Sunday 24 September 2017

Challenge goes ahead against use of state funds for Yes campaign in children’s referendum

Aodhan O'Faolain

A CHALLENGE against the State's alleged use of more than €1.1m of public money on an information campaign about the Children's Referendum will be heard by the High Court early next week.



The action has been brought by Mark McCrystal who claims the Government has been using information in its information campaign that is not neutral and is designed, intended and likely to promote a Yes vote in the November 10 referendum.



Mr McCrystal has brought proceedings against the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, the Government of Ireland, Ireland and the Attorney General.



On Friday Mr McCrystal secured permission to serve notice of his proceedings against the State, which is opposing his action.



This morning when the matter returned before the Court Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, who agreed that the matter was urgent, fixed the hearing of action to Tuesday of next week. The judge said that would be enough time for both sides to prepare their cases, given that polling day was November 10.



The State, represented by David Hardiman SC, had asked for time to respond to Mr McCrystal's claim. Counsel said that the state, whose case was much broader than the Mr McCrystal's, would not be ready until next week.



An independent expert would be required to give an opinion on the material which Mr McCrystal complains of, counsel added.



Ruadhán Mac Aodháin BL, for Mr McCrystal, said that his client action has been brought over his concerns that one sided material about the referendum has been used on a government website. €1.1m was to be spent on the Government's information campaign.



In his action, Mr McCrystal claims the State is in breach of a 1995 judgment by the Supreme Court, known as the McKenna decision, that held that referenda should be explained to the public in an impartial manner, counsel added.



Mr McCrystal says that he has no objection to the state arguing for a Yes vote, but only by means that do not involve the expenditure of public money.



He is seeking a number of injunctions including one restraining the state from spending public money on websites and booklets for the purpose of promoting a particular result in the forthcoming referendum on the Thirty-First Amendment of the Constitution (Children) Bill 2012.



He also wants the Court to stop the State from representing information to the public which he claims is designed to promote a particular result in the November 10 referendum and stop the distributing the proposed government booklet about the referendum until his action has been determined.



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