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Government 'failed test of being fair' on Children's Referendum, says Supreme Court

THE Government failed to balance the scales equally between both sides in the children's rights referendum, the Supreme Court has ruled.

This morning the Supreme Court said that the Government's booklet, website and advertisements "on their face failed the test of being fair, equal and impartial" and was not neutral.

Several slogans used in the Government's €1.1m information campaign were identified by Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham as not impartial or fair.

Other aspects of the material was "in effect, campaigning" said Judge Denham as four out of five judges gave written reasons for ruling that the information leading up to the referendum broke the McKenna principles.

Last month the Supreme Court upheld a challenge to the Government's €1.1m information campaign by Mark McCrystal, an engineer from Dundalk.

It found that "extensive passages" in the Government's booklet and on its website about the referendum were not "fair, equal or impartial" and broke the McKenna principles.

Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham said last month that the material contained a misstatement, admitted by the State, as to the effect of the referendum.

In 1995 the Supreme Court ruled - in a case involving the Government's then IR£500,000 spend on the Divorce Referendum to advocate a Yes vote - that it was unconstitutional for the Government to use public monies to promote a particular result in a referendum.

If the Government spends money on a referendum campaign, the information must be fair, equal and impartial in order to be McKenna compliant.

The referendum took place despite last November's Supreme Court ruling.

Despite the high-profile campaign, the children's referendum recorded one of the lowest turnouts in recent years.

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