Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Sinn Féin make oral presentation to Seanad Reform Sub-Committee hearing and call for radical changes

16 September, 2003


Speaking during the oral presentation of Sinn Féin's submission on Seanad Reform to the Seanad Reform Sub-Committee today Sinn Féin Dáil Leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said:

"There is a strong view within our party that the Seanad should be abolished altogether and that was for long our party policy. This was changed in recent years to a policy of democratic reform of the Seanad but it must be noted that many people remain convinced that a second chamber is unnecessary and wasteful. I believe that is reflected widely in Irish society.

"The Seanad as currently constituted is undemocratic and elitist. It is elected on a very restricted and in some aspects, perverse franchise. The franchise granted to some but not all third-level graduates is a notorious example. Instead of a Seanad franchise for local authority members we would like to see real empowerment of local government.

"The bottom line in our submission is that the Seanad should be elected by universal suffrage of citizens throughout the 32 Counties and those resident in Ireland for more than five years and over the age of 16. Representation in the Oireachtas for citizens in the Six Counties is a huge issue. Our proposals would give them a direct input. It would go side by side with the right of those elected to Wesminster constituencies in the Six Counties to participate in Dáil debates.

"Emigrants should also have a vote. This is provided for by many states throughout the world without difficulty. It could be done by postal ballot, as would voting in the Six Counties, pending Irish reunification. It is ironic that a State which repeatedly praises the contribution of the Irish Diaspora denies emigrants a right that many other states grant their citizens.

"Sinn Féin believes that the Seanad should be an elected forum for civic society, particularly for those sectors who are not adequately represented in the Dáil and for the marginalized in society. For example the tremendous energy of the community and voluntary sector is not given a direct voice in the Oireachtas."

Deputy Ó Caoláin was joined by Sinn Féin Assembly member Conor Murphy and Sinn Féin EU Candidate for Munster David Cullinane.

Mr. Murphy called for proper northern representation in the Seanad so that people across the island of Ireland could play a full role in the political life of the nation. He rejected proposals put forward to allow for a small number of representatives from the Six Counties in the Seanad as "tokenism". He said,

"At the moment playing a part in the nation is only a vague assertion for people from the North and one that has no outworkings in terms of the institutions of this State. There are no rights for me or hundreds of thousands of others to play a part in the nation as it currently exists.

"The Seanad has an opportunity to decide between whether it allows token representation of northerners here or we give an opportunity for all the citizens who live on this island to play a part in the Irish nation."

Advocating a community consultation process during the progression of legislation at 2nd Stage Sinn Féin's Munster EU candidate David Cullinane said:

"Clearly the system we are proposing will have many community and social organisations represented and accredited, but we acknowledge that there will be some that will not be accredited and believe that they should be given the opportunity to make submissions in terms of legislation.

"We believe that these can be made primarily in written form and if necessary be followed up by an oral presentation so that their concerns and interests can be addressed. This is crucial in making the Seanad more democratic, accountable and open to all of Irish society." ENDS

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