The electoral disaster that is the NUI register

2007 NUI Seanad candidate Daniel Sullivan has called for an investigation by the Minister for the Environment into the running of the election of the Seanad for the 3rd level seats. The NUI is evidently completely overtaxed with this responsibility of running an Oireachtas election and especially at the time when it was under the threat of abolition itself.

The NUI has been operating an automatic registration process for its own internal Senate elections In marked contrast to how the NUI Seanad register for the Oireachtas elections is maintained. The NUI convocation registration process is automatic while the Oireachtas panel register requires additional steps, this despite the NUI constituent colleges being aware of who is and is not an Irish citizen in order to charge the appropriate level of fees. Despite being in possession of all the relevant information to ensure that the Seanad register is correct, the NUI hasn’t acted to the necessary standard one would expect from a public body running an Oireachtas election. So the reported failure to ensure that over an estimated 100,000 citizens could vote for the Seanad is entirely down to inaction by the NUI. The NUI is required under statute to render “an accurate register, so far as may be practicable,” and it is very hard to understand why it is not taking these practicable steps of using the information it has its gathered and which is available to it.

It is also curious that a member of individuals including the Chair of the Convocation committee Linda O’Shea-Farren, BCL and Dr Mary O’Riordan, MB BCh BAO, DCH, FPC, MPH, and Bernadine O’Sullivan, BA, HDip in Ed are members of NUI own internal Senate. They have stood on several occasions as NUI candidates and all would be very aware of the issues of concern surrounding the maintenance of the register. Yet their tenure has seen the register remain as rotten a borough as ever.

The size of the NUI register has actually shrunk over the last 4 years. The 2006 register had an electorate of 98,839 while the 2010 version has only 97,727 including two dozen who graduated prior to the founding of the Free State. Meanwhile, only 4749 new graduates for the whole of the 5 years 2006-2010 have been added to the 2010 register which the forthcoming election is likely to be based on. This when more than twice that number would be graduating in a single year from NUI colleges represents an abject failure of the NUI as an institution to execute the duty it has been charged with by the Oireachtas. UCD alone would graduate more than 3,000 people each year so the fact that the peak graduation year for NUI voters is almost two decades ago in the early 90s is very worrying.

The potential exists that access to the internal convocation register could provide them with a more accurate private version of the register for electoral purposes. Someone with this access could cross reference the NUI Convocation Senate register with the NUI Seanad register. Is someone was to make use this insider information for canvassing purposes the appearance of operating a closed shop is hard to avoid. NUI Convocation’s funding coming to it from the NUI itself which is supported by public funds should avoid being open to being a vehicle for insiders.

I believe that the Minister for the Environment needs to step in immediately and remove responsibility from the NUI for running this election especially given the sword of Damocles that is hanging over it from the Minister for Education’s existing proposals for its own abolition. It is time for the Department of the Environment to take action immediately and ensure this Seanad election, if it is to be the last one is conducted properly and fairly. He should also act to finally extend the franchise to those provided for in the 1979 Seventh Amendment to the Constitution.

Years of graduation from the 2006 NUI Register

Years of graduation from the 2010 NUI Register

Details of the NUI convocation

“Convocation Register

In accordance with the provisions of the University Statutes, the NUI is obliged to maintain a register of all graduates of the university – the Convocation Register. As all graduates are automatically registered, there is no special registration procedure.

The time scale required to update this register from Feb to June with only a thousand or so additions per year is farcical. Four months to make only minor changes. It is beyond understanding that the register with which the NUI has been charged by the state with maintaining has failed to be updated, either accurately, consistently or fairly.

The NUI could immediately cross reference their register with the copies of the convocation register for greater accuracy and completeness. With a budget of several million Euros per year allocated to the NUI and with this one of few active functions that it retains, one would have expected that the NUI would seek to discharge its duty as the organiser of an Oireachtas election as faithfully as possible yet each year thousands more NUI graduates are let down by the ongoing failure to perform the simple task of add them to the NUI Seanad register while their addition to the NUI’s internal convocation register is automatic.

When so many our more recent graduates will be making up the new Diaspora the failure to ensure they have their right to participate in the election is all the more marked. The deadline for the 2011 register is Feb 26th but not one the new graduates will be able to vote as the register only comes into effect in June after the upcoming elections is expected to have completed. There is no provision for any form of supplementary register. Couple this with the failure of the government to legislate to extend the franchise as provided for in 1979 means that at a time when the CSO estimates the number of 3rd level degree holders in Ireland as close to 400,000 people. The missed opportunity to have almost 15% of the electorate electing 10% of the Seanad and representing a chance to give people a voice that is not tied to the parish pump is stark.

Seanad Electoral (University Members) Act, 1937

9 – (3)

(3) Every annual revision, in pursuance of this section, of a register of electors shall be completed before and shall come into effect on the 1st day of June and shall be so made as to render such register of electors an accurate register, so far as may be practicable, of the persons who were qualified on the next preceding 15th day of November to be registered in such register of electors.

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