Critic was right to query commission’s response to treaty issues

I WISH to respond to Barry Walsh’s criticism (June 20) of the letter from Michael O’Driscoll (June 17) regarding the role of the Referendum Commission in relation to the yes side in the Lisbon Treaty campaign.

Mr O’Driscoll is thoroughly correct in calling into question the appropriateness of the contribution made by the commission on this occasion.

Although legally exonerated under the 2001 act from the duty of itemising its every utterance in terms of pro and contra positions, the commission surely had obligations of objectivity and impartiality that were hardly discharged in the case of Lisbon.

In a very real sense it served the yes side and appeared more often than not to be merely a promotional body for the Government’s preferred outcome of the campaign.

Given the strength of the legal arguments put forward by the no campaign on a large number of issues — drawn often from recognised authorities across a broad spectrum of international experience — it hardly seemed justified for the commission to ignore such points or simply omit reference to them.

At a minimum, a summary of such arguments and an indication of the standing of those authorities who were bringing them forward would have been an acceptable course of action.

It would have been far more honest and healthy for the debate if the commission were to have acknowledged that certain situations of their nature are legally uncertain and capable of a variety of interpretations.

The dogmatic stance of which the no side was often accused during the campaign was in reality the fatal fault of the yes side and the standard approach adopted by the Referendum Commission.

Maurice O’Brien

‘Carrig Mhuire’

Blackrock

Cork

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