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This article is about the historical Seanad Éireann of the Irish Free State. For the modern Irish senate, see: Seanad Éireann.

Seanad Éireann (English: "Senate of Ireland") was the upper house of the Oireachtas (parliament) of the Irish Free State from 1922-1936. It has also been known simply as the Senate, or as the First Seanad. The Senate was established under the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State but was abolished in 1936, because of its opposition to other constitutional reforms favoured by the then government. It sat, like its modern successor, in Leinster House.

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Powers

As established in 1922, the Free State Senate was subordinate to Dáil Éireann and could only delay rather than veto decisions of the lower house. Nonetheless, the Free State Senate had greater power than its successor, the modern Seanad Éireann, which can only delay normal legislation for three months. In particular the Free State Senate had power to:

  • Delay a money bill for 21 days.
  • Delay any other bill for 270 days (approximately nine months).

Composition and election

The 1922 Constitution provided for a Senate of 60 members who would be directly elected. Members would serve 12 year terms, with one quarter of the house elected every three years. The members would be elected under the system of proportional representation by means of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) in a single, nationwide, fifteen seat constituency.

However, to get the house off the ground, the body's initial membership would be appointed by Dáil Éireann (the lower house) and the president. To further complicate matters, after the holding of the first direct election the constitution was amended, so that the third election to the Senate occurred by another, third method. Therefore, of the three elections to the Senate to occur before its abolition, each was conducted under a different system.

It was originally required that membership of the Senate be limited to those who were over 35. However a constitutional amendment in 1928 reduced this minimum age to thirty1.

Today incarnations of Seanad Éireann are given a new number after each senatorial election. Thus, the current Senate elected in 2002 is known as the "Twenty-second Seanad". This was not the custom during the Irish Free State because the Free State Senate was elected in stages and thus considered to be in permanent session. However, as a gesture of continuity with its Free State predecessor, the first Senate elected after 1937 is numbered as the "Second Seanad". The Free State Senate, despite the occurrence of three senatorial elections before its abolition, is considered to have been a single 'Seanad' for the duration of its existence and is thus referred for that whole period as the "First Seanad".

1922 Election

One half the initial membership of the Senate was elected by the Dáil under the system of STV. The remaining half were appointed by the President of the Executive Council (prime minister). Those elected by the Dáil were divided into two equal groups by lot, one assigned terms of three years and the other terms of nine. Those appointed by the president were similarly divided, and assigned terms of six and twelve years. The president agreed to use his appointments in 1922 to grant extra representation to the Protestant minority in the state.

1925 Election

In 1925 the terms of one quarter of senators had expired. Also, three premature vacancies had occurred in the preceding three years; these seats had been filled, temporarily, by co-option, but now had to be put up for election. Nineteen seats therefore had to be filled through election. The constitution required that candidates seeking election be nominated through a special process:

  • Outgoing senators could nominate themselves.
  • 19 candidates were nominated by the outgoing Senate (in an election under STV).
  • 38 were nominated by the Dáil (under STV).

Candidates were also theoretically required to be individuals who "have done honour to the Nation by reason of useful public service or that, because of special qualifications or attainments, they represent important aspects of the Nation's life"2.

The election of 17th September 1925 was without historical or international parallel. The whole state voted as one constituency to elect 19 senators from a list of over seventy candidates, and the count took approximately two weeks to complete. The ultimate results, contrary to the results that might have occurred under a List PR system, strongly favoured non-party candidates.

1928 Election

After the amendment of the constitution in 1928, the Senate was to be elected by a single constituency consisting of the combined membership of the outgoing senate and the Dáil. Only one election occurred under this method, in the same year, before the constitution was again amended to abolish the house in 19363.

Famous members

Footnotes

  1. The relevant amendment was the Constitution (Amendment No. 8) Act, 1928 .
  2. Article 30, Constitution of the Irish Free State.
  3. The system for electing senators was altered by the Constitution (Amendment No. 6) Act, 1928. The Senate was abolished by the Constitution (Amendment No. 24) Act, 1936.

References

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