Ireland operates a parliamentary system with two chambers: the Dáil and the Seanad.

The Seanad is the less powerful of the two.

In 2013, the Fine Gael and Labour coalition put a proposal to abolish the Seanad to the people in a referendum and while it was narrowly defeated, concerns persist.

Some critics argue the mechanism to elect senators is both elitist and undemocratic. Advocates concede it should be reformed but argue the Seanad provides an additional layer of governance.

Despite repeated commitments to reform of the upper house little progress has been made.

Now elections are under way to fill the 60 seats in the Seanad.

What is the Seanad Election? 
It is an election to fill the 60 seats in the upper house of the Oireachtas - the Seanad.

The election must be carried out no later than 90 days after the dissolution of the Dáil, which this year happened on 9 January in advance of the General Election.    
How are the seats filled? 
The 60 Senators positions are elected through three different categories:   

  • 43 of those will be elected from panels of candidates representing specified vocational interests 
  • 6 from university panels 
  • 11 senators will be nominated by the Taoiseach. That won't happen until there is a Taoiseach appointed following the formation of new government.     

Vocational Interest Panels: 
There are five different vocational interest panels, on which candidates who have knowledge and practical experience in those specified areas, are nominated.
There are two sub-panels within those five, the nominating bodies and the Oireachtas or political parties.
Over this weekend, ahead of deadlines, parties will hold meetings to decide which of their councillors, former TDs or Senators get nominated.    
The vocational nominating bodies are made up of a large number of institutions, associations and societies from across the country.  

A specified number of senators will be elected from each of the panels as follows:  

  • 5 from a cultural and educational panel   
  • 11 from an agricultural panel   
  • 11 from a labour panel   
  • 9 from an industrial and commercial panel  
  • 7 from an administrative panel 

 University Panels  

Six candidates will be elected from certain universities - three from the Trinity College panel and three from the National University of Ireland colleges which are UCD, UCC, NUIG and Maynooth.
The electorate for these six candidates is anyone over the age of 18 who has a degree from those named universities.  
The nominees from the university panels will often include former TDs and Senators.  
How can someone become a senator? 
Irish citizens over the age of 21 can be nominated with some exceptions such as individuals serving prison sentences of more than six months, judges, gardaí and members of the Defence Forces. 
Politicians and members of the general public can be nominated. Political parties nominate party members, who may have already been Senators, or TDs who have lost their Dáil seats or councillors.    
Candidates for the university panels do not have to be a graduate or be connected with the university in any way, but must be nominated by two registered electors for that university with eight other registered electors assenting to the nomination.  
Who can vote in the election? 
The electorate is two-fold; the six university panel candidates are elected by graduates from Trinity or NUI. That’s around 160,000 people.  
The 43 Senators from panels are voted for by outgoing Senators, incoming TDs, city and county councillors. That electorate is over 1,000 people.    
Does a Senator get paid? 
Yes, senators get a basic salary of €68,111.  The speaker of the Seanad - Cathaoirleach - will get an additional €46,019, while the deputy speaker or  Leas-Cathaoirleach receives an additional €25,357.

What does the Seanad do? 
It can scrutinise and make recommendations to legislation and can propose a new law or a change to an existing law.

The Seanad can also invite people in civil and public life to address the chamber on their areas of expertise. Senators will also be members of Oireachtas committees.  
What is the timeline over the next few weeks? 
Monday 2 March: Deadline for nominations to the vocational panels  
Monday 9 March: Seanad Returning Officer completes the panels of candidates  
Monday 16 March: Ballot papers issued  
Monday 30 March: Polling closes and the count starts after that.

It is likely we will know 49 members of the Seanad in the first few days of April.

We won't know the other 11 - the taoiseach’s nominees - until there is a taoiseach appointed as part of new government.  

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