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Ireland's second chamber hangs on referendum

Polls have opened in Ireland for a referendum on whether to abolish parliament's upper chamber. Closure advocates say debt-strapped Ireland needs the savings. Others say the upper Senate provides a counterbalance.

The Irish began voting in a referendum Friday on whether to do away with their second parliamentary chamber, the Senate. The latest survey by the Irish Times newspaper showed that a majority of 44 percent want its closure. Retention of the upper house was wanted by 29 percent, with a further 29 percent undecided.

Among those opposing closure is the opposition Fianna Fail party. It argues that the government of Prime Minister Enda Kenny wants to centralize its powers by removing the Senate. The upper chamber has limited powers to scrutinize and delay bills.

Kenny's conservative government argues that closure of the 60-member Senate would save Ireland 20 million euros ($27 million) annually.

Ireland's 1937 constitution created a powerful lower house of parliament and a weak upper house. The Senate comprises nominees of both the premier and parliament as well as Irish universities and municipalities.

ipj/jm (dpa, AP)