Minister ‘absolutely confident’ rules on State funding have not been breached in referendum campaigns

Family and care ballots will pass, predicts Roderic O’Gorman

Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman has said he is “absolutely confident” that rules prohibiting the spending of taxpayers’ money on referendum campaigns have not been breached, and that this Friday’s family and care votes will pass.

In an interview with The Irish Times in advance of the final week of the campaign, Mr O’Gorman also said that a Yes vote would not result in an increase in immigration via reunification of family rules. He also pledged that a Yes vote would not take away the rights of disabled people.

There has been speculation that campaigners advocating for a No vote may be preparing a legal challenge to the outcome of the referendum, if it is successful, on the basis that the McKenna principles — which prevent the use of public funds to advocate for any side in a referendum — may have been breached.

A well-placed source said No campaigners have privately been questioning the role of campaigning organisations which receive funding from the State.


Last week Independent Senator Michael McDowell said the McKenna principles are being violated if the Government is using “proxy NGOs” to fight its case.


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The Lawyers for No group also last week said it was “concerned about the gross imbalance in resources available to those supporting and opposing the proposals to amend the Constitution”.

Asked whether he was confident that the McKenna principles have not been breached during the campaign, Mr O’Gorman replied: “I am absolutely confident. Organisations like the National Women’s Council [NWC], like Family Carers Ireland, like One Family — the idea that they would be described as proxy organisations — these are organisations that have been campaigning on issues to support women and families for years.”

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He said there are “very clear guidelines” for groups participating in a referendum campaign and that he has “no doubt” that every organisation “irrespective of their position are complying with that”.

The National Women’s Council, which receives State funding, said this weekend that it has “stringent financial controls in place” which are adhered to strictly.

“NWC is fully compliant with the legislation and guidelines governing expenditure in referendums and has a proven track record from previous referendum campaigns.”

Asked for his assessment of the current state of play in the final days of the campaign, Mr O’Gorman said he believed the two proposals would pass.

“From the canvassing I have been doing from knocking on doors, chatting to people at train stations in the morning, I do think both referendums will pass. I think potentially the family amendment might pass with a bit more of a margin than the one on care but my sense is that both will pass.”

In this Friday’s referendums, the Government proposes — in two votes — expanding the definition of family in the Constitution to recognise “durable relationships”, such as cohabiting couples and their children, and replacing the language around women’s “duties in the home” with language recognising care within families.

Mr O’Gorman denied that a Yes vote could lead to increased immigration through reunification if the definition of family is extended beyond those relationships based on marriage, to include those based on other durable relationships.

“The clear legal advice we have received is that this change is not going to change the outcome of court cases taken on immigration issues.” He said that “immigration is not a matter for the courts primarily, it is a matter for the executive”.

Disability rights campaigners have also argued that the care proposals overlook the rights of adults with disabilities to have independent lives.

“We are looking to remove outdated language from the Constitution talking about a woman’s life in the home, and the neglect of [a] mother’s duties in the home. But we also wanted to recognise care and the different types of care that take place in the family. It in no way takes away from the obligations of the State in terms of supporting independent living for people with disabilities,” said Mr O’Gorman.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times