Seanad vote: Public vote to keep Irish senate

Irish Senate The Seanad Éireann (Irish senate) is the upper house of the Irish Parliament

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Voters in the Republic of Ireland have rejected a government proposal to abolish Seanad Éireann (upper house of the Irish parliament).

The Fine Gael Labour coalition government proposal was supported by Sinn Féin and was lost by a narrow margin, with 48.3% voting in favour of abolition, with 51.7% against.

Total turnout in the election was higher than expected at nearly 40%.

The Seanad has existed for more than 90 years.

The current Irish government had argued it cost too much to run and that its abolition could have saved Irish taxpayers as much as 20m euros (£16.92m) a year.

Opponents wanted it retained and reformed, saying it played an essential role in holding governments to account.

Analysis

Rejection by Irish voters of their government's plans to scrap the senate is a big embarrassment for Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Fine Gael/Labour coalition.

Posters promising "fewer politicians" and hotly-disputed claims of annual €20M savings drove a nakedly populist campaign which fell flat.

Mr Kenny's refusal to take part in a television debate appears to have been a huge miscalculation.

Deeply unpopular government austerity policies may also have fuelled the No vote, which is a further blow, too, to the Labour Party - Mr Kenny's junior coalition partners - enduring its worst opinion polls ratings in 26 years.

Though the senate is widely seen as toothless, a spirited, shoestring campaign by some of its more popular members, like Joycean scholar David Norris, appealed to voters worried at the loss of diverse, contrarian parliamentary opinions if the senate was ditched.

More than three million people were eligible to vote on whether or not to abolish the Seanad.

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny had claimed the abolition of the Seanad would create a leaner, more effective and more accountable system of government.

After the result, he said: "Sometimes in politics you get a wallop in the electoral process.

"I accept the verdict of the people. But I also say in humility in accepting that verdict, that there is a virtue in actually being able to stand before the people and say: 'I did say four years ago I would ask you this question. We've honoured that commitment in full and so have you'.

"You've given your verdict and decision and I accept it fully."

Opponents, led by the largest opposition party Fianna Fáil, said the Seanad was necessary to serve as a government watchdog and to hold cabinet ministers to account.

BBC Dublin correspondent Shane Harrison said the result would be a disappointment for Enda Kenny.

"Abolition was very much the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny's idea and he has been criticised by Sinn Féin - his temporary ally during the campaign - for his failure to debate the issue with opponents on radio and television," he said.

"Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and his colleagues will not be happy that voters in party strongholds in Dublin, rejected their recommendation.

"The vote was much better news for Fianna Fáil, the only major party to oppose abolition and suggest the Seanad should be reformed."

Independent senator Katherine Zappone said it was important that senators now held a meeting with the prime minister to come up with a way of ensuring that the upper house was reformed.

Meanwhile, the referendum to establish a Court of Appeal has been passed by a majority of almost two to one.

The official result shows just over 65% of voters were in favour of establishing the court.

The new court is expected to be operating by this time next year

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