Vote result unlikely to face court challenge

Tue, Nov 13, 2012, 00:00

The solicitor representing the Dublin engineer who successfully challenged the Government’s information campaign in the courts has said it is unlikely he will challenge the finding of the referendum.

The Supreme Court ruled on Friday the Government had “acted wrongfully” in spending €1.1 million of public money on a booklet that breached the McKenna judgment, which held public money should not be spent to espouse a particular side in a referendum campaign.

Colm MacGeehin, of MacGeehin Toale solicitors in Dublin, told The Irish Times yesterday he has yet to talk to Mark McCrystal about possible options in the wake of the referendum, but said his personal view was that it would be very difficult to challenge the outcome of a referendum.

“If the referendum was very close, if there was only 5,000 to 10,000 votes between the sides, perhaps that might be an option. While the outcome was much closer than expected, at the same time it was well over 10 per cent and that is still a big gap.”

Mr MacGeehin referred to strong precedent that the Supreme Court laid down when ruling on a challenge taken against the result of the divorce referendum by former senator Des Hanafin in 1995.

Only 9,000 votes divided the Yes and No sides in the national poll and the government of the day had spent an estimated £500,000 on a campaign promoting a Yes vote. But in the event the Supreme Court rejected the challenge, on the grounds that evidence would have to be adduced to show more than 9,000 voters were swayed by the campaign. The secrecy of the ballot box made that impossible.

No campaigner

Leading No campaigner John Waters expressed confidence there would be a court challenge to the result. He said the grounds were “much stronger” than in the case taken by Mr Hanafin. “Here it is not just advertising, the main issue is the booklet, and the website passing itself off as neutral material,” he said.

Meanwhile, a proposal by Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton that a permanent referendum commission should be considered instead of a separate one for each referendum has been criticised by Opposition parties.

Fianna Fáil accused her of seeking to divert attention from the Government’s breach of “widely understood restrictions” and Sinn Féin said the power to set out arguments for and against a constitutional amendment should be restored instead.

Ms Burton told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland: “There is merit in having a look, for instance, at perhaps a more permanent form of referendum commission if we are going to have referendums on a more regular basis.”

Fianna Fáil spokesman on children Robert Troy said her comments were “a neat piece of political misdirection”.Sinn Féin spokesman on children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD also expressed reservations.