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What are the two referendums about? Your guide to the 27 October ballot

Two referendums are being voted on alongside the Dublin West by-election and the Presidential election: one concerns judges’ pay and the other concerns giving powers of inquiry to the Oireachtas.

Image: Niall Carson/PA Archive/Press Association Images

THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION isn’t the only national vote being taken on 27 October: voters around the country will also be asked for their decision on two referendums proposing changes to the Constitution of Ireland.

One regards judges’ pay, while the other concerns giving the two Houses of the Oireachtas the power to carry out inquiries.

Here’s TheJournal.ie’s guide to those referendums:

1. Judges’ pay

The pay of a sitting judge is constitutionally protected in that it cannot be cut. This protection is carried in Article 35.5, which reads:

The renumeration of a judge shall not be reduced during his continuance in office.

Judges currently pay tax and the Universal Social Charge as per other employees, but are not obliged to make any Public Service Pension Levy payments. They can, however, voluntarily make an equivalent contribution.

The referendum proposes introducing an amendment to Article 35 as follows:

5.1 The remuneration of judges shall not be reduced during their continuance in office save in accordance with this section.5.2 The remuneration of judges is subject to the imposition of taxes, levies or other charges that are imposed by law on persons generally or persons belonging to a particular class.
5.3 Where, before or after the enactment of this section, reductions have been or are made by law to the remuneration of persons belonging to classes of persons whose remuneration is paid out of public money and such law states that those reductions are in the public interest, provision may also be made by law to make proportionate reductions to the remuneration of judges.

If passed, this amendment means that a law can be passed under which judges’ pay in certain circumstances, meaning it could be reduced in proportion to cuts already made to public service workers’ pay, if that reduction is stated to be “in the public interest”.

It also means that legislation can be passed which means that judges will be obliged to make Public Service Pension levy payments and any other future similar charges.

However, chairman of the Referendum Commission retired judge Dr Bryan McMahon pointed out to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland earlier this week that the word “class” under 5.2 above is an undefined term and it is not clear what group of people it refers to.

He also said that the word “proportionate” in 5.3 may require Supreme Court clarification and that “proportionate” did not necessary mean the same as ‘equal’.

The referendum will appear on the ballot as follows:

The Twenty-Ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Judges’ Remuneration) Bill 2011 proposes to delete section 5 of Article 35 of the Constitution which provides that the remuneration of a judge shall not be reduced during the continuance in office of the judge and to substitute the section here following:
5.1°  The remuneration of judges shall not be reduced during their continuance in office save in accordance with this section.

2° The remuneration of judges is subject to the imposition of taxes, levies or other charges that are imposed by law on persons generally or persons belonging to a particular class.

3° Where, before or after the enactment of this section, reductions have been or are made by law to the remuneration of persons belonging to classes of persons whose remuneration is paid out of public money and such law states that those reductions are in the public interest, provision may also be made by law to make proportionate reductions to the remuneration of judges.’.

IF YOU APPROVE of the proposal, mark X opposite the word YES on the ballot paper.

IF YOU DO NOT APPROVE of the proposal, mark X opposite the word NO on the ballot paper.

2. Powers of inquiry for the Oireachtas

The other referendum being voted on at the end of the month regards granting powers of inquiry into the conduct of any person to the Houses of the Oireachtas, whether or not they are a TD or a Senator.

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Either the Dáil or the Seanad would be able to carry out an inquiry alone or in conjunction with the other House. They can also make findings of fact about that person’s conduct.

The referendum proposes renumbering Article 15.10 of the Constitution as Article 15.10.1. This currently reads:

Each House shall make its own rules and standing orders, with power to attach penalties for their infringement, and shall have power to ensure freedom of debate, to protect its official documents and the private papers of its members, and to protect itself and its members against any person or persons interfering with, molesting or attempting to corrupt its members in the exercise of their duties.

The referendum proposes adding the following text to Article 15.10 after the section quoted above:

10.2 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.
10.3 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.
10.4 It shall be for the House or Houses concerned to determine, with due regard to the principles of fair procedures, 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 2 applies.

The referendum will appear on the ballot as follows:

The Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Houses of the Oireachtas Inquiries) Bill 2011 proposes to amend the provisions of the Constitution relating to the powers of the Houses of the Oireachtas to conduct an inquiry into any matter stated by the House or Houses concerned to be of general public importance. The proposed amendment would add the following subsections to Article 15.10:

2º 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.

3º 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.

4º It shall be for the House or Houses concerned to determine, with due regard to the principles of fair procedures, 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.’.

IF YOU APPROVE of the proposal, mark X opposite the word YES on the ballot paper.

IF YOU DO NOT APPROVE of the proposal, mark X opposite the word NO on the ballot paper.

Launching the Referendum Commission’s information campaign ahead of the 27 October ballot, Dr Bryan McMahon urged voters to inform themselves and use their vote. A copy of each of the Bills referred to in the referendums can be obtained free of charge from any post office.

“The constitution is important, it was enacted by a vote of the Irish people in 1937 and can only be changed if the Irish people vote to change it,” he added.

Find out more on the Referendum Commission website >

Follow TheJournal.ie’s coverage of the Presidential Election >

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