Thursday 29 January 2015

Micheal Martin claims government is scapegoating Attorney General

Lyndsey Telford

Published 13/11/2012 | 15:18

**** NO REPRODUCTION FEE **** 9/11/2012: DUBLIN: Fianna Fáil hosts conference of European liberals in Dublin: 500 delegates from across Europe are welcomed to Dublin City Hall by Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin ahead of the annual ELDR Congress, opening in Ballsbridge today (Friday). Pictured was Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.

THE Government has been accused of scapegoating the Attorney General over biased information given to the public during the latest referendum campaign.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin claimed Cabinet ministers tried to shift blame for its own botched run-up to the vote on children's rights onto Maire Whelan.

"I was surprised at the rapidity at which Government ministers came out and dumped on the Attorney General and to isolate the Attorney General as if this was all her fault," said Mr Martin.

The Government's success, with 58% voting in favour of the ammendment, was marred by a Supreme Court ruling that passages in its information booklet and website breached rules to ensure a fair, impartial and equal playing field.

While steps are now being taken to amend the constitution, which will for the first time recognise the rights of children, a potential court challenge to the Yes vote hangs over the Government's head.

Mr Martin said the Government should be held accountable for the biased text contained in the information booklet and website - not Ms Whelan.

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who oversaw the running of the campaign, would not comment on the Government's position regarding the Attorney General.

Meanwhile, Mr Martin said the Government made a fundamental mistake in deciding to run its own Yes campaign parallel to the Referendum Commission's objective campaign.

"The problem is you undermine the integrity and credibility of the Referendum Commission's campaign of non-partisan information," he added.

Mr Martin said the Government had clearly been annoyed with the Referendum Commission's information campaign during last year's referendum to give the Oireachtas more power for inquiries, which was rejected.

This, he claimed, had prompted the Government to run a parallel campaign in both the children's rights referendum and the European fiscal treaty vote that was held in May.

"The Government needs to explain the sequence of events as to who made the decision to do the parallel campaign, which is essentially politicising the information," Mr Martin added.

Following the Supreme Court ruling last Thursday, Ms Fitzgerald said the Government had acted in good faith in compiling the booklet and worked with best intentions to ensure it complied with the McKenna judgment to be fair and impartial.

It also consulted the Attorney General, who has a responsibility to sign off on wording used in Government information campaigns.

Last week, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said there should be no question over Ms Whelan's future, saying the Government was collectively responsible.

Meanwhile, a Fine Gael TD has been the first to challenge Ms Whelan over her role in the compiling of the Government's information booklet.

Galway West TD Brian Walsh said the state lawyer had serious questions to answer.

The referendum, which was held on Saturday, saw one of the lowest voter turnouts in history with just over a third of the electorate casting a ballot.

The 42% No vote was higher than the Government expected. Despite this, it has maintained its majority of 58% was an overwhelming endorsement from the public to pass the children's rights reforms, describing Sunday when the votes were counted as a historic day.

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