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Vote for the Wedding Party

Last Friday was certainly an historic occasion. There has been lots of talk about this particular institution being done away with. People complain that it is too elite, it’s an anachronism and it should be a made thing of the past. There was a fair amount of media coverage on the day that saw upper and lower houses coming together. Just to clear up though, I’m not talking about the Royal Wedding in Britain that seemed to cause much discussion and excitement here in Ireland. I am, of course, talking about the election of the Upper House of the Oireachtas, Seanad Éireann.

I took more interest in this Seanad election than ones in the past. It was probably due to it being possibly the last ever Seanad election. Maybe having been involved in the lower house Dáil election, I wanted to keep an eye on the completion of houses of the Oireachtas. Having said all that, I really only confined my participation in the run up to the senate election day to casting my NUI ballot, encouraging anyone with a vote to use it and a very small amount of tweeting in support of a couple of candidates. Indeed, I was one of those people I usually grumble about who come out of the woodwork towards the end of a campaign when things are going well and then rock up to the count to join in the celebration!

The elitist element of the Seanad becomes clear when you look at who votes in the election. After last week’s election the Seanad awaits the appointment of the final eleven senators who will be nominated by An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. Just over 97,000 NUI graduates are eligible to vote and they elect three senators (but only 33,831 actually voted in this campaign). Meanwhile, on the Dublin University or Trinity College Dublin panel, 58,000 graduates elect three senators (but this time only 16,000 returned a ballot). Meanwhile, 1048 elected representatives elect the remaining 43 senators across five vocational panels. So it’s the 166 TDs, the 43 outgoing Senators who aren’t TDs and 883 County and City Councillors who well enfranchised in this election.

The Seanad election website (www.seanadcount.ie/) was a great way to keep up to date with the count which began on Tuesday. Twitter also came into its own with the official Oireachtas twitter feed (@OireachtasNews), NUI Lecturer Adrian Kavanagh (@AdrianKavanagh) and Labour Councillor Emer Costello (@emercostello) providing invaluable service on news from the vocational panels to the election junkies like myself. The press coverage was surprisingly poor in my opinion from the media including RTÉ as the week went on but maybe they were distracted by events over in London.

News from the university panels meanwhile was much slower. While there were early tallies on Wednesday lunchtime from the NUI count in the RDS, by early evening there was still no news from Trinity College. Having been involved in canvassing in the recent general election in Dún Laoghaire, I had an interest in seeing if Ivana Bacik (@Ivanabacik) could get elected to the Houses of the Oireachtas having missed out on being elected to the Oireachtas in the recent Dáil election by a mere 147 votes. With the count being on my way home, I wandered into the count centre in Trinity’s Exam Hall that evening. This is a very versatile venue which accommodates exams, book sales and hosting the Trinity Orchestra doing Daft Punk judging by the video the went viral on Wednesday. It is also a much nicer venue than the count centre I’m used to in Loughlinstown from the council and Dáil elections!

Once the election count bug gets you, it is hard to get rid of it. It is always good to be involved and I always prefer to have some numbers to hand to crunchat such an occasion. So no sooner had I entered the count centre, I was handed a clipboard and away I was tallying again. I will be diplomatic and say I’ve seen more organised counts elsewhere. Each counter had a letter opener to open the sealed ballots that they then had to try and place on the two tables they had in front of them. A third table for each counting team would have gone a long way. With 20 candidates they was just about enough space to get the opened ballot paper on the tables. For a Dáil or Council election, it is hard to gauge the overall result when tallying as each box is from a designated location meaning some candidates may very strong in certain boxes and weak elsewhere. With the Seanad votes being postal votes, it is a good sample and so when you begin to tally it doesn’t take long to get an overall picture. In this case it is clear that the incumbent senators are doing well with David Norris out front followed by Ivana Bacik. The third senator from the last election, Shane Ross, was of course elected to the Dáil but Tony Williams was running third in the tally having been backed by Ross during the campaign. Its then broadcaster Marc Coleman and TCD lecturer Sean Barrett coming next.

A couple of TCD votes that were posted to the NUI in error are sent over to the Trinity Count but are deemed ineligible. A few Trinity votes head in the opposite direction. It is a bit worrying when Irish graduates can’t work out where to send a letter too. More worryingly is the small number of spoilt votes on the vocational panel election. The comment is made that its poor when our elected representatives can’t manage to fill out a ballot paper correctly. I happened to be at the tally laptop when the Irish Times look for some tallies. I give them an update and then head off to watch the Champions League final second leg. Elections are important but El Classico is more so!

I return after the Lionel Messi show in time to see David Norris elected at the conclusion of the first count and the count is suspended for the evening. We retire to Kehoe’s for some refreshments but there is more work to be done as I’m kindly given a tutorial on how the vocational panel election is run by @Sinchurl. Each of the five vocational panels elects an odd number of senators. For example the Labour Panel has eleven seats. Five of those seats will be filled from the inside panel (people who are nominated by the political parties) and five on the outside panel with a further seat available for the next highest vote after the ten positions have been filled. So what organisations can nominate candidates for the outside panel? Well a selection include The Institution of Engineers of Ireland, the RDS, the Irish Dental Association, the Institute of Irish Bankers, The Drama League of Ireland and the Irish Grain and Feed Association.

The inside/outside panel arrangement does mean that somebody can get elected as being the last man/women standing on one side of the panel even if they have less votes than somebody on the other side of the panel (this is how Mary Fitzpatrick manages to lose out to Denis Landy in the Administration panel). As this election method becomes clear to me, I rue the fact that this will all be useless information to retain if the Seanad is done away with. Many will feel its useless information anyway!

The administration panel is a tough one to follow via Twitter on Friday as all the #SE11 Seanad tweets are buried in my timeline by the royal wedding. Indeed one of the tweeters I met at the count on Wednesday is no longer giving Seanad tweets by Friday but is doing royal tweets from London where she is watching the wedding! It is Friday when the final seat is elected on the Trinity panel and this is won by Sean Barrett. Ivana Bacik won the second seat being elected the previous evening. My timing was good back then as I managed to be in the hall for the tenth count when Ivana is elected. A small group of her supporters and her family are there and there is a hearty round of applause in the count centre when she is “deemed elected”. The resulting noise is not as well received by a youngster in the Hall who is spooked by the clapping putting her hands to her ears. I’m reminded of this when I see the front of the Irish Times on Saturday morning!

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We will wait and see if there is another Seanad election. If the Government commitment is followed, it will be up to the Irish people to decide via a referendum if the Seanad is to be modified or maybe scrapped. It may well be a case of ‘The Seanad is dead, long live the Seanad’.

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