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 over.

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 in 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 University of Dublin, in accordance with the older text.

18 4 1º. The elected members of Seanad Éireann shall be elected as follows:

  1. Three shall be elected by the National University of Ireland.
  2. 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:

  1. the universities mentioned in subsection 1 of this section,
  2. 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 who 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 panel 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 have 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, 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. In 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 by a by-election, with a full vote.


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