The news that an Irish Government Bill will extend the university constituency in the Seanad Éireann elections to include, not only the National University of Ireland (NUI) and Trinity, but all third level graduates of Irish universities and institutes of technology presents a real opportunity for the extension of the vote to the north.
Currently six seats in the Seanad are held by senators elected through the universities; three from NUI and three from Trinity College. This extension of the electoral franchise presents an opportunity to include graduates of the University of Ulster and Queen’s as an important first step to extending a vote for the Seanad to all northern voters.
The Government plans to debate the Bill in the Oireachtas before Christmas and wants to have the law passed in time the next election in 2016. The Bill could easily be amended at Committee stage to include northern Universities.
The SDLP are have long campaigned for Seanad reform, with particular focus on the need to increase northern participation. When the referendum to abolish the Seanad failed, our representative to the Irish Constitutional Convention Alban Maginness MLA wrote to the chairperson of the convention to urge that increased northern representation be considered as part of extensive reform. He has also used his position on the Convention to argue for the extension of the vote for the Presidential elections to the north.
We believe that increased northern representation in Seanad Éireann is a vital first step to ensuring that all Irish citizens have the right to play their full part in the democratic process in the Republic. Extending the electoral franchise to graduates of the northern universities would be a significant and positive move in that direction.