Updated: 02/02/18 : 04:50:42
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Reform of the Seanad underway - Taoiseach

Plans are underway for the reform of the Seanad, (Senate) the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar has decided to set up a Seanad Committee to look into a radical overhaul of the second chamber of the Oireachtas.

"I want to give reform a chance," the Taoiseach said. "I do not believe that the Seanad has fulfilled its role as a revising chamber, nor as an independent voice, sufficiently, in decades gone by."

In 2013 a referendum was held to abolish the Seanad, but it was defeated.

Mr Varadkar supported the referendum to abolish it.

"I was not convinced by those who argued that it would be possible to reform it," he said. "However, the people have spoken."

In 2014 an independent working group was established to examine possible reforms of the Seanad electoral system.

The group, chaired by former senator Dr Maurice Manning, reported in 2015.

The Programme for Government commits the Government to implement the report.

While most people support reform, Mr Varadkar said they were not as enthusiastic about change.

"I am happy to do so," the Taoiseach said.

In his first speech in the Seanad since he became Taoiseach, Mr Varadkar said the new committee would be tasked with considering the Manning Report and developing specific proposals to legislate for reform.

Potential changes could include giving the vote in the Seanad elections to all Irish citizens, wherever they reside; universal suffrage using the panel system; and allowing for online registration of voters and downloading of ballot papers.

However, the Constitution requires a secret, postal vote election.

The changes are likely to be implemented on a phased basis.

The university panels will be retained, but they will be opened up to graduates of all higher-level institutes of education, not only National University of Ireland and Trinity College Dublin graduates.

The Taoiseach will continue to nominate 11 senators as that is also a constitutional requirement.

Councillors will still elect members to the Seanad, but not as many as they do now.

The Seanad was established by the constitution in 1937 by former taoiseach Eamon de Valera, who believed the Seanad could be a revising chamber, criticising them from an independent standpoint

"When we talk about renewing Irish politics in a general sense - or reforming the Seanad to give a specific example - it can often feel like Groundhog Day," Mr Varadkar said.

"It seems like we are condemned to do the same thing over and over, often repeating the same mistakes, with little or nothing changing. I believe in 2018 we have an opportunity to break that cycle."