On the way to the Senate

If you are a graduate of the National University of Ireland or the University of Dublin, or if you are a member of the Oireachtas, or if you are an elected local authority member, or if you are the Taoiseach, then you are a voter in the second phase of the Irish parliamentary elections of 2011: the election of members of Seanad Éireann (Senate). This phase is about to conclude with the counting of votes on Wednesday of this week. The easiest vote to count will be that of the Taoiseach, who has the power to appoint 11 members of the Upper House. 43 Senators will be elected by special vocational ‘panels’; or rather that’s how they are described, but in reality they are just members of parliament and county councillors. Whether any of this makes sense is a question for another time.

What I want to focus on here is the election of six Senators by the graduates of the universities. I won’t however go into the question of whether this is justifiable at all as a way of electing members of parliament; nor will I dwell on the extraordinary contempt of the electorate shown by the political system in not extending the franchise to graduates of other higher education institutions (not least the two excluded universities) despite an instruction by the people in a referendum decades ago to do so. Nor am I going to talk about the 27 candidates competing for the three NUI seats.

Instead, I am going to look at some of the 20 candidates for the University of Dublin (Trinity College) seats. In fact, I am going to do something even more specific than that: I am going to ask what plans if any they have for higher education.  I am myself a voter in this constituency, and have just posted my ballot paper. When I received it, I was faced with having to work out what some of these candidates actually stand for. I had never heard of some of them, and I have received no election literature from 11 of the 20 candidates. However, there is always the internet.

The first candidate I looked at more closely was Marc Coleman, economics editor of radio station Newstalk and columnist in the Sunday Independent. He has made rather a name for himself criticising academic pay and conditions and pouring scorn on the value of university-led research. Funnily enough none of this makes any appearance on his election website, though it dominates the exchanges on his Twitter account. But overall it is impossible to say for sure what position he will adopt on higher education if elected.

Sean Barrett, another economist and TCD senior lecturer, is arguing the case for more investment in education, but principally earlier education rather than universities. His fairly intelligent analysis is rather let down by a website that is full or the most extraordinary typos and spelling and grammar mistakes, which might not be a good way or presenting his case.

Outgoing Senator (and TCD academic) Ivana Bacik shows a fair degree of passion about university access for the disadvantaged, but does not particularly put forward any overall higher education perspective.

Outgoing Senator David Norris, whom I genuinely admire, seems not to be presenting himself very actively for the Seanad; his website does not disclose any of his policies or plans – perhaps because his attention is now more directed at the presidential elections later this year, for which he is a declared candidate.

Barrister Graham Quinn declares on his website he wants to maintain ‘free fees’, but apart from that I cannot find anything of substance about higher education. Unusually for the candidates, homemaker Bart Connolly expresses strong views on research funding, declaring his support for it.

What is my point? It is that we are talking about an election in which candidates are standing for university seats, but really none of them appear to have any overall policies on higher education.  The manifestos are extraordinary collections of policies on this and that, but actually very little on the issue that should have driven them more than any other.

So what have I done? I have taken my role seriously, and have voted in accordance with what I know about the candidates that will be of relevance to the university sector. It has not been the easiest of tasks.

Explore posts in the same categories: higher education, university

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13 Comments on “On the way to the Senate”

  1. Vincent Says:

    And I for the NUI voted for the most Bolshy opinionated loudmouth shower I could find. So any teachers we’ve enough of them, legal eagles or either stripe and members of FF FG and Labour were removed.

  2. […] “If you are a graduate of the National University of Ireland or the University of Dublin, or if you are a member of the Oireachtas, or if you are an elected local authority member, or if you are the Taoiseach, then you are a voter in the second phase of the Irish parliamentary elections of 2011 …” (more) […]

  3. Pidge Says:

    To be fair, TCD/NUI Senators are not “university” senators, and don’t represent the interests of higher education (in theory, law, or practice). They’re elected by college graduates, who probably only care marginally more about higher education than the rest of the population.

    If higher education isn’t a priority for the general public (and, unfortunately, it isn’t), then it’s unlikely to be a massive issue for graduate voters either. Thus candidates aren’t going to spend their time talking about it.

    • I take that point. Of course the original intention behind having university Senators was to give parliamentary space to the Unionist/Protestant tradition, and this was the way de Valera thought he could most easily implement that. So there was never any real intention to allow a higher education view to get parliamentary time.

      However, on the TCD side in particular voters have tended to expect the Senators to support the university, and until this time it was always a major part of every candidate’s manifesto. Not this time, interestingly.

      • Vincent Says:

        Not quite. The University Senators are the rump of the Free State constitution of 6 December 1922 established in the Government of Ireland Act 1920.

  4. Mary B Says:

    Senior lecturer who can’t write!! Don’t vote for him!

  5. jfryar Says:

    Personally I think one aspect that is particularly scandalous is the lack of scientists within the Senate. This was an issue raised in the UK recently in relation to the Lords, and it caught my attention then. A few science journalists ran in local elections in the UK to deliberately highlight the issue here. Put simply, the backgrounds of those elected tend to be quite narrow (usually economics, law, business, etc).

    • Al Says:

      I’d be wary of representing any academic faction over another…
      Perhaps the scientists can handle that many people in a single room..

      What I find depressing is the pandering to the public sentiments.

      The senate should be challenging our sentiments, not pandering to them
      , and keep an eye on the long term interests of the state, rather than themselves as appears to be the current situation.

      It is time to have a traveller appointment to the senate!
      But not that lad that’s always on the radio…

      • jfryar Says:

        I agree. But if a substantial public investment is made in scientific research, if sizable quantities of people are employed by multinational hi-tech corporations, and the economic strategy involves job and wealth creation through technology ventures, ICT, and a ‘knowledge based economy’ then it might make sense for scientists to run for Senate seats. That they don’t in sizable numbers worries me, regardless of whether they’re elected or not.

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