Proposed change 'would create kangaroo court'
CIVIL liberty campaigners yesterday warned that the Government's proposal to change the Constitution on Oireachtas inquiries could result in the creation of "kangaroo courts".
But Justice Minister Alan Shatter called for a 'Yes' vote on the two referendums as they embodied the principles of fairness and accountability.
The Irish Council of Civil Liberties said last night that Fine Gael and Labour had changed the wording of an amendment proposed last January, which would have given greater protection to the rights of the individual.
Council director Mark Kelly said a joint Oireachtas committee, on which the two parties were represented, had produced an amendment wording which required that the balance between the rights of the individual and the public interest be regulated by law.
But instead, the Government had chosen to put forward a new proposal which placed this balancing power directly in the hands of Oireachtas members.
Mr Kelly said that it was for this reason that the 'No' campaign had accurately characterised the proposals as capable of turning Oireachtas committees into kangaroo courts.
"It is difficult to understand why the Government should have chosen to jettison wording produced only 10 months ago by a committee on which senior coalition politicians played a prominent role," he said.
The committee, which produced the January wording, included Fine Gael party chairman Charlie Flanagan and Senator Eugene Regan as well as Labour minister Brendan Howlin and Alex White TD. It was chaired by former Fianna Fail deputy Sean Ardagh.
On Monday eight attorneys general banded together to express their opposition to the referendum proposal.
Campaigners also pointed out that if the amendment was passed, the good name of a person could be tarnished by an Oireachtas committee through procedures that failed to protect his or her rights and the inquiry process would not be open to challenge in the courts.
They also said that full details of the changes were only published on October 6 while the independent Referendum Commission guide on the two referenda was published a week ago.
Campaigners said it was inappropriate for such a potentially far-reaching amendment to be rushed through the Oireachtas.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties also said it believed the second referendum on judges' pay was unnecessary and a reduction in pay, in line with that applied to other senior public servants, could have been achieved without seeking to amend the Constitution.
Mr Shatter argued that the judicial pay amendment would ensure that judges faced the same and proportionate salary decrease and pension levy as had already impacted upon tens of thousands of people paid out of the public purse.
He said the inquiries amendment was to provide for the same parliamentary accountability in Irish public life as already properly operated in democratic parliaments throughout the world.