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Referendum website's 'Like' button illustrated bias for Yes vote

The Supreme Court delivers its full ruling into why the Government’s website for the Children’s Referendum was not impartial.

The inclusion of a 'Like' button on ChildrensReferendum.ie was one way in which the Government's site was not impartial, the Supreme Court said.
The inclusion of a 'Like' button on ChildrensReferendum.ie was one way in which the Government's site was not impartial, the Supreme Court said.
Image: Paul Sakuma/AP

THE SUPREME COURT has said that the inclusion of a ‘Like’ button on the Government’s informational website for the Children’s Rights Referendum illustrated the website’s bias in favour of a Yes vote.

The court this morning issued its full ruling in the challenge of Mark McCrystal, the Dubliner who had sought a declaration that the website and its accompanying campaign booklet were an illegal use of public funds because they were not wholly impartial.

The court had upheld McCrystal’s challenge in the days leading up to the referendum on November 10, and issued its full written judgment today.

In it, Chief Justice Susan Denham found that the inclusion of the Facebook ‘Like’ button on the childrensreferendum.ie website had “illustrated the campaigning tone of the website in favour of a Yes vote”.

Both the ‘Like’ option and an associated Facebook page were deleted after McCrystal made direct contact with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, which ran the pages, to object to them.

Language used was not ‘fair, equal and impartial’

The Chief Justice held that language in the materials “on their face, failed the test of being fair, equal and impartial, failed to be neutral, and failed to hold the scales equally between both sides”.

For example, the use of the slogans “protecting children” and “supporting families” – both of which were offered in the literature as outcomes of a Yes vote was found to be in breach of this test.

This was because for some who opposed the referendum, the vote was not about protecting children, but that in fact a Yes vote could result in a greater State intervention with children which they opposed.

Similarly, while the literature claimed the referendum was about “supporting families”, some could argue that the referendum was detrimental to families because it further enshrined the power of the State to intervene in family setups.

The court also found that the design of the literature – including silhouetted images of children holding hands, and having a ‘smiley face’ drawn inside the letter O in ‘vote’ – was intended “to induce an emotional response from the reader and actually advocated a Yes vote, in a subliminal fashion”.

This was in comparison to the literature produced by the Referendum Commission, which the Court noted had not included any images of children.

The referendum was passed by the public with a 58 per cent Yes vote, but the wording of the amendment has not yet been written into the Constitution pending the outcome of a High Court appeal, which takes into account the Supreme Court’s ruling in McCrystal’s case.

Read: Legal challenge begins over Children’s Referendum result

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Gavan Reilly

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