Saturday 25 January 2020

Poll will take place and result will stand

YESTERDAY'S Supreme Court judgment is a major surprise, particularly two days away from a referendum that we have been campaigning for since the 1990s. This referendum comes on the back of 17 official reports documenting our country's failure to protect the most vulnerable children from abuse and neglect. The case involved a challenge to the Government's information campaign on the Children's Referendum, which is scheduled for tomorrow. Challenger Mark McCrystal had previously challenged the Oireachtas Inquiries referendum in 2011.

The Government is prohibited from spending public money to achieve a particular result in a referendum because of Patricia McKenna's case from the 1990s. While the Supreme Court was satisfied in yesterday's judgment that not all aspects of the Government's website and information breached the McKenna principles, it held that public money was wrongfully spent on the booklet and website which contained extensive passages that were not fair, equal or impartial.

The implications of this judgment are clear. The Government is required to cease distributing and publishing this material, which it has already done. This does not mean there is an information gap. The independent Referendum Commission has run an excellent information campaign. Representatives of the commission, including Mrs Justice Finlay Geoghegan, have appeared on national and local radio answering people's questions impartially.

The referendum will go ahead tomorrow as planned. But could the result be challenged? That is certainly possible, since under the 1994 Referendum Act an individual can petition a referendum outcome if it is established that the result was affected materially. However, such a challenge in this case would be unsuccessful. It would be difficult to prove that the referendum outcome was materially affected since we have secret voting with no way of knowing what influences voters at the polls.

It's also worth pointing out that the Government's information material did not urge a Yes vote, in contrast to the material deemed unconstitutional in the McKenna judgment in 1995.

In summary, we can go to the polls tomorrow and be confident that the result will not be overturned at a later stage. And it is important that we do go to the polls and vote Yes.

Let's remember what this referendum is about. It's about protecting vulnerable children, some of whom experience unspeakable abuse. It's also about hundreds of children in long-term state care who crave to be adopted, but are currently blocked by the Constitution.

We cannot allow another generation of children to grow up without constitutional protection.

As a mother, I want to keep my child safe. And I passionately believe that voting Yes tomorrow will mean that the State will be obliged to ensure that this is a reality for my child and all children in Ireland.

Tanya Ward is the chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance.

Irish Independent

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