Inquiries referendum defeated

 

The referendum on Houses of the Oireachtas inquiries has been rejected by a majority of more than 116,000 votes.

The amendment - which would have been the 30th to the Constitution - sought to give more power to Oireachtas members to set up inquiries into matters deemed to be of public importance. The second amendment, on judicial pay, passed easily.

In a statement tonight, the Government said it welcomed the passing of the 29th amendment on judges' pay. However, the statement said it was "disappointing" the 30th amendment on Oireachtas inquiries had been "narrowly defeated". The Government said it accepted the people’s decision and will "reflect and carefully consider" the vote outcome.

The result on the Oireachtas inquiries comes as a blow to the Government, which was seeking to overturn a High Court judgement made in 2000 which stopped an Oireachtas inquiry into the fatal shooting of John Carthy at Abbeylara, Co Longford, during a stand-off with gardaí.

A total of 1,785,208 people voted on the amendment with 928,175 voting against and 812,008 voting in favour - a majority of 116,167.

Some 5,000 people who voted on the presidential election decided not to vote on the amendment.

There was reportedly confusion at many polling stations on Thursday, with some voters expressing concern about how the ballot papers for the two constitutional amendments – on the investigations and reducing judges’ pay - were presented.

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin said he regarded “the proposals to empower Oireachtas committees as a fundamental reform that we need to do”.

A group of eight former attorneys-general came out against the referendum earlier this week, stating that that the proposals would seriously weaken the rights of individuals to their good name and provide insufficient protection for the independence of the judiciary.

Mr Howlin said confusion had been put into the minds of voters over the last few days and that attempts to dispel it and secure a decisive yes vote were not successful.

He said the referendums had perhaps received less consideration than expected as the “rollercoaster” presidential campaign had won much public and media attention.

“You’re fighting for space in that context on a complicated enough issue, and once significant opinion is voiced casting doubt on it I suppose the default position is No if they’re not clear,” he said.

The proposed 30th amendment provided for the setting-up of inquiries by the Oireachtas when it was decided to be in the public interest and for the balance between the rights of individuals appearing before them and the public interest in having the inquiry expeditiously to be decided by the Oireachtas.

The 30th Amendment to the Constitution proposed to renumber Article 15.10 of Bunreacht na hÉireann as 15.10.1 and insert the following subsections:

Each House shall have the power to conduct an inquiry, or an inquiry with the other House, in a manner provided for by law, into any matter stated by the House or Houses concerned to be of general public importance.

In the course of any such inquiry the conduct of any person (whether or not a member of either House) may be investigated and the House or Houses concerned may make findings in respect of the conduct of that person concerning the matter to which the inquiry relates.

It shall be for the House or Houses concerned to determine, with due regard to the principles of fair procedures, the appropriate balance between the rights of persons and the public interest for the purposes of ensuring an effective inquiry into any matter to which subsection 2 applies.

Earlier, this evening, the constitutional referendum on reducing judges’ pay was passed by a margin of more than one million votes.

A total of 1,785,707 people (79.3 per cent) voted in favour of the amendment, the 29th to the Constitution, with 354,134 (20.7 per cent) voting against. The result was announced at Dublin Castle by referendum returning officer Riona Ni Fhlanghaile shortly after 7pm.

About 5,000 people who voted on the presidential election decided not to vote on the amendment, and a further 37,696 ballots were deemed invalid.

There was reportedly confusion at many polling stations on Thursday, with some voters expressing concern about how the ballot papers for the two constitutional amendments – on judges’ pay and Oireachtas investigations - were presented.

The amendment was backed by the Government and aims to change Article 35.5 of the Constitution, which states: “The remuneration of a judge shall not be reduced during his continuance in office.”

It is proposed to replace this with the following wording.

“The remuneration of judges shall not be reduced during their continuance in office save in accordance with this section.

“The remuneration of judges is subject to the imposition of taxes, levies or other charges that are imposed by law on persons generally or persons belonging to a particular class.

“Where, before or after the enactment of this section, reductions have been or are made by law to the remuneration of persons belonging to classes of persons whose remuneration is paid out of public money and such law states that those reductions are in the public interest, provision may also be made by law to make proportionate reductions to the remuneration of judges.”