Seanad Éireann ( SHAN-əd(h) AIR-ən, Irish: [ˈʃan̪ˠəd̪ˠ ˈeːɾʲən̪ˠ]; "Senate of Ireland") is the upper house of the Oireachtas (the Irish legislature), which also comprises the President of Ireland and Dáil Éireann (the lower house).
It is commonly called the Seanad or Senate and its members senators (seanadóirí in Irish, singular: seanadóir). Unlike Dáil Éireann, it is not directly elected but consists of a mixture of members chosen by various methods. Its powers are much weaker than those of the Dáil and it can only delay laws with which it disagrees, rather than veto them outright. It can introduce new legislation. It has been located, since its establishment, in Leinster House.
Under Article 18 of the Constitution, Seanad Éireann consists of 60 senators, composed as follows:
The general election for the Seanad must occur not later than 90 days after the dissolution of Dáil Éireann. The election occurs under the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote (in the panel constituencies each vote counts as 1000, allowing fractions of votes to be more easily transferred). Membership is open to all Irish citizens over 21, but a senator cannot also be a member of Dáil Éireann. However, as stated above, nomination to vocational panel seats is restricted; nomination in the University constituencies requires signatures of 10 graduates.
In the case of vacancies in the Vocational Panels, the electorate in the by-election consists of Oireachtas members only. Vacancies to the university seats are filled by the full electorate in that constituency.
The powers of Seanad Éireann are modelled loosely on those of the British House of Lords. It is intended to play an advisory and revising role rather than to be an equal of the popularly elected Dáil. While notionally every Act of the Oireachtas must receive assent of both chambers, the Seanad can only delay rather than veto decisions of the Dáil. In practice, however, the Seanad has an in-built government majority due to the Taoiseach's nominees. The constitution imposes the following specific limitations on the powers of the Seanad:
The Constitution does, however, grant to the Seanad certain means by which it may defend its prerogatives against an overly zealous Dáil:
Seanad Éireann adopts its own standing orders and appoints its president, known as the Cathaoirleach ("Chair"). The Taoiseach appoints a senator to be Leader of the House and direct government business there. The Seanad establishes its own standing committees and select committee; senators also participate, along with TDs (members of the Dáil) in joint committees of the Oireachtas. A maximum of two senators may be ministers in the Government.
The first parliamentary upper house in Ireland was the House of Lords of the Parliament of Ireland. Like its British counterpart, this house consisted of hereditary nobles and bishops. After the abolition of the Irish Parliament under the Act of Union of 1800 no parliament existed in Ireland until the twentieth century.
In 1919 Irish nationalists established a legislature called Dáil Éireann but this body was unicameral and so had no upper house. In 1920 the Parliament of Southern Ireland was established by British law with an upper house called the Senate. The Senate of Southern Ireland consisted of a mixture of Irish peers and government appointees. The Senate convened in 1921 but was boycotted by Irish nationalists and so never became fully operational. It was formally abolished with the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922 but a number of its members were soon appointed to the new Free State senate.
The name Seanad Éireann was first used as the title of the upper house of the Oireachtas of the Irish Free State. The first Seanad consisted of a mixture of members appointed by the President of the Executive Council and members indirectly elected by the Dáil, and W. T. Cosgrave agreed to use his appointments to grant extra representation to the state's Protestant minority. The procedures for election of senators were amended before the first Seanad election by the Constitution (Amendment No. 1) Act 1925. It was intended that eventually the entire membership of the Seanad would be directly elected by the public but after only one election, in 1925, this system was abandoned in favour of a form of indirect election. Initially casual vacancies in the Seanad were filled by vote of the remaining members. However this system was replaced under the Constitution (Amendment No. 11) Act 1929 by filling of vacancies by vote of both Dail and Seanad, the system that continues today for panel members. The Free State Seanad was abolished entirely in 1936 after it delayed some Government proposals for constitutional changes.
The modern Seanad Éireann was established by the Constitution of Ireland in 1937, and first sat on 25 January 1939. When this document was adopted it was decided to preserve the titles of Oireachtas, for the two houses of the legislature, in conjunction with the President, Dáil Éireann for the lower house, and Seanad Éireann for the upper house, the latter having been used during the Irish Free State. This new Seanad was considered to be the direct successor of the Free State Seanad and so the first Seanad convened under the new constitution was referred to as the "Second Seanad".
The new system of vocational panels used to nominate candidates for the Seanad was inspired by Roman Catholic social teaching of the 1930s, and in particular the 1931 papal encyclical Quadragesimo anno. In this document Pope Pius XI argued that the Marxist concept of class conflict should be replaced with a vision of social order based on the co-operation and interdependence of society's various vocational groups.
Since 1928, twelve separate official reports have been published on reform of the Seanad. In the past the Progressive Democrats called for its abolition; however, in government, members of the party were nominated to the Seanad by the Taoiseach. The post-1937 body has been criticised on a number of grounds, including claims that it is weak and dominated by the Government of the day. There are also allegations of patronage in the selection of its members, with senators often being close allies of the Taoiseach or candidates who have failed to be elected to the Dáil. Many senators have subsequently been elected as TDs.
Irish universities have a long tradition of electing independent candidates. Some, like the pressure group Graduate Equality, argue that the franchise for electing university senators should be extended to the graduates of all third level institutions. Others believe that this does not go far enough and that at least some portion of the Seanad should be directly elected by all adult citizens. Calls have also been made for the Seanad to be used to represent Irish emigrants or the people of Northern Ireland. In 1999 the Reform Movement called for some of the Taoiseach's nominations to be reserved for members of the Irish-British minority, and other minorities such as members of the Travelling Community and recently arrived immigrants. The Seventh Amendment in 1979 altered the provisions of Article 18.4 to allow for a redistribution of the university seats to any other institutes of higher education in the state, although no change has in fact taken place since then.
In October 2009, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny stated his intention that a Fine Gael government would abolish the Seanad, and along with reducing the number of TDs by 20, it would "save an estimated €150m over the term of a Dáil." During the 2011 election campaign, Labour, Sinn Féin and the Socialist Party also supported abolition of the Seanad, while Fianna Fáil supported a referendum on the issue. The programme of the Fine Gael–Labour coalition, which came to power at the election, sought to abolish the Seanad as part of a broader programme of constitutional reform, but lost a referendum on the matter in October 2013 by 51.7% to 48.3%.
Taoisigh have often included people from Northern Ireland among their eleven nominees, such as John Robb (served 1982–89), Seamus Mallon (1982–83) of the SDLP, Bríd Rodgers (1983–87) also of the SDLP, peace campaigner Gordon Wilson (1993–97), businessman Edward Haughey (1994–2002), Maurice Hayes (1997–2002), and Emer Currie (2020–present).
Sam McAughtry was elected to the Industrial and Commercial Panel in a by-election in February 1996. Niall Ó Donnghaile was elected in April 2016 as a Sinn Féin senator for the Administrative Panel while serving on Belfast City Council. Ian Marshall, a farmer and activist from a Unionist background, was elected to the Agricultural Panel in a by-election in April 2018.