On May 18th last I wrote that chairman of the Referendum Commission, Mr. Justice O’Neill had bestowed extra powers upon himself and the Commission not contained in the Referendum Act, 2001. He 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.”
In complete contradiction to the above statement Justice O’Neill also said;
“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.”
The decision by the Commission to effectively abandon its neutral role and become involved in the debate has seriously damaged its credibility.
To date, the Commission has announced its ‘considered position’ on taxation, neutrality, abortion, qualified majority voting and the retention of a veto on any future WTO deal.
These are all issues that the No campaign see as critical in their attempt to convince voters to reject the treaty. The ‘clarifications’ by the Commission can obviously be seen as a great boost for the Yes campaign.
The Commission has not felt the need to clarify misleading statements made by the Yes campaign such as Garrett Fitzgerald’s assertion that we will become the pariahs of the EU and Minister Ryan’s claim that Europe would face chaos if the treaty is rejected.
It’s worth listening to this news item (3rd report) to understand how the Commission is getting itself into all kinds of difficulties as a result of its interventions in the debate.