Public money ruling for appeal next week


HIGH COURT:THE SUPREME Court will next week hear an appeal against the High Court’s rejection of a man’s claim that the Government is spending €1.1 million of public money on a one-sided information campaign about the children’s referendum.

The president of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, ruled yesterday the Government’s information campaign – which is separate from the work of the Referendum Commission – contained material that was “neutral and balanced” with the primary aim of informing the public about the forthcoming referendum.

He ruled that nothing in the Government’s information campaign “plainly favoured a particular outcome that was unconstitutional or wrongful”, a claim made by Mark McCrystal in a High Court challenge.

There was no “egregious” breach of the 1995 Supreme Court judgment in the McKenna case requiring referendum information campaigns to be impartial, the judge held. He also said that if future referendum campaigns had information campaigns run both by the Government and the Referendum Commission, similar cases would frequently be brought before the courts.

This could be avoided if an expanded Referendum Commission was established at an earlier stage and provided with an adequate budget which would inform the public in advance of any poll.

After the judgment, Mr McCrystal’s appeal was mentioned before the Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Susan Denham, in the Supreme Court. She fixed next Tuesday for a hearing.

In his challenge, Mr McCrystal, an engineer, Kilbarrack Road, Dublin, had claimed the Government was using information in a booklet, website and advertising campaign which was designed, intended and likely to promote a particular outcome in the referendum on November 10th. He had no objection to the State arguing for a Yes vote but it could not use public money to do so. He brought proceedings against the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, the Government, Ireland and the Attorney General, in which he sought declarations the State was not entitled to use public money on a website, booklet and an advertising campaign concerning the referendum. He also sought an injunction requiring the State to remedy the situation.

Mr Justice Kearns said the material used in the Government’s campaign did not breach the McKenna judgment. It did not advocate a Yes vote and there was no basis for the court to intervene. He awarded the State parties the costs of their action.