Three issues for autumn referendums


The Government has decided to hold three more referendums on the same day in early autumn.

One of the referendums will be on the abolition of the Seanad, another will allow for changes in the patent law and the third will allow for reform of the court system.

At its meeting last week the Cabinet decided in principle to proceed with the three referendums in the autumn.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny writing in today’s Irish Times has repeated his pledge to hold a referendum to abolish the Seanad in the autumn.

An Irish Times opinion poll last month showed strong support for the Government’s decision to abolish the Upper House.

When undecided voters were excluded, 74 per cent of people said they would vote Yes to abolish the Seanad, with just 26 per cent saying they would vote No.

A number of prominent figures, including former tánaiste Michael McDowell and former senator Joe O’Toole, have announced that they will be campaigning against the Government’s plan to abolish the Seanad.

The referendum on patent law is required to enable the country to ratify the new European-wide patent system which is expected to come into force next year.

The transfer of judicial powers to the new centralised court for patent litigation requires an amendment to the Constitution.

Last month EU ministers signed the unified patent court agreement, which sets out the framework for a new centralised court to deal with European patent law. It marks a key stage in the move towards an EU-wide system for patents, a proposal that has been discussed in various forms for close to 40 years.

While the establishment of the court is an important step in the journey towards a unitary patent system for Europe, the agreement still needs to be ratified by member states and extensive technical discussions need to take place.

The third referendum will allow for the creation of a civil court of appeal and specialist courts such as a dedicated family law court.