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Seanad university voting must change by 2027
Pic: RollingNews.ie

27 Jul 2023 / courts Print

Seanad university voting must change by 2027

The Supreme Court has suspended until 31 May 2025 a declaration that the laws governing the elections of Seanad University Panels are invalid.

The decision effectively gives the Oireachtas two years to change the existing system, which allows for three members each to be elected by graduates of the National University of Ireland and Trinity College Dublin.

In March, the court upheld a challenge to the constitutionality of the laws brought by a graduate of the University of Limerick, Tomás Heneghan.


He had claimed that Seanad Éireann has, since 1979 or shortly thereafter, been composed in violation of the Constitution, as it breached article 18.4.2, which was inserted in 1979 after a referendum.

This amendment suggested that the Seanad franchise should be extended to other universities, but this change never occurred.

The court concluded that sections 6 and 7 of the Seanad Electoral (University Members) Act 1937 were “invalid, having regard to the provisions of the Constitution”.


The Supreme Court this week heard submissions from both parties on the length of any period of suspension, with the appellant asking for a one-year timescale, and the State arguing for four years.

In his judgment, Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell (small picture) said that the effect of the earlier court ruling was to find that the State was in breach of its constitutional duty to expand the electorate for university seats in the Seanad.

He added that the obligation to perform that duty had applied since the judgment on 31 March.

“That duty applies now, and is not in any way affected by a suspension of a declaration of unconstitutionality of specific statutory provisions,” he stressed.


The Chief Justice stated, however, that declaring the laws invalid now “would give rise to a real possibility that curative legislation might not be capable of being enacted, with the consequent inability to elect an Oireachtas consistent with the Constitution and render it incapable of enacting any legislation”.

He said that the purpose of the extension was to protect against the possibility of an election and consequent dissolution, which might trigger an election before curative legislation had been put in place.

The Chief Justice added, however, that such a suspension could not extend indefinitely to subsequent elections.

He stated that the Oireachteas had “no legitimate claim” to be protected from the consequence of its own failure to perform its constitutional duty.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland