October date for presidential poll and referendums

 

THE GOVERNMENT has named Thursday, October 27th, as the date for two referendums and the presidential election.

One referendum will provide for the reduction in judges’ pay and the other will give new powers to parliamentary committees to conduct investigations.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter announced last night that he had obtained the Government’s approval for the proposed wording of the constitutional amendment on judges’ pay.

The 29th Amendment of the Constitution (Judges’ Pay) Bill 2011 will be published next month along with draft legislation to implement the judges’ pay reductions, if the amendment is approved by the people.

An Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll last week showed that 94 per cent of voters intended to vote in favour of the referendum change.

Mr Shatter said the wording had been the subject of detailed consideration in the Office of Attorney General Máire Whelan.

It would involve an amendment to Article 35.5 of the Constitution which currently specifies that “the remuneration of judges shall not be reduced during their continuance in office”.

That clause would be amended to provide that where other public servants were subject to pay reductions those reductions may also be applied to judges.

The Government also agreed yesterday that Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan will make arrangements for the establishment of a referendum commission.

The commission will explain the subject matter of the referendum to the electorate, promoting public awareness and encouraging the electorate to vote.

Under the provisions of the Referendum Act 1998, the commission will be chaired by either a retired or serving senior judge nominated by the Chief Justice.

“Should the proposed constitutional amendment receive majority support in the referendum to be held, it will facilitate application to the judiciary of the pension levy and the public sector wage reductions already applied to those paid out of the public purse,” Mr Shatter said.

“It will enable the judiciary to play its role in assisting the State at a time of unprecedented financial difficulty.

“In this context, it is only right that I acknowledge that the judiciary do not oppose the holding of this important referendum,” the Minister said.

Mr Shatter insisted the amendment would not in any way affect the crucial independence of the judiciary nor permit the reduction of judicial salaries in isolation from other public service salaries.

“The proposed amendment retains the general protection afforded to the judiciary in most countries; it confirms that the imposition of general taxes, levies or other charges on judicial salaries that are imposed on others can apply to judicial salaries and provides that reductions made in the past or in the future in public service pay in the public interest can be applied by law to judicial salaries,” the Minister said.

Mr Shatter said he would publish the necessary referendum Bill during August and that arrangements will be made to brief Opposition groups on the referendum wording ahead of the Dáil debate on the Bill in September.

Third-level representative for Ógra Fianna Fáil Eamon Quinlan has described the decision by the Government to hold the presidential election and the two referendums on a Thursday as a cause of great concern to hundreds of thousands of students.

“Both Fine Gael and Labour have been heavily critical in the past when an election was scheduled for a Thursday.

“This is yet another example of a complete U-turn by the Coalition parties.

“It absolute hypocrisy from Fine Gael and Labour, who have now reneged on promises they made in the past, promises to facilitate students wishing to exercise their right to vote. I am urging the Government to change polling in the forthcoming presidential election to a Saturday or Sunday,” he said.

JUDGES' PAY PROPOSED AMENDMENTS

THE GOVERNMENT is proposing that Article 35.5 of the Constitution be amended by substituting the following:

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

35.5.2 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.

35.5.3 Where, before or after the enactment into law 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 reductions to the remuneration of judges.”