Howlin admits comments about judge 'cack-handed'
Published 01/11/2011 | 05:00
PUBLIC Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin yesterday climbed down in his row with the Referendum Commission and admitted he made "cack-handed" comments about its chairman.
In the immediate aftermath of the referendum results, Mr Howlin blamed Mr Justice Bryan McMahon, the commission's chairman, for causing confusion among voters about the proposal to give Oireachtas committees more investigative powers.
This drew an angry response from the commission, and it criticised Mr Howlin for making personalised comments.
But the Wexford TD fully backtracked yesterday, apologising for offending the commission.
"I was simply trying, obviously in a cack-handed way, to answer the question of what were the issues that led to a 'No' vote," Mr Howlin said.
"If he feels that in any way there was a slight, then I unreservedly give such an apology," he told RTE's 'News at One'.
"I hope he accepts also that it was never my intention to slight them in any way."
The judge said during the campaign it was not possible to state definitively what role "if any" the courts would have in reviewing the procedures adopted for Oireachtas inquiries.
It was those comments that annoyed Mr Howlin.
"The chairman of the Referendum Commission used, as far as I was concerned, the two words which caused confusion," Mr Howlin said on Saturday.
"And he genuinely believes it -- 'if any'. And that, certainly, I think caused people to hesitate," he added.
In an unprecedented response, the commission released a weekend statement saying the judge's comments were "accurate, reliable and independent".
A spokesperson for the commission last night said it had nothing further to add.
But, Mr Howlin yesterday said it was never "his intention to question in any way the role, or the independence, of the chair of the Referendum Commission, or of the commission as a whole".
"I regret that answers I gave to questions during the count were seen to be critical of the Referendum Commission.
"It was never my intention, and isn't my intention, to indicate that they had acted in any way but than with complete probity," he said.
However, he declined to say if Justice Minister Alan Shatter's attacks on eight former Attorneys General during the campaign backfired.
"I'm not going to go back on what was said by any of my colleagues. They will make their own comments and observations."
The rejection -- by 53.3pc to 46.7pc -- of the Government- backed referendum to give Oireachtas committees more investigative powers has also thrown doubt on the proposed constitutional convention next year. The Labour Party came up with the idea to examine widespread changes to the Constitution.
Mr Howlin said lessons had to be learned from the Dail- inquiries referendum before the convention begins its work.