'No' groups misleading voters, claims Coveney
Simon Coveney has rounded on campaigners for a No vote in the same-sex marriage referendum accusing them of "emotive and misleading messages".
The Fine Gael referendum director, spearheading the Yes campaign, clearly hit back at the campaign launch by the group Mothers and Fathers Matter, saying their message was based on saying "gay people were not fit be parents."
While refusing to cite any specific group by name, Mr Coveney accused No campaigners of "playing the man and not the ball".
With just four full weeks left to polling day, on Friday May 22, the Agriculture Minister said he was basing his campaign messages on what he understood to be Catholic and Christian messages.
"As a Catholic and a Christian, what my faith means to me is about tolerance, openness and compassion. And all of those things relate to this campaign which is about two people who love each other wanting to spend their lives together," Mr Coveney told the Irish Independent.
Mr Coveney said Fine Gael will launch its Yes campaign next Monday with postering, advertising, and other major resources.
"The Yes campaign is going well up to now. But we are preparing for three weeks of all-out work to ensure the people endorse this referendum," he said.
In a criticism of the No campaign, Mr Coveney said they were seeking to spread confusion.
"Let me be blunt about it: there are some people trying to make this referendum into something that it is not about - parenting, guardianship and adoption," he said.
"This is a very complex and emotive area. But it has been dealt with in a very comprehensive piece of legislation, the Children and Family Relations Act, which is now finalised. These matters are now fixed in law irrespective of whether people vote Yes or No in this referendum," he said.
He pointed to the statement by the Independent Referendum Commission, which said the status of marriage will not be changed by the referendum. He said the commission had said the referendum was solely about deciding on extending the right of marriage to couples of the same sex.
Mr Coveney was asked if his comments were not directed at the lead group on the No side, Mothers and Fathers Matter, who launched their campaign last Friday.
"Unlike other people, I have no intention of playing the man here. I want to play the ball. My sole focus is the protection of the child in all cases," he said.
Mr Coveney said some on the No side were seeking to defeat the referendum by raising child welfare and safety. "I have a responsibility to correct that. I appeal to everyone in this debate to deal with the facts of the situation and to deal with them in a direct way," he added.
He said that many of the referendum opponents based their arguments largely on a claim that same-sex couples had no right to have children. He said the new legislation meant same-sex couples could adopt in the same way as single people and heterosexual couples.
At last week's No campaign launch, Professor Ray Kinsella, chairman of Mothers and Fathers Matter, said the Government had wrongly tried to take the issue of children "out of the equation" through the Children and Family Relations Act. "You can never take children out of the equation," Prof Kinsella said.
Asked about the prospect of restoring public service pay cuts, Mr Coveney, said public servants must get the benefit of an economic recovery through pay increases.
"But I'm also a big supporter of us continuing the journey that we have been on for the past few years," he added.
"What we shouldn't do is stop the reform agenda. We cannot say the economy in Ireland is growing again, so, let's go back to the way it was," Mr Coveney said.