Wednesday 22 October 2014

Taoiseach speaks out in defence of under-pressure Attorney General

Lyndsey Telford

Published 13/11/2012 | 18:59

9-3-11 NEW CABINET SEALS OF OFFICE ARAS AN UACHTARAIN.PIC SHOWS MS. MARIE WHELAN, SENIOR COUNSEL WHO WAS APPOINTED ATTORNEY GENERAL WITH PRESIDENT MARY MCALEESE AND TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY. PIC MAXWELLS, NO FEE

THE Government has full confidence in the Attorney General following its information campaign being branded biased in the run-up to the children's rights referendum, a spokesman has said.









Taoiseach Enda Kenny defended the botched publicity campaign, despite a Supreme Court ruling that parts of it were unfair.



He said it was important that the Government inform the public as best it could because so much misinformation was being circulated by opponents of the constitutional amendment.



Mr Kenny said: "There were groups stating that a forced vaccination would be put on children, a compulsory vaccination, that the state might step in and prevent parents from bringing their children to mass if that is what they wish to do or if that was their wish.



"There was a great deal of misinformation going around about these matters."



Pressure had mounted on Attorney General Maire Whelan, whose office signed off on the final wording of the text in the Government's information booklet and website, from within the Fine Gael party and opposition ranks.



But the Taoiseach insisted all concerned acted in good faith in compiling the booklet and worked with best intentions to ensure it complied with the 1995 McKenna judgment to be fair and impartial.



A Government spokesman insisted Ms Whelan had the coalition's full confidence.



Fine Gael backbencher for Galway West Brian Walsh had called for Ms Whelan to explain her role in signing off the material.



The Government had been accused of scapegoating the Attorney General over the damaging Supreme Court ruling.



Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin claimed Cabinet ministers tried to shift blame for its campaign.



The Government's success, with 58% voting in favour of the amendment, 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 being taken to amend the constitution with new legislation, the Government has a potential legal challenge to the referendum result hanging over its head.



Mr Martin said the Government should be held accountable for the biased text, not Attorney General Ms 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 her fault," he said.



Mr Martin also claimed the Government had 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.



He said the Government politicised the information to feed its own agenda.



The referendum, 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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