No side say Government has questions to answer

Sun, Nov 11, 2012, 00:00

The Government has questions to answer in light of the Supreme Court decision on the children’s rights referendum despite it being carried today, campaigners on the No side said.

Speaking at the count centre in Dublin Castle today, Solicitor Malachy Steenson said a challenge to the referendum was “up for discussion.”

“There are huge questions this State has to answer. If I was the Minister in this current Government I wouldn’t be too complacent because a damning indictment of their policies has been delivered today,” he said.

“Before the No campaign started, opinion polls had the No vote at 4%. We got that up to 42% and faced with what we were faced with - the might of the State and the so-called NGOS and civil society who were all supporting this with huge resources a couple of dozen people with no resources brought this to 42%. 445,000 people agreed with us.”

Mr Steenson called the low turnout a “damning indictment of the State and the policies pursued by the Government."

“On the one hand they’re saying they’re concerned about the rights of children and that children will be paramount and on the other they’re preparing a budget in the next couple of weeks which will slash the living standards of ordinary families up and down this country and push more and more people into poverty.”

“There are a number of key questions that have to be answered. The unfortunate reality is that the State effectively ignored the logic of the Supreme Court decision because logic would say put off the referendum because the damage was done but the State seems to believe that it can do what it wants,” he said.

No campaigner Kathy Sinnott has called for the resignation of Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald following the Children’s Referendum.

“The amount of people voting no shows that the leadership in this country is out of touch. Heads should roll after this. Frances Fitzgerald’s position is untenable.”

“I am disappointed the referendum was carried yet it was a magnificent No vote. People realised the state had misinformed them and felt uneasy about the referendum. There was no real information given about it and the debate surrounding it was left too late in the day. Considering all the major political parties called for a Yes vote, the amount of people that voted No was significant.

Ms Sinnott said she hoped that the result of the referendum would be challenged.

“I hope there is a voter out there who is willing to take the challenge. I will help them in any way I can. This referendum is unsafe in legal terms because the result does not represent a fair choice on behalf of the people. Rules were broken by the Government and they spent our money on a one sided and misinformed campaign to ensure a Yes vote.”

“The low turnout shows that people are giving up on the voting system and it is worrying that people have become so disenfranchised,” she said.

No campaigner John Waters said the 42 per cent of people who voted no was a “fantastic achievement.”

“I’m very disappointed that we didn’t defeat the Government on this but the significant number of people who voted no was a great achievement for the No side.”

“When you consider that all the major political parties, the church and media were all mainly in favour of the Yes vote and had greater resources for advertising and promoting a Yes vote then what the No side have achieved is remarkable.”

“There are grounds for challenge to this decision and I hope that someone does challenge it. When the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter implies that we should ignore the ruling of the Supreme Court, what does that suggest? What law is there in this country?”

Mr Waters said there was insufficient debate surrounding the referendum.

“There was no real debate about the referendum until last week and the political consensus was in favour of a Yes vote. There was no attention paid to the detail of the arguments the No side put forward and there was a refusal to engage with the different points of view put forward.”

“I knew the Yes vote was likely to win but the number of people who voted no cannot be ignored and should be scrutinised. There was a silent no vote too among people who did not choose to vote,” said Mr Waters.

Richard Greene, leader of the Christian Solidarity Party, said it was too early to say whether a challenge would be mounted to the Referendum.

“We have to wait first of all for the complete judgement [on December 11th]. But there are interesting questions that could be answered by a court challenge,” he said.

He said he took a lot of comfort from the fact the vote was very close in the end.

“I think that’s a great tribute to the No campaign, underfunded as it was, that despite all those difficulties we got our message out. And thanks to the No campaign we have the McCrystal judgment which will shine a light on the way referenda have been run over the last few years and the way they should be run in the future,” he said.

He called for the Danish system of running referenda to be adopted here.

“[In Demark]…Both sides are given equal funding and then they go and get their message out. And if there’s outside or foreign interference or outside money that’s breaking the law. So both sides, yes and no, are given equal amounts of funding, equal amount of broadcast and media attention and that wasn’t happening over the last few years here.”