'Confusing' inquiries vote declared too close to call
THE Government is facing the prospect of an embarrassing defeat on the Oireachtas inquiries referendum, with many constituencies "on a knife-edge" about controversial plans to give politicians more investigative powers.
Last night Justice Minister Alan Shatter expressed doubts that the referendum would pass, saying he believed the reforms had been overshadowed.
"Huge attention was on the presidential election. It was only over the last week in the run-in to the referendums that they were given much attention by the media, unfortunately," he said.
If it is passed, the Government will be given greater powers to carry out inquiries into individuals if it is considered to be in the public interest.
But voters, angry about the lack of debate about the proposed 30th amendment to the constitution, spoiled their votes with phrases such as "too confusing" and "crap" on their ballot papers.
Others spoiled their votes by placing an X in each box.
And in several constituencies, people voted in the presidential election but refused to vote in the inquiries referendum, handing their ballot papers back to electoral workers.
The referendum to reduce judges pay is set to be comprehensively passed, with initial counts of more than 80pc and 90pc in favour in some constituencies.
No formal tallies on the outcome of the inquiries vote were conducted yesterday. But tallymen at count centres throughout the country observed that the Oireachtas amendment did not receive decisive support, with many describing it as "too close to call".
Counting begins this morning on the two referendums, with indications on success or failure by the afternoon.
Results will be fed through to Dublin Castle to be verified.
Mr Shatter said while he was optimistic the judicial pay reform would pass, he was hoping the proposals to radically increase the power of parliamentary inquiries would also pass.
"Part of the referendum I was in charge of was the one on judiciary pay. I'm very optimistic that one will turn out well. I hope that the other one does too," he said.
"The message is put out very clearly but it depends on how much media coverage it gets. People get their politics and information from current affairs programmes and the broadcast media."
But he added: "There was an amount of misinformation put out in respect of both referendums."
Mr Shatter said it was important the Oireachtas investigations referendum be passed to ensure increased accountability and fairness.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore insisted it was too early to say if the Government was in trouble over the referendum.
"I think people at count centres had their eye on the election papers rather than the referendum papers, so we really don't know and won't know until they are counted."