Just 1,300 people living in Westmeath are registered to vote for the upcoming Seanad elections on the National University of Ireland (NUI ) panel, one of just three panels which allows members of the public to vote.
Of the total of 97,734 people on the NUI register of electors, just 1,295 have addresses in Westmeath, based on the most recent register which was published in June 2010. This equates to 1.6 per cent of the county’s population, just below the national average representation.
However, several towns in Westmeath are above the national average, with Moate at 5.5 per cent, Castlepollard at 4.3, Athlone 3.7, and Mullingar 2.8 per cent respectively. Rochfortbridge has a very low percentage of voters at just 0.75 per cent, according to Senate nominee Peter Mooney, a candidate on the NUI panel.
Across the Midlands, a total of 3,260 voters in the counties of Westmeath, Longford, and Laois are registered to vote for the three Seanad seats which will be filled from the 27 NUI candidates.
The 60 senators who make up Seanad Éireann consist of 43 elected from five panels consisting of TDS, senators and councillors; 11 appointed by the Taoiseach; six elected by the graduates of certain Irish universities; three by graduates of the University of Dublin; and three by NUI graduates.
Senate nominee Peter Mooney said the Westmeath figures “just highlight the need for serious reform of the Seanad and its voting system”, adding that “the Seanad election process should be opened up to all the electorate and held on the same day as the general election”.
Drawing attention to the delivery of ballot papers to the 3,260 NUI voters across the Midlands, Galway-based Independent Senator Rónán Mullen also criticised the system of Senate elections, labelling it “fundamentally unfair”.
“At a time when there is unanimity on the need to reform Irish politics, today sees the beginning of an election in which 98.5 per cent of Laois, Offaly and Westmeath people have no vote at all. This is a system in need of a dramatic overhaul. This must be the last Irish election in which a candidate has to ask, ‘What university did you attend?’ in order to canvass a vote.”
Meanwhile in Westmeath, campaigns have got under way for the local candidates who have been nominated to contest the Senate elections.
Current leader of the Senate, Fianna Fáil’s Senator Donie Cassidy, has been nominated on the Labour Panel, while Fine Gael’s Cllr Peter Burke has been nominated on the Industrial and Commercial Panel and Cllr Frank McDermott on the Agricultural Panel.
Moate-based Seamus Boland, CEO of Irish Rural Link and well known community development leader, is among those contesting the Senate as an Independent candidate. He will contest the Administrative Panel, having been nominated by the Disability Federation of Ireland.
Ballot papers for the NUI Seanad election are issued from March 21 to the address on the most recent register. Papers have to be returned by April 27.