independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Voting watchdog vows to clean up Lisbon debate

THE Referendum Commission has pledged to intervene on matters of public controversy during the Lisbon Treaty debate.

Although it is duty bound to be impartial when providing information on the campaign, it has reserved a proportion of its €5m publicity budget for controversial issues.

With the June 12 date for the referendum looming, the spin machine went into overdrive yesterday with three information launches in the space of an hour. The Referendum Commission launch was closely followed by the Socialist Party's demand for a 'No' vote and then a Fine Gael poster launch.

At the launch of its information campaign yesterday, Referendum Commission chairman, Judge Iarfhlaith O'Neill, said it would not be prevented from explaining to voters what was in the treaty.

"It's not part of our function to say if anyone is wrong or right. But as the campaign goes on, if issues arise which cause serious misunderstanding we will issue a clarifying statements."

However, the commission's 14-page information handbook clearly rejects two key arguments of the 'No' side by saying that the State's corporation tax rate and military neutrality will not be affected by the treaty.

Website

It is being distributed to two million homes in Irish and English, and will be accompanied by TV, print, radio, billboard and internet advertisements telling people to "get the complete picture" via the booklet or the website, www.lisbontreaty2008.ie.

Mr O'Neill said the decision had also been made to run online ads on social networking sites like Bebo, Facebook and Yahoo mail to target younger voters.

"That's why we've engaged these three million page impressions because it is apparently a good way to engage with the generation behind me," he said.

He confirmed that all members of the commission had read the 300-page treaty in its entirety before drawing up their information booklet.

"One can't include every single nuance but we feel we have encapsulated all the essential changes that will be of interest to people in making up their mind," he said.

Meanwhile, former Socialist Party TD, Joe Higgins, yesterday launched his party's campaign for a 'No' vote in the Lisbon referendum. He said the treaty posed a significant threat to public services, given that the veto to stop the opening up of health and social services would be removed.

Mr Higgins added his party believed the treaty would further the EU's ambitions to become a military power capable of competing with the US.

"We never said that Irish youth would be drafted off the streets and shanghaied into a European army. What we have said is that there is a militarisation of the EU," he said.

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