Unlawfully funded Yes campaign influenced Children’s Referendum result, court told

Dublin mother seeking court permission to bring petition aimed at overturning result of vote

A political scientist has told the High Court he believes the Government's unlawful publicly funded information campaign in the Children's Referendum probably significantly influenced the Yes result.

Michael Bruter, of the London School of Economics, said a survey of voters after the November 2012 referendum pointed to an "extremely effective" campaign by the Government which managed to "blur the differences" between its material and that of the Referendum Commission.

Because the information in a Government booklet distributed to 2.6 million people was presented as neutral and informative, he believed it had an effect that was “most probably significantly” in favour of the Yes vote.

Joanna Jordan, a Dublin mother of five seeking court permission to bring a petition aimed at overturning the result of the referendum of November 10th, 2012, said she had campaigned for a No vote after reading a No leaflet issued by Parents for Children on October 18th and having studied the wording of the proposed amendment. She noticed reduced antipathy towards No campaigners after the Supreme Court ruled, two days before the referendum, in a case brought by Dublin engineer Mark McCrystal, that the use of public money for the Government's "one-sided" campaign was unlawful, she said.


Her own resources were small but her legal action was funded by donations from various sources. Some €18,000 had been received after she and former MEP Kathy Sinnott emailed their contacts and an advert was placed in the Catholic Voice .

Yesterday was the second day of the hearing before Mr Justice Paul McDermott of the application by Ms Jordan, of Glenageary Road Upper, Dún Laoghaire, for permission to bring a petition aimed at quashing the referendum result.

Ms Jordan said she decided to campaign for a No vote after reading a Parents for Children leaflet warning about the “problems” that could come if the amendment were passed, including that “children could be adopted without the consent of their parents”.

Her impression of the Government’s booklet was that “it was an answer to the question why I should vote Yes”. She read it, tore it up and put it in the recycling bin.

She believed she talked to about 2,000 people. Some were quite shocked she could be on the No side but some who challenged her changed their mind after talking to her. She saw Yes material everywhere.

After the Supreme Court ruling on November 8th, she went around central Dublin with a laminated poster which urged people not to let the State take control of their children and to vote No. The atmosphere regarding the No side changed after the Supreme Court ruling and people were starting to question things.

Cross-examined by Maurice Collins SC, she said the purpose of her petition was to stop the amendment being made law. If there was another referendum, she hoped to persuade people to vote No. She agreed the Supreme Court ruling received considerable media coverage.

Earlier, in his evidence, Mr Bruter said he considered the results of a Behaviour and Attitudes survey of 2,012 people, carried out after the referendum, indicated a clear message had come across from the Government campaign – to vote Yes and that vote would protect children’s rights.

Had voters been given more time to digest the impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling, he believed it would have cancelled out the effect of the Government’s booklet and could have cost the Yes camp support.

The Supreme Court ruling was given two days before the poll and he believed those 48 hours were inadequate for the full effect of the ruling to take place. The hearing continues.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times