New Universities' Enfranchisement: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann, in the interest of even handedness, urges that legislation be introduced to enfranchise graduates of the new universities in future elections to the Seanad.

I welcome the opportunity to propose this motion. I understand this is the first time this has been debated in the Seanad. I welcome the chance to do so and I also welcome the Minister. I mentioned this morning that there was an error on the Order Paper which omitted the names of Senator O'Toole and Senator Lee who also support this motion. To the best of my knowledge every University Senator, at least for the last ten years, has also supported this motion.

This motion urges the early introduction of legislation to enfranchise graduates of the new universities in future elections to the university seats in this House. I deliberately cast the motion in general terms because the ways and means of implementing this idea would obviously have to be a matter of wide and detailed consultation between the various interests involved.

My main reason for proposing this motion is the belief that the present situation is nothing short of a national scandal which brings our Constitution into disrepute and, by extension, brings this House into disrepute. Colleagues will be aware, but the public may not be fully aware, that the Constitution was amended in 1979 on this very issue. The Constitution as originally enacted by the Irish people in 1937 reflected the university situation as it was and did not envisage any future changes.

The Constitution originally provided for six university seats, divided equally between the University of Dublin and the National University of Ireland. There was an important signal in that division of seats because in 1937 one of those universities. Trinity College, was an almost totally Protestant university while the National University of Ireland was an almost totally Catholic institution. The farmers of the 1937 Constitution were making a point when they proposed equal representation for Protestant and Catholic graduates even though the numbers involved were not equal. This was a laudable approach in the circumstances of the 1930s. The generosity of spirit behind it would commend itself to the present generation as we approach discussions on the constitutional framework for the future of this island.

As far the university franchise is concerned, things have moved a long way since 1937 and have changed dramatically and irreversibly. This is why we are discussing this motion. In 1979 an amendment to the Constitution was passed by the people of Ireland which provided for a more flexible approach to the election of university Members. This was precipitated by the expectation that the NUI colleges would eventually become individual universities in their own right. In that situation the electoral structure as envisaged by the Constitution would not fit in with the reality. A constitutional amendment was proposed and enacted by the people in 1979.

The amended Constitution is the framework within which we now have to work. In effect, the amended Constitution now says that out of the 49 elected members of the Seanad, the number of University Senators will remain at six. The total number of University Senators is not, therefore, for discussion under the existing Constitution and neither is it an issue. The Constitution, as amended, provides for total flexibility as to how the six university seats are to be elected.

The Constitution states that provision may be made by law for the election of Senators representing not only the National University of Ireland and Trinity College but also — to quote Article 18.4.2ºi —"any other institutions of higher education in the State." The Constitution leaves as a matter for legislation how exactly the seats could be divided between all these institutions. This was a wise move since it avoids the rigidity of the original proposal.

I apologise for subjecting the House to this historical review but it is necessary in the context of what I am about to say. I want everybody to be fully aware that I know the background of the original constitutional provision and the 1979 amendment.

If we stand back and look at our Constitution, I contend that Article 18.4 is sending a clear message. It envisages that the university seats will be representative of all graduates of higher education institutions in the State and not just the two originally mentioned. Our Constitution clearly says that the issue is representation for graduates, not the representation of a particular subgroup of graduates.

I am proud of our Constitution. There are clearly some fundamental problems which history has now caught up with. However, it is a broadly based, largely liberal Constitution and in many ways a farseeing document that is highly regarded among international students of constitutional law. It is in short something of which we can rightly be proud.

I personally challenged the constitutionality of a provision in Article 44. This Article provides that we may not pass any law which discriminates on the grounds of religion. I challenged that and won a case in 1970. That particular Article is one which is highly valued by many constitutional lawyers around the world.

I am pleased that the Constitution does not intend any old fashioned inequality. On the contrary, to the layman's eye, it seems to be encouraging the legislators to be even handed in our approach to the enfranchisement of graduates. I am not, however, as pleased with what we have actually done with the Constitution because we have done nothing.

The original break up of the NUI did not take place as envisaged in 1979. However, something of equal significance did take place. Within the last decade this State created two entirely new universities: the University of Limerick and Dublin City University. I mention them in that order because we, in Dublin tend to put Dublin first all the time which we should not do.

These two universities are a fine addition to our national educational heritage. In the academic world, there is no question of them being other than first class. In the academic marketplace, the names of the University of Limerick and Dublin City University are every bit as revered, valued and prized as those of the older universities. Nobody in his or her right mind could possibly argue that they are not at least on a par, yet our present law discriminates against our graduates by disenfranchising them in elections to Seanad Éireann. That, as I stated baldly at the outset, is nothing short of a national scandal.

It is a scandal not least because there are no good excuses for it. We cannot hide behind the Constitution. It not only permits what I suggest, it also provides the strongest possible hint that we should do it. We cannot hide behind practicalities either. Of course there would be difficulties in finding a formula to enfranchise all the graduates and, no doubt, we will hear more about those difficulties tonight. The size of the constituencies, which have already grown to an extent that is increasingly unmanageable for candidates and is therefore possibly discriminatory, is just one of the difficulties. These difficulties, however, are there to be overcome and they are not insuperable if a modicum of goodwill is brought to the discussion. They are certainly not a good reason for leaving in place the discriminatory and indefensible status quo.

The motion mentions only the new universities. However, what about graduates of the regional technical colleges? They should be included too; indeed some of those graduates are already enfranchised because their degrees are awarded by one or other of the present enfranchised universities. Trinity College has awarded about 4,000 degrees to graduates from Bolton Street, Kevin Street, Sion Hill and to other Dublin Institute of Technology graduates.

We should aim to be totally inclusive. We should seek to include all graduates rather than simply broadening the list of institutions. Ideally, we should be talking about enfranchising the universities in Northern Ireland also. Unfortunately, however, that is not permitted under the Constitution. I hope that before very long, in a wider context, we will have a new Constitution that will permit representation from Northern Ireland universities.

I doubt that anybody who accepts the idea of university representation can make a good case against ending the present discrimination in the electoral system. I realise that many people have reservations about the concept of separate representation for graduates. Opposition to change will come from that quarter. I ask them to look at the Seanad as it exists and to look at the history of university Senators — I exclude myself from this — and see the fine work that has been done by them.

The Seanad now is very different from the corporate structure that reflected fashionable thinking in the 1930s. I have no problem with that because I believe in the evolution of our institutions. I have no problem with the fact that this House is overwhelmingly political in the narrow sense of the definition. However, this House and the Oireachtas has greatly benefited and continues to benefit from the different perspective contributed by University Senators.

What we bring to the party, to coin a phrase, is very precious. Let us remove the discrimination and clean up our act. Even more importantly, let us say to the generation of graduates emerging from the new institutions that we recognise their degrees, their qualifications and their education and that they are every bit as good as those received from the other fine institutions which just happen to have been in existence a little longer.

It gives me great pleasure to second the motion. This issue has been supported by every University Senator, to my knowledge, since I was first elected to this House in 1987. It is important to put that fact on the record because there are views in the other parties that that might not be the case. This is an issue I have featured prominently on my election literature since 1981. I raised this issue during discussion on the two Bills — particularly the second one — which were passed to establish the new universities. This point was put very strongly by Members of the university group.

There is no case for not extending the franchise. That is why there is no discussion against the point of view put forward by Senator Quinn. A clear position is outlined in the Constitution by the amendment of 1979. The people have spoken on this matter. When they were asked they gave their view. The Constitution clearly gives a huge level of responsibility to the Legislature and to the Executive to implement the will of the people in this matter. The Constitution, for that reason, does not outline how Senators should be elected. In the case under discussion, it is clear that the Constitution envisages, with the people's agreement, that all third level graduates should participate in Seanad elections.

It is my view that the Seanad is undemocratically elected, is unrepresentative and deserves to have the universal franchise. Our proposal shows our commitment to that ideal by at least pushing back the boundaries in the context of the six seats for University Senators. Such change will not be without worry for Members who have been elected under the old system. However, we must move forward and look beyond such considerations.

Article 19 of the Constitution deals with the other 43 Seanad seats. It is clear that provision may be made for direct election of Senators by any vocational group to any of the panels. It has been my position during every discussion on reform of the Seanad — we had long debates on the matter during the terms of the last two Seanad — that there should be universal franchise. Farmers should vote on the Agricultural Panel, trade unionists should vote on the Labour Panel, industrialists should vote on the Industrial Panel and so forth; inside and outside those panels should be restricted. I value the input of local authority representatives and I have often disagreed with my colleagues in that regard. However, it is right that they should elect a certain number of Senators. They should elect the inside panel and the outside panel should be elected by members of the vocational groups.

Tonight we are saying that we are prepared to open our panel to every graduate from third level education. It is not our job to make the case for the extraordinary, exclusive panel which we represent. We recognise that we are in a privileged position to have one tenth of the House elected by those who are lucky enough to survive, exploit and come through third level education. In as much as it represents one-tenth of the population, it is a fair enough reflection on the structure of the House. I do not have a problem with that nor do I have a problem with voting rights for members of local authorities and the various panels. However, the franchise should be broadened.

There is now no justifiable reason for restricting the vote in Seanad elections to the traditional universities, the NUI and Trinity College. The process of electing our graduates to Seanad Éireann is outdated, undemocratic and must be changed. Recently, I wrote to the heads of the regional technical colleges advising them that this is an issue they should take up with the Minister for Education — who I understand has an involvement in this issue — and the Minister for the Environment. I have already compiled amendments to the legislation which would achieve this change. They are easy to compile and they could be drafted in a day. The constitutional changes have already been made.

Participation is the cornerstone of democracy. The restriction on the right to vote in Seanad elections is demeaning and diminishing. It reflects another time and age and should be challenged and changed. When Members of this House knock on doors in Cork in the forthcoming weeks, when all the politicians are doing so before the next general election, or when we will be canvassing the graduates of NUI and Trinity College for the next Seanad election, one issue will confront us — the total sense of isolation from the political process emanating in waves from young people. They have the idea that they cannot be involved in change or participate in the system to any positive effect. We are giving sustenance to that sense of isolation by not involving people in the participatory process of democracy.

A democracy is as strong as the people involved. Democracies that fail either remove themselves from the people or the people are isolated from them. This is a classic example for which there is universal support to enfranchise a whole group of people. We should grasp this opportunity. I recognise, value and praise the position of Government in not opposing the motion. This is heartening and encouraging and we appreciate that support. We ask the Minister to take the next step, to move forward and ensure that all graduates get their opportunity to participate in the Seanad election thereby giving more participation to themselves, more involvement to the population and more relevance to the House.

I am glad the House has an opportunity to debate this issue. As Senator O'Toole said, we had a lengthy and wide ranging debate on reform of the Seanad.

On a point of order, during that debate, the Senator incorrectly said that I objected to local authority people having votes. Allow me to correct the record now, two years later.

Unless my hearing is failing, the Senator made the same contribution and argument this evening. Perhaps I am again picking him up wrong on this occasion.

The issue of the Seanad and Seanad elections is broad. The motion covers one aspect, elections to the University Panels. Some Members of this House advocate the dissolution of the Seanad, although they sit in it, and that in itself is a contradiction. While acknowledging the contribution of the University Senators, people wonder why a second parliamentary vote should be given to a person who has had the good fortune and the intellect to attend a third level institution. People also question another aspect, which is part of the argument put forward this evening, as to why one university should have three Senators but another university, with perhaps four or five times the electorate, should have only three Senators.

There are many contradictions but I agree with Senator Quinn and Senator O'Toole that the franchise should be extended to other areas, such as the regional technical colleges or open universities. However, what about Irish citizens who got their degrees in universities outside the country? There are many areas that could be discussed, such as whether immigrants could be represented in the Seanad. This matter was discussed——

It happens; they can vote for us.

Only in the narrow sense of the University Panels. The point was made as to whether true representation, as Senator O'Toole said, should emerge through, for example, farmers voting directly for those on the nominating bodies or local authority or county borough members only voting for those nominated by the Oireachtas. The system that exists is most democratic in that area because local authority members, county councillors and members of county boroughs, are directly elected by the people in their area. There is no question about that and they are close to the situation on the ground. One gets a true reflection of opinion in an area when four or five candidates emerge and are elected in an electoral area of perhaps 5,000 or 6,000 votes. This is true representation of an area.

The matter of University Panels goes back to a time when there was an effort to take on southern unionist opinion to some extent by allowing Trinity College to have the same number of Senators as the National University. I have no doubt that this was the case but I do not know who represents that opinion today. It is difficult to say; if another Member of the House was here I might attribute it to him. However, I will not do so in his absence.

Senator Quinn and his colleagues have opened up this debate; it will not be confined to this particular aspect but rather the whole question of Seanad reform. Looking back at reports of various commissions, the point made by Senator O'Toole that the nominating bodies should be elected directly from different organisations was put forward as a recommendation in 1959. I read some of the debates that took place in the House about the Seanad electoral commission around 1960 but there was no great enthusiasm among Senators to take that change on board.

Enthusiasm is not widespread today either, but I commend Senator Quinn and his colleagues for bringing forward this motion. They are facing up to the reality of the situation in Ireland in that many more people are graduating from other universities and higher education institutions, such as regional technical colleges. It could be said they are entitled to a say in the election of Senators. A constitutional wish of the Irish people has not as yet been implemented because in 1979, the people voted in favour of an amendment which was similar to the terms of the motion.

On behalf of this group, I support the intent and terms of the motion. I compliment Senator Quinn, Senator O'Toole and the Independent Group for bringing it forward.

This matter was discussed previously and it is no harm to put it back on the agenda. To be fair to the Independent Senators, if this motion is accepted and acted upon, they are probably making more work for themselves and increasing competition for their seats but in their inimitable style, no doubt they will respond to that challenge.

I want to pay tribute to the University Senators, past and present. The House has been well served by them. They have advantages and disadvantages which the rest of us do not have. For example they can pursue an independent line which may not necessarily only represent graduates by whom they are elected but also various other strands in society. Members have come from the academic life, business and other professions. Those of us who form part of the party system have to live with that but, by and large, the mixture here has benefited the Seanad. We get expertise and different points of view that do not necessarily come from the party system.

Some graduates should not get priority over others — all graduates should be able to fully participate. Whether we talk about the present universities or other colleges or institutions which have not got a vote, the matter has to be examined. We are well represented by learning institutions, be they the older universities or colleges such as the regional technical colleges, DCU and the University of Limerick. I was in Cork last week canvassing near the university and I was amazed at the growth of the college. They are looking to expand the campus but they do not want to go into west Cork.

It is important that these matters be looked at. As Senator Quinn said, we must have a more flexible approach. We must look at what has gone before. It may be that the concept of three Senators for one university and three for a much larger one will have to be examined. Somebody in Trinity might not go along with that and I do not mean my colleague Senator Henry as I am sure she is working assiduously to be re-elected; hopefully the next Seanad election will not be too soon.

If we are to include other colleges, we may have to consider introducing a regional system. Those of us who are elected on the panels — especially if we had to travel from one end of Senator McGowan's county to the other late at night — might support regionalisation in some form. I received a letter from the students' union in DCU which supports this measure, as I am sure do many students in the other colleges. It is clear that there is a need for reform whether we look at the whole system or extend the franchise to other universities. It would not be easy to come up with an exact or fair formula.

Senator O'Toole talked about many of our young people who are not part of the system or who look with a certain cynicism at the political system. We can give many reasons for that but some of it must be due to pettiness and bickering. Less of that takes place in this House than in the other House but there is room for improvement all round. There is no harm in questioning the existing institutions of Government. We have been far too slow in the past to be self critical and to examine the system.

It is important that we move on from this motion and see what suggestions can be taken on board. Some graduates should not be discriminated against; I would hate to see comparisons being made. In the good days of colours matches, it was in good sport that one university side would call the other rejects. We must ensure that all graduates are represented in the election of the University Senators. I do not know how one would go about achieving that but the graduates of the colleges not at present represented should be given the vote at an early stage.

Perhaps we should look at the voting system for the University Senators. I understand 40 to 50 per cent of the graduates cast their vote. I have heard of ballot papers going to the last listed address which might be ten or 20 years out of date. The updating and upkeep of the register should also be looked at. We support the motion and ask the Minister to respond positively. It shows the maturity of the House that we can discuss the matter without a division being necessary.

Wexford): I thank Senator Quinn and his colleagues from the Independent group for opening the debate in calling for legislation to extend to graduates of the new universities the right to vote at Seanad elections already enjoyed by their colleagues from the older universities.

Within the present context I have no difficulty with the principle of what is proposed and I do not propose to advocate rejection of the motion or substantive amendment of it. Clearly it is appropriate that all graduates, whether of new or old universities, should be treated equally in this regard. However, it is my belief that the Oireachtas could be criticised if it were to deal with this particular anomaly in isolation without addressing the wider issues and the more serious apparent anomalies associated with university representation in the Seanad. I am anxious to hear the views of Senators on these issues so that they can be taken into account in the development of policy in this field.

Article 18.4.1º of the Constitution provides that the National University of Ireland and the University of Dublin should each elect three members to the Seanad. The Seventh Amendment of the Constitution, approved in a referendum in 1979, amended Article 18 by the insertion of new subsections which allow provision to be made by law for the distribution of the six university seats among the named universities and any other institutions of higher education in the State. The purpose of the change in the Constitution in 1979 was to remove an obstacle in the way of legislation to deal with university reorganisation. At that time it was proposed to abolish the NUI and establish its constituent colleges as separate universities. In order to do this it was necessary to amend the Constitution so that it would be possible to make alternative arrangements in relation to the Seanad seats allocated to the universities.

Since 1979 there have been dramatic developments in relation to the third level educational structures. The proposed abolition of the NUI, which was central to the constitutional change in 1979, has not been proceeded with. The University of Limerick and Dublin City University have been established by statute as separate universities. A new statutory base as been provided for the Dublin Institute of Technology and for the regional technical colleges. The intervening years have also seen the emergence or development of a number of independent third level colleges. In effect, there has been a proliferation of institutions, public and private, providing third level courses up to and including degree level.

In reacting to these developments, it is important to take account of the total picture and not just selective elements. Simply to extend the Seanad vote to graduates of the two new universities could be criticised on the grounds that it sets up a new inequality and does not really address the lack of even handedness implicit in the present situation. I am sure this would not be the intention of the proposers of the motion as Senator Quinn indicated.

It seems to me any extension of the franchise would have to encompass not only graduates of the new universities but also graduates whose degrees are conferred by the National Council for Educational Awards. It could also be argued that consideration should be given to degrees awarded by the Open University and similar institutions which have special relevance for second chance students. Further, could we ignore the increasing number of students who graduate from third level institutions outside the State?

Any review of university representation could hardly avoid a review of the logic involved in differentiating between the different kinds of third level educational awards, especially when the imperatives of our day tend to accentuate the value of technological education and training as compared with more purely academic achievement. It would seem difficult to maintain the intrinsic difference between, for example, a degree and a diploma is such as to warrant extending the vote to the holder of one and withholding it from the holder of the other. If we are to widen the Seanad University franchise, would we not be obliged to think in terms of all graduates of third level institutions, whether the final parchment is described as a degree, a diploma or a national certificate and whether the awarding authority is located in this country or elsewhere?

Extending the franchise would inevitably have implications for the allocation of the existing six seats. The Constitution envisages Senators being elected for universities or other institutions; extending the vote to graduates other than those of Dublin University and the NUI must involve altering the existing constituencies in some way. If this question were to be opened up the question of introducing a more equitable ratio between the number of seats and the number of graduates could hardly be avoided. One solution might be to include all graduates in a single constituency to fill the six seats.

Over and above all this is the fundamental matter of the principle of university representation. Put bluntly, what can now be the democratic justification for awarding a second parliamentary vote to a citizen who has had the good fortune as well as the intellectual capacity to achieve a university degree? It is universally acknowledged that University Senators have in general proved to be excellent legislators. Many University Senators have provided an independent viewpoint which might not otherwise be expressed, or expressed so trenchantly, in Parliament. Do these factors provide sufficient justification for the present arrangements, or are there other considerations which should appropriately be included in the balance?

Any review must also have regard to other proposals for restructuring of Seanad representation. I am thinking in particular of the Fine Gael proposal that emigrant representation should be arranged via the Seanad. This and other possibilities are being examined on foot of the Government's commitment to resolve the emigrant voting issue but no decisions have yet been taken.

University representation in Parliament is of considerable antiquity. Dublin University was represented in the old Irish Parliament. Following the Act of Union the University returned one member to the United Kingdom Parliament and this was increased to two under the Reform Act, 1832. In 1918 both the NUI and Queen's University, Belfast, were given representation at Westminster. This was of course a short lived arrangement which was quickly overtaken by more momentous events. It is interesting to recall that the first and, I believe, the only holder of the NUI Westminster seat was Professor Eoin MacNeill. In Britain university representation in the House of Commons continued up to 1948 when it was finally abolished. University representation in Stormont survived until 1968, almost as long as the institution itself.

Following independence here it was at first proposed that the two then existing universities should be represented in the new Senate. It was however ultimately decided that there should be representation in the Dáil. It is relevant to note that under this arrangement each elector had only one parliamentary vote which could be exercised either in the university constituency or the constituency of residence. Representation for university graduates in the Dáil on this basis was suspended following the enactment of the new Constitution, which provides the basis for the existing position.

I have no difficulty with Seanad University representation. However, from time to time people ask me why a person should be given the privilege of a Seanad vote simply on account of attending university, when less fortunate people cannot have that vote. We may not necessarily agree with this, but it is a valid view.

As I have indicated, the proposal in the motion is entirely unexceptionable in the existing context. Nonetheless, the wider issues touched on must be addressed in one way or another. At present I have no fixed views on where solutions may lie and the matter has not been considered by the Minister or the Government in recent times. I am pleased to see the questions debated, particularly by the Members of this House to whom they are of most immediate relevance. The present motion provides a useful opportunity for the commencement of the debate.

As I said at the outset, I am looking forward to hearing Senators' views in the remainder of the debate. The motion in the names of Senator Quinn and others will open up the debate and there will be numerous discussions on this issue in the months ahead.

I have the greatest respect for this House and consider it a great privilege to be here. I find it a most worthwhile institution and I thank the 2,258 voters from Dublin University who elected me from a strong field of 14.

They were very wise.

The fact that this motion has been put down by the Independent University Senators shows how much we value not only this House but also extending the franchise to graduates of the new universities. It was put to me that we are like a group of turkeys voting for Christmas, but I will outline the system I have devised whereby we can involve the other university graduates without becoming sitting ducks.

Ducks or turkeys?

Senator Quinn and myself hope for a long and happy life here and have no intention of going to the Dáil, so no Senator need consider us a threat in a Dáil constituency.

The Minister is right to say we are privileged. We are trebly privileged in that most of us are university graduates, we are elected by graduates and we belong to a privileged assembly. To those who have been given a great deal one should expect a greater contribution, so one could say that is asked of us. Garvin in his book on the Seanad said the University Senators contributed a disproportionate amount to debates and only the party leaders had more influence. From the way he wrote that, I am not sure whether he thought that a good or bad thing; but from the election of the first University Senators in 1938 they have never been afraid of putting forward unpopular views and initiating controversial debates, which would have been extremely difficult for Members from political parties.

I feel proud to say one of the first Senators elected from Dublin University, Professor Robert Rowlette, was a cousin of my father. He was much involved in the early Seanad debates on controversial and liberal issues. To this end it is important that these Senators should maintain their independence, because most graduates on the electoral roll feel this is an important part of the University franchise.

Many of the previous University Senators were involved in bringing forward social change, but many Members of the current Seanad are not dissimilar from us University Senators and would support many of our views. Many are graduates and members of professional bodies. While they are elected on vocational panels, they have responsibilities and constraints we from the universities do not have. This freedom is of great benefit to the House.

Because the franchise has been extended to graduates of the Dublin Institute of Technology with Trinity degrees, my constituents have a far wider range of interests and views than was the case when the Dublin University electoral register was confined to Trinity College graduates. I welcome that. If it was extended to people from Dublin City University we would give the franchise to many people skilled in computers, or if extended to Limerick University I could draw on the expertise of a constituent with expertise in equestrian matters when participating in a debate on that industry. The broader range of view represented in the House the better.

The Minister said that seats for universities in the House of Commons and Stormont were abolished a long time ago. This should be a lesson for us all. We should look at what has happened in both institutions. I think we are in a superior situation to them. This is a point in favour of retaining the University seats.

Various methods have been suggested by which new graduates could be brought onto the Seanad registers — for example, Dublin City University could join with Dublin University because over half the electorate of Dublin University is from County Dublin. The myth that they are all in Botswana, Yemen or elsewhere is not true. Limerick University should join with the National University of Ireland.

However, I have a much simpler solution. Dublin City University and Limerick University could organise their own electoral roles. When they elect their graduates the next time round, the Taoiseach should concede two of his nominations to these newly elected people. This Government will run and run and continue to have the huge majority it has at present. While the Taoiseach always appoints very distinctive people to the nominated seats — although some distinguished people have not always been as vocal as one would wish they would have been — I could assure him that his nominees from those two universities would be as vocal as the present University Senators. In 1991, in the last debate this House had on Seanad reform, Senator Manning said that while he felt that the University Senators had justified their existence, he would like to see a little democratic humility from us from time to time. Whatever these new Senators might be like, I am sure they would at least give a greater diversity of opinion than is always represented in the Seanad.

I am pleased to support this motion by the University Senators. I am also pleased that the Minister has accepted its concept in principle, but I hope he will do more than this. I accept the Minister's point that there are wider issues to be addressed, but I hope that this will not take too long and that these issues will not mean too much of a delay in implementing the intent of this proposal. Other speakers have said that the intent is not simply to widen the electorate to the University of Limerick and Dublin City University but also to include the Dublin Institute of Technology and the regional technical colleges and I support this.

I was interested to hear Senator Henry talk about being a turkey waiting for Christmas or a sitting duck. I am not sure what kind of birds the University Senators are, but I agree that they do not sit on the fence. They have certainly proved themselves. This applies not only to the present incumbents but also to those who took those positions in the past. They have made a fine contribution to the Seanad in the context of what it is intended to be — a House of expertise which brings a refinement to legislation which might not necessarily have been provided in the Dáil. I am not suggesting that the Dáil would not be able to refine legislation but there is a role for the Seanad in examining in detail aspects of legislation. Perhaps the Dáil is more confrontational. I may be digging a hole which I should get out of at this stage.

There is no doubt that what Senator O'Toole said is true, that it would be almost impossible to argue against this motion. It is perfectly logical and democratic that the new universities should not be left out of the franchise which is available to the older universities. The Seanad is not elected by universal franchise and there is a logic in having people selected to it. Those of us who were elected on the panels were effectively selected in that we have a general vote like everyone else but also, as members of councils, we have a vote for candidates from the Seanad panels. In this sense we have a double franchise.

Legislation following the amendment to the Constitution in 1979 provides that the Minister for the Environment can introduce legislation to allow for alternative methods of election to those in Article 18.4.1º of the Constitution, which is the original Article under which University Senators are elected. Within the constitutional framework it is already possible to implement this desire.

Because of the CAO, the CAS and the points system, there is a great deal of mobility among undergraduates, graduates and staff of universities. There is definitely a parity between people who enter the system, irrespective of what institution they attend. As well as the degree courses, which are mainly studied for through universities — some of them are provided by the regional technical colleges — diploma courses have proved themselves as well and there is a great deal of expertise among graduates with diplomas.

I looked for figures on graduates and undergraduates of the new universities. The figures given in the Higher Education Authority report, which was published last month, only relate to March 1992. The report indicates that there were over 7,000 undergraduates in Limerick University and DCU. I know this has risen considerably since then. We are talking about a very sizeable sector of the third-level population.

Both these universities, in particular, and also regional technical colleges have shown a great deal of innovation. Senator Henry referred to courses such as equine studies. One could also mention courses like European studies, public administration, communications studies and many others which would contribute a great deal to the debates on various aspects of legislation which we deal with here. The new universities have responded particularly well to the changing world outside and the evolution within the third-level sector. They have been very much tuned in to our membership of the EU and have used programmes like Erasmus, Comet, Lingua and many others in a very effective way. Because they are new, it has been easier for them to be more flexible than the older universities were able to be. I know from my experience of the University of Limerick that they have used those programmes extensively and have a great deal of interaction with universities in other European countries and outside Europe — for example, in Japan. They have something to offer which might not be as well developed in the older universities. I know more about the University of Limerick than about the others. In that institution there has been a very innovative approach and its graduates would be very familiar with changes in public administration, modern law, European institutions and so on and would have a great deal to contribute. Regional technical colleges, the Dublin Institute of Technology and other providers of third-level courses also have a right to a franchise.

I was glad to hear Senator Cosgrave refer to the importance of helping young people to relate to the political system. It is a privileged group of young people who are able to study in a third-level institution. It would be a start if they were encouraged to be part of the political system in this way, but I hope it would spread further. There is a strong onus on all of us as public representatives to do whatever we can to make the political system more meaningful for young people, particularly in the context of high levels of unemployment and youth emigration. It is good if University Senators can contribute to this.

I admire our present University Senators for being willing to trudge their way further around the country extending their number of voters. I and most other Senators have travelled the highways and byways in search of county councillors and I would not like to travel further. The Members are courageous to do that. I support the motion and I hope it will be possible to implement it.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this motion. This subject is worth discussing and I am sure we could have a longer debate on another day. This motion is restrictive. It should have included all third level institutions on the island if we believe in equal rights and equal opportunities. Our situation is changing. When our Constitution was drafted we could not have envisaged the present circumstances in relation to Europe and our relationship with the people in the North. There are people from Belfast in the universities in Dublin and many people from Donegal and the Border counties attend the University of Ulster.

We do not have a proper Seanad voting register. People are sometimes confused about voting in Seanad elections and papers are often sent to people who are dead or living abroad. I do not support the principle of registering on the day a university graduate leaves college. He or she will then have a vote in all Seanad elections although they live in other countries. This is a loose arrangement which could be improved. I would like to see those who attend and represent universities being the first to suggest proposals to improve the franchise for those involved. I would like this opportunity to be given to graduates of the University of Ulster and I believe it would be accepted.

I value the wisdom of the Taoiseach of the day in selecting Members of the House. Senator Wilson is a great example of someone who has made a major contribution to this House and who adds flavour to current affairs. We all value the contribution he makes. This is an opportunity to allow the University of Ulster to nominate people to the Seanad.

Any review of this matter must consider every aspect. I believe every third level institution in Ireland should be treated equally. I am sure the Minister is concerned about this. One cannot give the franchise to those in privileged universities without looking at all third level institutions. Any review should also welcome the opportunity to have consultations with the University of Ulster where there are substantial numbers involved in student exchange programmes. This could be an important approach. I would welcome another opportunity to discuss and exchange views on this issue with the University of Ulster. Perhaps today's discussion will initiate a further in-depth study.

I agree that we should extend the vote to graduates of Dublin City University and the University of Limerick. I listened carefully to the points raised in the debate this evening.

One must consider the election panels for the Seanad and ask oneself if those elected reflect the graduates and if we need another body of people to elect graduates to represent them or to represent people. I do not know the answer to these questions, but we must extend the debate to the universities. Perhaps we should ask the presidents of the universities, the governing bodies of the regional technical colleges and any other private institution which is trying to reach university status to make a submission and then we could have a long debate. We must be careful about graduates. Many private institutions now have degree courses which are not necessarily valid. Are the students who attend these colleges official graduates? Many questions have been asked about some of these private institutions and the courses they offer.

We must extend the franchise but we cannot do that without looking at the composition of the Seanad. At present, 60 Senators are elected on five panels, of which six are university graduates. We must look at the number of young people at colleges. At least 75 per cent of every leaving certificate class will attend a third level college. The leaving certificate is the passport to third level education and everyone is moving in this direction. Because soon at least 75 per cent of our population will have third level education, everyone in the country will have two votes, a third level college vote and a citizen's vote. We must look at this issue in this context. Should this be the case or should everyone only have one vote and leave the composition of the Seanad as it stands with local authorities and Members of the Oireachtas as the main electorate for the panels?

I do not have answers to these questions because I was more interested in opening up the discussion. The more people who contributed to the debate, the more confused I became because more questions were being raised. We should consult with the universities, the governing bodies of the regional technical colleges, the University of Ulster at Coleraine and the private institutions because many of these are now linked with Trinity College, Glamorgan University and other colleges in Wales. We must be careful about who we describe as a graduate. The number of students graduating with third level qualifications and the number of courses coming on stream mean we must ask what we mean by a graduate and we must increase the number of university seats. This will change the composition of the Seanad.

I welcome the debate. If one is a graduate one is entitled to a vote as things stand at present. However, this issue is deeper than that and I would like to have another debate on it and get each faculty of every university to make a contribution.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. It is appropriate that we, in the Upper House, should reflect on whether we embrace all the elements in society which were originally intended to be represented in the Seanad when the Constitution was enacted in 1937.

In respect of university representation, I had the privilege of being here in 1965. Nobody appreciates more than I the independent, vigorous questioning voice of the University Senators. I say this without any reflection on my colleagues in the National Universities because I am one of those who has two votes at each Seanad election. I am privileged in that sense. The views of the Trinity College representatives, from the late Senator Sheehy-Skeffington to his distinguished successors today, are something I greatly respect but with which I seldom agree. That, perhaps, is the greatest vindication of that view.

For that reason I would not want anything I say to be taken as a criticism of those who represented the universities in this House over the years — their contributions speak for themselves — but rather in terms of what has been emerging and evolving in Irish society since this panel system was created. I was privileged to be a junior Minister in the Department of Education when we launched the first institutes of education, as they were then called, which included the Limerick Institute of Higher Education. We had a goal, a design, a dream and a purpose, that it would be relevant not only to today and tomorrow as distinct from being conventional and having all the traditional faculties — medicine, architecture, law and so on. We resisted views that suggested they should be conventional universities. Limerick pressed for this at the time because it wanted the status of a university city of the old Oxbridge type. We put in place — I am privileged to have been involved in it — what was then an institute relevant to the new Ireland, and what a success it has been. The whole complex was linked to the third level colleges of technology which have been a feature of development and which have made a major contribution to our economy and to the capacity of our young people. That must be recognised by this generation.

Nobody, whether they be a Trinity College or a National University of Ireland graduate or someone who did not graduate from either institution, could suggest for a moment that these people, be they from Dublin City University or the University of Limerick, should be deprived of the right to be represented in this House. They would contribute a great deal of dynamism and new thinking to our debates and would provide the independence that is so obviously needed in any political system, particularly ours.

The longer I am involved in politics the more I respect that independent and questioning voice. However, I want to see this reflected in a much broader way. The 1937 Constitution deliberately and positively discriminated in favour of Trinity College for a good reason; it did this to favour the Protestant minority. When I attended the National University of Ireland in the early to mid-1950s, it was still that way to a certain extent. Indeed, we had some fun with our Trinity colleagues. However, all that has changed. Irish society has changed, everything has changed. I do not think any of the Trinity representatives, for instance, would now see themselves as representing only a separate, small, Protestant minority. They would see that their representation as no more privileged than anybody else.

If we are to change, and there is a great need for change within the university structure, I hope it will not be at the expense of that independent voice which I sometimes envy. However, I have enjoyed the opportunity to express my independent views in this House. I would not normally have been able to do this in the Dáil. I hope we will not do anything to undermine that independence.

The Ireland of the future will be different from the Ireland of yesterday, much less of today. I was greatly impressed by the suggestion that we could use the university representation to do what has been done in terms of getting distinguished people like Senator Wilson into this House. Do we not want to hear the voices of the new University of Ulster and Queens University here? This would be the real and authentic voice of Ireland. Different traditions and political allegiances may be involved but we could at least hold open that prospect, although it might be rejected.

We cannot just look at reforming the university panel system. If we are looking for a change that will make the Seanad more reflective, we cannot confine it to the university panels. If we are to have a referendum, which would be required to do this, we will have to look at the panel system at large. If we do, we should ask ourselves if it is intended to be a vocational system where all voices would be heard representing all interests, acknowledging of course, that there is a political reality, or is it a system that can, and has been, used effectively for many years by people who hardly ever speak here but who know how to appeal and guarantee each vote on their electoral college? That is hardly the purpose de Valera or the constitutional framers had in mind when they introduced this system. We must look at this objectively and we should consider and make proposals that would give us a more representative, and hopefully, more dynamic Seanad.

I have a few random thoughts on this issue, but I felt that since my colleagues have put this motion down and generously invited me to sign it, it behoves me to say a few words.

It gives me particular pleasure to agree with my distinguished colleague, Senator O'Kennedy especially since I had forgotten he was actually one of my constituents. It is always nice to be able to agree with a constituent who wields a vote.

I am not a constituent, but my son is.

In that case I regret to say that this is an occasion on which I find myself in unusual agreement with Senator O'Kennedy.

This matter really needs to be considered in the overall light of a general review of Seanad Éireann, particularly the way people are elected to it. I say this with no disrespect to Members who are elected on what I would see as the less democratic method of the other panels. There is no doubt whatever that it is less democratic. I recall the last Seanad where all the named officers had stood for at least one election and had been rejected by the Irish people. The Cathaoirleach had stood in the general election and the European election and had been convincingly rebuffed in both. The Leas-Chathaoirleach, who I will of course not name, stood at the general election and was not elected, and the Leader of the House had actually stood for the Seanad on the panel system and had been rejected, but he was nominated to continue as Leader. Then we were treated to a certain amount of instruction in the process of democracy from various sides of the House, but principally from the Government side.

This is a serious point because attempts are sometimes made to diminish not just Seanad Éireann in toto, which regrettably does sometimes happen, but especially the Seanad representation which comes from the universities. I was involved with the first Peace Train that went to Belfast. When we came back we were met by an emotional crowd. Some of us were interviewed on the news for RTE television. I used a formulation of words, when I was asked about what we were doing, saying that “As an elected representative...”. Vincent Browne of the Sunday Tribune took me to task over this and wrote an excoriating piece saying that we were the least democratically elected element of any national parliament and so forth. I wrote a detailed rebuttal which I sent through the post, faxed, hand delivered and sent by courier, but, needless to say, it never appeared in the paper. So much for Vincent Browne's much vaunted right of reply, on which I heard him discoursing on the radio recently.

It is important to say that we have real constituencies: in the University of Dublin it is about 25,000 graduates and in the National University of Ireland it is nearly 90,000 graduates. There is no question of doubt that there is a disparity and there are historical reasons for that which have been amply explained. For a variety of reasons, partly because of the disparate nature of the electorate in the NUI and the difficulty of keeping up to date records and addresses, the voting record in the University of Dublin is about 66 per cent, while it is somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent for the National University of Ireland. So, there is not quite the same discrepancy in the numbers actually participating in the election.

The historical background was referred to by my distinguished colleague, Senator Quinn. It is, of course, true that one of the reasons for establishing the Senate in 1922 and the Seanad in 1937 was to assuage the fears of the Protestant minority. Senator O'Kennedy is quite right; I do not seek to represent any small, sectarian element in this country. I have repeatedly told university graduates that one of the things that gives me the greatest pleasure is to see the way in which Trinity has become relevant to Ireland and to Dublin. This can be seen physically in the bursting open of that gate which reaches out and draws people from Nassau Street into the University at the centre of our capital city. Since the dropping of the ban Trinity has become overwhelmingly Roman Catholic in its undergraduate population. It is also overwhelmingly a Dublin university, now drawing its student group largely from the northside of the city, so it is representative. It is a curious quirk that at the last election the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic electorate elected three members of the Church of Ireland to represent Dublin University. This is an important indicator to people in the North of Ireland that we are not sectarian down here and that people are elected, I hope, on merit. The fact that they are members of the Church of Ireland simply does not arise, but it is something that will be seen in the North of Ireland.

I would advise caution in tinkering with the university seats and any proposal to reduce the representation of Trinity. The universities — particularly Trinity which I know most about — contain in their electorate graduates of the Dublin Institute of Technology, so we have already reached out. Speaking on the Bill which created the University of Limerick and Dublin City University, I said that their graduates must become voters, and I still support that position. Since Trinity has developed organically as a geographical constituency located in Dublin, it seems to me logical and reasonable that — at least as a first stage — the graduates of Dublin City University should come into the constituency of Dublin University while the graduates of Limerick University should go into the National University of Ireland.

I do not wish to denigrate the other panels at all. Very fine contributing parliamentarians have emerged through this system, although I do have doubts about it. The phrase has been used by myself and others that it was a nursing home or rest home for retired politicians. That is part of the public perception.

Confirming something that Senator O'Kennedy said very honestly, I remember at the last election the president of the Royal Irish Academy — one of the principal nominating bodies — put his name on the ballot paper but did not receive one vote. Surely there is something odd where the president of a nominating body can go forward for election and not receive a single vote. We should look at the possibility of strengthening representation in the way that university representation has been strengthened; that is, by giving some degree of enfranchisement to ordinary members of the different nominating bodies. In other words, the motor industry, trade unions and professions should not just have the impotent glory of power of nomination, but should have some right to participate in the actual electoral process. That might also do away with the nonsense whereby people get elected with 66 votes which have to be multiplied by 1.5 million to make it look credible and realistic.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Senator's time is up.

Well, you have brought me to a halt just at a full stop. How grammatically civil of you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.

I support the principle enshrined in the motion. It is a difficult matter to address and I will not go into the history of it. I am sorry that I was not here earlier for the full debate to hear what the proposers of the motion had to say. This issue has been the subject of discussion for quite a considerable length of time both publicly and indeed within the Fine Gael Party. Since 1979, with the development of Limerick University, Dublin City University, the Dublin Institute of Technology and all the regional technical colleges, a situation has developed where many university graduates are not in a position to vote for candidates on the university panels.

I was hoping to hear very firm proposals from Senator Norris as to how he would address this issue and I was disappointed that he did not go into the specifics of it. I would not like to discriminate in any way against anybody or any grouping, but there is no proportionality at the moment and neither is there equality in so far as some graduates are not being given the opportunity to vote. The Minister highlighted in his speech all the difficulties of addressing the issue. The issue was partly dealt with by having a constitutional amendment in 1979 but the realities are that nothing has been done to regularise the situation by introducing legislation in the meantime.

I wonder if at this stage we have not gone long beyond the NUI and Dublin University panels, because we have a variety of third level educational establishments. The Minister mentioned the difference between a diploma and a degree; quite frankly, I think that somebody who has only got a diploma should not necessarily have a vote for the University panel. We should accept that the fundamental basis for a vote is a degree, so that graduates of colleges that grant degrees should be entitled to vote.

I just wonder if the whole idea of NUI and Dublin University should not be abolished in favour of having six University seats and letting all university graduates vote for those six seats. The point that Senator Norris raised is an important one; the fact that so many graduates from Trinity would be more or less the current electorate. However, it would not discriminate against people of quality such as the three university Senators who represent Trinity in this House at the moment. People like Senators Henry, Norris and Ross, because of their profile and ability, would still get elected on the wider panel I outlined.

That is one way in which the matter could be addressed. That may not satisfy the various interests of the universities who may have other angles and hidden agendas, but it is a simple matter at this stage. We have to come out of our historical position. We are moving a long way now; history is part of what we are but we also have to progress towards the 21st century. It is important to look at it this way. Perhaps this is a simplistic approach.

In principle, I support the motion and compliment the Independent Senators on tabling it. I am sorry that I was not here to hear the various views put forward, except those of Senator Norris in his usual eloquent style. I was hoping to hear something specific from him, but nevertheless the issue deserves serious consideration. I am confident that the three current Senators from Trinity or the three NUI Senators would not be hostile to an open forum. People such as they would get elected without any difficulty.

Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, for the opportunity to sum up. The intention of tonight's debate was to open up the discussion. The Minister has referred to the fact that that is exactly what it has done and I appreciate his view. I thank the Minister for not opposing this because it has given us an opportunity to have that open debate without confrontation.

I wish to answer a couple of points that were raised. One of those was the number of electors for the university seats. At the moment NUI has an electorate of 87,000 while Trinity College has 25,000. As Senator Norris explained, there is a higher proportion of voting in Trinity, so the gap is not as large as that.

There is no need for a change in the Constitution, as Senator O'Kennedy thought. That change took place in 1979 and, therefore, there is no need to change it in order to do what we propose, that is, change the arrangements. A change in the Constitution would be needed if, as Senator McGowan suggested, we were to include the University of Ulster, because the words in the Constitution as it stands after the 1979 amendment refer to institutes of higher education in this State.

I was pleased with what Senator Finneran and Senator Cosgrave said about emigrants, because the only way emigrants may vote is through the six university seats. Any graduates of the NUI or TCD who have emigrated have a right to vote, and many do so. I was pleased with Senator Norris's reference to advise caution as regards Trinity College. The objective in 1937 has been achieved to a large extent and it would be a shame to tinker with it without a great deal of caution. I was impressed by Senator Henry's suggestion of an alternative whereby the Taoiseach would generously allocate two of the 11 seats to the new universities. I am sure that will be taken up with great enthusiasm by the Taoiseach.

There are two vacancies at present.

There were hints about it being undemocratic. I believe the US Senate is not democratic, but it is regarded as a fair and capable way of running a nation and of having a Constitution. I appreciate this evening's debate. Senator O'Toole referred to the fact that no sustainable argument was made against this concept. I, too, believe no sustainable argument has been made against it.

Another point I would like to make reminds me of the time I was taught to play rugby by Fr. Hegarty in Newbridge College, although Senator Dardis is not here to confirm that I ever played there. When training us Fr. Hegarty spoke about the defending team and the attacking team. I asked him what he meant by this. Did it mean where the ball or the team was? He said no, the attacking team is the team in possession of the ball, even on its own line. We now have an opportunity to have the ball in our hands, although we have failed to do anything with it since 1979. I propose, encourage and urge the Government to grab hold of this opportunity because it has the ball in its possession. If it is going to score the goals which can be scored, which will bring democracy to all graduates, it should do so. I urge the Minister to take that into account in discussions at Government level.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

It is proposed to sit at 10.30 a.m. on 3 November 1994.