Vote can only be deferred for election


The upcoming referendum on the fiscal compact can only be deferred in the case of a general election being called, the Referendum Commission has said.

The independent commission, chaired by High Court judge Mr Justice Kevin Feeney, today moved to clarify the legal situation regarding the referendum following calls for a postponement of the vote, which is scheduled to be held on May 31st.

Six Independent members of the Dáil's technical group, which is comprised of Independent TDs and members of the United Left Alliance TDs, yesterday called for the vote on the treaty to be deferred until the autumn, citing the possibility of treaty change to accommodate a growth pact.

In a statement today, the commission said it had received a number of queries on the possibility of  postponing the vote. However, it said the laws on the conduct of referendums were clearly set out in the Referendum Act 1994.

Once a Bill containing a proposal for the amendment of the Constitution had been passed by the Oireachtas, the legislation provides that the Minister for the Environment shall make an order setting the date on which the referendum is to take place, it said.

Once that order is made, the only circumstance in which it may be changed is if a general election is called, the commission said.

“If a general election is called, the minister may change the referendum date to the date of the proposed general election.”

“There are no other circumstances under the Referendum Act 1994 in which the minister has the power to postpone a referendum nor has the minister the power to simply rescind the order to hold a referendum,” the commission added.

“In the interests of ensuring public certainty about the date of the poll and in the interests of ensuring a robust public debate on the issues the commission wishes to clarify this point.”

Independent TDs yesterday called for the vote to be deferred until the autumn to accommodate plans for a stimulus package which are due to be discussed at the upcoming EU meeting in Brussels on May 23rd.

Technical group members Maureen O’Sullivan, a Dublin Central TD, and Kildare North TD Catherine Murphy both said they would be voting No with Wicklow TD Stephen Donnelly saying he would vote Yes. Dublin South TD Shane Ross, Tipperary South TD Mattie McGrath and Dublin North Central TD Finian McGrath all said they remained undecided.

However, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter today accused the group of engaging in a form of “political ambivalence in which they oppose and criticise everything but favour nothing”.

Mr Shatter said the call to defer the referendum illustrated “the cosy relationship of ambivalence” that existed among members of the technical group.

“This call was not about the substance of the stability treaty but a call for public attention for the only stance around which the group could coalesce for the remainder of the referendum campaign,” he said in a statement today. “It was not about Ireland’s future, the good of our country or about the policies required to stimulate job creation and economic growth.”

Mr Shatter said having access to the European Stability Mechanism could prove important if the State is unable to borrow from the financial markets at a reasonable rate once the EU-IMF bailout comes to an end. He said a Yes vote guaranteed access to the fund and that a No vote would leave Ireland excluded.

“To date no one on the No side has been able to identify the alternative source of any such funding, if required,” Mr Shatter added. “There is no benefit of any nature to be gained by either a No vote or a postponement of the referendum.”