Friday's session of Seanad Éireann was truly exceptional. The upper house's members are approaching the end of term. Many are in full scale re-election mode and yet a socially distanced, representative group of Senators found themselves dealing with perhaps the most far reaching piece of legislation they will have come across in their political lives.
Little did they expect to be in session at all at this stage in the Seanad Election cycle nor would it be a surprise if they are called to sit again next week to deal with further Covid-19 related emergency legislation.
So what stage is the Seanad election actually at? Well, voting is already under way for 49 of the 60 seats. It is a postal vote. TDs, outgoing Senators, and county and city councillors - around 1,169 people - vote to elect 43 Senators to the Seanad’s vocational panels.
The five panels are intended to represent different sections and interests of Irish society
The deadline for accepting votes is 30 March at 11am. The count begins immediately in the Members Restaurant in Leinster House and will take up to three days to complete.
The deadline for the NUI and University of Dublin votes is 11am on 31 March. The electorate in these two separate constituencies comes to 175,000.
All are university graduates of the constituent colleges, a fact which leads to regular criticism of the Seanad poll as elitist and discriminatory.
The NUI count for its three seats gets under way in the RDS that afternoon, 31 March, with the first count result expected around 9pm.
The University of Dublin count, also for three seats, begins the following day in Trinity College.
So, who is standing for the 26th Seanad? There are 118 candidates seeking election to the vocational panels. Many are sitting Seanadóirí and there are also many politicians who lost Dáil seats in last month’s General Election.
The complete list as published by the Government’s Iris Oifigiúil earlier this month can be viewed here.
On the NUI panel, the three incumbents are seeking re-election but there are 16 others also in the field and all are listed here.
All three of the existing University of Dublin candidates are also seeking re-election. They have to compete for Trinity graduates’ votes with seven others and can be viewed here.
Due to the Covid-19 emergency in the country, access to the counts will be much restricted this time with authorities intending to adhere to guidelines concerning public gatherings of people and the protection of count staff.
Of course, the membership of the 26th Seanad will not be complete once the counts have been completed. Another 11 members will still have to be nominated by the next Taoiseach under powers detailed in Article 18 of Bunreacht na hÉireann.
Who can predict when the name of the next Taoiseach will be known? Accordingly, it will likely be a while before we know the complete membership of the next Seanad.