The High Court has begun hearing a challenge to the current system of eligibility for University graduates to vote in Seanad elections. 

Tomás Henegan, a civil servant and graduate of the University of Limerick, says a refusal by the State to treat him equally to graduates of other universities and third level institutions who are allowed to vote in Seanad elections is a breach of his Constitutional rights. 

He is asking the court to quash a refusal by the State to register him as an elector on either the university panels or the vocational panels for Seanad Éireann elections and a declaration that the refusal was unlawful. 

In his High Court action, Mr Heneghan says that as a graduate of the University of Limerick he is not entitled to vote on the panel set aside for graduates of the National University of Ireland or the panel selected by registered graduates of Trinity College Dublin. 

He began proceedings in 2019 after formally applying to the Department of Housing to be registered to vote in the Seanad elections. Having initially represented himself, he is now represented by FLAC. A three-judge division of the High Court is hearing the case which is expected to last three days. 

In a written statement to the court, he also says other anomalies in the way the University Constituencies are managed underline what he says is the unfair and arbitrary nature of the system.

He said graduates of some third level institutions recognised by NUI are granted a vote in the election of university seats while he as a university graduate is not. 

It was his understanding that the passing of a constitutional amendment in 1979 mandated the Oireachtas to expand voting rights for the university panels to graduates of Institutes of Higher Education which had until that time been excluded.

Legal historian and senior lecturer in law at UL Dr Laura Cahillane told the court it was her belief that the 1979 amendment mandated the Oireachtas to pass legislation giving effect to the amendment as voted for by the people. 

She said if the Oireachtas does not act upon something the people have voted for it was a dereliction of duty. If the same thing had happened with other more recent referenda there would have been "uproar", she said.

The fact that amendments carried the word "may" did not mean the Oireachtas did not have to act on them as the word was most commonly used in referenda, she said.

Ms Cahillane was answering questions during cross-examination by the State. Her main evidence for the plaintiff's case was submitted to the court in a written report. 

The defence has submitted a written statement by Dr Eoin O'Malley, Associate Professor and senior lecture at DCU School of Law. During cross-examination today, he said the primary purpose of the 1979 amendment was the break-up of the NUI and the reorganistion of the management of university education in Ireland.

He said low voter turn-out for the referendum was more likely due to apathy on the particular subject which had not seen any great debate.

Mr Heneghan's proceedings are against the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government, the Government of Ireland, Ireland and the Attorney General.

The plaintiff, from Church Square, East Wall, Dublin 3, seeks various declarations including that the refusal to allow him register to vote in the elections is unlawful.

He also seeks declarations that various sections of the 1947 Seanad Electoral Acts are invalid, having regard to Article 18.9 of the Irish Constitution, and provisions of EU law, and the European Convention of Human Rights.

The case which is being heard by the President of the High Court Ms Justice Mary Irvine, Mr Justice Garett Simons and Mr Justice Briain O'Moore in a remote hearing is expected to continue until Thursday.