Thursday 22 March 2018

Concerns over public level of awareness ahead of Referendum

Michael Brennan

Michael Brennan

THE Referendum Commission has expressed concern about the public's knowledge of the plan to set up a new Court of Appeal.

So far, all the coverage has been devoted to the Seanad abolition referendum which will take place on October 4.

But there will also be a referendum on whether to set up a new court to deal with the four-year waiting list for appeals to the Supreme Court.

Referendum Commission chair Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne said it would be using every means at its disposal to inform voters about both referenda.

"There has been debate on the Seanad proposal but there has not been much public discussion. I hope that changes between now and polling day," she said.

Around two million households will be sent a single booklet on the referenda after a Government U-turn on producing its own information campaign.

Last year, the Supreme Court criticised the Government's information booklet in the Children's Referendum as unbalanced. It was distributed to voters at the same time as the Referendum Commission's own independent booklet. The Government had used the same tactic during the fiscal treaty referendum.

Ms Justice Dunne said they were happy there would be only one booklet going out this time.

"The existence of other material can be confusing, so as a Commission we are happy to be the party who are producing an independent guide," she said.

Ms Justice Dunne also expressed concern about the lack of debate on the second referendum on October 4 – the proposal to set up a new Court of Appeals. "I hope that changes between now and polling day," she said.

The Referendum Commission has a budget of €3.3m for its campaign, which includes two million information booklets, television advertisements and an information website.

It came as Green Party leader Eamon Ryan lauched his party's campaign for a 'No' vote to force the Government to reform the Seanad.

"Abolition is not reform. You get a smaller political circle but an unchanged political circle in power," he said.

However, Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty accused Mr Ryan of talking about a fictional reform plan.

"The Greens should stop trying to confuse voters .It is a simple question; do you want to abolish the Seanad - yes or no?" she said.

Irish Independent

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