Government drops proposal to ban opinion polls

 

The plan to ban the publication and conducting of opinion polls during the final week of an election, has been dropped by the Government.

Shane Ross
Senator Shane Ross

The news was welcomed today by oposition parties and the National Union of Journalists, who hailed the decision as "victory for common sense".

"We think the initial reaction was government by whim - it was introduced as a knee-jerk reaction to a by-election defeat," said Mr Seamus Dooley Irish Organiser of the NUJ.

It has not yet been disclosed if the Attorney General's Office was consulted by the Department of the Environment when a possible loophole in the proposed legislation came to light during a debate in the Seanad.

But last night, the Cathaoirleach, Sen Donie Cassidy, adjourned the debate in order to seek advice form the Department regarding an amendment put forward by Sen Shane Ross.

The independent senator had suggested a poll could be taken eight days prior to an election and published on polling day, thereby defeating the purpose of the legislation.

Today Senator Ross said there was a need for a debate on the use of opinion polls and urged there should be a debate on the matter.

"It was an appalling Bill from the very beginning," he said."It was, in its attitude to people, quite patronising. What this Bill was saying was that the Irish people were not fit to digest this information and then make a decision knowing it," he added.

"The government has taken the short-term sensible political step...because this was close to some sort of censorship," Mr Ross said during the Senate debate yesterday.

The Minister for Defence Mr Michael Smith informed senators of the decision when the Seanad resumed its debate on the Bill this afternoon.

During the order of business this morning, Senator Joe Costello proposed that the debate on the Bill be deferred until the Autumn, but this was voted down by the Government majority.

The Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2000, also contains a number of other important proposals including an increase in electoral spending by political parties and is now expected to be passed later today.

A total of 68 amendments to the Bill were tabled yesterday by Sen Ross, independent senators Sen Joe O'Toole and Sen David Norris and a number of Labour senators.