Shatter criticises rationale for cancelling referendum event
MINISTER FOR Justice Alan Shatter has expressed frustration at the application of the McKenna judgment after a photocall by a committee of politicians promoting a Yes vote in the children’s rights referendum was cancelled by the Oireachtas.
Members of the cross-party Oireachtas health and children committee today intend to press ahead with their plan to hold an event at which they “as individuals” will advocate a Yes vote, despite the cancellation yesterday of a formal photocall by Oireachtas officials who feared a breach of the judgment.
The 1995 Supreme Court ruling said taxpayers’ money could not be used to promote one side in a referendum.
Mr Shatter said the judgment did not constrain an Oireachtas committee’s members from collectively urging a Yes or a No vote.
“This is stretching the application of this judgment to a degree that would completely undermine the doctrine of the separation of powers and would violate the constitutional right of freedom of expression,” he told The Irish Times. “Oireachtas members who have expertise in the area should be able to collectively use that expertise to assist people to make a decision on this important referendum proposal.”
He said it was a “complete nonsense” that the committee members felt they could only gather as individuals because of an interpretation of the McKenna judgment.
He stressed that he was not criticising the committee members, or any individual, for they were clearly acting on advice.
Mr Shatter warned that the extent to which the judgment was being applied could “contaminate normal participation in the democratic process” and suggested the judgment might be revisited “in the courts at a future date”.
The Oireachtas communications unit announced early yesterday that Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald would join committee chairman Jerry Buttimer and a group of TDs and Senators from the committee at a photocall “to call for [a] Yes vote” in Merrion Square, Dublin, at 2.30pm today.
The event was cancelled after David Cochrane, Communities Editor at The Irish Times, tweeted to the Oireachtas News account: “hi guys, why are you promoting a photocall for the Yes side? Are you guys deliberately ignoring the law, or unaware of it?”
In response, the head of communications at the Houses of the Oireachtas Mark Mulqueen tweeted: “Yes, that photocall is potentially in breach and so will be cancelled. Thanks.”
However, Mr Buttimer confirmed that committee members intend to meet “as individuals” in the same place at the same time. He expressed a view that media outlets were not giving enough attention to the referendum.
“We are getting together informally as a group of politicians who happen to be members of the committee. We’re members of the Oireachtas who have a democratic mandate,” Mr Buttimer said.
The referendum on Saturday, November 10th, has the support of all parties in the Oireachtas.