New referendum commission will have long lead-in time for poll on Seanad

High Court judge Elizabeth Dunne appointed chair of body which will prepare information campaign for autumn poll

Miss Justice Elizabeth Dunne

Miss Justice Elizabeth Dunne

 




The Government has changed the practice of delaying the establishment of a referendum commission until weeks before polling by setting up the body for the Seanad referendum some four months before the date.

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan yesterday announced that High Court judge Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne will be the chairwoman of the new commission for the referendum which proposes to abolish the Seanad. Its role will be to conduct an information campaign to explain the subject matter, to increase public awareness of the referendum and to encourage the electorate to vote at the poll.

Core issues
The last several referendum commissions have, in their reports, criticised the short length of time which has been given to prepare the information campaign with the often complex task of explaining the core issues as well as the arguments for and against in an objective and accessible manner.

In the report on the children’s referendum earlier this year the commission and its chairwoman Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan were critical of the time constraints under which it had to work, and said this could also have contributed to the disappointing turnout.

That report stated: “The commission said that two or three months would be the ideal time span to prepare a referendum campaign but recognised that this was not always feasible.

“[We] are strongly of the view that four weeks is the minimum period required.

“The commission only had two weeks for this work in the children’s referendum and believes that its information campaign may have suffered by reason of time constraints.”

It was also critical of the Government’s €1.1 million parallel information campaign which was the subject of an adverse ruling in the Supreme Court.

The report said that the presence of two separate information pamphlets could have led to confusion among voters.

The Government has indicated it will not run its own campaign on this occasion.

1937 Constitution
This will be the 32nd proposed amendment to the 1937 Constitution and will propose to abolish Seanad Éireann.

The other members of the commission are: Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy; Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly; Clerk of the Dáil Kieran Coughlan; and Clerk of the Seanad Deirdre Lane.