Cloughlan, Crotty, McKenna underfire?
I must say i'm a little annoyed listening to some commentator's/politicians today on the radio who believe that the media having to ensure that both sides of the argument have to be discussed running up to a referendum, is an unhelpful rule. The point was made that even though all sides in the Dail and the vast majority of charities were in favor of the children's referendum, it leaves the media having to give air time to extremists. This reason being why this referendum was not overwhelming accepted by the people.
Minister Shatter's response to the Supreme Court ruling this week, where this government have been found to have blatantly breached McKennna, was arrogant and unapologetic. Fine Gael chairman Charlie Flanagan earlier this year described the McKenna judgment as “a nonsense”.
To have our Legislators voicing such contempt and opposition to McKenna/Coughlan and for the judgement of the highest court in the land to be given such flippant treatment by the Minister for Justice is very disturbing. Our FG/Lab Government appears to find judgements like McKenna and Crotty and Coughlan to be serious impediments to the manner in which they wish to govern. It's ironic that it was a FG/Lab administration that lead to the McKenna judgement and Ministers Howlin, Bruton, Quinn, Noonan and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny were serving Ministers in that administration.
I supported and canvassed for the Yes side in this referendum and view judgements like McKenna, Coughlan and Crotty as enhancing debate and democracy.
The interpretation of the Coughlan judgment (2000) is that there has to be strict balance in coverage on TV and radio for both sides of a referendum campaign (though the same restriction does not apply in the print media). Both sides of the debate have equal access to the airwaves, regardless of their respective support or of the quality of their arguments.
The Crotty judgment (1987) requires a constitutional amendment (and, as a consequence, a referendum) if a new EU Treaty is considered to go beyond the “essential scope or objectives” of the existing EU Treaties.
In the McKenna Judgement the Supreme Court found the then Fine Gael-Labour government was acting unconstitutionally in spending public money to support one particular outcome of a referendum.
The McKenna Judgement found ....
"The freedom to express opinions incorporates the corollary right that in the democratic process of free elections, public funds should not be used to fund one side of an electoral process, whether it be a referendum or a general election, to the detriment of the other side of the argument."
"Ireland is a democratic state. The citizen is entitled under the Constitution to a democratic process. The citizen is entitled to a democracy free from governmental intercession with the process, no matter how well intentioned. No branch of the government is entitled to use taxpayers monies from the Central Fund to intercede with the democratic process either as to the voting process or as to the campaign prior to the vote"