Irish Republican News · October 26, 2011
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Concerns over broad new powers for politicians

Two referendums to be put to the voters of the 26 Counties on Thursday, the same date as the Presidential election, are facing increasing criticism over the lack of public debate as well as the content of the constitutional changes proposed.

One referendum, which proposes giving increased powers to committees of the Dublin parliament, has raised concerns of a potential ‘power grab’ by the Dublin parliament. The other, which would allow for reductions in the salaries paid to judges, has also generated concerns for the independence of the judicial system from political influence.

While opinion polls have indicated both referendums are likely to be passed, there are suspicions over the decision of the government to try to pass them ‘under the cover’ of the Presidential election.

There was also an unprecedented intervention this week by eight former Attorneys General, after it emerged they are opposing both referendums on the basis that they undermine the judicial system.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties launched an anti-amendment protest outside the parliament where two members dressed in kangaroo outfits promoted the “No to the 30th Amendment” campaign.

The mobile billboard campaign warns citizens of the dangers of ‘kangaroo courts’ if the amendment is passed.

Council director Mark Kelly said: “This morning, eight former attorneys general reaffirmed the No campaign’s message that this amendment seriously weakens the rights of people to protect their good names and to have access to the courts if unfair proceedings are applied by the Oireachtas [parliament].

“Anyone who cannot be sure - beyond a reasonable doubt - that this amendment will protect their rights should vote No to these Government proposals to turn Oireachtas committees into kangaroo courts,” Mr Kelly added.

The council has expressed concern “that the good name of a person could be tarnished by an Oireachtas committee through procedures that fail to protect their rights, and that the inquiry process would not be open to challenge in the courts”.

The government has claimed objections to both referenda are being advanced by lawyers, described as “a substantial vested interest” by Minister Brian Hayes.

Most of the Independent TDs in the Dublin parliament have also come out in opposition to the government’s proposal on inquiries.

The five TDs in the United Left Alliance argued that it would give too much power to the government of the day to hold investigations.

The government has dismissed their concerns, comparing the proposed new powers to those already enjoyed by British and US politicians.

“The Oireachtas needs to be able to hold inquiries,” said Wicklow Independent TD, Stephen Donnelly.

“The problem is this amendment - it has been too rushed and there’s been too little debate. And crucially, it goes too far.”

Mr Donnelly said that the refendum, if passed, would allow parliamentary inquiries to be expanded without limits.

“Governments control the Oireachtas, and it is the government that will have this power.”

“The chairman of the Referendum Commission, Judge Bryan McMahon, was asked would an investigator have the power to search your house. He said that would depend on the legislation - and then he stressed that the legislation could be changed at any time.”

Dublin South TD Shane Ross described the amendment as appalling and dangerous and claimed the referendum was deliberately being held on the same day as the presidential election to stifle debate.

While Sinn Fein has expressed its concerns at the handling of the two referendums, it is supporting a ‘Yes’ vote for both. Other republican and left-wing organisations have advocated a ‘No’ vote to both.

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© 2011 Irish Republican News