Irish News

Friday 1 August 2014

TD demands answer from state lawyer on data bias

Michael Brennan and Conor Kane

Published 13/11/2012|05:00

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FG TD Brian Walsh criticised Attorney General Maire Whelan

A FINE Gael backbencher has fired the first warning shot at Attorney General Maire Whelan over her role in the Government's biased information campaign for the Children referendum.

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Two Government ministers have said that that the contents of the booklets – which were deemed to be not fair, equal or impartial by the Supreme Court – had been based on advice from Ms Whelan's office.

Fine Gael Galway West TD Brian Walsh said there were now "serious questions" to be answered about the Attorney General's role in approving the content of the information booklets and the accompanying website.

"If she played an active role in the final sign-off, then she would have to consider her position. The Supreme Court outcome probably gave people a reason to vote No," he said.

A Government spokeswoman said it would not be possible to get a response on behalf of Ms Whelan until today.

The fallout from the children's referendum is expected to be discussed at Cabinet today – with Ms Whelan due to be present as usual in her role as Attorney General.

Due to the Supreme Court ruling, the threat of a legal challenge to the result is still hanging over the Government.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said it was for "other individuals" to decide what they wanted to do but emphasised that the referendum was carried by "a very substantial majority" of 58pc.

Jobs Minister Richard Burton said the Government would be reviewing the outcome of the referendum. But he strongly backed Ms Whelan for doing a "fantastic job".

"From personal experience, she has been really effective in identifying issues of importance and I have total confidence in her," he told Today FM.

It came as the "blame game" for the low turnout of just 33pc and the higher-than-expected 42pc No vote intensified between the Government and the opposition parties. They had previously been maintaining a united front in calling for a Yes vote.

Confusion

Mr Walsh said Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein had "zero presence" in his constituency in terms of canvassing or leafleting for a Yes vote in the Children referendum – although he said Fianna Fail had put up a few posters.

Labour chief whip Emmet Stagg said there was no sign of a Fianna Fail or Sinn Fein Yes campaign in his Kildare North constituency.

"Not one poster, they didn't do the churches, they didn't do the supermarkets, never mind going door to door. I think literally they were talking out of the two sides of their mouth," he said.

But Fianna Fail Children's Spokesman Robert Troy said it was a pathetic attempt to shift responsibility for the Government's "political information campaign" which had caused unease and confusion all over the country.

Sinn Fein TD Caoimhgin O'Caolain said the blame game had well and truly started, with government TDs pointing fingers "everywhere but at themselves".

"The reality is that the Government's misuse of public funds in this referendum distorted both the debate and the outcome," he said.

Irish Independent

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