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'Proofing oversight' blamed for referendum leaflet error

OFFICIALS at the department of children have blamed a proof-reading "oversight" for a key error in the Government's information campaign for the children's rights referendum.

This morning, the Supreme Court will give its reasons why the State acted wrongfully in spending €1.1m of public money on the website, information booklets and advertisements in relation to the referendum.

The ruling could have far-reaching implications for decisions by the Government to fund information campaigns – parallel to that of the non-partisan Referendum Commission – in future referendums.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that "extensive passages" in the Government's booklet and on its website were not "fair, equal or impartial" and broke the McKenna principles, which ban the use of public funds to promote a particular outcome in a referendum.

Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham also said the material contained a mis-statement, admitted by the State, as to the effect of the referendum. A crucial phrase in the Government's booklet, "key requirements will continue to be as follows", should have read "key requirements will be as follows".

The key requirements related to the test of state intervention in decisions affecting children and included the test for intervention where a child's "safety or welfare" was at risk.

The Government conceded the factual error on October 31.

And, according to new documents between departmental officials seen by the Irish Independent, the wrong phrase was inserted into the booklet as a result of "an oversight in the proofing of changes".

The Government drafted in Gerard Angley, a senior civil servant at the Department of Finance, to help ensure the Government's information campaign was McKenna compliant.

Mr Angley said in court papers that it was clear the Department of Youth and Children Affairs was "consistently conscious of the legal environment, including McKenna".

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald insisted her department had acted in good faith.

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