Ruling today on challenge to public funding of poll booklet
THE PRESIDENT of the High Court will rule later today on a challenge to the spending by the Government of some €1.1 million of public money on an allegedly one-sided information campaign about the children’s referendum.
Lawyers for the Government and State yesterday rejected arguments by Mark McCrystal, Kilbarrack Road, Dublin, that the Government was using information designed, intended and likely to promote a particular outcome in the referendum on November 10th.
Senior counsel David Hardiman, for the State, said none of the material being used by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs “clearly disregarded” the principles of the Supreme Court judgment in the McKenna case, which requires referendums to be explained clearly and impartially.
The courts may only intervene if there is proof of “a clear disregard” of the McKenna decision, he argued. Mr Hardiman also rejected criticisms of the wording and imagery used in the department’s information booklet delivered to 66 per cent of Irish homes.
The booklet was “balanced and detached”, he said, and could barely be distinguished from a booklet provided by the Referendum Commission, which was accepted to be neutral and balanced. Much of the wording was taken from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Mr Hardiman also argued the State was “in no way soliciting for a Yes vote” on its website childrensreferendum.ie.
In affidavits, Elizabeth Canavan, assistant secretary general at the department, said it had a responsibility to inform and explain the issues to the public and that was the motivating and guiding factor in its publications. She also rejected allegations the material lacked impartiality.
There was considerable concern in the department about voter participation and understanding about the proposed amendment after market research had revealed an information deficit among the public about the referendum, she said.
Senior counsel Richard Humphreys, for Mr McCrystal, argued the material complained of clearly breached the McKenna judgment.
The material at issue, including the department’s booklet, contained serious inaccuracies, in addition to clearly advocating a Yes vote, he submitted.
Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said he would give his decision today.
In his action against the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, the Government, Ireland and the Attorney General, Mr McCrystal claims the State is acting in breach of the McKenna judgment. He says he has no objection to the State arguing for a Yes vote, but it cannot use public money to do so.
He has sought a declaration that the respondents are not entitled to use public money on a website, booklet and an advertising campaign. He also wants an injunction requiring the State to remedy the situation.