Commission launches referendum campaign

Thursday 20 October 2011 13.44
One of the referendums relates to judges' pay
One of the referendums relates to judges' pay

The Chairman of the Referendum Commission, Bryan McMahon, has said the commission will explain the proposals in the upcoming referendums and encourage people to vote.

The two referendums, on judges' pay and Oireachtas inquiries, will be held on the same day as the Presidential election - 27 October.

Dr McMahon said one proposal is to permit the pay of judges to be reduced in certain circumstances.

He said that would happen when the pay of others funded through public funding is reduced.

The second referendum proposal, he said, suggests giving the Houses of the Oireachtas express power to conduct inquiries into matters of general public importance.

He said the proposal also allows the Oireachtas to give findings of fact, which is not currently permitted under the Constitution.

The commission has published a guide for the public which Dr McMahon is encouraging people to read.

He said an extensive media campaign has been launched to inform people.

The commission wants people to listen to debates that will put forward arguments for and against the proposed reforms.

Dr McMahon said the media will play a role in ensuring both sides of the argument are put forward in a fair and balanced manner.

He said the commission has prepared a general statement setting out the proposed change.

Dr McMahon was asked if he was concerned about the fact judges themselves could not engage in the debate, which could result in an unfair balance in debates about the reform.

He said the arguments are fairly clear and he said a Judicial Council Bill, which could allow for judicial engagement in such a debate, would not be in place on time.

He said it was not the function of the Referendum Commission to advocate on one side or the other. He said the commission had not received formal or informal submissions from members of the judiciary on the proposed changes to the referendum.

Dr McMahon said it would be difficult for the courts to judicially review decisions on the rights of witnesses called to Oireacthas hearings given the current wording of the proposed amendment to the constitution.

He said the question of whether the courts could review decisions on the rights of witnesses would depend on the factual circumstances of particular inquiries and what the Houses of the Oireacthas determine.

Ahead of referendum day, Morning Ireland will be broadcasting two question and answer sessions with the Referendum Commission Chairman.

The first will focus on judges' pay - submit your questions here.