Challenge to abortion vote result rejected

The Court of Appeal has dismissed a challenge of the Eighth Amendment referendum result.

Challenge to abortion vote result rejected

By Aodhán Ó Faoláin and Ray Managh

The Court of Appeal has dismissed a challenge of the Eighth Amendment referendum result.

Joanna Jordan, from Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, had appealed last month’s ruling by High Court President Mr Justice Peter Kelly that Ms Jordan had failed to meet the necessary legal test set by the Referendum Act before a court could permit a petition to be brought.

The Court of Appeal, comprising its president, Mr Justice George Birmingham, Ms Justice Mary Irvine, and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, found that Mr Justice Kelly was “entirely correct in refusing leave to Ms Jordan to present the petition”.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the court would go even further than the High Court ruling and held that Ms Jordan’s presentation, based as it was on flimsy and slender grounds, amounts to a frustration of the democratic process in relation to referenda and might, in other circumstances, amount to an abuse of process.

In her appeal, Ms Jordan, of Upper Glenageary Rd, Dun Laoghaire, alleged that there had been irregularities in the conduct of the referendum and registration of voters. She also complained about statements made by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris during the campaign.

Her appeal against the High Court’s decision was opposed by the State.

Mr Justice Birmingham said it is clear that ministers are free to campaign as they see fit in the course of a referendum campaign. It is not a breach of the Government’s duty to uphold the Constitution by campaigning for change, since a mechanism for constitutional change is itself provided for in the Constitution, said the judge.

He said Ms Jordan had not advanced any sustainable argument or evidence to demonstrate that the effect of any supposed irregularities in relation to the electoral register could possibly have affected the result. Even taking her claims to their absolute height and making every possible allowance in her favour, all that could be shown was that, at most, a handful of votes had been affected. The referendum was passed by a two-thirds majority.

The court agreed with Mr Justice Kelly’s “considerably restrained comments” that much of what Ms Jordan claimed in regards to irregularities with the electoral register were general assertions, speculation, or inadmissible hearsay.

She claimed people entitled to vote did not get polling cards; potential no voters were deregistered, including convents of nuns and nursing home residents; and thousands of young people who were paid to return to vote were not questioned at polling stations about their time of residency abroad.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the appeals court would go further to say Ms Jordan’s assertions were “so entirely devoid of substance that we can only conclude they were made with reckless and irresponsible abandon”.

After dismissing the appeal, the court placed a stay on its decision pending an appeal to the Supreme Court until Friday. It is understood that Ms Jordan intends to appeal the court’s decision.

The court said Ms Jordan must pay the legal costs incurred by the State for contesting the appeal.

Ms Jordan’s lawyers argued she raised an issue of general public importance, that she had not brought the action for any personal gain, and that costs should not be awarded against her.

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