Voting for the upcoming Seanad elections began this week, with 30 candidates contesting the election in the NUI Ireland constituency. This constituency includes graduates from the National Universities of Ireland, including UCD, NUIG, UCC and NUI Maynooth. The candidates will be fighting for just three seats in this constituency, with the election being held exclusively by postal ballot. Voting closes on the 21st April.
One of the familiar names on the ballot is Martin McDowell, one of the founding members of the Progressive Democrats (PDs) party and former Minister for Justice. He is one of several former TDs running for the Seanad after previously failing to retain their seat in the Dáil.
Another recognisable name on the list is Alice-Mary Higgins, Policy Coordinator for the National Woman’s Council and daughter of President Michael D. Higgins. She is hoping to follow in the footsteps of her father, who was a Senator for the NUI constituency from 1983 to 1987.
Senator Rónán Mullen is the only current Senator for the NUI constituency who is running in the next election. Senators Feargal Quinn and John Crown have chosen not to contest their seats.
The only other senator on the ballot is former Labour Seanad Whip Aideen Hayden, who is now running as an independent. Other female candidates include Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and Laura Harmon, former President of USI.
To be able to vote in the election you must be a university graduate on the Seanad register. Only six Senators are nominated by university graduates. As well as the NUI constituency, three senators are nominated by the University of Dublin (Trinity College) constituency. 43 senators are nominated by a mixture of members of the incoming Dáil, the outgoing Seanad and county councilors. The final 11 senators are nominated by the Taoiseach, to make up an overall number of 60 members.
A referendum on whether to abolish the Seanad was held in 2013, with the No side winning by a narrow margin of 1.7 per cent. In the campaign, opponents of the abolition of the Seanad promised “meaningful reformation” to the upper house. Proposed reforms, such as plans to expand voting rights to all third-level graduates or to elect half the senators by popular vote, were delayed by the previous government until after this Seanad election. It remains to be seen whether the new government and incoming Senators will push for these changes.