, Senators receive an average of about €1,570 a day for each sitting day.

In addition to the annual salary of €65,621, 70 per cent of a TD’s salary, Senators qualify for allowances ranging up to a maximum of €70,000 a year as well as free secretarial assistance, phone and postal facilities.

The job is part-time and in 2009 almost half of all Senators listed other sources of income.As well as speaking in the Seanad, Senators serve on Oireachtas committees, and say they play a vital role in examining legislation and representing Ireland internationally.

In addition, they receive a “public representation allowance”, payable as an unvouched maximum sum of €9,250 or a vouched sum of €15,000. This money can be used to pay for newsletters, advertising, room hire and attendance at conferences.

Travel and accommodation allowances payable to Senators vary according to the distance they live from Leinster House. For Dublin Senators this amounts to €7,000, but the allowance can be as high as €32,850 a year for representatives living 360km or more from the capital.

Senators can also avail of free phone and postal facilities in Leinster House. They get up to €750 every 18 months to buy mobile phones.

Each of the 60 Senators is entitled to 50 per cent of a secretarial assistant, plus a secretarial allowance.

Last year, the Seanad sat for 97 days, compared to the normal working year of about 240 days. It sat for 100 days in 2009, 93 in 2008 and 64 in 2007. – PAUL CULLEN 

The Irish Times – Monday, April 4, 2011

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