Thursday 17 January 2019

'Just because people voted for it, doesn't make it right' - man who attempted legal challenge against referendum result

Mr Byrne (41), who lives in Drogheda, Co Louth, had his application for permission to challenge the Yes vote refused by the president of the High Court in July.
Mr Byrne (41), who lives in Drogheda, Co Louth, had his application for permission to challenge the Yes vote refused by the president of the High Court in July.
Charles Byrne has said that he doesn't believe in abortion under any circumstances
Charles Byrne, a musician, pictured leaving the Four Courts Pic: Collins

Kathy Armstrong and Tim Healy

A MAN who attempted to bring a legal challenge against the results of the abortion referendum has compared the vote to legalising slavery.

Charles Byrne has also called for all Irish bishops to be fired, as he branded them “cowards” and claimed they didn’t show leadership on the divisive issue.

Mr Byrne (41), who lives in Drogheda, Co Louth, had his application for permission to challenge the Yes vote refused by the president of the High Court in July.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly ruled that the bid had not met the necessary legal test set by the Referendum Act before a court can permit a petition to be brought.

Charles Byrne has said that he doesn't believe in abortion under any circumstances
Charles Byrne has said that he doesn't believe in abortion under any circumstances

The Act requires a petition can be brought only if the intended petitioner has prima facie evidence of matters likely to “materially” affect the referendum outcome.

Mr Byrne, who works as a musician and piano teacher, told Independent.ie about what motivated his high-profile action.

He said: “I’ve been involved in the pro-life movement for many years.

“My main issue is whether it’s possible to take human rights from one section of society? If we were to vote on slavery tomorrow that would infringe on some people’s rights – so even if the majority of people were to vote to legalise slavery that doesn’t make it right.

Charles Byrne, a musician, pictured leaving the Four Courts Pic: Collins
Charles Byrne, a musician, pictured leaving the Four Courts Pic: Collins

“My thinking was that it was fundamentally wrong because you cannot grant the right to end someone’s life.”

He continued to say that legally he took issue with the government’s role in the campaign in the run up to the historic vote.

“My legal team argued that the government involved themselves in the referendum itself meant they weren’t upholding the constitution, which states that the States acknowledges the life of the unborn and will do everything they can to uphold the constitution.

“So surely the fact they were actively campaigning to remove that right is a breach? 

“The unborn don’t have a voice, they can’t speak up and say, ‘what about us?’ So they can get lost in this.

“The Government should speak for all people, even those who don’t have a voice,” Mr Byrne said.

“I don’t think the referendum will have any negative effect on the government because I think the propaganda worked and people bought the abortion lie.”

The Yes vote passed by 66 per cent and, while many were shocked, Mr Byrne claims that he wasn’t surprised. He alleges that a number of factors are behind the result.

“To be frank I think the pro-life side are in complete disarray when it comes to politics, there’s a lack of leadership, a lack of vision and maybe philosophically people are coming from different areas.

“So while there may be people who value the pro-life opinions and ideas, there might not be any real political will to make them a reality.

“I saw it on the street, there was a real lack of engagement from people who didn’t even want to discuss it, they seemed to have just bought into the media position and had a certain stance on this.

“I wasn’t surprised at all by the result.

“I also thought the lack of church leadership was appalling, I think all the bishops should be sacked, they were a waste of time, it was appalling.

“They're not real leaders at all, they’re cowards, I think they’re too afraid of offending people to actually say anything, so nobody knows what they even stand for, the sheep were left without a shepherd in a way.

"I think a lot of the pro-life side were afraid to say anything strong for fear it would offend someone,” he said.

He stresses that he doesn’t think termination is justifiable under any circumstances, saying “we can come up with better solutions, it’s not fair on that human being, they’ve been conceived and all they have is their life."

Mr Byrne adds that he feels that we can expect to see protests when termination is legalised here.

He says: “I think the pro-life movement will only become stronger once abortion becomes a reality here. I know that once it’s legalised generally pro-life movements get more donations, it becomes stronger, more people get involved.

“It’s yet to be seen but I can imagine there’ll be protests guaranteed outside of these abortion mills.

“I’ve been involved in peaceful protests outside of these mills in America and it was an experience I’ll never forget, it was very sad and  it was all down to the simple thing of do you believe this human being is special and deserves to be defended.”

While he mentions he felt some “intimidation” during his legal action, he doesn’t regret it.

He notes: “I didn’t take to it naturally, I think some people might enjoy the process but I found it quite daunting. I didn’t look too much online, I was stressed enough as I was.

“I tried to look at it philosophically, I was thinking of the unborn and I hope that I ever need someone to stand up for me they would.

“I wasn’t trying to be a troublemaker or waste state resources or anything, I just wanted to stand up for the unborn.

“I think the pro-life is still quite bruised after the referendum but I got some quiet support, people wishing me well and being lovely.”

In response to Mr Byrne's claims that the Church didn't show leadership in the run up to the referendum and his calls for bishops to be fired, a spokeswoman for the Irish Bishops' Conference referred Independent.ie to comments made by Archbishop Eamon Martin, Primate of All-Ireland, on the day of the referendum result.

He said: “During the referendum campaign the Church sought to proclaim the Gospel of Life – that every human life is a precious gift from God – including the lives of all mothers and their unborn children. Choose Life, we said. Every human life is beautiful, every human life is sacred, every human life is precious. 

“This remains true after the referendum result.  The right to life is not given to us by the Constitution of Ireland or by any law.  All human beings have it ‘as of right’, whether we are wealthy or poor, healthy or sick.

“Like many others who advocated a NO vote in the referendum, I am deeply saddened that we appear to have obliterated the right to life of all unborn children from our constitution and that this country is now on the brink of legislating for a liberal abortion regime."

Mr Byrne alleged in his legal bid irregularities in the conduct of the referendum and registration of voters. He also complained about statements made by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris during the referendum campaign. The State said none of the matters raised met the criteria for a petition.

Mr Byrne also alleged the Referendum Commission failed to meet its statutory obligations in relation to providing fair and accurate information in its guide and website. The Commission denied those claims.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Kelly said Mr Byrne’s complaints about the Commission’s material must be dismissed as “without foundation or substance”.

He also dismissed claims of unconstitutional conduct during the referendum campaign by the government, particularly the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health, in advocating a Yes vote.

He rejected arguments the duty imposed by Article 40.3.3 meant the right to life of the unborn is something all organs of government, including the judiciary, must support and no government minister could encourage a yes vote.

There is “nothing” in the Constitution to prevent the government campaigning for any change in the Constitution and accepting Mr Byrne’s argument would lead to the “bizarre” and “absurd” result of government ministers having to be totally silent on a referendum proposal they had introduced.

He dismissed other complaints by Mr Byrne about “misstatements” allegedly made by the Taoiseach and Minister for Health during the referendum.

The judge also dismissed  Mr Byrne’s claims of entitlement to bring a petition on grounds of alleged electoral irregularities, including about polling cards being provided irregularly and about people being removed from the register and then restored.

The material provided to support these claims did not amount to prima facie evidence as required by the Referendum Act and nor had he shown the alleged matters were such as to materially affect the outcome. “Speculation is not evidence,” he said.

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