Campaign controversy rumbles on as voters go to the polls

Sat, Nov 10, 2012, 00:00

Voters go to the polls today in the children’s rights referendum with the Government under pressure to explain the blunder in its information campaign which has led to confusion among the public.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar joined Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald in confirming that advice from the office of the Attorney General Máire Whelan had informed the content of booklets deemed flawed by the Supreme Court after they had been distributed to households across the State.

Mr Varadkar, Fine Gael’s director of elections for the referendum, appealed to voters not to use the referendum to punish the Government. “I really just hope that people going out to vote don’t use the fact that the Government made some mistakes here as a reason to vote No,” he said.

Yesterday, the Government was forced to take down its referendum website for a second time after the legal team behind the successful challenge in the Supreme Court warned it would apply to the court again to have it shut down.

The campaign website, childrensreferendum.ie, was removed on Thursday but a truncated version was later published. Lawyers representing Dublin engineer Mark McCrystal, who took the challenge, wrote to the Government demanding it be shut down.

Mr Varadkar said the Government had sought legal advice from the office of the Attorney General about the booklet and website wording. “Obviously that advice was wrong, but legal advice can be wrong,” he told RTÉ.

Asked if there was a question mark over the Attorney General’s future as a result, Mr Varadkar said no. “The Government is collectively responsible and if we’ve made a mistake here we accept that, but don’t take it out on children,” he said.

All parties in the Dáil continued to call for a Yes vote, but Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin yesterday demanded a “full statement” from Taoiseach Enda Kenny to “clear the air” following the controversy.

However, the Yes side remains confident of victory. Non-political and cross-party supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment believe the ruling came too late in the campaign to substantially alter what polls have predicted will be a large gap between the Yes and No camps.

Concerns continue to exist about turnout at polling stations. The low-key campaign failed to capture the public imagination and the choice of Saturday as polling day is something of an experiment.

The Government was taken by surprise when the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday its booklet and website breached the McKenna judgment, after the High Court had last week dismissed a challenge to the spend of €1.1 million of public money on an information campaign. The landmark 2005 McKenna judgment held public money should not be spent to espouse a particular side in a referendum campaign.

Casting your vote Ballot details

Polling stations will be open from 9am until 10pm today.

Documents that will be accepted as proof of identity include passport, driving licence, employee identity card with a photo, student card issued, a travel document containing name and photograph, a bank or credit union deposit book.

Voters will be asked a simple Yes or No, whether they agree with all the changes included in the 31st amendment of the Constitution. Counting will begin at 9am tomorrow.