In April of 2011, two months after the general election, Sinn Féin councillors from around the country were summoned to Leinster House. They were herded into a room, each given an envelope with instructions as how to vote in the upcoming Seanad elections. An unelected Sinn Féin enforcer stood and watched while they filled in out their postal ballots. If you have the absolute backing of Sinn Féin that’s one way of getting elected to the Seanad.
Every citizen of Ireland over 21 years of age who is not disqualified by the Constitution or by law is eligible to be elected to the Seanad. Persons undergoing a prison sentence in excess of six months, are declared bankrupt (that’s half the country then) and persons of unsound mind (me) are disqualified for election. Regular readers of this blog would query the unsound of mind clause considering some of our Senators recent pronouncements. Members of the judiciary, senior officials of the institutions of the European Union, civil servants and full-time members of the Defence Forces and Gardaí are also excluded from being amongst our most precious defenders of democracy.
The elections are held on the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote and by secret postal ballot. (take note Sinn Féin.)
You can be elected through two avenues, via the university panels which means you can only vote for or be a candidate – if you have received a degree from one of our main NUI universities. Trinity college also separately elects its own Seanad members.
Then there is the vocational panel route.
There are five panels that elect 43 Senators.
Cultural and Educational Panel: – national language and culture, literature, art, education, law and medicine.
Agricultural Panel: – agricultural and allied interests and fisheries.
Labour Panel: – labour, whether organised or unorganised. (trade unions mostly)
Industrial and Commercial Panel: – industry and commerce, including banking, finance, accountancy, engineering and architecture.
Administrative Panel: – public administration and social services, including voluntary social activities.
You can only vote for a candidate on one of the vocational panels if you are a member of the incoming Dáil, A county or city councillor, or a member of the outgoing Seanad. Thats about 979 politicians eligible to vote. With some politicians having up to seven votes. Joe public gets zero votes.
How do you get nominated to run on these panels? The Clerk of the Seanad maintains a register of bodies entitled to nominate candidates to the panels of candidates. Some of the luminary bodies entitled to nominate candidates include, the hardware association of Ireland, The National Off licence association and the Irish thoroughbred association. You can also be nominated to run through a political party and the Oireachtas. It is essentially a convoluted byzantine process that would test the patience of a saint.
On receiving a nomination to run for one of the vocational panels – you then begin the long journey of contacting and visiting councillors and TD’s the length and breath of the country. In fairness to our would be Senators filled with noble intentions, it is often a long, arduous and thankless slog. Driving around the country soliciting that all important vote. Every vote in a Seanad elections counts. How many votes can get you elected to the Seanad? Senator Catherine Noone was elected to the industrial and commercial panel with just 33 first preference votes. Senator John Gilroy garnered the most votes of any candidate with the outstanding figure of eh, 157 first preference votes.
Some candidates campaigns draw attention from the media. Take kerry man Luke Moriarty, Luke stood unsuccessfully for Fianna Fáil in the 2007 general election. He was also a Seanad candidate that year. In 2007 he wrote to all Fianna Fáil, PD and Green party councillors around the country seeking their number one vote in the Seanad elections.
In his letter, he said that he wished to commend and support “the work of those who day in, day out, dedicate their time and effort to making a difference locally and nationally.””To this end, I would like to lend my support to your efforts by offering you a voucher for two nights’ accommodation including breakfast at either of the Moriarty Group’s two hotels — The Court Yard Hotel, Leixlip, Co Kildare or the Bracken Court Hotel, Balbriggan, Co Dublin“. He managed to secure just six first preference votes.
Fianna Fáil Senator and Kerry man, Mark Daly, became the subject of much amusement a few years ago after it was revealed he began his campaign by sending DVDs of the ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ to all Fianna Fáil TD’s, councillors and Senators eligible to vote in the Seanad elections. Over 350 DVDs don’t come cheap.
Fianna Fáil Senator Ned O’Sullivan, another Kerry man, attracted the beady eye of political loons when it was revealed he sent silk neck ties worth about €25 each to over 400 councillors. We were not told what he sent female councillors, but one hopes it was nothing of the silk variety.
Another Fianna Fáil Senator, Mary White, co-founder of Lir chocolates used to send a box of chocolates to councillors around the country. Fianna Fail councillor Kenneth O’Flynn, son of the former Cork North Central deputy Noel O’Flynn, sent a bottle of champagne to all Fianna Fáil deputies. Former Fianna Fail Senator, Donie Cassidy, (great hair) sent eligible voters Foster Allen and Joe Dolan CDs. The list goes on and on. Councillors receiving gifts at christmas from Senators is a common occurrence. If you happen to be around the Leinster House on Wednesdays, you can’t help but notice Senators entertaining councillors from around the country in the bar. You must keep your voters happy after all.
If chancing your arm at getting elected to the Seanad is not your thing. You could always wait and hope you are one of the Taoiseach’s 11 unelected nominations to the Seanad.
I would like to be able to tell you don’t vote it only encourages them – but the chances are you cant vote for them anyway.