Submission to the Implementation Reform Group
By Niall Torris, UCD Students’ Union Graduate Officer 2017-2019
My name is Niall Torris and I am currently the Graduate Officer for University College Dublin Students' Union and a governor of UCD. I am writing to you as the UCDSU representative for Graduate students, a significant cohort in terms of national numbers. UCD is currently home to over 1500 PhD students and around 9000 postgraduate students, the largest amount in a single Irish HEI and about 25% of the total number in Ireland.
This year with assistance from NUI and Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, I ran a brief yet effective month-long NUI Seanad voter registration campaign on campus which saw over 100 forms returned to NUI by myself and a great number more distributed through the Student’s Union office. The campaign was well received with overwhelmingly positive responses from UCD students and alumni. However, when registration claims were entered, many students discovered that they were ineligible for addition to the register of electors as their qualification carried the name ‘Diploma’ and as such was not considered an NUI degree for electoral purposes. This came as a great shock as almost all diploma students receive a level 8 or 9 award and their degrees are awarded through programs which are directly comparable to undergraduate or graduate degrees. They are often fast-track degrees of one or two years allowing students to gain another major. Indeed, the programmes are often referred to as a ‘postgraduate conversion degree’ and many of these programmes did have such titles in years gone by.
A number of these students were understandably upset, and I raised the issue with an NUI records officer directly who informed me that nothing could be done due to the legislation surrounding Seanad electoral registration claims. Having recently raised the matter at UCD Governing Authority it was suggested I contact NUI to seek a solution to the matter. I note that the Seanad reform Implementation group is currently meeting and I request that you consider this submission on behalf of multiple stakeholders. UCDSU, the graduates of NUI, and most importantly those students who fall outside of the current legislative structure which does not allow a student with a qualification which is not formally called a ‘degree’ to register to vote in the NUI Seanad Eireann constituency even in cases where their award is of equal level to a degree.
A request to the Seanad Reform Implementation Group to recommend the introduction of the Seanad Electoral (University Members) (Amendment) Bill 2014 into law
The issue I raise is that several NUI graduates cannot currently claim registration to vote in the NUI Seanad electoral constituency as their qualifications are not called a ‘degree’ rather they are called a ‘diploma’ or ‘certificate’. As such students who graduate from UCD (or indeed an NUI institution) with a Higher Diploma, Postgraduate Diploma or Postgraduate Certificate cannot claim a vote in the NUI constituency even though they hold qualifications equal to Degrees on the National Framework of Qualifications. This particularly affects mature students and postgraduate students who did not previously study in an NUI institution who frequently come to UCD (and other NUI institutions) for a postgraduate degree of this type and thus often do not hold a previous qualification which would render them eligible to claim registration (as shown in the email provided).
This means a significant number of potential UCD graduates are not to be able to register to vote in the NUI constituency. This could easily be fixed by introducing legislation to enact the will of the people to reform the universities constituency as shown in the 1979 Seventh amendment referendum to article 18.4.2 of the constitution which would allow all those with degree level qualifications to claim a vote in the Universities constituency of Seanad Eireann and introduce many other progressive reforms.
In 2014 the government published a bill which would allow the graduates described earlier to register to vote in the university constituency. This bill would also introduce reforms which would widen participation in the Seanad Eireann Universities constituencies which were shown to be the will of the people in 1979 through referendum. This could be introduced immediately and would not require a referendum to introduce as this referendum was already held in 1979; however, there would still likely need to be a further referendum to implement greater reform in the university constituency as put forward by the Seanad Reform group. In this sense, the introduction of the 2014 bill would be a much needed and welcome stepping stone towards widening participation and representation in Seanad Eireann through the universities constituencies. This should not be understood to preclude or prevent any further reforms as suggested by the group, but rather as a tool which can be used to widen participation and begin reform immediately with further reforms coming later.
If such reforms were introduced through the passing of the Seanad Electoral (University Members) (Amendment) Bill 2014 into law this would allow more graduates to claim registration in the University constituency immediately upon implementation. This would also benefit the work of the group as a wider list of graduates would be able to claim registration in advance of any further Seanad reform and thus allow a fully reformed Seanad to have a more diverse electorate in the Universities constituency from day one.
It would also be more reflective of a true democratic process if the Seanad Electoral (University Members) (Amendment) Bill 2014 is introduced prior to any referendum (or referenda) to reform the Seanad generally. This is due to the possibility that if a negative result is returned on a proposed Seanad Reform bill. Such an occurrence may result in complications arising from conflicting democratic mandates from the positive result of the unimplemented 1979 referendum and any possible negative result to a general Seanad reform proposal which may be brought before the people which includes proposals to reform the Universities constituencies of the Seanad. Implementing the 2014 bill would prevent any such complications from arising in future and therefore, it would be a preferable route to widening participation through Seanad reform.
In summary, I submit a request to the Seanad Reform Implementation Group to recommend the introduction of the Seanad Electoral (University Members) (Amendment) Bill 2014 into law for the following reasons:
To immediately remove a legislative quirk which prevents graduates of programs which carry the qualification title ‘diploma’ or ‘certificate’ at level 8 or level 9 from claiming registration to vote in Seanad elections
As a beneficial and much needed stepping stone to widening participation in the Seanad electoral process and to promote diversity in the electorate.
To recognise the will of the people as expressed through referendum in 1979 and thus prevent any possible future contradictory mandates which may arise should any further referenda regarding Seanad reform be brought before the people.