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Tánaiste Micheál Martin speaking to reporters as the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis got underway this evening. Jane Moore/The Journal
Up In The Air

Tánaiste in favour of postponing patent referendum to allow more time for 'proper preparation'

Micheál Martin said the the three party leaders would make a final decision on the matter on Monday.

TÁNAISTE MICHEÁL MARTIN has indicated that he would support a proposal to postpone the upcoming patent referendum as the Government “need to do more work” to explain what is involved to the public.

The referendum was set to be held in early June alongside the local and European elections.

But the Tánaiste confirmed this evening that newly appointment Minister for Enterprise Peter Burke will bring a memo to Cabinet next Tuesday, which is set to ask ministers to decide whether to proceed with the referendum as planned or postpone it.

The coalition leaders will make a final decision on the matter at a meeting on Monday evening, he said. 

The referendum relates to Ireland joining the Unified Patent Court. If passed, it would mean EU Member States can recognise each others’ patents. Currently, 17 countries across the EU take part in the Unified Patent Court, which opened last June. 

In order to solve any disputes that may arise through the patent court, an amendment to Article 29 of the Constitution is needed through a referendum.

Government has previously argued it would harmonise the registration and recognition of patents throughout the EU with a single court to rule on disputes.

When asked about the issue as the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis got underway this evening, Martin said he is “of a mind” that time is running short between now and the local elections. 

“Others have different views, others felt that with local elections, European elections, you get a reasonable turnout to vote on a given referendum,” he said.

“The problem is getting time to focus on important issues. To amend the Constitution is a very serious issue and it needs proper time, proper preparation and explanation to the public and in this case, the Electoral Commission needs adequate time.

My view is we’re running out of time in respect of the local and European elections to hold the patent referendum.

He said he has always believed that referendums should be held on their own and not in the context of other elections, and that this was an important referendum in its own right in terms of the industrial base of Ireland and the research that underpins a lot of jobs here.

“So we have to work on getting it done, and I think we need to do more work in terms of explaining to the public is involved.

“But we will make a final decision on that on Monday evening. The three party leaders are meeting in respect of it.

“I understand that the Minister will be bringing a memorandum to the Government on Tuesday, but I think you can take from my words that I’m of a mind that we’re running out of time in terms of having it on the local election date.”

It is understood the rationale behind the memo being brought to Cabinet next week is there are fears about putting it before a volatile electorate, in light of the the family and care referendums being voted down recently by the public.

But when asked if the Government’s defeat in the 8 March referendums was a factor in the proposal to postpone the upcoming referendum, Martin denied this.

He said he was a great believer in having referendums separately and on their own, and having directed the Lisbon II referendum, he said it took “a lot of preparation and a lot of work”. 

“I have a very healthy respect around putting amendments to the Constitution to the people. You can’t do it in a rushed manner or in a manner that can leave it open for confused debate.”

His comments come after Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne said reports that the referendum is now under review are “extremely concerning”.

He said: “We should proceed with this referendum and get out there and fight for it. The referendum is exclusively about Irish competitiveness and ensuring that Irish inventors have an easier and more cost-efficient way of protecting their inventions and their ideas.”

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