Ministers Should Refrain from Attacks on Good Name of Opponents says NO Campaign

  • 25-10-2011
  • Categorized in: Justice

Dr Maurice Hayes


Press release – for immediate release

 Tuesday 25 October 2011  

The campaign for a NO vote against the 30th amendment to the Constitution (on Oireachtas Inquiries) has welcomed new polling figures which show a further collapse in voter support for the Government’s proposals since polling on the issue began.

Today’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll shows that support for the so-called Abbeylara referendum has dropped by 19 points since the Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitudes poll published last Sunday.

The NO campaign, which is being spearheaded by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) Association will hold a public meeting in the Seminar Room at the National Library in Dublin at 1.30pm today to explain the shortcomings in the Government’s proposals.

Speakers will include Dr Maurice Hayes, former Senator and Northern Ireland Ombudsman, Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Editor of the Irish Independent, and Peter Mullan, solicitor for the family of the late John Carthy who was killed in Abbeylara on 20 April 2000.

Speaking at the event, ICCL Director Mr Mark Kelly said,

“The NO campaign welcomes further polling evidence of a collapse in support for the Government’s so-called Abbeylara amendment.  However, we regret that some ministerial proponents of the amendment have resorted to attacks on the good name of those who oppose them on principled grounds.  Minister Shatter’s decision to single out for stinging criticism one of the eight Attorneys General who signed a letter criticising the Government’s proposals clearly demonstrates why it would be unwise to accord to politicians the unfettered investigative powers that they crave.”

Peter Mullan added:

“The failings of the Oireachtas Abbeylara Inquiry have been well documented, particularly by the Supreme Court.  However, this proposed Constitutional Amendment does not address those shortcomings in a way that respects the individual rights of persons.  Placing unfettered investigative discretion in the hands of politicians, who could be partisan and unlike Judges are not required by the Constitution to be impartial, is a recipe for repetition of the mistakes of the past”.

For further information, and to arrange interviews, 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


(Photos of this public meeting will be sent to newsdesks by Collins photo).

The ‘No Campaign’

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 on Friday 21st October 2011 at The Westbury Hotel, Grafton Street, Dublin 2 at 1pm on Friday 21 October 2011. The campaign is being led by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) Association.

On Monday 24 October 2011), a letter from 8 Attorneys General calling for the NO vote appeared in the national press today and is available at this link:


A ‘No to the 30th Amendment’ Campaign mobile billboard roadshow and poster campaign was launched on Monday 24 October 2011 at a photocall on Dublin’s Kildare street featuring campaign volunteers and ‘Kangaroos’ leafleting passers-by. Mobile billboards will be covering a total of 1200 miles around Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway warning citizens of the dangers of ‘kangaroo courts’ if this amendment is passed.

Supporters of the ‘Vote No’ campaign come from a spectrum of political, academic and civil society opinion. They include:

  • Catherine Murphy TD.  Catherine Murphy is an independent TD for Kildare North, and the head of the Technical Group in Dáil Éireann.
  • Senator Ronán 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 and is serving as a Labour Councillor on Dublin City Council representing the Pembroke-Rathmines Constituency
  • 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, while on leave of absence from NUIG, 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 to the ICCL Association and a range of like-minded individuals and organisations:


  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 potential concerns for the ICCL Association 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 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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