Supreme Court sets May 2025 deadline for expansion of electorate in Seanad University Panel elections
26 July 2023
- Mr Heneghan, who was represented by FLAC, is a graduate of the University of Limerick. He took a constitutional challenge to laws which mean that only graduates of TCD and NUI may vote in Seanad University Panel elections.
- In March, the Supreme Court found in his favour and held that the seventh amendment to the Constitution “mandates” the Oireachtas to introduce legislation to expand the franchise.
Today, the Supreme Court decided that its order declaring Seanad University Panel voting laws unconstitutional will take effect on 31 May 2025 – meaning that legislation amending those laws (and expanding the franchise to institutions beyond TCD and NUI) must be in place before then.
In his judgment, the Chief Justice decided that this “rare” course of action was required to uphold the rule of law and prevent a constitutional crisis (because a validly constituted Seanad is needed to pass legislation).
However, he emphasised that the Court is concerned with “limiting the period of permitted operation of the invalid law so far as is possible”. He accepted “the submission of the appellant [Mr Heneghan], that a single, relatively lengthy, period of suspension is sufficient” and rejected the State’s request for an extension until July 2027.
Sinéad Lucey, FLAC Managing Solicitor, commented:
“The deadline set by the Court aligns with the date by which the next Seanad election must be held - with the intention that the necessary reforms to voting laws are enacted before that election takes place. It also ensures that any Seanad elections after May 2025 must involve an expanded franchise for the University Panel.
The Chief Justice’s decision is another significant judgment to emerge from these proceedings and provides an authoritative statement on the Court’s power to make suspended declarations including when and how it may do so.”
FLAC Chief Executive, Eilis Barry congratulated Mr Heneghan “who initially took the case as a lay litigant, on his courage, fortitude and persistence in taking this landmark case for democracy, equality and the rule of law”.
Tomás Heneghan, commenting on today’s outcome, said:
“For forty-four years, eighteen Irish governments have failed or refused to enact the necessary law to provide for the expansion of the Seanad franchise in line with the decision of the electorate in 1979.
In a world where we see democratic structures and engagement being shut down more and more every year, we have to say in Ireland that democracy matters, and we have to mean it in more than just our words, but in our actions too.
I’m thankful to the Court for their sincere consideration of the arguments put forward. This victory for democracy and the rule of law would simply not have been possible without the trojan work and faith of FLAC and its staff, Sinéad Lucey, Rosario Boyle SC, James Kane, Emma Sinnott and Davy Lawlor.”
Notes to Editors:
FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent human rights and equality organisation, which exists to promote equal access to justice. As an Independent Law Centre, FLAC takes on a number of cases in the public interest each year and operates a Traveller Legal Service, Roma Legal Clinic and LGBTQI Legal Service. FLAC also operates a legal information and referral telephone line and a nationwide network of legal advice clinics where volunteer lawyers provide basic free legal advice.
FLAC’s statement on the Supreme Court’s earlier judgment in Heneghan v Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government & Ors is available here: https://www.flac.ie/news/2023/03/31/landmark-supreme-court-judgment-laws-limiting-elec/
Today’s judgment by the Chief Justice in Heneghan v Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government & Ors is available here: https://www.courts.ie/view/judgments/a3284379-a644-41b8-ad16-ef162e629bd7/a0b8bd8f-b946-4a7c-96de-fc3479d51ec9/2023_IESC_18.pdf/pdf