State denies €2m campaign contrary to McKenna ruling

 

THE GOVERNMENT has strongly denied that its €2 million publicity campaign on the EU fiscal treaty is contrary to the terms of the McKenna judgment.

However, opponents of the treaty are taking legal advice on the issue and warning that an injunction may be sought to halt the campaign.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1995 in a case taken by Patricia McKenna MEP that the State could not use public funds to promote one side or the other in a referendum.

The Government has already set up a website, stabilitytreaty.ie, and intends to distribute a 40- page booklet and subsequently a leaflet to every household.

A Government spokesman said the material in the two publications would be “factual” and “purely information”.

He said all the material had been cleared by the Attorney General in light of the McKenna judgment.

However, Sinn Féin said it believed the Government’s “so-called information campaign” was in breach of the Supreme Court ruling. “We are taking legal advice on the issue. It is important that citizens receive independent and unbiased information.”

Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy said his organisation had consulted its legal adviser, Dublin solicitor Feilim O’Reilly, on the issue.

They were awaiting advice as to whether there was a basis for an injunction “to take the website down and prevent the distribution of the booklet and the leaflet”.

The Dublin MEP said he received no reply to a letter sent on April 11th to Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore expressing concern about possible bias in the “explanatory note” to be included with the text of the treaty in the Government’s booklet.

Delivery of the booklet containing the treaty text and the explanatory material, in Irish and English, is expected to start early next week.

The Government spokesman said that “closer to the date” of the May 31st referendum, a leaflet containing “further information” would be distributed.

He said that having been involved in negotiating the treaty, the Government saw itself as having a responsibility “for ensuring that people know what they are voting on”.

This would be “the most comprehensive information campaign in any European referendum”, the spokesman added, emphasising that “it’s not advocacy, it’s information”.

The Government’s distribution of its own material did not reflect any lack of confidence in the Referendum Commission, an independent body chaired by Mr Justice Kevin Feeney. “Absolutely not.”

The spokesman refused to speculate about any implications for the treaty arising from the French presidential election, but stressed that the May 31st date for the referendum would remain unchanged.

The treaty will be the main item on the agenda at a meeting of the executive of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in Dublin this morning. Three unions – Unite, the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union and Mandate – are urging a No vote.

However, there were no indications last night as to what stance, if any, Ictu is likely to take.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said: “It is in the best interests of the country that we vote for the treaty. I don’t see any upside in voting No.” Asked what the implications of a

No vote are for the Government, he said: “It’s not about one political party versus another, it’s about the future of the country, what’s best for the Irish people.”

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter last night promised the Government parties would shortly begin “a very vigorous campaign” to seek a Yes vote.