05/05/15 Senator Daly Speaks at the Working Group on Seanad Reform 2015

Senator Daly: I welcome the former Senators to the House. I thank them for the enormous work they undertook in preparing this proposal of reform and the legislation they put together with Brian Hunt, who has done enormous work on reform along with others, such as Mr. Michael McDowell, who have assisted in the putting together of this report. It is amazing that 186 years ago, Daniel O’Connell pursued and succeeded in getting Catholic emancipation, 96 years ago women succeeded in getting the vote, and 46 years ago in Derry, people marched for one man, one vote, and I am sure they included women in that statement, but today, 2.6 million people who are citizens under the Constitution of this State are disenfranchised by virtue of the fact that we do not allow the Irish overseas and those outside the jurisdiction to vote in any format, whether it be in the Dáil, presidential or even Seanad elections. That is the reason I welcome the proposal that votes would be extended to the diaspora and to those in the North. Approximately 800,000 Irish passport holders live outside the State, which is the equivalent of populations of the cities of Galway, Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Limerick combined, and they are not entitled to vote. If one includes those residing in the North, which is 1.2 million people, that is a considerable number of people who are not entitled to vote in this democracy. There are 196 countries in the world, 120 of which allow their citizens overseas to vote. The Government held a Constitutional Convention and the proposal to extend the franchise to emigrants and residents in the North in presidential elections, while passed unanimously by those at the convention, was not supported by the Government when we discussed reform. That leads me to worry about the real substantive reform the former Senators have proposed in the report before us. We are having a referendum on the Presidency but it is not about extending voting rights to citizens overseas but about reducing the age of eligibility for presidential candidates on the off chance that someone under the age of 35 who would like to run for the President would be entitled to do so. That is not reform by any measure. In the context of the report, the former Senators outlined a number of logistical issues with respect to the ballot papers. I look forward to having sight of the legislation. As the former Senator, Mr. O’Toole, pointed out, a number of ministerial orders will be required to address the logistical issues with respect to the ballot papers, but I agree with him that it is doable and that it would not be costly.

The awareness and registration of the electorate concerns me given the parameters that it should be shared across the five panels. I propose that the current register in this State would be allocated automatically but that people would be allowed subsequently to transfer.

A novel proposal regarding the cost involved has been put forward, which I believe happened in a previous Seanad election. There would be a low level of participation if people, even in this State, were asked to download the ballot paper. I understand that in a previous Seanad election where an emergency situation arose as a result of the vote being very tight, the Seanad Chamber was turned into a post office for the purposes of people casting their ballots. While such a suggestion would be a novel proposal, I suggest that on polling day the polling stations would be transferred for the purposes of allowing people to vote. Also, I propose that at the time people are given their ballot paper of candidates for the Dáil election that they would also be given their ballot paper of candidates for the Seanad election and that the ballot box and the polling station would be deemed to be a post office for the purpose of casting one’s vote in a Seanad election. Those are proposals we can examine.

It is worthy that the former Senators have brought forward the only proposal that would allow Irish passport holders living outside the State to have a vote. With next year being the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, it is appropriate we would join the 120 other States that allow their diaspora and citizens living outside the state to have a vote and that we would allow ours to have a vote in some format in this Oireachtas.

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