Case was taken to stop public funding in favour of divorce


McKenna ruling

The McKenna judgment was delivered by the Supreme Court in 1995 following a challenge brought by former Green Party politician Patricia McKenna.

Ms McKenna had sought an injunction restraining the Government from using public funds to promote a Yes vote in the referendum to remove the prohibition of divorce from the Constitution.

The Supreme Court found in her favour by four to one.

In his judgment, then chief justice Liam Hamilton said once the Bill containing the proposal to amend the Constitution had been submitted for the decision of the people, the people were entitled to reach their decision in “a free and democratic manner”, as provided for in articles 46 and 47 of the Constitution.

“The use by the government of public funds to fund a campaign designed to influence the voters in favour of a Yes vote is an interference with the democratic process and the constitutional process.”

Mr Justice Hamilton found the Government had acted in breach of the Constitution.

The judgment resulted in the immediate withdrawal of a Government advertising campaign and the cancellation of the printing of 700,000 Yes campaign leaflets.

The ruling laid down the principle that governments cannot fund partisan referendum campaigns; however political parties are free to do so.

The judgment also led to the establishment of the Referendum Commission, an independent body which promotes public awareness of a referendum.