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IRELAND : SEANAD EIREANN -THE SENATE



Context:

For many years now, the voting system of the Irish Senate has been criticized because of its complexity, and is the subject of discussion regarding its representativeness. Not less than 12 reports have been published since 1928 about the reform of the Senate. The latest is the result of the work carried out by the sub-committee for the reform of the Senate, created by a decision of the Senate authorities themselves, in October 2002. This report proposes a series of measures aiming at modernizing the composition of the second chamber and strengthening its role.

I - COMPOSITION

The Senate (Seanad Eireann) is composed of 60 members.

Among them, 11 are appointed by the Prime Minister.

The other 49 members are elected to represent several groups or institutions:

- the academic branch is represented by 6 senators elected in two electoral constituencies - the National University of Ireland and the University of Dublin;

- the 5 most important social and occupational sectors defined by the Constitution (namely culture, national language, literature, art and education; agriculture and fishing; work; industry and commerce; public administration and social services) are represented by 43 senators elected on five lists, according to modalities which are quite complex (see below).

II - ELECTORAL SYSTEM

A) ELECTION OF THE REPRESENTATIVES FOR THE SOCIAL AND OCUPATIONAL CATEGORIES

1) Constitution of the lists of candidates

- Before each general election, 5 lists of candidates to the senatorial position are created, corresponding to the 5 social and occupational categories defined by the Constitution. They shall be composed of candidates with a certain acquaintance and experience in the domain they would have to represent, if elected.

- The conception of these 5 lists shall follow some complex rules. Each one of them is in fact composed by 2 sub-lists:

- one of the sub-lists is composed of candidates chosen by parliamentarians; a candidate shall be sponsored by at least 4 parliamentarians;

- the other list is composed by candidates designated by corporate organisations listed on a specific register. This register is kept and updated annually by the Clerk of the Senate. To insert an organisation in the register, the Clerk shall see to it that some criteria are fulfilled, namely that it is an organisation whose activity is not lucrative and mainly oriented towards the defence of the relevant social and occupational sector's interests. He shall also determine the number of candidates that each organisation is allowed to put forward.

- When the various lists and sub-lists of candidates have been established, the eligibility of candidates shall be examined by the Clerk in the presence of a judge of the High Court.

There are various criteria taken into account to determine the eligibility: minimum age (21 year-old), Irish nationality, recovered bankruptcy, mental health, some legal sentences, but also capacity of the candidates designated to represent their social and occupational sector.

2) Electoral college and voting system

The senators' electoral college is composed of recently elected members of the lower chamber, outgoing senators, and local representatives (members of councils of a county or a county borough).

The voting method is based on proportional representation, according to the system of the single transferable vote. Each member of the electoral college may express 5 votes, one for each social and occupational list, for the candidate he chooses.

In conclusion, are elected:

- 5 senators on the Culture and Education list (with a minimum of 2 senators for each sub-list);

- 11 senators on the Agriculture and Fishing list (at least 4 on each sub-list);

- 11 senators on the Work list (at least 4 on each sub-list);

- 9 senators on the Commerce and Industry list (at least 3 on each sub-list);

- 7 senators on the Administration list (at least 3 on each sub-list).

Many commentators have highlighted the discrepancy existing between the Irish Senate purpose (which is to give a parliamentarian representation for the social and occupational interests) and the influence of the personnel and the political parties in the designation of senators (on one hand, a significant part of the candidates who represent the social and occupational groups are not chosen by the social and occupational organisations themselves, but by the Parliament; on the other hand, the electoral college of senators is not composed by members coming from these social and occupational groups, but by members of the House of Representatives, senators, and local representatives).

B) ELECTIONS OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE ACADEMIC SECTOR

The electoral legislation related to the 1937 Senate lays down specific rules concerning the election of senators who represent the academic sector.

The legislation specifies two electoral constituencies (the National University of Ireland and the University of Dublin). Admittedly, the seventh constitutional amendment (1979) provides for the possibility to represent other universities, but until now no bill has been adopted to enforce this provision.

In each academic constituency, the electoral college is composed by Irish citizens being at least 18 year-old and recipient of a degree from the University concerned.

A list of candidates is established within each constituency. To be a candidate, it is necessary to be nominated by 2 persons registered on the electoral list and to receive the support of 8 other registered electors. Nevertheless, it is not necessary to be a recipient of a degree from the University represented.

The voting method is based on proportional representation, according to the system of the single transferable vote. Three senators are eventually nominated within each list.

C) CARACTERISTICS OF THE SENATORIAL POSITION

The term of office in the Senate is not specified autonomously with regard to the term of office in Dail. The Senate is indeed dissolved at each renewal of the lower chamber, namely every 5 years, or even less in the event of dissolution of the lower chamber.

The last renewal was held in May-June 2007.

If there is a vacant elected seat during the legislature, the Prime Minister shall designate a replacement (if it was a nominated senator), or partial elections are held (if it was an elected senator).

There is an incompatibility between the senator mandate and the functions of President of the Republic, Comptroller General, judge, representative of the lower chamber, civil servant and member of the armed forces. However, there is a compatibility with the function of member of the Government, other than Minister of Finance (but members of the Government are not eligible to the position of President of Seanad Eireann).

III - SYSTEM OF SESSIONS

There is at least one session each year.

The President of Ireland may convene Seanad Eireann (or Dáil Eireann) at any time.

 

IV - RELATIONS WITH THE OTHER CHAMBER AND THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH

A - LEGISLATIVE POWER

1) Power to introduce legislation

Yes, with the exception of financial matters. Laws generally originate from the Government.

2) Right of amendment

Yes, with the exception of financial matters.

In addition, as is the case in the Dáil Eireann, amendments that impose or increase financial contributions by the people or state entities must be proposed by a minister.

3) Ordinary legislative procedure

Draft bills may be filed in either chamber, with the exception of bills related to financial matters, which are sent to the Bureau of the lower chamber.

Whenever the chamber referred to in the first place adopts a text, it is then transferred to the other chamber. If the latter adopts it in the same terms, the bill is definitively adopted.

If it amends it, the text comes back to the first chamber referred to.

Whenever a text adopted by the lower chamber has been transferred to the Senate, which fails to examine it, rejects it or amends it on a way that is not acceptable by the lower chamber, then the latter may decide to adopt the text once and for all through a resolution, after a period of 90 days from the date of transmission of the text to the Senate. To pass the resolution, it has 180 days from the expiry of the 90-day examination deadline the Senate had at its disposal. In this case, the text is considered adopted by both chambers.

Please note that a draft bill introduced and adopted by Seanad Eireann is said to come from the lower chamber if the latter adopted the text after amending it. The peculiar way in which Senate legislative initiatives are handled makes it indeed possible to apply to them the rule of the final word to the lower chamber, as described previously. To apply this rule, the period of 90 days begins on the date the text amended by the lower chamber is sent to the Senate.

The promulgation of bills shall take place 5 to 7 days after their sending to the President of the Republic. At the request of the Government, and with the prior consent of Seanad Eireann, the period during which the President of Ireland must promulgate laws may be shortened.

4) Specific legislative procedures

a) Money bills

Finance draft bills (money bills) adopted by Dil Eireann are sent to Seanad Eireann. The latter has a 21-day period to examine the text and to send it back to the lower chamber, possibly with proposals aiming at modifying it, the lower chamber being free to take them into account or not.

At the end of this 21-day period, if the Senate has not examined the text or if it sent it back to Dil Eireann, which does not accept the recommendations, the text shall thus be considered adopted by both chambers.

The Constitution defines money bills as texts related to the establishment of public receipts, to the creation of public expenses and to operations of public financing.

In case of disagreement on the financial nature of a text, Seanad Eireann may adopt, in the presence of at least 30 of its members, a resolution asking to the President of Ireland to send the issue about the financial nature of the draft to the Committee on Privileges (composed by the same number of members from both chambers and presided by a judge of the Supreme Court, asked to vote in the event of a tie in the votes). The Committee's decision (taken within 21 days after the draft has been sent to Seanad Eireann) is definitive and final.

If the President of Ireland does not comply with the request of Seanad Eireann, or if the Committee does not give its decision within the period allowed, the decision lies with the President of Dil Eireann.

b)Emergency

In case of emergency as invoked by the Prime Minister for the keeping of the peace and public security, or because of a public danger - domestic or international - Dil Eireann, in agreement with the President of Ireland, may take a resolution to shorten the period of examination of texts by the Senate. At the end of this shorter period, the texts are considered approved by both chambers. The texts adopted in such conditions can however stay in force during a period of 90 days from the date of their promulgation, unless the two chambers, before the end of this period, agree to prolong the validity of bills by a determined period of time.

c) Referral to referendum

Within 4 days after the texts have been considered adopted, the majority of members of Seanad Eireann and at least 1/3 of the members of Dil Eireann may, through a joint petition, ask the President of Ireland to refer to referendum for any draft bill which contains - to their opinion - a proposal of national importance.

d) Revisions of the Constitution

Proposals of constitutional revision may only come from Dil Eireann. However, they are transmitted to Seanad Eireann according to the ordinary procedure. After being examined by the Parliament, they are submitted to the referendum.

e) Delegated legislation

The chambers may adopt bills to enabling legislation, in favour of ministers; they however keep the power to monitor the measures taken through delegated legislation, which may be cancelled by either chamber. This power of delegation is frequently used.

B - SUPERVISORY POWER

The supervisory powers of the Senate are limited. Senators can ask written questions to the ministerial departments, but these may not answer.

V - SPECIFIC PROVISIONS

A - POWERS IN INTERNATIONAL MATTERS

Treaties are presented to the Parliament. Those involving finances of the State or modifying legislative provisions can only be ratified or approved through a bill.

B - VIS-A-VIS THE PRESIDENT OF IRELAND

1) Indictment of the President of Ireland

Seanad Eireann (and Dáil Eireann) may indict the President of Ireland for specified improper conduct, on a motion introduced by at least 30 of its members, and based on a 2/3 majority of its members.

The indictment is examined by the other chamber based on the same rules.

If the indictment is adopted, the President is suspended from his functions.

2) Replacement of the President of Ireland

If there is a vacancy, the President's powers and functions are exercised by a Commission comprised of the Presidents of the two assemblies and the President of the Supreme Court.

D - THE COUNCIL OF STATE

The President of Seanad Eireann is an ex officio member of the Council of State (counsel of the President of Ireland).

Updated: December 2007