Taoiseach welcomes move by Google, Facebook on referendum ads

Varadkar criticises ‘extraordinarily inaccurate’ and ‘quite grotesque’ poster images

Google has banned all advertising in relation to the campaign on the Eighth Amendment. Photograph:  Reuters/Dado Ruvic

Google has banned all advertising in relation to the campaign on the Eighth Amendment. Photograph: Reuters/Dado Ruvic

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has welcomed a decision by social media giant Facebook not to accept abortion referendum advertisements paid for by foreign organisations.

He also approved a move by Google to ban all advertising in relation to the campaign on the Eighth Amendment.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil that Facebook had “made the right decision” in stopping foreign-paid advertisements.

“I know Google has gone a bit further in not accepting advertisements altogether to do with the referendum,” he added.

“Whether that’s a Yes ad or a No ad, we hold by the principle that foreign money shouldn’t be used to influence elections and referendums in this country.

“And the decision Facebook has made in that regard is very welcome. Perhaps it could have come sooner but it has come and therefore it is very welcome.”

The Taoiseach also pledged to ask Minister of State with responsibility for electoral reform John Paul Phelan to determine “what measures could be put in place for future contests” to regulate campaign posters and literature.

Little difference

Mr Varadkar was responding to Independent TD Thomas Pringle who welcomed the companies’ decisions but said he believed they would make little difference because there are no spending limits for referendums.

He called for information on posters and online advertising to be regulated “to ensure that the information given out to the public is based on facts and not on outright lies, myths or emotive untruths”.

The Donegal TD highlighted the display of graphic and unverifiable posters outside churches, schools and hospitals. He said it was vital for both sides of the campaign to “put out accurate images and information”.

The Taoiseach said he shared Mr Pringle’s concerns about posters “some of which are extraordinarily inaccurate in the claims made on them and some of which are frankly quite grotesque”.

He said he had met parents who had to explain the images on posters to their children.

“For people who purport to be concerned about children, putting parents in a position they have to explain these things to children based on the images on the posters says a lot about their true motivations and hearts.”

Mr Varadkar warned that regulating posters and literature “could start with very good intentions but move on to become a restriction on democracy and freedom of speech”.

He said it could be considered by an all-party committee but “it would be a big move to give any authority to ourselves” or even an electoral commission to decide permissible posters and literature.

Mr Pringle noted that some local authorities including Dublin City Council regulate politicians’ posters.

The Taoiseach said he was unaware of that but it too could be discussed at such a committee.