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Constitutional Amendment on Children (Continued)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald] Later that afternoon I contributed to a debate in Seanad Éireann on the Supreme Court decision. Deputy Troy mentioned that earlier. One must remember that when I spoke in the Seanad, while the full Supreme Court judgments were awaited, there were no other court proceedings underway at that stage, whereas right now there are. In the Seanad I set out at length the background to the Government's provision of public information. On 19 November, leave was sought from the High Court to challenge the referendum result. These proceedings make specific reference to the Government's provision of public information and the ruling of the Supreme Court in the McCrystal case. In the circumstances, as I stated already, I am severely constrained in going into the details of these matters outside the High Court process until these proceedings are concluded.

As I said in my statement of 8 November, in providing public information the Government at all times acted in good faith and with the best of intentions in informing people about the substance of the amendment. In the Supreme Court judgment of 11 December, the Court found that the Government at all times acted in a bona fide manner.

The Government considered that, in its provision of information to the public, it was paying appropriate regard to the McKenna principles. The approach taken followed that of previous information initiatives by Governments to bring the issues for decision by referendum to the people. It reflected the Government's understanding at the time of the legal requirements in this complex area of law. Up until the Supreme Court decision of 8 November, the Government acted in line with the decision handed down by the President of the High Court on 1 November. As Deputy Troy will be aware, the High Court accepted the case the Government was making. Following the Supreme Court decision, my Department took immediate steps to withdraw from public information activities to ensure compliance with this decision.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I must interrupt the Minister.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I will conclude by saying that, as I have stated already and made clear, the Government will now take on board the full judgment of the Supreme Court of 11 December.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy In the Seanad debate on 8 November, the Minister stated, "A detailed protocol underpinned the drafting of content for the booklet and website and the Office of the Attorney General was consulted for legal advice throughout the process", and yet I note Mr. Justice Fennelly, in his judgment, stated:

It is notable that this account, at no point, alleges that the website or the booklet was actually reviewed and approved by the Office of the Attorney General. The advice of that office, as very briefly summarised in the form of two brief sentences, seems correct and in accordance with the McKenna judgment. The first sentence refers to the right of the Government to give information, to clarify situations or to give explanations. The second emphasises that the Government is not entitled to expend public monies for the purpose of promoting a particular outcome.

Who signed off on the booklet? Whose idea was it to issue the booklet? Why was it decided to spend €1.1 million and take it away from the independent commission? Also, what are the associated costs as a result of that decision? Ultimately, who will take responsibility and who will be held accountable? The Government came to office 20 months ago talking about accountability, transparency and responsibility. Who will be held accountable for this?

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald As I stated, the Government will now take on board the full judgment of the Supreme Court of 11 December. The failures to which Deputy Troy refers on the part of the Government identified by the Supreme Court are fully acknowledged and deeply regretted. The Government is carefully studying the judgments of the court and we are committed to acting in full accordance with elaborated guidance which the judgment provides as regards the application of the McKenna principles in all future referendums.

I refer the Deputy to my Seanad speech on that date, from which he quoted. That Seanad speech is accurate. In light of the High Court hearing in January, as a respondent in those proceedings I am constrained as regards further comment at this stage while proceedings are ongoing and it is prudent for me to restrict my comments. As I have already said to Deputy Troy, I would very much like to engage with him on the points he raises but I am advised that, in view of the High Court proceedings in January to which I am a party, it is not appropriate for me to do so, and I ask that he respect that.

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