Irish Defeat Government’s Proposal to Abolish Senate

Voters deal a blow to Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s proposed constitutional reforms.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland listens during a meeting of European People's Party leaders, March 14
Prime Minister Enda Kenny of Ireland listens during a meeting of European People’s Party leaders, March 14 (EPP)

Ireland went to the polls on Friday to determine two major issues: whether a new Court of Appeals was needed for the country and whether its higher house of parliament, Seanad Éireann, should be abolished.

In terms of media coverage and public interest, the latter garnered far more attention. Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s government was in favor of both referenda passing in accordance to 2010 election manifesto. Yet the Senate vote was defeated by about 32,500 votes or 51.7 to 48.3 percent. This has been seen as a blow to the ruling Fine Gael party which also had to deal with major economic reforms and a debate over abortion laws in the last year. Moves are now being proposed to adjust the body from its current form which is considered outdated and elitist as senators are elected by a paltry 3 percent of the electorate through a series of ballots from senior figures in society and university graduates.

Turnout was under 40 percent. Dissolution of the chamber was least popular in the districts that make up the primary county of Dublin as well as the east of the country. Only a handful of western districts voted in favor of the government’s proposal. Kenny avoided humiliation in his home district Mayo where 58 percent voted to abolish the Senate.

The prime minister had been criticized for refusing to debate the issue with other political leaders, including Michael Martin of Fianna Fáil, the party of the Irish “Celtic Tiger” era and the only staunch supporter of keeping the Seanad. It now looks like a winner.

So does Lucinda Creighton, the former Fine Gael junior minister for European affairs. After she was chastised by her party earlier this year for not supporting the government’s reforms toward legislating abortion in the country, she garnered support in her Dublin South East constituency to strike back against her former colleagues. Both Creighton and Martin have the potential to gain ground in the local and European elections due next year.

With so much attention being given to the Seanad vote, the decision to create a new Court of Appeals was passed with an almost two-thirds majority. However, it appeared to be a mere footnote in the eyes of both campaigners and media outlets alike when compared to the other ballot taking place.

As Ireland faces another austerity laden budget, its leadership continues to tread on shaky ground regarding its future both from an economic and political standpoint.

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