Irish voters decided to retain the upper house of the country’s legislature, dealing a surprise blow to Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who had called for its closure on the grounds that it cost too much to run and did too little. At the completion of a count of votes cast in a referendum held Friday, referendum officials said 51.7% of voters decided to reject the government’s proposal to close the Senate. Mr. Kenny had cast the closure of the body as a way of ensuring politicians shared the pain of addressing Ireland’s economic problems after six years of austerity that have involved pay cuts for many public-sector workers, as well as tax hikes and a reduction in benefits and services provided by the state. It was a rare opportunity for voters in a euro-zone country to add politicians to the numbers of those who had lost their jobs, since closure of the body would have affected 60 senators. But with all declarations made late Saturday, the populous Dublin City region and eastern districts had mostly voted to reject Mr. Kenny’s proposal, with only some western electoral districts voting decisively to back the proposition. The turnout, at 39.2%, was lower than the 50% vote recorded in other major referendums.
The result confounded opinion polls that suggested voters by a wide margin would vote in favor of getting rid of the upper chamber.
Mr. Kenny said he was “naturally disappointed” with the vote, but pledged to continue to look at other ways to overhaul Irish parliamentary politics.
“Sometimes in politics you get a wallop in the electoral process. I accept the verdict of the people,” he told reporters. “The process of change in politics is something we are going to continue with.”
Abolishing the Parliament’s upper house was Mr. Kenny’s idea. First elected to the more-powerful Dail, or lower house, in 1975, Mr. Kenny is Ireland’s longest-serving legislator. He had said that he had long thought the Senate has played no significant part in Irish democracy.
The prime minister had argued that shuttering the chamber and laying off its 60 senators would save the country €20 million ($27.2 million) a year.
The bursting of Ireland’s property-market bubble toppled the former Celtic tiger economy, leaving many unemployed and prompting thousands to emigrate in search of work.
Critics had argued that Mr. Kenny’s abolition proposal was a dangerous step that removed a check on government power. Fianna Fáil, the largest opposition party, which had campaigned to keep and reform the house, had also criticized Mr. Kenny for not debating his own proposal on national television.
Some politicians had also claimed that the referendum was a distraction, as it came shortly before Mr. Kenny’s coalition government details, on Oct. 15, its austerity budget for 2014, which will mark the seventh year of tax increases and spending cuts.
Full Article: Ireland Votes to Keep Senate Open – WSJ.com.