Irish refuse to abolish Senate, in blow to prime minister
Political commentators attributed the surprising result to widespread public apathy — only 38 percent of eligible voters turned out — and to voters’ unwillingness to concentrate power in a single chamber.
The New York Times
DUBLIN — Irish voters have rejected a proposal to abolish the upper house of Parliament, delivering a blow to Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who had championed the measure that had been widely expected to pass.
The results of Friday’s referendum, released Saturday, showed that the no vote narrowly prevailed, 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent, despite a campaign led by Kenny to dismantle the Senate, which he said was an elitist, ineffectual institution that cost $27 million to operate, a luxury Ireland could no longer afford.
Opinion polls taken a few days before the voting put the side in favor of the proposal ahead by as many as 17 percentage points.
Political commentators attributed the surprising result to widespread public apathy — only 38 percent of eligible voters turned out — and to voters’ unwillingness to concentrate power in a single chamber. Opponents of the party in power also tend to be more motivated to take part in referendums, they said.
Sean Donnelly, a political analyst, acknowledged “everyone got it wrong,” adding that the outcome might have stemmed from a sense that “if the government wants us to vote yes, there must be some catch to it.”
Richard Colwell, chief executive officer of the Red C polling company, which had forecast a victory for the proposal, attributed Kenny’s defeat, in part, to his refusal to participate in a live debate on national television last week, a decision for which the prime minister was criticized by his opponents.
Opponents of the Senate referendum had accused the government of seeking to distract people from the main issues confronting the country: the economy, unemployment and record emigration.
The results revealed a divide between the greater Dublin area and the rest of the country. Dublin and its populous commuter belt voted against the abolition of the Senate; rural constituencies mostly voted for it. Many who voted to retain the Senate emphasized that their victory was not a vote for the status quo. They argued the government should have given the public the option to overhaul the Senate, whose 60 members are mostly appointed by the governing party and have very limited powers.
One senator, John Crown, said he had grown increasingly confident of an upset the longer the campaign went on, claiming the government and the prime minister had failed in their attempts to “whittle the debate down to a couple of trivial points.”
They “can go off in a sulk, in a huff,” Crown said, “or they can listen to the people, because this is a mandate to reform the way we do politics.”