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State 'used manipulation' in children's poll

THE Government's publicly funded information campaign in the Children Referendum featured "blatant psychological manipulation" to secure a 'Yes' vote, a judge has been told.

The campaign amounted to "a grievous interference" with the people's sovereignty, the basic concepts of a democracy were at issue and it breached the Constitution, the High Court heard.

Paul Sreenan SC argued that the Government "well knew" that legal principles in existence for 17 years prevented public money advocating a particular outcome in a referendum. He said its unlawful campaign was "carefully packaged as information" and designed to tilt the field in favour of a 'Yes' vote.

Mr Sreenan was opening proceedings before Mr Justice Paul McDermott brought by Joanna Jordan, a homemaker, of St Kevin's Villas, Glenageary Road Upper, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Ms Jordan campaigned for a 'No' vote in the November 10, 2012, referendum and wants leave to bring a petition challenging the result. The amendment was passed with 58pc in favour and to 42pc opposed, based on a 33.49pc turnout.

She is also challenging the constitutionality of provisions of the Referendum Act 1994.

Ms Jordan alleges the Government's information campaign did materially affect the outcome. In her action, she is relying on the Supreme Court's judgment last November upholding claims by Dubliner Mark McCrystal.

Mr McCrystal claimed that the Government's €1.1m spend of public monies on a "one-sided" information campaign amounted to "clear disregard" of the limits in the Constitution.

By the time the Supreme Court "said stop" in its initial ruling on the McCrystal case, two days before the referendum, it was "too late".

Even after that ruling, government ministers, including Alan Shatter and Leo Varadkar, obfuscated about the effects of the Government's conduct and about the Supreme Court ruling, Mr Sreenan said.

In opposing the proceedings, the Government disputes its campaign had a material effect on the referendum result.

The case continues.

Irish Independent