Appeal court reserves judgment on woman’s challenge to referendum ruling

Aodhán Ó Faoláin and Ray Managh

The Court of Appeal will rule later this month on a Dublin woman’s challenge of the abortion referendum result.

Joanna Jordan appealed last month’s ruling by High Court President Mr Justice Peter Kelly that neither Ms Jordan nor another challenger, Charles Byrne, met the necessary legal test set by the Referendum Act before a court can permit a petition to be brought.

The act says a petition can be brought only if the intended petitioner has prima facie evidence of matters likely to “materially” affect the referendum outcome.

On May 25, 1,429,981 people voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment granting equal recognition to the right to life of the unborn and the mother, while 723,632 voted against.

Ms Jordan, of Upper Glenageary Road, Dún Laoghaire alleged irregularities in the conduct of the referendum and registration of voters. They also complained about statements made by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris during the referendum campaign. Her appeal against the High Court’s decision has been opposed by the State.

Her application to overturn the High Court’s findings was heard yesterday by a three-judge appeal court.

Following completion of submissions from the parties, the court — which had initially refused an application by Ms Jordan’s legal representatives for a short adjournment to allow new counsel involved in the case time to consider their submission — reserved its decision. The court said it hopes to be in a position to give its decision later this month.

In judgements delivered in July, Mr Justice Kelly dismissed both Ms Jordan’s and Mr Byrne’s challenges against the result. Mr Justice Kelly rejected her claims that statements by Mr Harris were such as to materially affect the outcome of the referendum. There was no illegality in the minister discharging his ministerial functions while continuing to campaign for a yes result.

He was satisfied the activity complained of was not such as to materially affect the referendum outcome; and also rejected arguments about alleged electoral irregularities.

Much of what was claimed in her affidavits was assertion, speculation and inadmissible hearsay, he said. In particular was the proposition, by comparison with the 2011 census, it could be stated there could be over-registration of up to 600,000 persons on the electoral register.

Mr Byrne, of College Rise, Drogheda, Co Louth, opted not to appeal the decision.

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