Call for early establishment of Referendum Commission

The Irish Democrat recently received the following letter signed by a range of prominent figures in Ireland, which we publish here, and on our letters page, for our readers' information:

THE EYES of Europe and much of the world will be on Ireland when we vote on the new EU Treaty, the Treaty of Lisbon and particularly so, as it now seems that we will be the only member state to have a referendum on it.

That is why we urge the government to call the Referendum Commission into being some months in advance of the referendum on this treaty so as to give the commission adequate time and resources to carry out its statutory function of informing citizens what the referendum is about and encouraging maximum turnout of voters. We do this even though we ourselves have diverse views on the contents of the treaty.

The establishment of the Referendum Commission under the 1998 Referendum Act was a progressive development in Irish public policy. Although the function of setting out the Yes-side and No-side arguments in referendums was removed from the commission in 2001, its function of telling citizens what the referendum is about and encouraging them to vote is still hugely important.

We are confident that the commission will provide truthful, objective and non-partisan information to citizens if it is given enough time and resources to do this by the government and Oireachtas and is not faced with the task of publicising multiple referendum propositions simultaneously, as has occurred on occasion in the past. The commission should have a central role in the EU treaty referendum if European and world opinion is to regard our referendum arrangements as enlightened and democratic.

The Referendum Commission consists of the ombudsman, the Comptroller and auditor general, the clerk of the Dail, the clerk of the Seanad and a chairman nominated by the government from among the senior members of the judiciary. Its five members will need time themselves to get on top of this complex and many-sided treaty before they set about the job of informing the public of its contents and the implications of ratifying it for Ireland and our constitution.

In the commission's reports on previous constitutional referendums its chairman, former chief justice TA Finlay, was implicitly critical of governments of the day for failing to give the commission enough time to do its job effectively. That must not happen on this occasion.

We hope that the media and all our political parties, whatever their views on the treaty, will support this call.

Other aspects of a democratic referendum are fair coverage for the arguments of both sides by the media, the avoidance of abuse and personal attacks on the proponents of either side and non-interference from outside the country by powerful interested parties with huge financial resources at their disposal such as the EU Commission and well-endowed foreign supporters of either the Yes-side and No-side.

We also believe that the government should make the text of the treaty easily available to those citizens who wish to obtain it, as well as the text of the Consolidated European Treaties which it amends.


Frank Keoghan, Darina Allen, Robert Ballagh, Gay Byrne, James and Therese Gorry, Declan Kiberd, Pat McCabe, Rev.Terence McCaughey, Muiris MacCongail Finian McGrath TD, Patricia McKenna, Tony MacMahon Christy Moore, Dervla Murphy, Professor John A. Murphy Senator David Norris, Emmett O'Connell, Jer O'Leary, Bob Quinn, Senator Fergal Quinn, Ruairi Quinn TD, Adi Roche, Dr Andy Storey, Bishop William Walsh,

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2008-02-05 13:43:56.
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