Seanad reform proposals debated
Seanad reform proposals debated

The upper house of the Dublin parliament is undemocratic and elitist, according to Sinn Fein's leader in the Dail [the parliament's lower house] has claimed.

Caoimhghin O Caolain said that the Seanad [Senate], largely modelled on the British House of Lords, was elected on a restricted and sometimes perverse franchise.

He 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 Sinn Fein TD added.

Speaking at a sub-committee set up to consider proposals for reform of the house, Mr O Caolain said he believed that senators should be elected by citizens throughout the 32 counties.

"Representation in the Oireachtas for citizens of the six counties is a huge issue," he said.

"Our proposals would give them a direct input. It would go side by side with the right of those elected to Westminster constituencies in the six counties to participate in Dail debates."

Irish Prime Minister, Taoisech Bertie Ahern said he acepted that there had to be Northern representation in the Seanad - a matter which is currently being considered as part of the reform. However, he added: "I favour Northern representation but not by an elected system."

Mr Ahern said that he had already made submissions to the sub-committee about how to give representatives from the Six Counties a voice in the Seanad and did not wish to address the issue any further.

The five-person committee began hearing submissions on ideas for reform yesterday and will continue until Friday.

The review will consider how senators are elected, representation from the north and the future role of the Seanad in debating legislation.

It will also look at giving a bigger say to younger voters and emigrants.

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