Referendum Commission - Press Release

The Referendum Commission established for the marriage and age of presidential candidates referendums sent its report to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on 6 October 2015. The report has now been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas by the Minister and has been published today by the Commission. 

In its report, the Commission describes in some detail the main elements of its information campaign and assesses the effectiveness of each such element. The Commission reports that it had adequate time – almost four months – in which to do its work. This is the third occasion in recent campaigns in which adequate time was given to plan and carry out the public awareness campaigns. The Commission welcomes this development as against previous campaigns when the time given to the Commission was clearly inadequate and was the subject of complaint by these Commissions. The Commission again reiterates the necessity that adequate time be given to any future Commission to allow it to plan and complete its public awareness campaign.

The additional time allowed the Commission to ensure that its information guide was as accessible as possible while remaining legally accurate. It also allowed the Commission to plan an integrated advertising and public information campaign.

The Commission welcomes the fact that the voter turnout was 60.5%. This was the highest turnout since a referendum commission was first established and one of the highest turnouts for any referendum, especially when there was no parallel election taking place. The Commission says that the high turnout on this occasion does not relieve the authorities of the responsibility to tackle the previous (and probably future) low voter turnout for important Constitutional referendums, which needs to be researched in detail.

The Commission notes that a sample of the actual ballot paper was printed in the Guide the Commission distributed to every home in the country. Most voters were therefore in a position to be aware of what the ballot papers looked like and any likely confusion should have been reduced considerably.

The Commission notes that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government published a Consultation Paper on the Establishment of an Electoral Commission in Ireland. The Commission endorses the position adopted by its predecessors that all the functions of the Referendum Commission should be transferred to an Electoral Commission when established.

Ends

For further information please contact:

Paddy Walsh - 01/6395707

Lee Lundberg - 01/6395719

Members of the Referendum Commission

The Government established a Referendum Commission in relation to the marriage and age of presidential candidates referendums. Mr Justice Kevin Cross a judge of the High Court, was appointed Chairperson of the Commission. The other members were the Clerk Assistant of the Dáil Peter Finnegan; the Clerk of the Seanad Deirdre Lane; the Ombudsman Peter Tyndall and the Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy.

Role of the Referendum Commission

The Referendum Commission is an independent body, set up by the Referendum Act 1998 as amended by the Referendum Act 2001. The role of the Referendum Commission was to explain the subject matter of referendum proposals, to promote public awareness of the referendum and to encourage the electorate to vote at the poll.

The Act of 1998 provides that the Chairman of the Commission shall be a former judge of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal or the High Court, or a judge of the High Court. The other members of the Commission shall be the Ombudsman, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Clerk of the Seanad and the Clerk of the Dáil.  The latter position is currently vacant so the Clerk Assistant of the Dáil was a member of the Commission.  The Referendum Commission is independent in its actions.

Under the Referendum Act 1998, on each occasion that a referendum falls to be held the establishment of a Referendum Commission is at the discretion of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. The Referendum Commission is therefore not a standing body, but is established for the purposes of a specific referendum.  Once its functions are completed, it prepares a report for the Minister within six months on the carrying out of its functions, and the Commission stands dissolved one month after the submission of this report. As the Commission’s report was submitted to the Minister on 6 October 2015, the Commission will stand dissolved on 6 November 2015.