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Tuesday 30 September 2014

State forced to shut poll website a second time

Dearbhail McDonald and Fiach Kelly

Published 10/11/2012 | 05:00

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THE Government was forced to shut its children referendum website for a second time -- despite a Supreme Court ruling that "extensive passages" in its booklet and website were not "fair, equal or impartial".

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The website was shut down for several hours last Thursday following the Supreme Court decision, an embarrassing setback for the State which has set off a blame game within Government about how its €1.1m information campaign went wrong.

The website, www.childrensreferendum.ie, was back online within hours -- this time including only "basic information" on the wording and outlining the scheme of the adoption bill.

But Chief State Solicitor Eileen Creedon had to make arrangements with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DYCA) for the website to be taken offline again yesterday after further complaints by engineer Mark McCrystal, who successfully challenged the Government's information campaign.

In a letter to Ms Creedon, lawyers for Mr McCrystal said that the changes to the website were "a face-saving measure" in the wake of the Supreme Court's declaration that the Government broke the McKenna rules which state that it cannot use public money to promote a particular campaign.

Details of some of the Government's spend on its information campaign were revealed in the court action by Mr McCrystal.

Dublin PR firm MKC Communications, which helped develop questions for the website, was awarded a €37,000 contract for the referendum campaign and other policy issues for the DYCA.

Advertising agency KD Nine received a €164,000 contract for the campaign whilst Behaviour and Attitudes, the market research firm, received €105,000 for research on public attitudes on "children's interests".

The Taoiseach said postponing the referendum would lead to a general election.

"It's perfectly clear legally that were you to try to do that you'd have to call a general election," Mr Kenny said.

"The issue here has been decided upon by the Supreme Court, the Government have accepted in full the recommendations of the Supreme Court.

Recognition

"I hope that people in their very large numbers go out and give a Yes to this, irrespective of the views expressed here.

"The fact of the matter is we've waited 20 years for this question to be put to the people. The question is being put tomorrow. It will give protection rights and recognition to the voices of young people and young children, particularly those who happen to be in vulnerable situations and for a minority of those who are in foster care to give them a second chance.

"It's 20 years since Catherine McGuinness called for this and through all of the work of all of the committees, the question is before the people tomorrow. It is the peoples' constitution. It is their Bunreacht na hEireann and I hope they insert into it tomorrow the article in respect of children's rights.

"The Supreme Court decided on an issue in respect of the website and the information being sent out, in the same way as the High Court gave a different decision the week before," added Mr Kenny.

Irish Independent

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