Tairgim leasú a 3:
I gCuid I, leathanach 7, líne 7, "sa Stát" a scriosadh agus "in Éireann" a chur ina ionad
I gCuid II, leathanach 7, líne 22, "the State" a scriosadh agus "Ireland" a chur ina ionad.
I move amendment No. 3:
In Part I, page 6, line 7, to delete "sa Stát" and substitute "in Éireann"
In Part II, page 6, line 23, to delete "the State" and substitute "Ireland".
I raised this matter yesterday on Second Stage. I should like to hear what the Minister has to say to it in a more considered fashion than in his answer on Second Stage of the debate. We were talking, on Second Stage, about the possibility of giving special representation to any particular group of institutions or any individual institutions. In my speech I gave historical evidence for the assumption that the history of the university seats in the Seanad has been, over the years, bound up with the apparent desire by succeeding administrations of different political complexions to make arrangements which would have the effect of giving a somewhat disproportionate representation to people who have some connection with the northern part of our isle. In the past, the mechanism which was judged most appropriate for giving a positive discrimination in relation to people coming from the North was the mechanism which gave Trinity College, Dublin University, the same number of seats in the Seanad as the National University, despite the fact that its graduate body was very much smaller, and still is. At present the Trinity College graduate electorate is about 8,000; the electorate of the National University numbers five times as many. Yet, the two institutions contribute the same number of Members to the Oireachtas under the existing Constitution and legislation.
We may ask two questions in relation to that general principle, now that we are at this juncture in our constitutional history. The first is, is it appropriate to continue to seek to give some special weight of representation to people who have strong connections with the North of Ireland in our Legislature? Secondly, what is the mechanism which is most suitable for doing this? It is reasonable to try, with constitutional and legal mechanisms, to bridge the gap between North and South, even at the cost of some element of positive discrimination. The university or higher education representation in Seanad Éireann has in the past been used under such a mechanism. It seems there is no reason why it should not continue to be used. The next, more detailed, question is whether that mechanism should be through the framework of Dublin University representation or not. This is a more difficult question because Dublin University, in relation to its student body in particular, has changed very substantially over the years.
The Minister for Education quoted the Provost of Trinity College as saying that, given the present composition of the student body, it had at least as good a right to be described as a national university as the other institution which actually bears that name. Indeed, this is probably the case. I find it difficult, logically, to argue for a special reservation, if one likes to put it this way, at this point in time, for any particular institution in the Republic, even Trinity College, although I am well aware of the particular contribution of that institution to the State, through its members in Seanad Éireann. I do believe that it is an appropriate occasion to think in terms, not just of widening the electorate to include other institutions of higher education in the Republic but of at least, establishing the possibility, which may or may not be seized by the Government of the day, of widening that electorate to include the graduates of institutions of higher education in the northern part of our island. I would go so far as to say that if any seats are to be reserved anywhere, if there is to be any element of positive discrimination in the legislative arrangements proposed by the Minister after the referendum, this positive discrimination should apply to that part of the electorate who are Irish citizens, who live north of the Border and who are graduates of third-level institutions in that part of the island.
My amendment is put down specifically as an enabling one. It does not force the Minister to do anything. It does not force him to extend the electorate to include the graduates of Queens, the NUU or the Northern Ireland Polytechnic. But it does make it possible for him or for any other Minister for Education so to do if he thinks that it is a good idea. In his reply to this matter yesterday the Minister was very brief, he simply said that he could not accept it. We want better reasons than a flat denial because the terminology that I have adopted is clear. There is any manner of argument about the constitutional status of this, that and the other. Surely the use of the word "Ireland" in an Act, or even in our Constitution, is not capable of misinterpretation or misunderstanding. It would plainly cover everything that the Minister wants to do in the short-term in relation to institutions in the Republic of Ireland. It would enable him to do anything he wanted to do, obviously with the agreement of the institutions and of the graduates of the institutions concerned in the North of Ireland, at any future date. It does not tie his hands in any way. It lays the foundations for another bridge towards the North. I urge him to accept the amendment.