Sunday 25 February 2018

Sinn Fein court 'stunt' will cost taxpayers up to €200,000

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

Sinn Fein's failed court case against the independent referendum watchdog yesterday, which was described as a "stunt", will cost the taxpayer up to €200,000.

The party lost its 11th hour High Court challenge against a statement made by the Referendum Commission -- giving the Yes side a final boost ahead of today's vote.

The country goes to the polls this morning in the EU fiscal treaty referendum, with 3,143,278 people eligible to vote and polling stations open from 7am to 10pm.

Sinn Fein's trip to the Four Courts provided plenty of drama on the final day of campaigning.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said the case was a "last desperate attempt" by Sinn Fein to cast doubt on the independence of the Referendum Commission.

"I believe that this was a stunt by Sinn Fein in order to maximise their own publicity and in order to create confusion," he said.

Despite losing the case, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said the party's decision was vindicated by the ruling because important issues were raised.

But Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty lost his High Court challenge aimed at having the Referendum Commission withdraw remarks made earlier this month on Ireland's veto over the new EU bailout fund.

The Donegal TD's action, which was opposed by both the Referendum Commission and the State, centred on a statement made by commission chairperson High Court judge Kevin Feeney on whether Ireland has a veto over the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) from coming into being.

Dismissing Mr Doherty's case, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said the statement by Mr Justice Feeney at a press conference on May 3 last was not misleading.

The statement, the judge added, could not be said at this stage to be "clearly wrong" as argued by Mr Doherty or "likely to affect the result of the fiscal referendum".

The judge said the three sides in the proceedings had advanced three slightly different arguments concerning Ireland's ability to veto the ESM.

Debate

Mr Justice Hogan said the court was not going to express a view on any of the particular arguments advanced, other than to say there was room for debate on the issues.

Sinn Fein's legal representative indicated they will be applying to have their costs covered and the Referendum Commission legal team followed suit.

Legal experts last night estimated the cost of the judicial review case, which was heard until nearly midnight, will cost the taxpayer up to €200,000.

The judge will hear the application for costs on June 14. In his ruling, Mr Justice Hogan said in terms of any political debate the court must "remain strictly neutral".

However, the case had raised complex, important and novel issues concerning European, international and Irish Constitutional law which he suggested might be considered by the European Courts of Justice and the Supreme Court.

It was accepted the courts did have the jurisdiction to interfere with a decision of the Referendum Commission, however in this instance he was satisfied the commission had not done anything to promote one side or the other.

The judge said Mr Doherty's complaint that the commission failed to highlight the second statement was "not well founded".

There was no difference of substance between the two statements, and he said the second statement contained "nothing new".

He rejected claims by the commission and the Attorney General that Mr Doherty had delayed bringing what the court found was an important action.

Irish Independent

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