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Irish referendum rejects plan to scrap Senate

Irish voters have narrowly rejected a proposal to get rid of the country's upper house of parliament. The ruling coalition had said the measure would save money as the country struggles to emerge from recession.

Final results on Saturday showed 51.7 percent of people in favour of keeping the Seanad, or Senate, representing a defeat for the country's coalition government.

The referendum, which was held on Friday, saw 48.3 percent vote against the proposal by Prime Minister Enda Kenny and his Fine Gael party. Opinion polls had earlier suggested that voters would back Kenny, who said the closure of the elitist and undemocratic upper house of parliament would save the country some 20 million euros ($27 million).

"Sometimes in politics you get a wallop in the electoral process but I accept the verdict of the people," Kenny told reporters.

Turnout for the vote was low, standing at just 39.2 percent.

Opponents of the proposal to scrap the Senate, including the opposition Fianna Fail party, have said the assembly should be reformed rather than done away with completely. Some accuse the government of trying to centralize power.

In a message that was posted on You Tube on Thursday, Kenny said that other European countries had successfully got rid of their upper houses with no negative effects.

The upper house is the less powerful of Ireland's two assemblies. Although its most powerful function is to delay bills passed by the lower house for 90 days, this has only happened twice in the last 75 years.

The vote came in advance of a budget in Ireland on October 14, which is once again expected to see an emphasis on austerity following an international bailout of 85 billion euros by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union. The IMF on Friday cut its growth forecasts for Ireland to 0.6 percent compared with a previous prediction of 1.1 percent.

rc/jr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)