Will the latest Seanad byelection lead to a shake-up of the House?

Published date04 August 2021
If your answer is "haven't a clue", "are you joking?" and "don't be silly", join the club. When the Seanad was threatened with abolition in the 2013 referendum, fewer than four in 10 bothered to vote. It survived by a squeak mainly on the presumption of swift reform.

Eight years on Maria Byrne is elected to the Agricultural panel and Gerry Horkan to the Industrial and Commercial panel. They replace Michael D'Arcy who has left to become chief executive of the Irish Association of Investment Management and Elisha McCallion who resigned over a Covid grant repayment controversy. The total electorate is just 218 because to fill vocational panels in byelections, only Oireachtas members are allowed to vote, yet somehow 15 and 16 votes are messed up on the respective panels.

As for the question about party affiliation, it was a trick: the House doesn't recognise political party membership. The Seanad election is the only one with no political party names on the ballot papers. In the real world, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil had a voting pact for the byelections and agreed to run one candidate in different panels. Byrne and Horkan won by landslides.

It's hardly surprising that the Seanad has never inspired huge name recognition beyond a handful of members who would have carved a niche for themselves as experts and activists in any event. It's both obligatory and true to say that there are fine, hardworking Seanad members who work conscientiously in the public service.

Yet the show rumbles on regardless in what David Norris once described as "an intensive care unit for those discarded from the Dáil or as a convenient launching pad for aspiring TDs".

Either way it's a charmed position, not least because the title of Senator confers an air of gravitas, privileges, sweet parking and membership of one of the most exclusive electoral clubs in the world. It pays a basic €69,474 plus travel and accommodation expenses, public representational allowances (research, advertising, clinics, and so on) plus additional salaried allowances for roles such as Civil Engagement Group Leader. And frankly, for the time servers it's a whole lot easier and less time-consuming than being a TD.

A Senator's worth It's a fact that when people bring years of expertise, wit, wisdom and hard-won experience to a job, their contribution is worth more than people who don't. But the question is, who gets to decide on a Senator's worth? Politicians.

In general elections 1,169...

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