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The proposed referendum is intended to overturn the Supreme Court's ruling in the Abbeylara case. Joe Dunne/Photocall Ireland

Government publishes wording of Abbeylara referendum

The government has only published a draft version today – but the Bill needs passing in ten days if the ballot is to be held in time.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS today published the wording of its proposed referendum reversing the Abbeylara ruling and giving Oireachtas committees the power to hold inquiries.

The wording of the bill – officially the Thirtieth Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2011 – was published this afternoon by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, who is responsible for governmental reform.

Howlin said the bill – which amends Article 15.10 of the Constitution – will allow the Oireachtas to have “an effective system of inquiry, which can secure effective and cost-efficient parliamentary scrutiny of issues of significant public importance”.

The bill is specifically intended to address the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2002 on the ‘Abbeylara case’, when it affirmed an earlier High Court ruling that Oireachtas inquiries did not have the power ‘to make findings of fact or expressions of opinion adverse to the good name or reputation of citizens’.

The Bill is set to be tabled in the Dáil on Thursday, and is due to have passed both the Dáil and Seanad by Thursday week, so that it can be put to a referendum alongside the Presidential election next month.

Irish referendum law requires that at least 30 days’ notice be given of a referendum – meaning the government has until September 27 to have the bill passed through both houses and put forward to a public ballot.

The government also today published a draft version of a new Houses of the Oireachtas (Powers of Inquiry) Bill, which generally outlines the terms under which Oireachtas committees will hold their inquiries if the referendum is passed.

The government has sought feedback from any interested parties on the content of the bill, and said it hopes to publish a full version of the legislation later this autumn.

Wording of proposed amendment to the Constitution

The existing Article 15.10 would be renumbered 15.10.1°.

Three new subsections would be inserted as follows:

2° Each House shall have the power to conduct an inquiry, or an inquiry with the other House, in a manner provided for by law, into any matter stated by the House or Houses concerned to be of general public importance.

3° In the course of any such inquiry the conduct of any person (whether or not a member of either House) may be investigated and the House or Houses concerned may make findings in respect of the conduct of that person concerning the matter to which the inquiry relates.

4° It shall be for the House or Houses concerned to determine the appropriate balance between the rights of persons and the public interest for the purposes of ensuring an effective inquiry into any matter to which subsection 2º applies.

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