Irish voters are preparing to shutter one of the two chambers of parliament in a referendum that will take place on Oct. 4, one of the few examples of austerity reducing the number of politicians. Having survived in one form or another for an almost uninterrupted stretch of over 90 years, the parliament’s 60-seat upper house now faces oblivion if voters decide by a simple majority to get rid of it. Opinion polls suggest that over 60% of those voting Friday will cast ballots for the ‘Yes’ proposition, sealing the fate of the upper house. Abolishing the senate is Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s idea, the center piece of political reforms he pledged long before his coalition swept to power at the height of the country’s banking and debt crisis more than two years ago. The bursting of the country’s property market bubble toppled the former Celtic tiger economy, leaving many unemployed and forcing thousands to emigrate in search of work. The country aims to emerge from its 2010 international bailout this year, but financially distressed households still face two more years of tax increases and spending cuts. Against this backdrop, Mr. Kenny believes that closing the senate, and other political reforms, will be popular with voters.
First elected to the powerful lower house, the Dail, in 1975, Mr. Kenny is Ireland’s longest serving MP. He told the Dail last week that the senate serves no useful purpose and that its €20 million ($27 million) annual running cost is a luxury the country cannot afford, “given the unprecedented scale of economic deprivation and calamity that afflicted us.”
“The question is a very straight question. Do you want to keep it, or do you want to abolish it. I hope people answer that question very strongly on the abolition side,” he said.
Over the years there have been few prominent senators and its members have low name recognition. Many senators are directly nominated by government parties and its impact on Irish politics has been negligible. The house has powers to delay, but not to change or scrap legislation.
Some critics of the senate say it is merely a “talking shop”, an irrelevant debating society that doesn’t serve the country’s needs and that it is mostly ignored by the Dail, the directly-elected chamber. Many senators have other jobs outside the house. They are paid €60,000 year, but some officeholders earn a lot more.
Full Article: Ireland Prepares to Abolish Senate – WSJ.com.