The Seanad consists of sixty members. Six are elected directly by university graduates. Eleven are nominated by the Taoiseach]. Forty-three are elected from five “vocational panels”. The electorate consists of TDs, senators, members of county councils and city councils. Candidates must be 21 years or older.
The Seanad election is to be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the Dail. The outgoing senators vote in the poll. The outgoing Seanad continues until the election of the new Seanad concurrent with the new Dail. The earlier Seanad may act as the upper house for the next Dail until the new Seanad is constituted.
Article 18.4 of the Constitution allows for the election by graduates of higher university education institutes specified by law to elect up to six members to the Seanad. Notwithstanding that the amended wording has been in place since 1979, nearly 33 years, the position has remained that three senators each are elected by the National University of Ireland and the University of Dublin, in accordance with the older text.
18 4 1º. The elected members of Seanad Éireann shall be elected as follows:
- Three shall be elected by the National University of Ireland.
- Three shall be elected by the University of Dublin.
iii. Forty-three shall be elected from panels of candidates constituted as hereinafter provided.
The 7th Amendment added the following wording.
18.4 2º. Provision may be made by law for the election, on a franchise and in the manner to be provided by law, by one or more of the following institutions, namely:
- the universities mentioned in subsection 1 of this section,
- any other institutions of higher education in the State, of so many members of Seanad Éireann as may be fixed by law in substitution for an equal number of the members to be elected pursuant to paragraphs i and ii of the said subsection 1.
A member or members of Seanad Éireann may be elected under this subsection by institutions grouped together or by a single institution.
3º. Nothing in this Article shall be invoked to prohibit the dissolution by law of a university mentioned in subsection 1 of this section.
The electorate are Irish citizens over 18 years of age with a graduate or undergraduate degree. A graduate has one vote only, irrespective of the number of qualifications or degrees.
A person with a degree from both universities may vote in both constituencies. Each university is a single constituency. The general principles of proportional representation apply.
Each university maintains its register of electorate. The returning officer is the Vice-Chancellor of the National University of Ireland and the Provost of Trinity College. A candidate must be over 18. He need not be a graduate of the University.
Postal ballots are used. They are placed in a sealed envelope and returned. The declaration must be witnessed by another person.
43 members of the Seanad are elected by a restricted electorate of elected individuals. This is not prescribed by the Constitution, which leaves the matter to be set by law.
There are five vocational panels, each divided into two sub-panels. The Oireachtas sub-panels must consist of nominees of the Oireachtas. Four members of the Oireachtas must nominate a candidate. These are members of the outgoing Seanad and incoming Dail.
The other sub-panel comprises members nominated by registered nominating bodies. The Clerk of the Seanad maintains registers of nominating bodies. They must be bodies that have objectives related to that panel or who represent persons with knowledge and practical experience in the area concerned.
- Five members are elected from the Cultural and Educational panel, with at least two from each sub-panel. They represent language, law, education, medicine and some related areas.
- Eleven members are elected from the Agricultural Panel, with at least four from each panel. Eleven members are elected from the Labour Panel, with at least four from each panel.
- Nine members are elected from the Industrial and Commercial panels, including banking and finance, with at least three from each panel.
- Seven members are elected from the Administrative Panel, with at least three from each panel.
A nominee must have knowledge and practical experience in the interest or area concerned. After nominations, a judge of the High Court as judicial assessor and a returning officer determines the validity of nominations. Issues in relation to eligibility may be referred to the assessor for decision.
The returning officer is the clerk of the Seanad. A list of candidates nominated for each panel and details of the nominated bodies are sent to each electorate. Five ballot papers are sent to each elector. The poll takes place by registered post. They must be returned together with evidence of identity in a sealed envelope.
The counts take place by way of proportional representation subject to the requirement of the minimum number from each sub-panel. The same broad rules apply as apply to Dail elections.
The normal rules are varied to allow for the minimum numbers being elected from each sub-panel. A person who would be elected but for the rule may not be elected if the requisite number has already been elected for the panel concerned.
The Taoiseach’s nominees are nominated last. He nominates eleven members. It appears that the incoming Taoiseach makes the nomination. It is not clear if the Seanad is validly constituted or if these nominations cannot be made because the incoming Taoiseach has not been elected. The issue arose in 2020 and arguments were made both ways.
There is provision for a by-election. In the case of vocational members(43), members of the Dail and Seanad only vote.
If the vacancy is on the Oireachtas panel, Oireachtas members nominate the candidates. If the vacancy is on the nominating body’s panel, candidates are nominated by their bodies relevant to that panel.
A by-election in a university seat is a by-election with a full vote.
The purpose of the Electoral (Amendment) Act 2015 is to amend the Seanad Electoral Acts in relation to nominations for panel member elections and candidate election posts for university member elections and to amend the Electoral Act 1992 in relation to the supplement to the register of electors.
Candidates at elections in the Seanad University constituencies may send, free of postage charge, one election communication to each registered elector in the constituency. This mirrors the existing provision for Dáil elections.
The Association of Irish Local Government shall be registered, without application, in respect of the administrative panel in the register of nominating bodies for Seanad ‘panel member’ elections. This replaced the existing provision whereby the Association of County and City Councils and the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland were registered, without application, in respect of the administrative panel in the register of nominating bodies for Seanad ‘panel member’ elections.
The Association of Irish Local Government replaced both of those bodies in 2014. The Association of Irish Local Government is to be registered in the register of nominating bodies which came into effect on 21 March 2015.
A person may apply for entry in the supplement to the register of electors if they were not a citizen of Ireland on the qualifying date (1 September each year) for a register of electors and subsequently became a citizen of Ireland.