A wasted vote

Donegal Democrat

For most of us, the election is over. But for a small minority of us though, there’s still some voting to be done.

One voter will elect eleven Seanadóirí.

1000 or so voters will elect 43 Seanadóirí.

100,000 or so voters (including me) will elect 6 Seanadóirí.

The rest of us watch and wonder why.

Between the Republic, Northern Ireland, and the rest of the world, there are a total of about eight million people who carry, or are entitled to carry, Irish passports.

I suggest that the Seanad should be elected by all of the Irish people. The place has no power anyway, so all the arguments about not allowing people with no interest in the country that get thrown out to stop emigrant voting don’t apply.

Meanwhile, we have some nice aspirational sentiments in Articles Two and Three of Bunreacht na hÉireann about birthrights to Irishness, and about the special affinity of people with Irish affinity.

So let them vote!

The figures break down easily enough. Make each constituency big enough for about a million people. That’s the size, more or less, of the European parliament constituencies. Northern Ireland becomes the fifth on-island constituency, along with Connaught-Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Dublin.

All that’s left is the overseas vote. Ignore anyone who doesn’t have an Irish passport. If they don’t qualify, the relationship is too remote, and if they haven’t bothered to get one, then it gives them an incentive. Besides, the application fees for the passports are a nice little earner.

Anyway, the figures break down as something like two million Irish citizens in Britain, and one million in the rest of the world, mostly in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with the rest scattered to the four winds.

That’s three more constituencies, two in Britain, and one for the rest of the world. We could divide the Britons arbitrarily by alphabetical order of names, or by place of birth of their nearest Irish ancestor, or by place of residence in the UK. The details don’t really matter. We end up with eight constituencies in total however we plan it.

One big amendment to the Constitution is all it takes to make this possible. We’ve got to have an amendment on Nice again next Autumn, so we might as well take the opportunity to do this one at the same time.

We can alter the size of the Seanad, say so that each constituency elects five Seanadóirs, giving us 40 in total. The savings in wages should pay for the cost of administering the overseas postal votes. In this day and age, arguments about the administrative difficulty shouldn’t be worth listening to. The post-Celtic Tiger Ireland can well afford a few postage stamps. After all, even an economic basket case like Poland can afford to give its overseas citizens a vote.

What difference would this make? Well, for starters, it would mean that the Taoiseach of the day no longer had the power to override the wishes of the people and appoint to the Oireachtas candidates the people had just rejected in Dáil elections.

Anything else? Well, in the short term, probably not, since the powers of the Seanad are heavily circumscribed by the Constitution, but in the long term, I feel it would increase the legitimacy of the Upper House. As things stand, its effectively a gerrymandered body with a guaranteed Government majority, thanks to the Taoiseach’s power to nominate 11 candidates.

In the long term, I feel the legitimacy of the Seanad will increase, since it will have a democratic mandate. The current electorate is much too narrow, and the public image of the place is of a retirement home crossed with an incubator for TDs past and future.

If the idea works, then we could extend it, and allow every Irish citizen the right to elect the President, who after all is the representative of the people.

Over time, when we see that the world doesn’t collapse, we might even extend the powers of the Seanad on the basis of this new and improved democratic mandate, or even sit down for a moment, think seriously about what it means to be Irish, and extend the right to vote beyond our borders like every other member state of the EU.

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