Thursday 18 October 2018

Website taken down as court rules Government information on children's referendum is biased

Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

THE Supreme Court has ruled that certain sections of the Government’s booklet and website on the Children’s Referendum are not "fair, equal or impartial".

The ruling which comes days ahead of the poll says that it would not be appropriate to redact the material because of its proximity to the vote.

As a result, the Government's information website has been taken down, though it's not clear whether this is a permanent move. It is expected that the Government will also stop distributing its pamphlets and cease running adverts in newspapers and on TV.

The decision followed an appeal by an engineer Mark McCrystal who claimed that €1.1m of public money used in the Government’s information campaign breached the 1995 Supreme Court McKenna judgment.

That judgment requires referendums to be explained to the public impartially.

The Government had opposed the appeal, which was fast-tracked by the High and Supreme Courts.

A five-judge panel led by Chief Justice Susan Denham will give its full reasons on December 11.

Those who attended court included prominent No campaigner Kathy Sinnott.

Chief Justice Denham, in a brief preliminary ruling, said that the McKenna principles meant that public funding should not be used in a referendum to espouse a particular point of view.

Reacting to the Supreme Court verdict, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore denied that the "Yes" campaign for the children's referendum will be damaged by the decision.

Mr Gilmore said that the arguments in favour of the referendum remained the same.

'"This is now a decision that the people of our country make on Saturday, which is to enshrine in our constitution the rights of children and ensure there is constitutional protection for adoption and the rights of children to be heard in court cases," he said.

Mr Gilmore declined to apologise for the Government's decision to spend €1.1m on its own information campaign, which was carried out alongside the Referendum Commission's independent campaign.

He said the Government would have to wait until the full text of the Supreme Court judgment was delivered next month to assess the full implications.

The Labour Party's final news conference before voters go to the polls on Saturday was dominated by the fallout from the Supreme Court verdict. Mr Gilmore said his party had run a very extensive campaign for a "Yes" vote, with 6,000 posters nationwide, 500,000 pieces of literature and campaign videos and canvassing.

"We hope there is a strong turnout," he said.

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