Referendum Commission: We're neutral but will be intervening

According to the Referendum Act, 2001 the Referendum Commission has three principal functions.

To explain the subject matter of the proposed referendum.

To use all means at its disposal to publish the explanations to as many people as possible.

To promote public awareness and encourage people to vote.

At the launch (2nd report) of the Commission’s campaign of information on the Lisbon Treaty last Tuesday, its chairman, Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill, reiterated these functions and was crystal clear on the strict requirement for neutrality by his office.

“We do not intend to engage in the debate, we see our role as explaining to the people what is in the proposal. We are not going to supervise, control or try to influence that debate beyond discharging our statuary function to explain what’s in the treaty.”

In the same interview, and in complete contradiction to the above statement, Judge O’Neill also said.

“We will be monitoring the debate to see what happens and if we feel that there is serious confusion or that people are being confused or misled in a serious way on issues arising directly out of the treaty we may then issue clarifying statements.”

The judge is, in effect, bestowing upon himself and the Commission extra powers not contained in the Act. He is not going to ‘supervise, control or try to influence the debate’ but he is going to monitor the campaign and intervene when the commission thinks it necessary to help the ‘confused and misled’.

The Commission has already given its ‘considered position’ on the question of tax and neutrality, two of the main planks of the No campaign. According to the judge these elements will not be altered by the treaty.

The Commission, to date, has not issued any ‘considered position’ on claims made by the Yes campaign. For example, Bertie Ahern’s assertion that those who vote against the treaty are lunatics.

It is reasonable to assume therefore that the Commission is in full agreement with this claim.

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Referendum Commission

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