Irish voters reject PM's call to abolish senate

By a slim margin, Ireland voted to retain is upper house of parliament, despite a campaign by the prime minister and some opposition members to do away with the chamber, which has limited power.

Niall Carson/AP
Irish Senator David Norris kisses a young woman outside a polling station in Dublin, Ireland Friday. Ireland voted to retain the country's upper house of parliament, rather than scrapping it as a cost-cutting move, which was backed by the government and many opposition lawmakers.

Ireland voted to retain its upper house of parliament on Saturday, rejecting Prime Minister Enda Kenny's call to scrap a chamber where the likes of William Butler Yeats once sat but the government saw as redundant.

In a campaign backed by some of the opposition and not seen as a chance to punish the government for austerity policies imposed as part of an EU/IMF bailout, 51.7 percent of the electorate voted against the proposal.

With his party still in front in most opinion polls at the midway point of a five-year term, analysts said there would be no immediate damage for the prime minister as the country prepares to complete its bailout later this year.

Kenny had argued that the 75-year-old institution was elitist, undemocratic and promised its abolition would save money. Advocates for the senate, including the main opposition party Fianna Fail, accused the government of a power grab.

"Sometimes in politics you get a wallop in the electoral process but I accept the verdict of the people," Kenny told reporters.

The 60 members of the senate only have limited powers such as temporarily delaying legislation. During the campaign Kenny's Fine Gael party said the last time it did so was in 1964.

Senators, many of whom have jobs outside of politics, are not elected by the people but by politicians, the prime minister of the day and university graduates. Other well known members of the upper house have included former President Mary Robinson and gay rights activist David Norris.

Kenny, who surprised many of his colleagues when he first raised the idea of scrapping the senate while in opposition, was criticised for refusing to take part in television debates, just as he had been during the last election campaign.

"This is not a good day for Enda Kenny, this was his idea and I think it was very damaging that he did not engage with voters and that's an issue," said Theresa Reidy, a politics lecturer at University College Cork (UCC).

"That being said, Enda Kenny is in a very secure position within his own political party. I don't see it having an immediate effect upon his leadership but in the longer term, it has diminished him, there is no two ways about that."

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Ralph Boulton

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