Referendum NO Campaign Urges Voters to Reject “Kangaroo Courts”

  • 21-10-2011
  • Categorized in: Justice

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Press release – for immediate release

Friday 21 October 2011

Voters in next Thursday’s referendum on Oireachtas inquiries (the 30th amendment to the Constitution) have been urged to reject proposals which NO campaigners claim could turn Oireachtas Committees into “kangaroo courts”.

At the launch of the NO to the 30th amendment campaign in Dublin’s Westbury Hotel today (21 October 2011), the country’s leading constitutional and human rights lawyers joined forces with concerned parliamentarians to denounce the Government’s proposed wording.

The NO campaign, which is being spearheaded by Ireland’s independent human rights watchdog, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) Association, claims that the proposed 30th amendment to the Constitution is rushed, ill-considered and fails to strike the right balance between the public interest and the rights of the individual.

Campaign supporters who spoke at today’s launch included:

  • Mark Kelly, Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties
  • Catherine Murphy TD
  • Senator Rónán Mullen
  • Mary O’Rourke, former TD, Senator and Oireachtas Committee Chair
  • Professor Gerry Whyte, Trinity College Dublin, Constitutional Law expert
  • Oisín Quinn SC
  • Donncha O’Connell, National University of Ireland Galway 

Speaking today, ICCL Director Mark Kelly said:

“The Referendum Commission leaflet dropped through letterboxes only a week before polling day and there has been no adequate public debate or consultation on these measures.  This amendment would shift power from the courts to the Oireachtas, enabling parliamentary committees to tarnish the good name of people appearing before them, with no certainty that fair procedures would be observed.  As the Referendum Commission itself has made clear, there is no guarantee the Courts would have any role in reviewing the procedures adopted by the Houses of the Oireachtas.”

“In the view of the NO Campaign, the proposed 30th amendment to the Constitution is capable of turning Oireachtas Committees into kangaroo courts.  Oireachtas Committees do need to be overhauled and improved, but only after mature consideration, and in a way that strikes a far better balance between the public interest and the rights of the individual.  Anyone who is concerned about the rule of law should vote NO to this proposal next Thursday.”

For further information, see the note below, and/or contact:

 Walter Jayawardene

Communications Manager

Irish Council for Civil Liberties

9-13 Blackhall Place

Dublin 7



Tel. + 353 1 799 4503

Mob: +353 87 9981574



Collins Photo will file photographs from the press conference to all newsdesks.


The ICCL Association’s ‘Vote No to the 30th Amendment’ leaflet is available online HERE and via the campaign website

The ‘No to the 30th Amendment’ Campaign was launched at The Westbury Hotel, Grafton Street, Dublin 2 at 12.30pm on Friday 21 October 2011. The campaign is being spearheaded by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) Association.

Speakers at the press conference represented a spectrum of political, academic and civil society opinion. They were:

  • Mark Kelly, International human rights lawyer and Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties
  • Catherine Murphy TD.  Catherine Murphy is an independent TD for Kildare North, Technical Group, Dáil Éireann.
  • Senator Rónán Mullen. Senator Mullen has been an independent Senator for the National University of Ireland since 2007.
  • Mary O’Rourke. Mary O’Rourke served as Minister for Education (1987–91), Minister for Health (1991–92), Minister for Public Enterprise (1997–2002), and served as the chair of the Oireachtas joint committee on the constitutional amendment on children. She was also a member of Seanad Éireann from 2002–07.
  • Professor Gerry Whyte. Gerard Whyte is an Associate Professor of Law in Trinity College Dublin He has published extensively in the areas of public interest law, constitutional law, social welfare law and labour law. He is also active in a number of social justice and legal aid organisations.
  • Oisín Quinn SC. Oisín Quinn is a Senior Counsel  
  • Donncha O’Connell.  Donncha O’Connell is a member of faculty at NUI Galway’s College of Business, Public Policy & Law.   He was called to the Irish Bar in 1992 and joined the Faculty of Law at NUI Galway (then UCG) in 1993 having completed an LL.M at the University of Edinburgh. From 1999 to 2002, he was the first full-time Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.

The 30th Amendment to the Constitution – What is it about?

 On Thursday 27 October 2011 (the day of the Presidential election) people will be asked to vote in two referenda amending the Constitution.

In addition to a referendum is on reducing judicial pay in certain circumstances, there will also be a vote on the expansion of the powers of the Oireachtas to conduct inquiries into matters of general public importance – the 30th Amendment to the Consititution.

The Government has also published the General Scheme of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Powers of Inquiry) Bill 2011 (available at this link:, which gives an indication of the shape of the legislation likely to be enacted in the event that the latter amendment is passed.

The referendum on the 30th Amendment to the Consititution raises a number of issues of concern for the NO campaign.


  1. At present, Article 15.10 of the Constitution states:


“Each House shall make its own rules and standing orders, with power to attach penalties for their infringement, and shall have power to ensure freedom of debate, to protect its official documents and the private papers of its members, and to protect itself and its members against any person or persons interfering with, molesting or attempting to corrupt its members in the exercise of their duties.”


It is proposed to renumber this as 15.10.1° and to insert the following subsections:


2° Each House shall have the power to conduct an inquiry, or an inquiry with the other House, in a manner provided for by law, into any matter stated by the House or Houses concerned to be of general public importance.


3° In the course of any such inquiry the conduct of any person (whether or not a member of either House) may be investigated and the House or Houses concerned may make findings in respect of the conduct of that person concerning the matter to which the inquiry relates.


4° It shall be for the House or Houses concerned to determine, with due regard to the principles of fair procedures, the appropriate balance between the rights of persons and the public interest for the purposes of ensuring an effective inquiry into any matter to which subsection 2° applies.


From a rule-of-law perspective, the concerns of the NO campaign include:-


-          The power to make findings in respect of the conduct of a person (section 3°) potentially conflicts with the existing Constitutional right to a good name (Article 40.3).  The examples given by the (neutral) Referendum Commission include findings that “a person had, for example, behaved in a corrupt manner or been responsible for the killing of another person” (see:;


-          The extent to which “fair procedures” should apply when striking an “appropriate balance between the rights of persons and the public interest” shall be a matter solely for the Houses of the Oireachtas to determine.  The Referendum Commission has indicated that “It is not possible to state definitively what role, if any, the courts would have in reviewing the procedures adopted by the Houses” (see:


In other words, it is possible 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.


  1. Information on the general nature of these proposals has been available for around a month; however, the General Scheme of the Bill was only published on 6 October 2011 and the Referendum Commission guide on the two referenda was published one week ago, on 11 October 2011. It is inappropriate for such a potentially far-reaching amendment to be rushed through the Oireachtas and put before the people without mature consideration and adequate debate.


What about the other referendum on Judges’ Pay?


The Irish Council for Civil Liberties Association is not campaigning on the 29th amendment to the Constitution (on the reduction in judges’ pay).  The ICCL believes that this referendum is unnecessary and that a proportionate reduction in judges’ pay, in line with that already applied to other senior public servants, could have been achieved without seeking to amend the current wording of Article 35.5 of the Constitution.



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