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Retired judge to oversee referendum on judges' pay

Bryan MacMahon, formerly of the High Court, will chair the Referendum Commission overseeing next month’s referendum.

Image: Neil and Kathy Carey via Flickr

A FORMER HIGH COURT judge is to head the independent body overseeing the referendum on cutting judges’ pay, to be held next month.

Justice Bryan MacMahon will be the chairman of the Referendum Commission, which is tasked with producing impartial documentation and literature on the referendum, explain the referendum to the voting public, and encourage people to vote.

MacMahon was nominated by the Chief Justice, Susan Denham, who is required by law to choose a serving or former judge to oversee referendum campaigns.

As a retired judge, MacMahon receives a pension linked to a current judges’ salary – meaning the level of his own pension will likely be cut if the referendum is passed.

The appointment of a sitting judge, though, would have meant that the chairperson of the commission was a greater stakeholder in the outcome of the ballot.

As well as producing literature and taking out advertising for the referendum, the Commission is also tasked with considering applications from bodies or groups who want to appoint ‘agents’ to be present in polling stations and at count centres.

Other members of the Commission – appointed by law – are the Comptroller and Auditor General, John Buckley; the Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly; Dáil clerk Kieran Coughlan; and Seanad clerk Deirdre Lane.

The referendum, to be held on October 27 alongside the presidential election, will replace Article 35.5 of the current Constitution with a clause allowing judges’ pay to be cut in line with cuts being applied to others paid from the public purse.

A second referendum is also set to be held on the same day, giving Oireachtas committees the permission to conduct investigations and make findings of fact.

A commission cannot be appointed for this referendum, however, until the government publishes the wording for that proposed constitutional amendment, which it has not yet done.

On instances where multiple referenda have been held on the same day, separate Referendum Commissions are established, though on previous occasions the same judge has been nominated to act as the chairman of both – meaning that each has precisely the same membership, and is effectively the same institution.

Read: Top judges face 23pc pay cut if referendum is passed – Shatter >

More: Presidential election set for a Thursday, despite objections in the past >

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Gavan Reilly

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