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Oireachtas committee cancels 'Yes' photocall over potential legal breach

The Joint Oireachtas Committee was going to run a ‘Vote Yes’ photocall – which may be a breach of the McKenna ruling.

Children's minister Frances Fitzgerald was due to attend tomorrow's launch, which has now been cancelled over legal concerns.
Children's minister Frances Fitzgerald was due to attend tomorrow's launch, which has now been cancelled over legal concerns.
Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

AN OIREACHTAS COMMITTEE, which has formally called for a Yes vote in the forthcoming referendum on children’s rights, has called off plans for a formal campaign event tomorrow after fears were raised that the event could breach a Supreme Court ruling.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, which last week unanimously voted a Yes vote in the referendum, had planned a photocall tomorrow morning where members would be joined by children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald to advocate a Yes vote.

The event has been abandoned, however, after Oireachtas authorities acknowledged that the event may have been in breach of a Supreme Court ruling.

The court’s ruling in the so-called ‘McKenna Case’, in 1995, found that it was unconstitutional for the government to use public funds to campaign for a particular vote in a referendum, as this was “an interference with the democratic process and the constitutional process”.

Though the case did not specifically deal with actions of the Oireachtas or its committees, the role of constitutional bodies in advocating a Yes or No vote was discussed.

In his ruling, then-Chief Justice Liam Hamilton wrote: “Once the Bill has been submitted for the decision of the people, the people were and are entitled to reach their decision in a free and democratic manner.”

Word of the photocall was distributed by the Oireachtas shortly after noon – but quickly met with queries from the Irish Times’ David Cochrane, and others, asking whether an Oireachtas-run event ran contrary to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

In response, Oireachtas head of communications Mark Mulqueen agreed that the photocall was “potentially in breach” of the rulings and would therefore be cancelled.

A spokesman said the Oireachtas had nothing to add to what Mulqueen had tweeted.

Legislation to establish an impartial Referendum Commission was set up in the aftermath of the McKenna ruling, taking over the responsibility for publicising each referendum and outlining the main arguments for and against each proposal.

Read: Children’s Rights Referendum: One day left to register for your vote

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Gavan Reilly

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