Government’s Kangaroo Court Proposals “Delete Rule of Law” says NO campagn

  • 26-10-2011
  • Categorized in: Justice

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Press release – for immediate release

Wednesday, 26 October 2011  

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) Association campaign for a NO vote against the 30th amendment to the Constitution (on Oireachtas Inquiries) has said that the Government has chosen to “delete the rule of law” from its proposed referendum wording.  The ICCL has highlighted that the report of an Oireachtas Committee on which Fine Gael and Labour ministers served recommended wording for a Constitutional amendment that would protect rights to a far greater extent than the text that the Government has chosen to put before the people.

Speaking as referendum campaigning drew to a close, ICCL and NO Campaign Director Mr Mark Kelly said:

“In January this year, a Joint Oireachtas Committee produced wording for an amendment to the Constitution which would have required that the balance between rights of the individual and the public interest be regulated by law. However, the amendment that the Government has chosen to put before the people instead places this balancing power directly in the hands of Oireachtas members. It is for this reason that the NO campaign has accurately characterised these proposals as capable of turning Oireachtas Committees into kangaroo courts”.

“It is difficult to understand why the Government should have chosen to jettison wording produced only ten months ago by a Committee on which senior coalition politicians played a prominent role. Effectively, the Government has chosen to delete the rule of law from the wording on which people will vote” Mr Kelly added.

 The full text of the proposed amendment to Article 15 of the Constitution published on page 68 of the 5th Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution ( ) in January 2011 is:-

 “The Houses of the Oireachtas shall have the power to inquire into any matter of general public importance.

 In the course of such inquiry the Houses may investigate any individual and make findings in relation to their conduct.

 The conduct of such inquiries shall be regulated by law. Such law shall balance the rights of the individual with the public interest in the effective investigation of matters of general public importance.”

 Fine Gael figures such as Charlie Flanagan TD and Senator Eugene Regan, as well as Labour minister Brendan Howlin TD and Alex White TD served on the Committee, which was chaired by former Fianna Fail TD Sean Ardagh.

 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


 The ‘No Campaign’

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

 Today (Wednesday 26 October 2011) is the closing day of the NO Campaign, and from 1pm today our ‘Vote No kangaroos’ are at St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre to canvass shoppers and highlight the dangers of the 30th amendment to the Constitution. Photos will be submitted to desks by Collins Photo

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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