Amongst all the fallout from the recent local elections in the republic one that has gone somewhat unheralded (just as the same effect was largely missed in 2009 for the FF/Greens) is the impact that the results have on future collation building after the next general election. While the task of assembly the numbers to elect a Taoiseach and hence a appoint a cabinet rests on the numbers in the Dáil, the job of governing or the practical tasks of passing legislation requires a majority in both houses. Certainly the powers of the Seanad to impede the ultimate passage of legislation are heavily proscribed but a government seeking to govern while having to expend time and effort in working to override the delaying powers of the Seanad would be too unduly constrained to function in the accelerated time frame of the 21st century world.
The current Coalition is now mathematically highly unlikely to be able to command a majority in the next Seanad under the current electoral system. Regardless of the results of the next general election it is nigh on impossible for the current coalition of Fine Gael and Labour to get enough senators elected from the Seanad electorate of cllrs and members of the Oireachtas even with the 11 Senate seats that would be in the gift of the Taoiseach to have a functioning majority in the Seanad. A functioning majority would be 31 out of the 60 seats.
After the election results of 2014 FG have 232 cllrs down from 340, Labour have 51 down from 134 and with Seanad quotas on two of the smaller panels being in the order of 133 and 177 it is very unlikely that Labour will be able to get anyone elected to those panels and likely to see just one seat at the most from each the other 3 panels. Presuming Sen. Bacik is returned for the TCD panel that leaves Labour with just 4 senators.
In order for FG/Lab to have a majority after the next general election Fine Gael would need to come close to equaling their 2011 result of 18 elected Senators and that simply won’t happen after the loss of nearly 100 cllrs from 2014, not to mind any losses that might arise in the Oireachtas.
Indeed, when you combine that loss of their own support base with the fact that FG have traditional under-performed in the Seanad elections compared to FF and others in garnering the support of independents and non-aligned amongst cllrs and Oireachtas members and it looks that Fine Gael would do well to get 14 Senators elected, they may, were a strong anti-government voting pattern to emerge, get closer to 11 elected Senators.
Whether the FG under-performance is due to the fact that independents especially at local level tend to be more FF gene pool than FG or that they’re more left leaning or that they will tend to vote amongst an outgoing government party to that the specific FF candidates are just more likeable is unknowable but it is a fact that will have a very real impact.
Those numbers – 4 Labour + 14 Fine Gael + 11 Taoiseach’s nominees leave them with a maximum total of just 29 Senators. And that’s the likely high water mark of support, it is more probable to be lower than that. So a FG/Lab government, were one to be in a position to be formed after the next general election, will most likely be in a minority in the Seanad. At least under the current electoral system. Whether that knowledge might spur on more extensive reform to the Seanad is hard to tell, and time is short to do much in that direction but it couldn’t hurt.
As for the other coalition options, SF should be well placed to get a least one per panel giving them a minimum of 5 (they may well exceed that, they could well equal Labour’s 8 elected in 2011 (excluding the TCD Senator)) and FF are well set to improve on their 14 from 2011. Keep in mind FF got 14 elected Senators from 218 cllrs and a much depleted Oireachtas voting pool in 2011. So FF/SF would be well placed to get to the 20 elected senators which when combined with 11 from the Taoiseach whether that’s a FF or SF Taoiseach is a small but workable majority. For the flip side of that, a FG/SF coalition the likely under-performance of FG (and the probably leakage of votes from disgruntled cllrs from both sides) would seem to see that option falling short of the 20 elected Senators mark.
Of course there is the final grand coalition option that FG and FF when combined should easily go over the 20 elected Senators threshold. Though the FF number might be lower than expected as neither would benefit from anti –government voting bias from independents and others.
It should also be acknowledged that the very much increased cohort of independents and non-aligned reps at local and national level would be ideally placed to get an agreed slate of independents elected to the Seanad via the panels. That is very dependent on what can be a highly diverse grouping agreeing on who among them gets to move up the ladder. Perhaps they could see outside themselves for nominees, with their current strength they could see a minimum of 1 independent being elected per panel.
Such a scenario of selflessness would throw the Seanad majority maths completely out the window.