Do you really need to be a Greek scholar to choose a senator?

Published date07 April 2023
Publication titleIrish Times (Dublin, Ireland)
Where to start with the brazen elitism of a republic that squandered the people's money in a preposterous attempt to keep the upper doors of parliament bolted against a majority

In 1979, more than 90 per cent of those who voted in the referendum for the seventh constitutional amendment supported the proposal to extend academic graduates' voting rights for Seanad Éireann beyond the existing constituencies of the National University of Ireland (NUI) and Trinity College.

Politicians thought better, however, and opted to continue reserving the club for the cosy exclusivity of Ireland's poshest universities. In the intervening near half-a-century, successive governments have cocked a snook at the people's wish in a display of sheer contempt.

At present, six of the Seanad's 60 seats are filled by the votes of those preferred graduates with another 43 being elected by TDs, senators and about 900 councillors. Not all of these voters comprise what Samuel Beckett called "the cream of Ireland - rich and thick"; only some. Can anyone explain with an iota of logic why a Greek scholar or, for that matter, Danny Healy-Rae is better able to choose a senator than somebody who drives a train or runs a soup kitchen?

Every few years, when a new batch of senators arrives, it is infuriating to see ushers and support staff in Leinster House, many of whom have no say in the composition of the Seanad, instructing the newcomers in its workings.

It is twice as sickening to watch TDs who have lost their seats in the latest Dáil election swanning into the Seanad chamber for a five-year breather and other aspiring TDs getting an Oireachtas leg-up from their political parties. Their treatment of the Seanad as their property, providing a convenient halfway house for their Dáil candidates, has debased an institution that has much to offer the country.

When Heneghan issued his legal proceedings in December 2018, he claimed that the exclusionary constituencies contravened the Constitution's equality requirements. The State which, with gobsmacking hypocrisy, is currently encouraging school leavers to consider taking up trades as an alternative to academic studies, defended the inequality.

Having a better chance of success after losing his case in the High Court, Heneghan confined his appeal in the Supreme Court to asserting his entitlement to vote as a third-level graduate following the 1979 referendum. When six of seven Supreme Court judges ruled that the exclusion of other third-level...

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